Action Medical Research Youth Entertainment Festival of Great Britain - Retrospective


4BR Chief Correspondant Malcolm Wood and Dave Tinker were at the Winter Gardens and enjoyed a long day of fantastic entertainment from the best youth bands in the country.

Having seen Rochdale Borough Youth in action again here, the thought does cross the mind whether this contest could be going the same way as Brass in Concert with one band dominating proceedings and winning on a regular basis?

It's certainly possible that Rochdale could do a Grimethorpe; two victories on the trot here now and whilst other bands presented some great inventive programmes, when it comes to finding that winning blend of music combined with entertainment, Rochdale have it by the bucket load. Not content with taking the overall title, they took prizes for the Best Basses and Stage Deportment, not forgetting the Best Soloist of the day.  They might not have the sound of a top class championship section band such as Grimey, but one thing that is for sure after their victory at this event, like Grimethorpe, Rochdale is the band to beat it seems, and to beat them, you've got to out-think them.

This event isn't just concerned about music, it's the stage presence, the themes they use, the costumes, scenery, its all clever stuff, and not old hat either.  The bands take it upon themselves to entertain the audience, and in their own way that's what they do.  In a way, they're fearless, throw caution to the wind and if they have to get on the stage dressed as a fairy, do a bit of a striptease, they'll do it.  Yes, there are winners and losers, but they are all winners for taking part, doing something they clearly enjoy so much whilst the thought process that goes into to so many band's programmes here is something that competing bands at the higher level of entertainment contests can and should learn from. 

That said, as innovative as they are, you have sympathy for the music judge (in this instance Malcolm Brownbill) who doesn't get the opportunity to witness all the effort that goes in and with Brass in Concert having open adjudication, along with the National Youth Championships, surely the time has arrived to let the music judge witness everything?  Simon Wood was seeing everything in his role as an entertainment judge and there seems no logical reason why Malcolm Brownbill couldn't have seen it all as well.

4BR has banged the drum about bands being more innovative at entertainment contests and when they think about their approaches at this event, it deserves to be seen by everybody.

Both judges spoke of their enjoyment at judging at this event.  Malcolm Brownbill said there had been some fabulous playing and at times he did wonder was he really listening to a youth band; in addition Malcolm made the point that encouragement was important in his comments, whilst he also quite rightly mentioned the importance of tuning.  Simon Wood said that if anyone else wants to do the job next year, they could, as it had been one of the hardest adjudicating jobs he'd ever done.

Whilst bands put a lot of thought into their programmes, it must be said that there is some fabulous playing, some of the programmes are a little too adventurous for some of them; too many expect too much from the players by pushing the boat out a little bit further than they should.  Some of the players within bands didn't look 100% comfortable at times (soloists who stood up within a piece of music to play solo lines) and this is something that the MDs could give a little bit more thought too. 

Yes, of course, players within these bands now feature in the championship section right down to the fourth (and learn quickly through playing some tough test pieces) but that's not everybody within a band, and not everyone has the power and quality of sound required to perform the repertoire.

Gary Walczak and his team take care of superbly run the whole day.  In between performances, there was a longer delay setting up due to the dimensions of the stage being different to what the bands had been told in advance. It was a slight unforeseen hiccup, but everyone got one with it.

Gary also deserves acknowledgement for commenting at the booing within the hall when Rochdale Youth had been awarded one of the peripheral prizes on the day.  Whoever booed hopefully was reprehended from colleagues in their own band, but to those concerned, you're not just showing disrespect to your fellow competitors, but you're showing a lack of respect to the judges as well.  Yes a bit of good-natured banter with an adjudicator who confesses to his delight at Liverpool beating Manchester United is fine, but booing a prize winning band? It beggared belief.

The atmosphere at results time for all Youth Contests is brilliant and hopefully this is the last time that any disrespect will be shown to the winners has to be commented on. 

Rochdale Borough Youth's victory was certainly deserved on the day though, no doubt about that.  Ok, winning bands need a bit of good luck, and perhaps playing last was it, but they played so well on the day, that you sensed it didn't matter where they'd have been drawn, they still would have been the band to beat.

