2006 North of England Regional Championships - Introduction


Where we spoke of a possible renaissance in the North East last year, there is a real possibility that we are talking a crisis this time around.

45 bands took to the stage here last year (there were a number who were on the programme but didn't make it to the starting line up) but this year that has shrunk to just 44 before the day of the contest itself. 

Whatever the reasons, this is a real cause for concern and there are just five bands in the Second Section. 
The North of England is the smallest region in terms of bands competing in the UK but it remains one of the most vibrant brass band regions in the country. There is a brilliant atmosphere and the most friendly welcome you could wish for at the contest itself, which is very well run, but for all those plus points, it does need bands to actually come to the contest to take part.

There is a lot of great deal of fantastic work going on up here what with Brass Band Aid and the introduction of the brass related course run by Ray Farr at the University of Durham which has been getting fine support from the brass band community up here. There has also been a few encouraging results at National level as well with Fishburn taking the Scottish Open late last year.

Championship Section:

Last year the region sent three bands to the Royal Albert Hall – the first time for donkey's ears and although Reg Vardy were hoping to repeat the result of 2004 when they came 3rd, 2005 saw them perhaps find their right level and come 10th, whilst the other two qualifiers BHK (UK) Ltd Horden and Tavistock Chester–le-Street came 17th and 20th respectively (although the latter had some misfortune before they played). 

That really isn't the type of form to send shivers down the spines of rivals, but it could well mean that the battle for the two qualifying places this year may be closer than you think. 

Reg Vardy will of course be favorites to add to their 28 Regional titles, but as they didn't really push on last year as they may have hoped they could find themselves battling hard against the likes of Fishburn, EYMS, Harrogate, Tavistock and BHK once more. Could be interesting this one.  Derek Broadbent is the man in the box and he brings a refreshing clarity to his judging as makes his points to what he felt was good or bad very clearly indeed.

First Section:

BHK Horden were the last band to win the National title itself from the area in 2003, but last year the regions two qualifiers, Easington and Langbaurgh could only manage 11th and 14th, so there is work to be done here as well.  2003 was in fact the last time two bands from the region came in the top six at the Finals since 1993. Brian Buckley will be in the box for the contest and he will bring all his experience to bear. There is quality here, but sometimes it doesn't travel too well away from its home.

Second Section:

Just the five bands here and there are rumours that even that small number may be diminished further by the time of the draw. That would be a great pity as there is a desperate need for strong up and cming bands to make their mark at this level and progress on wards and upwards. The bands from the area have a pretty decent record come the finals though with plenty of top ten finishes in the past decade. You have to go back to 1992 for the last time they produced a winner when Robert Childs took the then City of Hull Band to the title, but there are encouraging signs that the strength is coming back. 

Last years representatives, GT Group Peterlee and Lockwood came back from Harrogate in 7th and 8th place – not bad at all. Alan Fernie will be the man in the box for the short space of time on this one.

Third Section:

The area has only produced the one podium position at the Finals in the last eight years although they did get a well deserved 3rd in 2004. Last year's qualifiers were Dearham and Hetton Silver and they found it a bit tough at Harrogate and could only come back with 14th and 19th places respectively. Again work to do, but Brian Buckley should be able to pick the winners out of the pot without too much trouble here on Gilbert Vinter's difficult test piece.

Fourth Section:

An encouraging line up of bands in the Fourth Section and they will have the added bonus of playing for the composer of the test piece himself – no complaints about the result then!

Again though it has been a bit of a struggle for the bands at this level to make a mark when it comes to the National Finals themselves and only the one in the past eight years has one of the qualifiers come in the top six. In the last three years it has been a pretty sorry story with two consecutive 16th and 17th places and last year, Five Rivers and Dunston Silver coming 14th and 15th. Why they can't get higher towards the prizes is a bit of a mystery as they are no better or worse than any rivals from around the country.  Lets see what Alan Fernie makes of their efforts then.

As we have said, Darlington offers a fine banding weekend for the casual listener and we would urge anyone to at least go the once to experience the atmosphere here. The standard may not be the highest but the commitment and the enthusiasm is just as good as anywhere you care to mention. Lets hope it rubs off on the bands who didn't quite make it here this year.


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