2005 Wilkinson Open Brass Band Championship - Retrospective


It may have been a cold old day in St. Helens but 35 bands braved the elements to battle it out for the prizes. John James was there to and to listen for 4BR.

St. Helens certainly wore its winter cloak on Sunday 19th November at the Wilkinson Northern Open with its 35 entrants.

The contest was celebrating its 25th Anniversary and Wilkinson, the well-known high street store, sponsored the event for the seventh successive year demonstrating their unquestionable support for the British Brass Band movement.

The contest took a departure from the set-piece contests of past years and the own choice format certainly delivered a broad range of works spanning a real spectrum of banding years: that was hoped for by the organizers and the bands delivered.

Section A for bands Graded Championship and First Section was adjudicated by Gareth Pritchard and in summation he fixed his comments on the choices of work selected by the bands.

"Pick something you can play" was his message. "Some bands bit off a bit more than they could chew. To win you really have to play." He singled out the top three prize winners for particular comment and indicated that he had written extensive comments in the hope that they would provide constructive criticism for future performances.

The first prize winners and recipients of the Wilkinson Northern Open Trophy and £400 was the Longridge Band performing ‘The Year of the Dragon' by Philip Sparke. A good opening, playing 8th in the section of 14 bands, led the band into a strong thematic line where concentrated playing with effective balance was the hallmark. Some flecks of intonation did not unduly disturb the musical picture that at times had a warm vibrato and it reaped its reward for some committed and confident playing.

Marsden (Riverhead Brewery) under the direction of euphonium virtuosi Glyn Williams drew next to last at 13th and did their utmost to repeat the sparkling rendition of ‘Lorenzo' by Thomas Keighley that captured the Pontins title for them a fortnight ago. The solid opening permeated into confident playing that was full of detail and direction. It gave Gareth Pritchard the bedrock in performance he was looking for and he awarded them the runner-up Rainford Parish Council Cup and £200 and the Stan Cook Commemorative Trophy for the Best Soprano Player.

‘Harmony Music' by Philip Sparke is the set work for the 2006 Senior Cup and this is the piece Newstead Welfare will be called on to repeat under the direction of Duncan Beckley on that day. This result bodes very well indeed.  Newstead in 3rd place won The J.E. Cook Butchers Ltd Trophy and £100 and took the Taylor Transformers trophy for Best Euphonium. The band with an early draw, in at 4th, did not take very long to establish a class and warmth to their playing. The euphonium solo was covered with dignity and this was followed by an equally strongly contested central section. The muted passage came over very cleanly before the horn cadenza that complemented a commendable presentation of this fiendishly difficult piece.

Tom Wyss replaced the published MD Brett Baker and his interpretation of  ‘Journey Into Freedom' had real purpose. A bright if not totally clean opening section paved the way for a smooth transition into the exceptionally well described mechanical motif. The overall sound picture by Northop Silver playing with unquestioned commitment secured a worthy 4th place and also the certificate presented to the Best Soloist in this Section.

As the clock ticked on past 9pm and playing 14th and last in the draw, Pemberton Old Wigan JJB under the direction of Mark Peacock gave a well controlled performance of  ‘Cambridge Variations'. Theirs was a shapely musical picture with nice dynamic contrast, but with a touch more presence would have been almost certainly in the frame. 5th place was fair reward - so nearly a trophy though.

Simon Wood directed the Hade Edge (J & E Dickinson) in ‘English Heritage' with much vitality and a 6th place from a 6th draw was about right for a performance that whilst not blemish free had some really well judged moments.

One has come to expect well-defined performances from Wire Brass under the direction of Paul Andrews. This contest saw them approach ‘Variations on an Enigma' and there would be few quarrels with the position of 7th they were awarded. This performance was highlighted with tight articulation and some refined trombone work.

Jaguar (Coventry) with Dave Lea took an early draw at number 2. Their account of ‘English Heritage' was alert and sensitive in its attention to dynamic range and balance until the final section of the work when less accurate ensemble and tonal blend conspired to undo the earlier strengths. A reward of 8th place would be disappointing as this could have easily have been the stand out performance of the Section.

Old Silkstone guided by Norman Law have much resilience and sparkle to their playing. Drawn at number 3 they approached ‘The Year of the Dragon' with gusto and direct sounds. Only sometimes, as in the underscoring of a quite lyrical trombone solo, did the challenge of the piece cause some inaccuracy and the resulting 9th place from the adjudicator.