They were superb from the first note to the last and as mentioned earlier, they like Grimethorpe has to think carefully about their programmes to make sure they are one step ahead of the rest.

The audience was told from the stage that when there was silence, their performance would begin.  From the back of the hall came the bass players leading the way in ‘Come Follow the Band' an old number, given that refreshing twist by Eric Landon.  Clever and inventive yes, but matched by some fine playing.

With Eric Potts (Better known to Coronation Street fans as Diggory Compton) acting as the band's host, it was straight into Mark Freeh's arrangement of ‘Old Man River', complete with touches of razzamatazz that weren't overdone.  From here, it was into what became the winning solo performance of the day from flugel player, Elizabeth Fitzpatrick who produced a delightful interpretation of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow' – great technique and fabulous sound that was refined and at no time was the playing forced at all.

At this stage, Rochdale will well on their way to retaining their title from last year, and it was theirs to lose in all honesty. They then came up with what can only be described as a touch of creative genius, ‘A Music Box……..wound by a clock'. 

The percussion players imitated clockwork dolls who were wound up with keys (the keys were visible, not imaginary) before coming to life and mechanically playing their instruments; the audience loved it and if that wasn't enough, they signed off with ‘Nothing Like a Dame' from South Pacific featuring Oliver Krawerskji as vocalist.

Victory was theirs and although they came both second in the music and entertainment categories, they'd done more than enough to retain their title.  Talking afterwards, conductor Eric Landon was philosophical about the result:

"To be honest, after my health problems last summer, I'm just glad to be here on the day.  I hope everybody in the audience enjoyed it.  I can't thank the people connected with the band enough for their help recently.  I just said to the band today, we are all here, lets enjoy it and we've won, it's marvelous.  In the past, I have started to think about competitions soon after one has finished, but I didn't really start to look at today until October, and the work didn't begin until January. I can come up with ideas, but I can't implement everything, so to those who work tirelessly behind the scenes, I'm very grateful."

It would be remiss of me not to say what a wonderful event this is and the work done by Gary Walczak and his team.  You don't see it as you're in the hall, but they look after you so well here, you don't have to worry about anything, you can concentrate on the job in hand; they make everything so easy for everyone.'

The work for the band doesn't stop there though.  Less than 24 hours after they won this contest they were sailing from Hull to Germany for a week of music making at the Lenten Carnivals. 

Boarshurst deserved their spot in the prizes courtesy of an Oscar's themed programme.  In the company of microphone-less hosts David Hebb and a charming young lady (who we don't know the name of, but she certainly caught our eye) the audience were guided through a programme of music from James Bond, Moon River featuring Ben Hirons on cornet, ‘I Will Follow Him' (from Sister Act) and a spoof on Morecambe and Wise in the classic ‘Singing in the Rain' sketch where Eric Morecambe gets saturated. 

No water on stage but two of the band having some fun and it was effective.  By the time the band had finished with ‘Spirit Stallion of Cimarron', it wasn't going to be a surprise if the band was in the top four and they were.  It's a great result for the Saddleworth outfit who have a lot of talent amongst them. Not only did they play extremely well but were delighted to have finished runners-up and Kyle Redfearn from within the band got the award for the youngest player of the day.

Youth Brass 2000 in third place under Chris Jeans chose an adventurous and challenging programme that had plenty of good moments, but perhaps suffered from tiredness towards the end.

Having opened with an impressively controlled ‘Te Deum' followed by Soul Bossa nova, euphonium soloist, Alex Seedhouse played Curnow's ‘Rhapsody for Euphonium'.  Alex's control of his instrument and his manner of performance was commendable and he was one of those players who could consider himself unlucky not to have taken the solo award.

Towards the end of ‘Mack the Knife' there was a sense that the band was tiring a little, and the closing ‘Reunion & Finale' from Gettysburg didn't quite have the overall impact required.  Although they seemed to tire at the end, their musical skills gave them first place in the order of merit for music, but their non-appearance in the frame when it came to entertainment effectively cost them a higher placing although their percussionists took the award for Best Percussion Section with some fine playing that blended in, as opposed to overpowered some of the bands on stage.

