2009 Spring Festival - Grand Shield: retrospective


Blackpool may be a dark place for some, but not for Rothwell who once again hit Golden Mile form to head back to the British Open.

Rothwell girls
Girls, Girls, Girls - Rothwell's distaff side celebrate their Grand Shield victory
Picture: Ian Clowes


If ever there was a tale of mixed fortunes that could be taken from a set of contest results, the top four places at the Grand Shield this year proved to be a very clear indication of the extremes of ecstasy and despair that can either send a band to Open heaven or result in both bandsmen and conductors alike reaching for the Valium.


The depression inducing prospect of a further trip to the jaded former capital of the British tourist industry next year could be enough to send anyone over the edge….oh yes, the Grand Shield can be a very dark place indeed.

At the euphoric end of the scale David Roberts and Rothwell Temperance proved beyond all reasonable doubt that there was no fluke about the band’s victory in Yorkshire a couple of months ago with a finely honed performance of ‘Contest Music’ that was delivered with the precision, care and attention to detail of a Swiss watchmaker.

The band’s misfortune in diving out of the British Open last year as a result of Sellers International’s demise was rectified in style and ensures that the band will have its deserved place at all of the further “majors” this year; and justly so.

Rightful elite

Rothwell is a band that on current form should be rightfully competing amongst the elite.

For Virtuosi GUS it was a case of despair turning to elation as the band qualified for the Open as runner up, having somewhat controversially missed out on qualification for the Royal Albert Hall in Bedworth.

This is a result that has been on the cards for some time though with John Berryman, a man that can always be relied upon for a highly musical presentation of a score, having injected a new lease of life into the band since his arrival for a second tour of duty in Kettering early last year.

Another band seemingly rejuvenated following a disappointing fourth place at Torquay in March was Mount Charles, directed with notable authority by Andy Duncan.


The dreaded third place, usually the curse of the Grand Shield results table and whilst no doubt disappointing on one level for the band, will also provide a notable confidence booster ahead of the band’s forthcoming outing to the English Nationals.

For the most gut wrenching of results though it was Tredegar Town and Ian Porthouse that will have left the Winter Gardens wishing desperately that they didn’t have to return.


Having upped the ante from a below par performance of ‘Contest Music’ at the European Championships the previous weekend and having endured the curse of third place at the Grand Shield last year, the band turned in an intensely committed reading of Heaton’s score that although seeing principal cornet player Dewi Griffiths take the soloist prize and drawing a warm response from the audience, ultimately took fourth place and a return booking for the band’s regular Blackpool hotel in 2010.  

Kick off

With Yorkshire Imperial having withdrawn at short notice amidst talk of continued difficulties for the band, the reduced field of nineteen bands kicked off with Jaguar (Coventry) and Dave Lea drawing number one on the band’s first Grand Shield outing since 2005.


Jaguar has been dogged by inconsistency in recent times but despite a good showing at Bedworth in March a few too many early morning gremlins kicked in on 'Contest Music' and fifteenth place, whilst giving the band another crack at Open qualification next year, will give Dave Lea plenty to think about ahead of the bands appearance at the Masters in less than a fortnight’s time.


For John Hudson and Kibworth, despite battling bravely, the demands of 'Contest Music' proved to stretch the band beyond its limits and after a very creditable tenth place at last year’s Shield, 2010 will see the band competing in the Senior Cup as it falls through the relegation trapdoor.



remains a band not to be underestimated and from the Number three draw, Duncan Beckley and his players threw down the first genuine marker of the day. Sixth place was the reward from Bill Relton and Nigel Boddice for a performance that succeeded in capturing the sweep of the score with admirable style.


Lapses in the first movement were in common with many of the competing bands but the atmosphere of the slow movement came very close to the best on the day and with the English Nationals around the corner together with the National Finals for the band to look forward to, this was a performance that gives Newstead a solid platform for the remainder of 2009.


Reigning Pontins Champion Sovereign was reunited with Trevor Jones in Blackpool after Peter Parkes stint in directing the band to victory in Prestatyn and seventh place in the Midland area.