Nick Sheppard drew from Blackburn & Darwen an eminently unmannered and straightforward account of  ‘Blitz' and that was its weakness and resulting 10th place. The impact did unfortunately feel a little lightweight on this occasion.

'Paganini Variations' received two accounts in this contest and both finished in the second half of the results. In 11th place came the Poulton-le-Fylde under Steve Tarry. Playing from a 12th placed draw this performance took time to settle before it produced some effective breadth and warmth, but touches of edginess throughout the performance cost points.

The steady opening and secure playing of the recurring motif in ‘Tallis Variations' were the hallmarks of the United Co-op Yorkshire performance with Kevin Wadsworth directing. 11th place was perhaps a touch unlucky on the day in a fairly spacious reading that had some fine moments.

Lynda Nicholson directed the Haydock Band on ‘Contest Music'. The band suffered at the hands of some intonation issues more than any interpretation questions. A concentrated performance with nice attention to detail could on another day been far more rewarding.
The other performance of ‘Paganini Variations' came from the Harrogate Band. Dave Lancaster conducted with vitality and a keen sense of rhythm but the performance was a little troubled on the day and fell a little short in neatness to figure in the face of some very stiff opposition.

For Bands Graded Second Section the B Section produced some very musical accounts of some interesting works and once more adjudicated by Gareth Pritchard. He certainly earned his corn at this contest.

The clear winners of this Section taking the Wilkinson Northern Open Trophy + £400 were Flixton conducted with refinement by Kevin Gibbs. It was evident from 3rd in the draw that their interpretation of ‘Purcell Variations' was measured and contained moments of considerable eloquence. The performance was underpinned by a full bodied bass sound that deservedly took the William Singleton Memorial Trophy presented to the best basses.

If we are honest we didn't quite have Valley Brass in the prizes. Whilst the performance of  ‘Rhapsody in Brass' had lots of attack and drive under talented Dave Chadwick it wasn't without its unsettled entries. Taking the Lancashire Contests Cup + £200 runners-up prize from number 1 draw is a fine achievement and the refreshing naturalness that Dave Chadwick draws from his charges obviously impressed the adjudicator which is what counts.

Elland Silver conducted by another euphonium star Morgan Griffiths gave the finest performance we have heard from this band since his appointment as MD. Drawn 10th they approached  ‘Variations on ‘Laudate Dominum'' with crisp bright articulation that kept the band sound in scale. The MD's interpretation conveyed the intensity of the work without over-weighting it emotionally. The Geoff Pye Cup + £100 and certificate awarded to the Solo Cornet as the best soloist in this section was well deserved.

It was another performance of ‘Purcell Variations' that saw the Middleton Borough led by Carl Whiteoak take the 4th place. This performance whilst a little unsteady in the var.2 had in its favour some polish and dramatically strong patterns in the other variations.

Greenalls  and Meltham & Meltham Mills finished joint 5th in the section. We were rather critical of these bands at the recent Pontins Contest but both sounded like different bands at this contest and both came close to taking a prize but for a few minor blemishes in each performance.

John Ludden chose to play ‘Music of Thanksgiving' and a bold and confident opening set the stall for a performance that had a warm glow and atmosphere surrounding it.

Meltham & Meltham Mills conducted by Stuart Fawcett chose another Kenneth Downie piece,  ‘Purcell Variations'. The band produced lithe and consistently resilient playing and there was certainly no lack of weight in the result.

Blackpool Brass have a tone that is very robust and clear and they chose under Steve Simpson from 4th in the draw to also play ‘Purcell Variations'. Again a few cracks just robbed an overall good show in which the flugel player excelled with a lovely round tone to take 7th place.
‘Land of the Long White Cloud' has always served MD Rob Taylor well in his career and he has a very real understanding of this smashing piece. On this occasion his Tyldesley Band from an early draw, number 2, whilst direct were probably just a bit square in style and this may have kept them off the pace in 8th.

An edgy start and a dislocated feel to the opening section of the South Yorkshire Police Brass (A. Dennis) probably had the adjudicator writing early on in the performance. ‘Royal Parks' really came together in the final movement with lots of style and confidence but this may have been a little late to avoid the 9th position in the frame.

Interpretations of ‘Rhapsody in Brass' topped and tailed this Section. Hesketh Bank and Stuart Pullin playing last at 11th took a quite pacey tempo and again they saved their best playing until the final movement. Perhaps again the reason for a lower place in the section at 10th place.