Fourth place went to Enderby who produced a programme that brought them first place in the entertainment category along with the award for the most entertaining item, ‘Pocahontas' that had a real sense of fun about it and most certainly caught Simon Wood's eyes and ears.  Having finished with Stephen Bulla's ‘Kennesaw Mountain Blues' it wasn't going to be a major surprise if they weren't in the top six when the results were announced.

One of the most enlightening things about this contest is how fearless the bands are of what they can and can not do.  Take Oldham Music Centre for example.  Not only did they tackle the challenging ‘Windows of the World' in its entirety, they also had the guile to do it without conductor Martyn Evans in front of them.  As commendable as this was, there were times when a conductor on stage would have been useful, as it did have more than a few rocky moments, but 5th place overall has to be acknowledged although some of the soloists didn't appear to look and sound completely at ease with the music; the drummer though milked his ‘ad-lib' spot in ‘Earth Walk' for all it was worth.

Beaumaris won here two years ago and came third last year.  They had the unenviable task of playing number one this year and although they had some fine musical moments, you sensed they knew it would be a tough ask to win on the day. 

Having opened with Olympic Theme and Fanfare, closely followed by Devils Galop, their finest moment came from soprano soloist, Graham Bushell, courtesy of the popular ‘Memory'.  Graham has impressed 4BR in the past with his playing and is definitely one of the soprano voices to listen out for in the future.  Not only does he have lovely technique, but the sound he produces is that of a man who understandings how to make the most of his instrument.

Seventh place went to Wardle High led by Lee Rigg.  They opted for music connected with the last War and courtesy of their host, who reminisced, the band gave some fine musical performances including, The Great Escape, Dambusters, Sunset & Last Post, a fine soloist in ‘We'll Meet Again' before Pomp & Circumstance No.4, the unveiling of the British Flag and a reminder of ‘There'll always be an England'.  Once again this was another band that was looking for that winning blend of music and entertainment, and although they came fifth in the entertainment category, they didn't quite match it with their level of playing.

Sellers International Youth (Mark Bousie) were one of the first bands of the day to demonstrate they'd given a lot of thought into their programme; a musical world wide tour complete with overhead projector screen and visual images. Not original, but effective and coupled with playing that had its moments, this was a band that certainly is making progress.

Having opened with Goff Richards arrangement of ‘The Saints' their finest moments came in Peter Meechan's ‘Carnival' and ‘The Zurich March' by Elgar Howarth that brought the band the award for the best performance of a march during the whole contest.

Dobcross chose music from Phanton of the Opera for their challenge, with the band dressed in masks and gowns and what the music didn't possess, they gained extra points for their entertainment value courtesy of the choreography.

Abraham Darby for us was the unluckiest band of the day as they played some of the best music; on the whole though, they just didn't convince Simon Wood, the entertainment judge.

Anderson's march, ‘Goldcrest' was taken at a nice steady tempo complete with singing and after the familiar ‘Summertime', music from the 60s in ‘Green Onions'.  4BR wasn't the only ones expecting them to do well, and after a fine ‘American Trilogy' they were up there on the day for us, and overall we expected a top three-berth.

Speaking with 4BR though, conductor Wayne Ruston couldn't hide his delight that his soprano player, Melanie Wardle got the award for the best soprano playing of the whole day.  Wayne told us "I am delighted for Mel.  It took a lot of courage for her to play in Blackpool today after she fell on stage last year, she played superbly"'.  Mel certainly did, and at an event that has an ethos of children helping children in a variety of different ways, her courage and determination, let alone her reward, shouldn't go un-noticed.

Poynton Youth were a band that stretched themselves with ‘Windows of the World' and it was too ambitious for them. Although they finished 6th in the music category, it wasn't playing that hit you between the eyes; at times the body language of the band looked uneasy (and we've seen them do Windows before) so its not that unfamiliar to them, but perhaps it wasn't the right choice to demonstrate their talents on this occasion.

