2005 Wigan Brass and Bier Fest - Contest retrospective


John James enjoyed himself with hundreds more, especially Glyn Williams and his Marsden Band who took top honours at the JJB Brass and Bier Fest contest. This is what he made of it all.

Marsden Band: Winners
Tony Ledwith of JJB Sports presents Marsden the winners trophy

The JJB Stadium in Wigan, home to the newly promoted football team and famous rugby league team saw the Wigan Brass and Bier Fest take place once more on the weekend, and provide a large family crowd with the opportunity to enjoy themselves by listening to a great competition between 30 bands, many of whom were making their debut here.

Included in these were the Johnstone Band making the substantial journey from Scotland and Golborne Junior Band, the newly organised and enthusiastic young arm of their North West based senior band.
The event has a simple and crowd pleasing formula which is easy to understand for the bands and the audience (as well as the adjudication team of Malcolm and Ian Brownbill) and once more featured a string of hymn and contest march favourites that included some great old favourites of both genres that make up one of the traditional strengths of the brass bad movement.  

The popularity of the contest is testament to good organisation, easy to follow rules, excellent prize money in all sections (and split into two categories to give further enhanced chances to the contenders), and a great friendly atmosphere, which although there is a serious edge to the actual performing, never intrudes to spoil the great day out. 

It has seen an increase in bands year on year with 18 bands entered the first contest in 2003, which then uplifted to 24 bands in 2004 and grew again to 30 bands for this year.

The members of all the bands all presented themselves really well and they certainly competed and viewed the contest with a warm and generous smile. Dave Whelan and his staff should be congratulated for their efforts, whilst the officials made sure everything went like clockwork.

The bands themselves produced wonderful accounts of themselves at all levels: The sopranos were true on their highest notes, the tenors horns strong without being strident and the basses gave firm foundation with the trombones disciplined and tuneful.

The percussion was mainly reserved in the hymn tune, which this year saw more bands than ever choose concert arrangements rather than the traditional 3 verses from the trusty red book.

Malcolm Brownbill commented that some bands had perhaps over stretched themselves but the mood generally within the resonant stadium was one of all the bands performing both energetically and lively.
The dynamic range might have been greater in some performances (perhaps one or two thought they had to fill the ground with sound – not even a massed band could have done that!) but the overall the general impression left by the performances was one of confidence and assurance.

The added bonus of course was to be found with the diversion half way through the event, which saw a pie- eating contest: what a surprise in Wigan!

And who ate all the pies, as the football song goes? You might have guessed - a Wiganer! The winning exploits of the Pemberton Old Band entrant (5 pies in 4 minutes) brought with it an invite to represent Wigan Athletic at a similar event planned for the opening football premiership fixture at the JJB come August. Can you imagine what the likes of the pampered Southern fans of Arsenal or Spurs would think of that eh?
In the serious stuff of the contest the Marsden Band had a late draw of number 28 out of the 30 and certainly caught the ear of the adjudicator, with a very well balanced sound, great precision in the ensemble and some lovely crisp percussion work in the march.

Their MD, is the fine euphonium player of the Fodens Richardson Band, Glyn Williams, and since he has taken over the band, their fortunes have shot up, with his ensemble now mirroring the attention to detail, the warmth of sound and the brilliance of technique that is his own playing hallmark. His conducting also has a lovely fluent feel to it, and with little gestures of encouragement and the ear for nuance and detail, he and his band are ones to listen out for wherever they may compete this year.  

They took both the overall march and hymn prizes ahead of the Leyland Band playing three superbly constructed verses of the hymn tune ‘Whitburn' and the corking old march ‘Honest Toil' which was played with a real stamp of authority and style.

Glyn was delighted with the victory when he spoke to 4BR, especially in view of Marsden being a National First Section band, and up against on this occasion, six Championship Section outfits, including the North West Regional Champions, Leyland, who they eventually beat into second place.

"This is a great result for all the hard work the band has out in over the past few weeks," he told us. "We have been playing really well in these types of contests of late, and have won recently the Meltham and Lordsmere Cup competitions, as well as coming 6th overall in the Whit Friday contests in the Saddleworth area.