Hoover Bolton's Chris Wormold will be one MD scratching his head after the contest wondering what he needed to do with the piece to achieve a result as they finished 11th at this contest. If, as we described at the Pontins Contest he took risks, this performance was quite the opposite. This performance of  ‘Variations on ‘Laudate Dominum'' was steady and quite direct but again a disappointing result for the efforts. We are not a superstitious lot by nature here at 4BR but this one of those pieces that the Band should put in the library and just accept mustn't suit the band. A comment almost every band has used as a reason for unexpected poor results in their history. This work will have to be a ghost they will have to lay to rest at some point in the future but it would be interesting to sit these two sets of remarks side by side. As a seasoned campaigner Chris will not let these results get in the way of future success we are sure.

Paul Dalton took the adjudication duties for both Section C for bands Graded Third Section and Section D for Bands Graded Fourth Section with again own choice programmes.

In his summation he drew on an analogy of cookery to create his word picture of the music presented. He likened the MD as a chef with the musicians and music as ingredients with a recipe in the score. He commented on some interesting recipes and on the diverse ingredients he had heard. The final analysis would be having set out to bake a cake did the bands achieve this goal. His view – ‘nerves' played a part, most MD followed the score well and whilst there were no stand out performances all the bands could take something away from the contest. A fair summation indeed.

Taking first prize the Wilkinson Northern Open Trophy + £400 was the BMP Europe, Goodshaw Band with experienced Dave Ashworth in charge. Whilst not blemish free the music compulsively followed the composers musical ideas in ‘A Royal Mile Suite'. This was a satisfying performance that gave much pleasure.

Pemberton Old Wigan JJB `B' with Peter Ashley at the helm took the runners-up place with its St Helens Star Cup + £200. ‘Four Noble Truths' contained some polished playing that contained some clear phrasing and crisp accents with a particularly well shaped slower sections. The certificate awarded to the best soloist in this section went deservedly to the Pemberton Euphonium player.

Parr (Richardson Ltd) and their recently appointed MD J. Smith chose ‘Dimensions' and produced some lively musically playing. The expressive playing and phrasing not only took the The E R Ratcliffe Builders Ltd Cup + £100 but also the Tom Wall Junior Trophy presented to the best trombone player.

Dave Ashworth took his second band in this section with Golborne Band. Their interpretation of ‘Variations on ‘Laudate Dominum'' was well shaped in the main with just the bridges between the variations caused a few troubles. Overall another fresh and lively performance though.

Lostock Hall Memorial conducted by P. Edwards drew number 1  and played ‘Three Saints'. They had a reduced bass section (2 basses) but they supported the performance very well and they achieved overall a performance that was quite well described with some nice dynamic contrast. The Bill Sherwood Memorial Trophy presented to the best cornet player went to the Lostock Hall player which further endorsed the strength of the playing all across this section. 

The overall standard of Section D for bands graded Fourth Section was again very good and the musicality of the performances was without question the memory of this section.

Formby led by L. Hough were worthy winners playing ‘Prelude, Song and Dance'. They dismissed any notion that they were a fourth section band with some wonderfully contrasted rhythmic playing. Taking away the The Wilkinson Northern Open Trophy + £400 was just reward.

Variations on ‘Laudate Dominum'' received a number of performances and Eaton Farnworth (Walkden) with Peter Ashley, taking a second band of the day, played with style and confidence. The vital and intelligent reading from the MD captured the The Spanish Property Centre Cup and £200.

Taking the Printers Pot and £100 was the second Newstead Band this time Newstead Youth (P. Whyley).

They mirrored their older brother also coming third in their section. This young band of 20 players played with simple and direct style but the balance and tuning helped in achieving a worthy interpretation of ‘A Rural Suite'.

The certificate awarded to the best soloist in this section went to the Dobcross Youth 2003  Solo Cornet player as they attempted the quite challenging ‘Sinfonietta'. Ted Griffiths had a most competent percussion section and his quite pointed approach had plenty of conviction from the brass players also.  This was a stiff test and the band rose to the challenge with real credit.

Brindle band have seen some lean times but K. Richmond in their performance of ‘Lydian Pictures'  showed that they must not be taken lightly in competition now. The described themes were well conceived and they produced a clean tone to support a decent show.

The stage crew may have welcomed hot water bottles given Jack Frost sleeping in the wings but the diversity and interpretation of the music on this day was a real pleasure and certainly radiated warmth.

John James


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