2005 All England Masters International Championship - Preview and prediction


4BR has a look at the regenerated but pragmatic International Masters and tries to work out who we think may be crowned as the first champions.

Corn Exchange, CambridgeThere is a sense about this year's All England Masters International Championship of renewal. Or is it hard headed financial pragmatism?

The decision of Philip Biggs and Richard Franklin to change the ethos of the ‘Masters' was not it must be said, a popular one; so much so that the 2004 Champions, Yorkshire Building Society (now YBS) Band decided that the decision to ‘invite' only the top 11 bands from the 2004 contest to this years event, was one that they felt was patently unfair and could not be supported by their participation.

Theirs was just the one type of dissent Manchester United fans may wish to consider as a protest vote, but others too have voiced their dissatisfaction at what they perceive was a diluting of the purity of what they considered to be the ‘unofficial' English Championships.

Some argued for a little while that the innovations that made the contest so successful in the past, such as consulting the bands on the choice of set works, judges and format had been taken away from them, whilst the decision of the adjudicators not to allow themselves to continue to judge under the separate scoring system was also a rather insidious blow.

The problem of course was that since the first contest in 1989, the Masters has only ever been an ‘unofficial' English Championship. For a number of complex reasons, the event never got the recognition it fully deserved from the people who should have acknowledged it for what it was and allow it to become the ‘official' source of getting a ‘English Champion' band to the European Championships.

The longer it went on the more the frustrations grew from all sides: Philip Biggs and Richard Franklin tried in vain to get the contest the official stamp of approval, but with little or no support from the bands themselves it fell on deaf ears, and made the ultimate decision to change the format of the Masters inevitable.

If only they had waited a few more months, and with the Europeans themselves imploding into bitter anarchy, they could have come out as winners without having to change a thing. Hindsight though is a wonderful gift and at the time when the decision was made, practicality was the dominant force.

So, 2005 sees the advent of the ‘International Masters', with the added bonus (if it can be called that) that the winning band here will get an invitation to compete at the Kapitol Promotions organised European Championships in a venue and at a time which has yet to be decided.

There are some notable absentees this year in addition to YBS – with last years runners up, Brighouse and Rastrick also not making the trip south from Yorkshire to compete. That has meant that the band who came 13th last year, Carlton Main take their place in the 19 band field (although not the band who came 12th, EYMS). Practical? The rest of the field, although it comes from far and wide has a high class feel about it all right.

The new format has encouraged bands from Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Belgium to attend, and although there may be certain grumbling that it has destroyed the contest, that would be a gross exaggeration and a flawed argument. The English will get an English Championship in 2006 in Manchester. This is about the banding movement in general getting a high class contest, with good prize money and a sense of identity about itself. The Masters has regenerated itself. The Masters is dead – long live the International Masters?

The sense of renewal however is certainly brought to the fore with the choice of the set work – John McCabe's wonderful ‘Cloudcatcher Fells', which was used at the inaugural Masters back in 1989. If that strikes you as being some sort of sentimental choice then forget it, as the piece remains one of the true ‘greats' of the banding repertoire and still poses huge musical and technical questions to players and MDs alike.  

This will be a great test for the bands here – all of which will travel with high hopes of doing well. Some though will be travelling with more realistic hopes than others.

Of the 19 bands on show here this Sunday, a handful really do mark themselves out as being the ones who the bookies will be taking plenty of bunce on. The most obvious candidates perhaps are one Welsh one, one English one, one Scots one and a Belgian.

Buy As You View, Fodens Richardson, Scottish Co-op and Willebroek could well be the short priced favourites to take the title, but they will under no illusion that they will be faced with some serious competition come the contest.

BAYV and Willebroek showed in the European Championships just a few weeks ago that they are exceptionally strong bands with the personnel and the MDs to conquer the immense musical peaks McCabe's Lake District epic. Look around the stands of these bands and you don't sense that there are many weaknesses at all, and come the results on Sunday they should be there or thereabouts.

The same can surely be said of Fodens Richardson, who despite the blip of not qualifying for the National Finals have been in quite sparkling form in recent months on the contest and concert stage and have put in a couple of ominously good performances of this work in recent times (including last weekend). When Fodens are hot, they are red hot and with Garry Cutt at the helm, they will have experience and class to direct them. It could well be a winning combination. 

Scottish Co-op will also have experience and class in front of them in the shape of Black Dyke's Dr. Nicholas Childs, and they too are a band that when they get the feeling of the mountains around them they could sparkle. Cambridge is not exactly the Trussocks, but you can be sure they will have brought their musical hiking gear with them.  

Others too though will have been looking at their ordinance survey maps and trying to locate musical inspiration from the hills around them.

Reg Vardy came third here last year and will be looking to improve on that this time around, whilst Hepworth are on a streak at the moment that not even the great Erika Roe could better. Sellers International are a band transformed of late, whilst Travelsphere Holidays and Flowers are surely due a little bit of luck, and do tend to play very well here.

Carlton Main are also another band with the talent to do very well,  whilst Aveley and Newham showed last year, and again at Blackpool that they are now fast closing in on the top tier of bands, many of whom are here this weekend. The same goes for Ransome.

Tredegar and Kirkintilloch are two contenders who should never be discounted at any level, whilst BTM, SWT Woodfalls, Redbridge and Rothwell are more than capable of upsetting the form books and placing themselves towards the top of the prize list. Add to them 1st Old Boys making the trip over from Ireland determined to prove themselves against top class opposition and you have in fact 19 bands all of whom will fancy their chances.  You can't leave anyone out can you.

So who do we think will leave Cambridge on Sunday night crowned as the first All England Masters International Champions?

The top three bands we think will just have enough about them to push themselves ahead of the rest of the field, and with this mind and looking at the demands the piece places upon the cornet section in particular, we go for BAYV to just take it by the shortest of heads from Fodens Richardson and Willebroek – although it could go either way between these three.

After that we think Hepworth should continue to show their form once more and should make it into the top six at least, whilst Travelsphere Holidays, if they show the type of confidence they did in Blackpool have the quality about them to make it into the frame. The battle for the final top six place is up for grabs between any of six or seven bands, and it could be a fight between the rest of the 14 bands here on the day!

However, we will stick our necks out and go for Scottish Co-op with Reg Vardy as our dark horse.  

4BR Prediction:

1. Buy As You View
2. Fodens Richardson
3. Willebroek
4. Hepworth (Persimmon Homes)
5. Travelsphere Holidays
6. Scottish Co-op

Dark Horse: Reg Vardy


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