We are trying to build a self sufficient band here by encouraging the talent we have in the ranks, and I feel this is very important for the future. The players are responding brilliantly and we have a great atmosphere within the band. I was particularly pleased with the remarks we received from the adjudicators, especially on the hymn tune which stated that we made it sound easy and effective – something which means a great deal for a band such as us."

That hymn tune, ‘Whitburn' (number 111 in the famous red books) saw the MD and band deliver a very effective three verse delivery, that featured a very composed full band sound in verse one which gave way to a flugel led middle band second verse which ended on an elongated pause before the final full throated, but balanced final verse. Simple, yes – effective, very much so.

The same could also be said of their performance of the march ‘Honest Toil' which was as the MD told us was, "nailed right on the head" from start to finish. This was high class playing indeed with some sparkling solo cornet work, fine euph led counter balanced and a bass end that filled their boots. It was a cracker and confirmed that Marsden left for home £1800 the better (minus a few quid for pies and a celebratory pint or three from the treasurer!) 

Second place on the day went to the highly fancied Leyland Band directed by Russell Gray who gave two very professional and polished accounts of their hymn tune and march to come a very close second behind the eventual winners (just a couple of clips in the march, ‘The Wizard' may have been the ultimate difference).

On a day when perhaps there was so little to choose between the top three or four bands, their hymn choice, ‘Reflections' may have sounded a bit over complicated for some tastes, but there was no doubt that it was very well played. 

Third place overall went to Pemberton Old Wigan Wigan JJB directed with some aplomb by Mark Peacock, who produced a well crafted march ‘Ravenswood' and a nicely turned ‘Nicea' that saw them beat off the likes of Besses who came 4th on the march and 6th on the hymn tune, Wire Brass (5th and 15th) and Wingates (6th and 5th).

As Marsden were declared the overall winners, the First Section prize in the march category went to went to United Co-op Milnrow conducted by Andrew White who gave a fine performances of the march ‘Ravenswood', whilst the hymn tune title went to Northop Band from North Wales who made their journey across the Mersey well worthwhile by producing a very neat rendition under Brett Baker of ‘ I know Thou Art Mine'. 

The Second Section also saw the awards in the two categories split in two, with Wire Brass under Paul Andrews giving a cracking account of the old stomper ‘ORB' to take the march honours, whilst the very experienced Alan Lawton and his Diggle Band showed just how a hymn tune should be played in authentic brass band fashion with a super account of ‘Deep Harmony'.

The Third Section saw a clean sweep of the honours for the Welshman Jamie Meredith and his United Co-op 2000 Brass, as the current Pontins Champions gave a very neat account of the march ‘ORB' and followed it with an equally neat and sober ‘Aurelia' .

Meanwhile Pemberton Old JJB Wigan made sure their senior outfit didn't take all the laurels in winning the Fourth Section in style with a cracking ‘Cross of Honour' conducted by P. Ashley and a well shaped ‘Amazing Grace' hymn tune.  And to top it all, the Youth Band conducted by J. Don Duncan were excellent value for their double in the Youth Section with wins on the march ‘Blackrock' and the hymn tune, ‘Irish Blessing'.

The Pemberton Old Youth Band also entertained with a light concert programme before main sponsor and owner of JJB Sports Dave Whelan reaffirmed his love (and more importantly, his financial support) l support for our movement.

As described on our news results page the organisers apologised for a clerical error in the announcement of the result for the best March in the First Section an incorrect draw number was announced but the correct Band Name was given.

This was an unfortunate blemish in a most enjoyable day that 4BR both enjoy attending and playing. There really was something for everyone to enjoy here with a great selection of music (marches that ranged from the classics like ‘Ravenswood' and ‘Viva Birkinshaw' right through to ‘True and Trusty' and ‘Pendragon', whilst the hymns had a great range from old favourites such as ‘Whitburn' and ‘Nicea' from the old red books to new arrangements and some nice touches such as ‘Quem pastores laudavere').

We look forward to 2006 when, if the trend is followed, the entry could reach at least 36 bands. It should be a day out well worth the wait.

John James.


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