2008 West of England Regional Championship - Introduction


As always there is always a warm and friendly atmosphere down in Torquay, and it appears that some sort of contesting osmosis has taken place too…

TorquayThe West of England Championships continue to be one of the most enjoyable events in the brass band calendar. That is all well and good in its own way – and you wouldn’t expect anything less from the hard working organisers who year after year manage to deliver a slick and highly professional event in Torquay.   

However, it appears that some sort of contesting osmosis is finally having its effect here too: The continued excellence of the regions lower section bands has finally seeped into what was in danger of becoming a championship section of undiluted mediocrity. It is good news all round – and long overdue for a region which has an abundance of talent throughout its ranks, top to bottom. 

The trick of course is whether or not the region can hold onto that talent for an extended period of time. Like other economically deprived areas of the country (and it does exist here despite the Doc Martin postcard villages, sunshine and surf) the outward migration of talented musicians is a wonderful benefit to others and a cruel coda to the musical chapter of many a local bands life. 

The fantastic work of so many in producing an almost endless crop of young players year in year out to replace those who head for university or in search of better work prospects is one of the wonders of the 21st century brass band movement. Just look out to see how many bands have nippers in their ranks this weekend. 

Long term planning is finally starting to have an effect – and that can only be good not just for the bands in the region but also for the whole of the UK brass band movement. The sections here now have a much more balanced feel about them, and although it would be great of they could split the Fourth Section into two and send four bands instead of three to Harrogate, at present that is impracticable and against the rules. They could ask though. Who can complain though when you can rustle up 74 bands (down just 1 this year) to come and take part.

Things are looking good no doubt about it.   

Championship Section:

Two things to note and two things that could well change. First: The dreaded curse of the reigning champion must surely come to an end at some time. You have to go back to 1996 since someone last held onto its title, and although that may be a signal that the contest may be full of well matched bands all roughly the same standard, it can also signify a general level of mediocrity too.

Last year PolySteel won with something to spare in a contest that we were not too lavish in our praise about – the overall level was at times sub championship fare. 

Which brings us neatly onto the second point. Standards are improving and there is now a handful (a smallish one – but a handful nonetheless) of bands here that could well snatch the title off PolySteel, but more importantly, go on and make some sort of mark at the finals themselves. 

SWT Woodfalls, Camborne and Mount Charles most readily spring to mind, all of whom have upped their game appreciably over the last 12 months, whilst there are encouraging reports that the others in this 12 band field have done the same. Hope so, because last year there were some pretty dire performances. 

We have heard of rumours that not all bands have been totally happy about the judges this year, but given that there are five regions taking place on the same day throughout the country, not everyone can be granted their personal favourites (whoever does?).

Alan Hope and Colin Hardy have plenty of experience and will be able to sit back and enjoy the 12 performances, before making their joint decision. Whether or not everyone agrees is another matter (and we have never been to a contest when the judges make everyone happy anyway!).

Who ever gets the nod though will know that it is about time the region sent two bands that can really compete at the finals (the last top six place was 1994), so we may have to wait a bit longer to see if the evidence of overall improvement has real substance, or given the local flora around these parts, is just a palm fringed mirage of unfulfilled potential. It should be interesting. 

First Section:

Could be an interesting one this for Alan Hope and Colin Hardy to sort out, but it should also be an enjoyable old contest too. 

The region is yet to produce a First Section national champion, but in the last three years they have produced at least one band to make it into the top six. That osmosis from the bottom up is paying dividends at last. Last year’s representatives came 6th and 8th at Harrogate, so it shows that there is strength here. 

A tricky test piece, which shouldn’t be underestimated could well sort out the best from the rest – and then its on to North Yorkshire in September.

Second Section:

Much the same to report in the Second Section where last year’s representatives went north and came 7th and 10th – again good solid performances from good solid bands.

How this contest will pan out this year could be interesting and Alan Hope and Colin Hardy may be left to scratch their heads a bit longer than usual before they come to their decision – there are a lot of well matched bands here.
Whoever does get through has a proud record to maintain at the finals, with wins in 2005 and 2006 as well as a second place and two third places in the last seven years.   

Third Section:

Only once in the last decade has a band from the region failed to make it into the top six at the national finals and in that time there have been four podium finishes.

Peter Roberts and Rob Wiffin will have plenty to enjoy and the standard here is remarkably high with the real possibility that the qualifiers will be strong contenders come the finals in September. 

Fourth Section:

Great to see a huge field at a brass band contest at this level – some areas will only manage a bare handful, so there is plenty to celebrate in this musical marathon.

The standard does of course vary greatly, but that is all part of the great atmosphere you get here. There is also one brand new band making its debut (as last year) and a couple of returnees too, so things are looking bright.
Who will get the all important nod from Peter and Rob is perhaps anyone’s guess but there is real talent on show and it could well be a very difficult decision for the experienced pairing. 

Whoever gets to Harrogate has a very proud record to maintain – with one band getting into the top six for the last 10 years, and with a total of 3 wins, 3 seconds and 2 thirds to boast about.


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