2006 Wilkinsons Northern Open - Retrospective


John James was on hand all day at the Wilkinson's Northern Open to see which bands really had the cutting edge when it came to the prizes.

Whilst the Brass in Concert Championship was unfolding on the east coast of England last weekend the well established Wilkinson's Northern Open Championships were likewise unfolding in the west.

Twenty seven bands competed in the contest, the eighth successive Championships to be sponsored by Wilkinson, who continue their invaluable support of the Northern Open Championships. The support from this chain has meant that the contest has been able to continue its position as one of the highlights of the contesting calendar in the North West of England.

In an increasingly crowded contest calendar the organising committee again felt that the interests of bands would best be served by making the Championships ‘own choice' for all sections. The own choice format was introduced last year as the contest celebrated it 25th year, and it was viewed that the many demands being placed on bands, particular those appearing at the National Finals, Pontins and other events all closing in at the end of the year made it increasingly difficult to prepare for another set piece contest.

The own choice formula seemed to be appreciated and the diversity of and strength of the pieces selected was a tribute to the standards that have been set by this contest.

Having been originally commissioned for this contest and appearing as one of the set works for Pontins it was nice to hear ‘Facets of Glass' being played in its spiritual home and a few bands selected this particular piece.

Championship Section

David Horsfield adjudicated the top section for Championship and First Section Bands and he made reference to the diversity and difficulty of some of the works chosen. His comments from the stage were simple and direct but had the compassion of a listener with a real heart for the performances he had heard.

SkelmanthorpeInnovative Skelmanthorpe playing ‘Between the Moon and Mexico' took top honours with a sound that was bright and clear giving a little extra bite to the performance than their rivals, and in the process collecting the overall solo prize. Meanwhile playing off number one Pemberton Old produced both sensitive and vigorous changes with control required in ‘English Heritage'.

Graham O'Connor led Hatfield Brass in a quite exhilarating performance of ‘Essence of Time'. The whole had a hushed dedication between spiky and concentrated intensity with the tremendous soprano playing was justly rewarded with the best soprano award.

‘Tallis Variations' suited the Haydock Band and with the expressive warm sounds demanded of the work they came very close to securing a prize. Mossley Band produced a performance of ‘Prisms' that hallmarked the quality of the top bands in this section. Their performance was underpinned with bass sounds that were very classy and they took home the best basses award.

Travelling up the motorway from the midlands was the Langley Band under the direction of experienced MD Cliff Parker. Despite the obvious warmth of the general playing the more exposed passages just troubled at critical musical moments. One expected to hear ‘Blitz', having been set at the Pontins contest recently, and Longridge produced an atmospheric reading but the bite and brilliance just failed to come through as the piece progressed.

Blackpool Brass meanwhile produced a most approachable style in a performance of the seasoned work ‘Lorenzo' which just didn't quite reach the technical demands of the prize winners. Flixton Band found themselves in stiff competition as their tremendous progress within the North West Counties has accelerated forward. Their performance of ‘Essence of Time' was most enjoyable but the extra richness and performance demands asked by the composer were very challenging.
The brilliance of ‘Paganini Variations' poses real problems and Poulton-le-Fylde will perhaps be a little disappointed that whilst they tried hard to convey the feeling of the music too many errors crept into the overall performance to really figure.

Second Section:

Section B for Second Section Bands was also judged by David Horsfield and he had no hesitation in rewarding Middleton the winners trophy, best soloist and best basses in a clean sweep of awards. ‘Oceans' suited their sound and they created some aristocratic phrasing in their winning performance.

Greenalls chose ‘Swiss Excursion' and on this occasion delivered a very commanding sound that clearly set the standard from their number two draw. The cameras on hand to record their progress for Channel 4 will have plenty of good material with which to work.

Shine as the Light' served Delph well in third and they pushed the music forward, the whole being supported with a very warm tone.

Frickley / South Elmsall performance of ‘Purcell Variations' suffered from a few too many crucial slips in a performance that at times came very close to fully realising the sparkle and intensity of the musical picture. On the other hand ‘My Strength My Tower' just didn't work for Valley Brass on the day and the genuine tension that we have heard them produce in previous performances of this work eluded them on this occasion.

‘Swiss Excursion' was the choice of Audley and they delivered a little bit of a mixed performance when the links and bridges in this piece just lacked that all important cohesion.

Third Section:

EcclesIn the morning the Third Section bands made a good fist of their own pieces in the main and Eccles Borough won the top prize of £400 with a most rhythmic account of ‘Dimensions' that saw them take the solo prize as well.

Lostock Hall Memorial and Pemberton Old B both approached pieces they had played at Pontins, ‘Facets of Glass' and ‘Episodes in Brass', in very workmanlike manner and their was little to separate the happy and lyrical delivery that both bands brought to these pieces.

Uppermill were perhaps a touch unlucky to be out of the prizes where MD Alan Widdop looked to give the music a real scene of style. They took the trombone award and overall the whole had a generally nicely balanced feel in ‘Facets of Glass'.

‘A Royal Mile Suite' again could have been rewarded had not the section proved so strong. Despite Golborne playing with a bright and clean style they saw themselves facing some stiff opposition who had raised the stakes.

Parr, drawn number 1in the section, took ‘Laudate Dominum' very steadily but it didn't quite have the quality all across to make an impact as the section unfolded and finished quite a distance off the prizes at the finish.

Paul Andrews who has taken his Wire Brass band through the lower sections to top section status over the recent seasons adjudicated and he understands fully the factors that come to play in both the C and D Sections he covered. He applauded the bands for their efforts and came over on stage with a very fair assessment of the performances he had heard.

Fourth Section:

Eatons Farnworth Walkden took the first prize and the soloist award (flugel) in the D Section. Together with Besses Boys they revisited ‘Facets of Glass' and the work in rehearsal paid off on this occasion where they had a quite clear winning margin over the other bands in the section.

Gillian Bould impressed with a most encouraging style in conducting as she guided Tarleton in 'Pennine Moors'. A clear beat and a most rhythmic manner the band did their utmost to delivery the style her body language was obviously conveying. Just not enough on the day to take top honours but a most fruitful partnership for the future seems entirely possible.
Port Sunlight Lyceum took 'Saddlworth Festival Overture' in quite a warm style but it was perhaps phrasing and note lengths alluded to by the Paul Andrews in summation that cost the points on the day.

In approaching 'Lydian Pictures' the Brindle Band looked to continue their come back in the contesting arena. The whole didn't quite work but they certainly had some nice solo moments particularly from the principal cornet.

The Northern Open has since its inception been a well supported contest by bands from all across the U.K. and its reasoning behind own choice format seems to have been well thought out and has kept the entries quite stable.

The added input of the team from the North West Counties BBA in the registry and stewarding roles as well as the hard work the Rainford Band members put into the day was most rewarding when the performances and flow of the day worked as well as they did on this occasion.

Congratulations to all the bands, stewards, officials (not forgetting adjudicators) on a most enjoyable contest.

John James


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