2006 Pontins Championships - Postcard


Malcolm Wood casts his critical eye back over a great weekend of music making when not everything went to its usual plan at Pontins.

When you think about it, we all do things out of habit  - and they can be things that define an individual's character.  What might seem strange to some might seem acceptable to others and its one of the things that makes life interesting.

Old habits never die of course, but one habit that changed at Pontins this weekend was the date, and making the trip to Prestatyn on the first weekend in November – a ritual of sorts since its inception in the 1970s.  With the Nationals in London being moved to the last Saturday in October and encroaching on traditionally the Pontins weekend, it felt very strange indeed.

For instance, there was no extra hours drinking in the bars or the chance to sleep off the hangover as is the case at the end of October when the clocks go back, and you certainly won't get that the opportunity next year either as the contest will be held on the first weekend in November.  Dario Touhladjiev of Pontins though is hopeful that he can get the contest back into its more familiar slot in 2008 and beyond.

In the commercial cut-throat world that we live in, it's terrific news that Pontins maintains its commitment to the movement with this festival.  Their dedication and commitment is first class and the prize money on offer is excellent (especially in the lower sections). Once again, around £20k was put into the pot and to do this year in, year out, takes a lot of hard work from everybody involved and they can't be praised enough. They do get their money back with considerable interest of course, by the head count on beds, fast food outlets and bar takings, but what else is there to do on a cold and windy Welsh coastline at this time of year?

Musical Advisor James Scott deserves a massive pat on the back too.  Once again he chose a cracking selection of test pieces that were accessible for the bands and audiences alike and as a result here was a fair old sprinkling of bums of seats too. The Pontins weekend is an opportunity for friends to meet up and socialise together and playing in the contest is only a small part of it.

The organisers put on entertainment that you are free to take the chance to listen to if you so please, and Pontins just wouldn't be Pontins without the Bavarian Stompers who once again entertained the audience in their own inimitable style late on Saturday night and into Sunday morning.

What was surprising this year though was that there were some organizational hiccups and the events of Saturday produced one of the major talking points of the whole weekend with the Third Section finishing at 10.45pm.

With two contests taking place in the Lunars Bar on the Saturday contest controllers always have a busy day with the aim of having everything finished by early evening, giving everybody the opportunity to relax or go home if they so choose.  Sadly, that wasn't the case this year.

The Fourth Section containing its largest contingent of bands for a few years (twenty-one) started at 9.00am on Saturday morning.  Unfortunately, only three bands to the hour were going through in this section and with no withdrawals at all bar Nantle (Facets of Glass isn't the longest piece in the world) it created a back-log and the anticipated start time for the Third Section just didn't happen. 

Hence a contest lasting around seven hours, meant bands in the Third Section were going on much later than anticipated and they along with conductors deserve praise for keeping their spirits up when they weren't exactly over the moon with the situation.  Perhaps where two sections take place in the Lunars Bar, the answer might be to put a ceiling on the number of bands allowed to enter. Gareth Churcher's new work in the Third Section was highly effective and entertaining, but it was a long time coming.
It wasn't quite like Torquay at the Nationals a few years ago though, but it didn't go down to well and it is something that will be discussed after the contest by the organizers.

To finish a contest at nearly 11pm isn't acceptable for anyone and it meant that those involved in the contest who wanted to listen to the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and the mouthpiece.com brass band had to forego the opportunity - as they did in getting a beer or two inside them. The success of the weekend as has already been said incorporates the opportunity to drink and be merry – they got the chance, but much later than anticipated. Fingers are crossed that it won't happen next year.

The weekend wasn't short of positives though and congratulations to the judging teams who spoke informatively to the audiences after each contest.  It was great to see Martin Mortimer around the complex as well over the weekend and he thoroughly enjoyed himself and took the opportunity to present the prizes in the section named after his parents – the Harry & Margaret Mortimer Memorial Championships. 

The contests themselves were enjoyable affairs with some results going to form and others not.  Pennine took the first prize in the Championship Section depriving Staffordshire of joining an exclusive club of hat-trick winners here, and talking of the Championship Section, how many bands took the chance of borrowing some star names for the contest?  It really did become 'see who you can spot in this band' with the likes of Kirsty Abbotts, Gavin Saynor, Kevin Holdgate, Gavin Pritchard, David Moore, Martin Armstrong, Andy Holmes, Rebecca Crawshaw and Ern Keller Champion and ex-YBS star Paula Russell all helping out on the day in prime positions as well.  As long as the rule exists, bands wil always make the most of it.

Anyone listening to Timperley in this section may well have spotted a star of the future as well; a little boy just a few rows from the front imitating David Evans, the conductor.  He was brilliant, using both hands, full of gestures, not too mention have an understanding of the complex rhythms; he's a conductor of the future for sure.

Marsden Silver (Riverhead Brewery) failed to retain its title from last year in the First Section, having been placed 12th, it became one of the talking points of the weekend, but West Country outfit, Chalford wern't worried though, they were intent on drinking the bars dry and celebrating long into the night.

Kippax took the honours in the Second Section and 4BR's friends from Flixton have asked us to stop tipping them for victory after they had to settle for 3rd place in the Third Section where Eccleston took the spoils and where Gareth Churcher's new work, ‘Episodes in Brass' proved to be a real winner.

Oldham Band (Lees) were a happy bunch though after they retained their title from last year in the Fourth Section beating Dodworth in the process and subsequently feeling much happier about life than they did at Harrogate.

4BR's correspondents, Malcolm Wood, John James and David Tinker ventured into un-chartered territory with our alternative podcast, with the only Welsh connection coming from Prestatyn itself and mention of the Welsh bands and no mention of Wales' rugby performance against Australia on Saturday.

As always though, Pontins has its own unique atmosphere and 2006 proved to be another successful weekend and before you know it, you'll be back in 2007.

Malcolm Wood


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