The All England Masters International Championship
The Lighthouse Theatre
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A niche future...
The All England Masters International Championship reaches its 25th anniversary this year, and in doing so can quite proudly celebrate its Silver Jubilee by sticking two well prepared fingers up at its fiercest critics.
The excitement and glamour of the early years, with its heady experimentations with consensus banding democracy have been replaced by a form of benign dictatorial pragmatism.
And despite the romantics yearning for a return to a time when a Masters champion displayed a ‘Made in England’ stamp of authenticity on its winning performance, the reality is that those days are long gone too – and are not about to return either.
Banding times have changed substantially since 1989 (much more than most critics may care to admit to), and as a result Philip Biggs and Richard Franklin have had to take some pretty difficult decisions about this event to ensure its survival (most notably since the alleged refusal of EBBA to sanction it as a bespoke English National qualifier for the Europeans).
Not all have been popular, or perhaps totally successful, but you suspect the hard working duo is currently quite happy that they have now found a niche formula that is starting to gain in long term popularity.
Bumper crowds at the Corn Exchange
The Masters may not attract the bumper audiences of those early years at the Cambridge Corn Exchange, but then again, what brass band contest can pack them in like vintage 1989 sardines nowadays?
Give the Masters credit: Getting a pretty robust field of 22 bands to Kettering in this day and age to battle for a prize fund of over £6,000 is still an impressive achievement.
The winner’s will walk away with three grand in their pockets, whilst the hardy banding cognoscenti who do make it to the Lighthouse Theatre also get the chance to hear the 2011/2012 Masters champion Tredegar and current Butlins title holder Virtuosi GUS in concert mode to round the day off.
Sponsorship has been maintained through the generosity of Yamaha (who have been on board since the first event in 1989) and David Goswell, whilst the presentation of the Masters Dedicated Service Award (this year to the richly deserving Chris Jeans) is a lovely show of appreciation that yearns back ‘Insignia of Honour’ presentations at the
Royal Albert Hall (and how the romantics would love those days to return).
The choice of test pieces have also been populist too – with ‘A Kensington Concerto’ following on from the classics of ‘Comedy’ and ‘Epic Symphony’ in the last few years. In fact, the test piece dud count has been pretty low over the years - with just a couple of misfiring blanks since 1989.
Given the changes and hard decisions the Masters has taken over the last two and a half decades, there is still plenty to look forward to this weekend, even if the atmosphere inside the Lighthouse Theatre can at times can be as sterile as Boycey in an episode of ‘Only Fools and Horses’.
Forget the Jaffas though and come along and enjoy what promises to be an enjoyable contest.
If you can’t, then sit back and let 4BR provide you with our live action opinions on each performance and our pithy Twitter comments, whilst we will also bring you the results as soon as we get them, a full news report and our contest retrospective too.