2006 Spring Festival - Postcard from Blackpool


There was real drama on the weekend - and we are not talking about the FA Cup Final in Cardiff either. OK, we are, but just a little bit...

Just at the moment Steven Gerrard was planting a scorching 30 yard piledriver past the startled custodian of the West Ham onion bag to send the FA Cup Final in Cardiff into extra time, the Leyland Band were just finishing off their exhausted performance in the Grand Shield.

Aveley and Newham
We've won the Cup! - Not quite, but Aveley get that Liverpool feeling

Whereas Liverpool went on to claim their great prize on a day of frayed nerves and useless penalty kicks by their London based opponents, Aveley and Newham rather turned the tables on their opponents from the North West, by claiming their place in the Premiership that is the British Open. Leyland were left to battle it out in the qualification stakes for another year at least, having like their footballing counterparts, played too many games in too short a time period to beat their opponents in normal time. 

Blackpool's Winter Garden's this year may not have throbbed with the nail chewing excitement of the Millennium Stadium, but it was still a cracking day out that came up with plenty of enjoyable moments to stick in the memory banks. 

At last, the British Open will have a band competing from an area in the country that until this year Blackpool was suffering the type of contest winning drought that would have had the band committee putting in musical stand pipes in the bandrooms across the capital.  Why it has taken London such a long time to get a band to travel to Birmingham in September is a bit of a mystery.

Aveley and Newham are a good quality Championship Section band that can more than hold its own even in the best of company. That it hasn't got to the Open for well over a decade is more down to the fact that come the knockout stages of the Grand Shield, Aveley (as well as their fellow capital contenders, Redbridge), used to show the type of away form Fulham FC were showing in the Premiership, until the last game of the season. Aveley were great at home (they won the Regional Championships in Stevenage this year) but put them on the road and up Watlin Street to the North, their backbones used to take on the consistency of a jelly.

Not so now, and well done to them for ridding themselves of that particular monkey off their back. Now it belongs on the shoulders of the bands from the West of England, as they are now the only region in the UK that won't have a representative at the Open come September. Who said London and the Southern Counties was the weakest banding region in the country?

The Spring Festival in fact showed that our friends in the North didn't have the best of weekends at all.

The Grand Shield did see Carlton Main fly the flag for Yorkshire, but they were on their own. Lancashire bands fared even worse, with not one band coming in a qualification place in all three sections. 

London in fact came away with one winner (Aveley and Newham) and two promotions (Staines and Alliance) whilst the Midlands also notched up a hat trick with a win for Newstead and two promotions for Thoresby and Ratby. Wales got in on the act with two promotions too, with BTM and Tongwynlais, whilst Scotland picked up a winner in the form of Kingdom Brass.  

At the wrong end of the tables and facing relegation came at least six North West bands and two from Yorkshire in the three sections. Is the power base of banding changing then?

Making some sort of sound: PolySteel make the most of their mutes

Not really, but it does make you think that the traditional boast of so called northern bands that those from the south can't compete against them with any success has a bit of a hollow ring to it at present.

The whole Spring Festival is now such a well run event that it deserves the success that it is now enjoying. Karen and Martin Mortimer have cleverly taken on good advice and used excellent organisers to ensure that not only is there a demand from the bands to enter the three tiered contest, but that it also attracts a healthy listening audience too. It says a lot too that the management of the hall now think of it as a very important event in their calendar (not surprising given the paucity of the talent they have book in for the rest of the season it seems).

There was also the welcome selection of adjudicators this year and the choice of test pieces which offered hope for all the competitors, but also ensured that it would be bloody difficult for any one band to run away with any of the contests. It really was a level paying field, although time has come we think to name and shame those bands who continue to use the practice of ‘Silent Brass' mutes to try and ‘camouflage' their inability to play quietly. Their MDs should be thoroughly embarrassed by their actions. 

Blackpool just about had it all this year. The town itself may have become something of a parody of itself with its reliance on cheap stag and hen parties to fill up its hotel rooms, but it still gives the banding fraternity a warm welcome.

You can't help wondering though that Aveley and Newham won't be missing the old place too much now that they have got to the British Open.

Iwan Fox


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