There was a good deal to admire about the band’s approach to ‘Contest Music’ with excellent dynamic contrast on display and a slow movement of both shape and poise. Ensemble was not always totally secure but confidence was strong in the incisive final movement and the outcome of eighth place was about the measure of it for us.


Anyone present at the Midland Area will remember the collective intake of audience breath that greeted the announcement of Virtuosi GUS in fourth place at Bedworth.

Having been denied a spot at the Royal Albert Hall the band might well have been all the more determined to pull something off here and it certainly sounded like the case as John Berryman and the band turned in a full blooded account of the score that marked the band out as the early leader.

With future star in the making and NYBB Principal James Fountain making a telling impression in the slow movement the band turned in a performance of musical breadth that grew in confidence markedly as it progressed following a few early insecurities in the first movement.


The slow movement was beautifully balanced however and permeated by a sense of both atmosphere and poise with a final movement climax that made a big impression.

It was a performance that lingered in the memories of William Relton and Nigel Boddice to the very end and although we had the band in fourth place due to those first movement slips, there was no doubting its standing as a performance of quality.

Not to be

East of England champions EYMS, directed by a casually attired Frans Violet, will have been hoping to make a serious mark on the band’s Grand Shield debut, following victory in the Senior Cup last year.


On the day though it was not to be, with a central movement that did not succeed in capturing the bleak serenity of the music and erratic outer movements that whilst not without passages of quality were not enough to avoid the band sliding straight back to the senior cup next year with seventeenth place.


Following EYMS on stage was another Grand Shield debutante in Bactiguard Wire Brass, with Paul Andrews opting for a somewhat experimental seating arrangement that saw the euphoniums at the back of the band alongside the Eb basses and behind the baritones.


With a very creditable seventh place come the results, Paul Andrews relaxed and understated conducting style seemed almost at odds with a performance of broad brushstrokes that reached a peak in the confident playing of the third movement and took brave risks in the slow movement that although not always coming off, were welcome amongst the safe approach of many bands on the day. Bactiguard remains a band that continues to gather in strength.

Meaning business

Taking to the stage at number eight, Mount Charles gave the impression of meaning business from the opening bars with solid incisive playing that made an immediate impression.

Well chosen tempos and a strong band sound were marred by slips at times but the character of the music was captured with some style.


The slow movement again faltered at times whilst still finding the music’s bleak serenity whilst the third movement was exciting, visceral stuff although still shaking off the nagging slips.

For us the slips meant that we had the band just outside the top six but for the adjudicators it was the musical approach and style that brought about third place and a notable improvement on eighth last year.

Shaken off

For Thoresby Colliery and new man on the scene Ian McElligott, the first movement started well but was then seized by tentative playing, the effects of which were never completely shaken off. 


The deliberate tempo chosen might not have helped and although individual contributions were sound in the slow movement the dynamics employed tended towards safety. The final movement showed more bravura but it was inconsistency of execution that prevented a higher placing than eleventh.


It fell to Reg Vardy to lead into the adjudicators comfort break and Russell Gray immediately stamped his authority on a performance that initially hit between the eyes with a big band sound, but also allowed the music to unfold with a sense of style and character.


There were moments of strain in the cornet line and tuning occasionally suffered but with warm and sonorous sounds in the slow movement and a stylistically commanding final movement this was a performance that succeeded in finding the symphonic sweep of the music despite its lapses.

We had it creeping into the top six although for the men in the box those slips cost the band dearly with ninth place being the result.

Natural affinity

Garry Cutt is a man that seems to have a natural affinity with 'Contest Music', as borne out by his memorable British Open victory on the work with Foden’s back in 2004.

That affinity was on display once again with Flowers in a performance that was shaped with consummate style. It was the slow movement that proved to be the band’s downfall though as individual slips mounted in alarming fashion.


The outer movements were marked by telling use of dynamics and both detail and clarity in the inner parts but the slow movement was to cost badly. We had the band sixth with the adjudicators opting for fifth but it could have all been very different were it not for that slow movement.