Houghton Youth, Tees Valley and debutantes Wrexham Schools joined in this festival, and whilst all of them had some moments, they didn't have enough on the day to challenge for the major honours.

Houghton played off the late number thirteen draw but never really got into rhythm.  ‘Music of the Blues', ‘Crazy Music in the Air', ‘Only Love' (featuring a lovely delicate soprano voice) and ‘African Funk' never caught the imagination but the band (and audience) clearly enjoyed ‘All that Jazz' from Chicago complete with choreography, of whom those involved, clearly enjoyed their roll.  Houghton's efforts didn't go unnoticed though as they picked up the accolade of the band that had the most potential.

Tees Valley played from the early draw of number two and their programme wasn't one that sparkled, and the opening ‘Caravan' was a piece that they never got to grips with at all; in fact by the time they'd played John Miles' ‘Music' they had very little left in the tank.

Wrexham Brass made their debut here, but can take heart from other bands that have not always impressed first time out and gone on to better things when they competed thereafter.  Wrexham's interpretation of Tchaikovsky's ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy' featuring two bass players caused an awful lot of amusement for the audience and no doubt a bit of fun within the band.

Majestic Brass had the opportunity to perform a set including the familiar Bach's Toccata and Fugue along with When I'm 64, before the announcement of the results of a contest that had started nine hours earlier.  A long day it might have been but an enjoyable one it is, and if you've never been, just go and listen, it really is an experience.

You can purchase a double CD @ £10 of highlights of the day on line at or from;

Meg Starkey
1 Waingap Farm
OL12 8PS

The day once again belonged to Rochdale Borough Youth Band and Eric Landon; terrific ambassadors for entertainment wherever they perform.  Listening to Eric though, you knew that the whole band was just glad to go to Blackpool together and enjoy the day.  They just wanted to be together as one family win or lose.  Winning here was an added bonus, and as the main man Eric Landon was present and leading in fine style that was what really mattered.

Malcolm Wood & David Tinker

Action Medical Research Youth BB Festival Programme of Music 2006

1st: Rochdale Borough Youth

Come Follow the Band
Old Man River
Somewhere Over the Rainbow featuring Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, Flugel
Music Box (Wound by a Key)
There is Nothing Like a Dame

2nd: Boarshurst Youth

Music from James Bond
Moon River
I Will Follow Him
Singing in the Rain
Spirit Stallion of Cimarron

3rd: Youth Brass 2000

Te Deum
Soul Bossanova
Rhapsody for Euphonium, Soloist Alex Seedhouse
Mack the Knife
Reunion & Finale, from Gettyberg

4th: Enderby Youth

Pastime with Good Company
Kennesaw Mountain Blues

5th: Oldham Music Centre

Windows of the World

The Rising Sun
Drums of Thunder
Celtic Dream
Earth Walk

6th: Beaumaris Youth

Olympic Fanfare & Theme
Devils Galop
Memory, Soprano Solo, Graham Bushell
Soul Bossanova
Theme from Pirates of the Caribbean

7th: Wardle High

Great Escape
In the Mood
Sunset & Last Post
Hymn to the Fallen
The Army, the Navy & The Air Force, We'll Meet Again
Pomp & Circumstance March No.4

8th: Sellers International Youth

When the Saints
Londonderry Air
The Zurich March
The Rising Sun
Conquest of Paradise

9th: Dobcross Youth

Theme from Phanton of the Opera
Angel of Beauty
Music of the Night
All I Ask of You
Angel of Music

10th: Abraham Darby

Green Onions
Spanish Trombones
American Trilogy

11th: Poynton Youth

Windows of the World

The Rising Sun
Drums of Thunder
Celtic Dream
Earth Walk

12th: Houghton Youth

March of the Blues
Crazy Music in the Air
Only Love
African Funk
All that Jazz

13th: Tees Valley Youth

Why Did I Choose You?
Three Scottish Dances

14th: Wrexham Schools

Men of Harlech
Swinging Trip
Music from Pirates of the Caribbean
Dance of Sugar Plum Fairy
Olympic Fanfare & Theme


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