Smile of victory for Cary Brock of Hatherleigh
Robin Wonnacott was perhaps the proudest man in Torquay on Saturday afternoon, when it was announced that Hatherleigh Silver had won the Fourth Section title.
Not that he showed it.
As players and supporters excitedly celebrated their victory, he quietly stood taking it all in.
45 years of commitment; 20 as conductor, and on the day as their Bb Tuba player, this was perhaps the moment he had been waiting for: His band - Hatherleigh Silver, was the West of England Champion.
It’s story that is played out all over the country of course during the Regional Championships, but when you find out just how much sheer hard work and commitment people like Robin put in - seen their band grow, then almost go out of existence, then rise again, you can’t help but take you hat off to them.
On the day Hathereligh was conducted by Dave Hayward, who last year led them to second place and onto the finals in Harrogate.
He has been an inspiration to the players too – his infectious enthusiasm and intelligent musicianship bringing the best out of a disparate group of all ages and abilities.
The win came courtesy of a performance that gave the adjudicator’s Derek Broadbent and David Lancaster just what they were looking for in terms of consistency of musical approach and execution throughout the three movements of John Golland’s whimsical set work.
Back to Cheltenham for the winners
Style and purpose
The opening ‘Prelude’ was played with just the right sense of majestic style and purpose, the following ‘Song’ with a warm lyricism and the final ‘Dance’ with a light, breezy wit.
They were not the only band to do that and more – in a contest that had a whole host of performances of merit.
A couple of bands at the bottom end of the results table did struggle with some of the technical issues (the start of the final movement caused problems for some conductors), but none came a cropper.
The West of England will send three very good ensembles up the M5 to Cheltenham in September, after they delivered excellent qualification performances, whilst many more will have gained a great deal of benefit from both working on Golland’s test piece.
With Hatherleigh taking the honours, there were equal cheers of delight with the announcement of New Forest Brass directed by Ian Luxford in second place – even if there didn’t seem to be too many of their players in the hall to enjoy the moment.
Secure soloists and a lovely warm ensemble tonality that allowed the MD to make the most of the dynamic contrasts within the score hallmarked their solid performance.
Bratton Silver meanwhile also produced a fine account under Simon Carr, with some stylish playing on display in the opening ‘Prelude’ and a lyrical flow to the ‘Song’.
It just tired towards the end of the ‘Dance’ movement, but by then they had done more than enough in the opinion of the judges to secure their finals place.
Quiet celebration for New Forest
The unlucky band to miss out for a second successive year was AW Parker Drybrook, who was many people’s tip for the title, both before and after they played under Kevin White.
Perhaps their desire just to put their performance clearly in the frame cost them a vital point or two in the judges tent, as after an opening ‘Prelude’ of some stature and a lovely lyrical ‘Song’ they got a little over cooked in the ‘Dance’ to finish a little too robustly to capture the light wit of the writing.
It was a fine effort though, and given that just over the River Severn in Wales, two bands from five will make it thought to the finals, they can consider themselves more than a little unlucky.
Compare and contrast
Derek and David had plenty to compare and contrast with the bands that filled the rest of the top ten places, and were was spot on with their analysis that it was a question of consistency.
Derek hit the nail on the head when he felt that many just missed the opportunity to play the ‘Dance’ in particular with a more refined sense of style.
He wasn’t showing just his age when he said that some of the approaches were a bit ‘modern’.
By the hand
Golland’s ‘Dance’ was one of the ballroom, take a lady by the hand variety – not stand by yourself and shake things about a bit, whilst the ‘Song’ was more inclined to work best when given the John McCormack lyrical air treatment rather than the Shirley Bassey big, brassy belt and braces approach.
Still, it made for interesting and enjoyable listening, with Swindon Brass and Tiverton producing two well structured accounts to come 5th and 6th respectively, whilst, Andover Town, Wilton & District, Chalford Academy and Launceston Town all delivered performances of note to fill the remaining top 10 places.
Delight for Bratton Silver
Below these and the more obvious fault lines grew – from poor tuning in the ensemble, especially in the ‘Song’ section, to rhythmic inaccuracies, misplaced entries and unforced errors in the outer two movements.
You could have made a persuasive case for putting the likes of Totnes, Okehampton Excelsior, Bideford Town, Midsomer Norton & Radstock and Wight Silver in just about any order – there was very little choose between them all.
Each though gave performances, that if a little uneven, were generally in control of good banding basics thanks to the MDs using a great deal of common sense in regards to tempos and dynamics.
For the group of bands that did eventually fill the bottom quarter, plenty to work on for the future, with performances that perhaps lacked a little overall quality but no lack of effort or commitment.
Plenty of cracking young players gave it their all with the likes of Shanklin Town, Marshfield, Gosport Silver, Verwood B, Wincanton Silver, Torbay and Porthleven, and whilst the end results were variable, all battled their way through thanks to the good direction, and at times audible encouragement of the MDs.
Overall it was a contest that once again showed that the West of England has a foundation base that is vibrant, well directed and full of talent.
It also sends three high-class bands to the finals and a winner who could make Robin Wonnacott even prouder come September if they play like this again.