Fall prey

Flowers former MD Philip Harper and Tongwynlais Temperance took to the stage at twelve and from the start seemed to fall prey to restrained tempi in the outer movements that gave the performance limited momentum and vigour.


The players battled hard but in the end it was simply too much of a strain and the impression was of a strangely subdued musical presentation. With sixteenth place the outcome the band will be thankful that due to Yorkshire Imp’s withdrawal, it stays up to contest the Grand Shield once again next year.


With GUS clearly leading the way for us to this point, Rothwell’s appearance on stage at number thirteen was always going to be an intriguing prospect.

Just what it means: Rothwell hear the news of their victory
Picture: Ian Clowes

The newly crowned conquerors of the big guns of Yorkshire were not to let us down and the precision and attention to detail in the ensemble immediately marked it out as something different....and special.


David Roberts allowed the music to unfold in an entirely natural way whilst keeping a tight rein on dynamics and the result was playing of refinement and nuance. 

The approach was not necessarily one of visceral excitement or white knuckles but it was thrilling nonetheless and one could only sit back and admire the polish of a band that takes tremendous pride and care in its preparation.

With a haunting slow movement marked by almost flawless individual contributions and a final movement that captured the vigour of the music through impressively taut ensemble, it was a performance that was always going to take some serious beating.


For Pemberton Old JJB it was a daunting act to follow but Mark Bentham and his team put on a committed show.


In the end it was largely cracks in the slow movement coupled with an ever tiring final movement that held it back but twelfth was a creditable result for another band enjoying its Grand Shield debut.

Clarity and control

is a band on a high after opening the year with victories at Butlins and Stevenage and with a prime draw of fifteen to play from made a convincing start with playing of clarity and control.


The austerity of the slow movement was finely wrought and although the band’s principal cornet player faltered on the top C#, it was the only blemish in an otherwise fine central movement.

With the opening movement’s sense of musical structure and style echoed in the finale we had the band just outside the qualification places but our opinion was not shared by the men that matter with tenth place a seemingly harsh outcome.

Mixed bag

At number 17, Wingates gave a performance that was the proverbial mixed bag, not being without its qualities but dogged by a degree of inconsistency and a slow movement that took the safe approach with dynamics, a route that prohibited the atmosphere building of the best on the day.


Mid table

For us it was always a mid-tabler with fourteenth position the result. In similar fashion Aveley and Newham was never at its best on this occasion in another performance that failed to deliver consistency.


Early mistakes did seem to clear to lead to a more confident final movement but by then the damage was already done. Last place did seem to be a tough decision for us though and relegation to the Senior Cup will not be a result the Londoners would have anticipated we suspect.      

For Tredegar Town and Ian Porthouse there was only ever going to be one objective that mattered and with the band’s safe passage to the Royal Albert Hall having been once again assured in Swansea, the band was gunning to add the Open to its contest diary for the year.


Dewi Griffiths
Top C# man: Dewi Griffiths takes the solo prize 
Picture: Ian Clowes

The band first had to put a disappointing performance of the piece behind it from the previous weekend however, although from the opening bar there was never a hint of caution.

In fact the approach was in many ways the polar opposite to Rothwell, with easily the biggest band sound of the contest allied with a muscular but commandingly musical approach to the outer movements.

The contrast with the slow movement seemed all the greater as a result and with finely judged balance and dynamics Tredegar and Rothwell were for our money the bands ahead of the field at the close.

For Tredegar though it was not to be, with the band deemed to have been excessive in its final movement dynamics and being penalised by the judges accordingly. 


And so it fell to Freckleton to round the day off with a performance that whilst prone to a degree of scrappiness at times, also offered a glowing central movement, sensitively directed by MD Gareth Pritchard.


Thirteenth was a result that the band can be pleased at this level and sees them back to fight another day next year.

Running high

For Rothwell then expectations will be running high as it begins its preparations for the Masters and English Nationals whilst for Virtuosi GUS, the band will relish its return to the Open after an absence of six long years.

A dark place for some Blackpool and the Grand Shield might be but Rothwell and GUS are two bands that have seen the light. 

Christopher Thomas  


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