Sunday 22nd September
Test Piece: Penlee (Simon Dobson)
Adjudicators: Simone Rebello & Steve Pritchard Jones
2012 Champions: Hitchin
There will be something of an emotional dichotomy to overcome first thing on Sunday morning for the 17 contenders battling for the Third Section honours.
The band that eventually triumphs on Simon Dobson’s evocative ‘Penlee’ will have done so by delving deep into their musical souls to portray a story of an incredible, if ultimately futile act of ultimate sacrifice.
In many ways it is the exact opposite to what a brass band contest is all about.
Bravest of men
The story of the ‘Solomon Browne’ Penlee life boat tragedy is well documented.
Eight of the bravest local men lost their lives in a storm of Biblical proportions trying to save the crew and family members on board the bulk carrier ‘Union Star’.
In total, 16 people, including two teenage girls died on the night of 19th December 1981.
Its lasting after-effects are still felt by the people in and around the small Cornish community of Mousehole to this day.
The composer of Penlee - Simon Dobson
Simon Dobson is one of them; the young composer writing his work in 2008 following a commission from the Cornwall Youth Brass Band.
It is a haunting composition; a startling evocation of nature’s power to defeat even the greatest, selfless act of human endeavour.
In essence it recreates the fateful day – from the carefree sense of pre-Christmas celebration to the final tolling of a ghostly bell as the souls of the lost are recalled with a melancholic reference to the hope of resurrection found in Eric Ball’s tone poem ‘Resurgam’.
It opens with optimism and humour – as the Union Star heads to Arklow in Ireland, the sound of jaunty festive merriment in the air.
However, the first dark storm clouds have already appeared and with them come the sound of increasingly urgent warnings bells to indicate that this will not be the smooth trip the Captain had hoped for when he stopped to pick up his family along the way.
Soon, severe weather brings treacherous conditions and the mood darkens to one of sombre, increasingly fraught tension.
With the engines failing the vessel is at the mercy of the elements.
The music becomes ferocious; terminally violent in intent, as first a Sea King helicopter and then the Captain and crew of the Solomon Browne try in vain to rescue those on board the ‘Union Star’.
As salvation beckons, tragedy strikes - the heroic struggle futile as the maelstrom engulfs both the ship and life boat.
Nothing can be done except to wait for the storm to abate; the calm beauty of the aftermath hiding all traces of life.
For the contesting environment it is a disconcerting subject matter (the quiet ending demands at least a moment of reflection), yet in the same way it also celebrates the triumph of the human spirit.
Hundreds of lives have since been saved by the new Penlee lifeboat and out of a horrifying tragedy has subsequently emerged the most inspiring of stories.
Hopefully the well matched contenders can also be inspired to success; although in doing so they will surely never forget the musical story behind their winning performance.
In what was a fine National last year for qualifying bands from London & Southern Counties, it was Hitchin that drove back up the M4 motorway with the Third Section title in their grasp.
With such a competitive looking line up this year it could be anyone’s guess to whom may be the favourites to emulate them, so spare a thought for Simone Rebello and Steve Pritchard-Jones in the box.
They could be faced with one heck of a hard decision to make.
London and North of England
The brace of London & Southern Counties contenders hoping to recapture the trophy are champion Amersham (returning again) and counterparts LGB Brass.
Both have been in pretty decent form of late and are led by experienced men at the helm.
Meanwhile, the North of England sends the fast maturing NASUWT Concert Band under the command of Brian Tait, who won their regional title in fine fashion at Darlington earlier in the year.
They are joined by East Riding of Yorkshire, who is also a band very much on the up under the baton of Ian Scott.
Winning smiles for Hitchin last year
North West and Yorkshire
The rose tinted powerhouses at this level in the last few years (with two victories and two runner-up spots between them in the last three years) are sure to fancy their chances of doing well once more.
The Blackpool trio of champion, Marple, Eccles Borough and Hawk Green are all led by experienced MDs with bags of top flight experience between them, so don’t be surprised if at least one of them finds their way towards the top end of the results table.
There is sure to be a mood of confidence over the Pennines though with champion Dronfield Genquip, a band that has done well on its travels of late.
They are joined by the emerging Skelmanthorpe B who is also enjoying success under MD Phil Garlick.
2012 runner-up Elland Silver
Wales and Scotland
Despite winning major titles at every level the last few years, you have to go back to 1992 for the last time the Welsh dragon roared in triumph in the Third Section.
They have come close since and hopes are high for their representatives in champion Severn Tunnel (another returnee), who played in the Fourth Section Final last year and Pontypool Brass who are also making their second successive appearance.
The Scots have also had a bit of a wait for another title, although their last success was in 2000.
Unfortunately they only send down the one representative as Kingdom Brass B had to withdraw.
Hopes are high though that champion St Ronan’s Silver under the baton of Whitburn principal cornet player Chris Bradley can make a real mark.
West of England and Midlands
The qualifiers from the West of England have traditionally put up a strong challenge over the years, with Brunel Brass taking the title home with them in 2009.
Last year saw another top-six finish, so hopes are high for champion Wotton & District Silver and Bodmin Town, both of who continue to grow in maturity under the experienced direction of Ian Dickinson and John Maines.
That leaves the purposeful and successful contesting trio of Midland champions Hucknall & Linby, who could well be one of the short priced pre-contest favourites, alongside returnees Ireland Colliery (Chesterfield) and Shipston Town.
All three are headed by experienced MDs in Paul Whyley, Ian Knapton and Howard Gibbs, and will surely want to add their name to the list of past winners that includes Long Eaton Silver in 2006 and Wellington (Telford) in 2008.
With such a difficult set work to get to grips with, then much may depend on just how emotive the MDs try to be with their interpretations.
Experience will count, but the quiet ending in particular will test nerves as well as tuning.
With that in mind then we have gone for a few form horses in Hucknall & Linby, Dronfield and Eccles Borough for a top three finish with the likes of Ireland Colliery (Chesterfield), Marple and Wotton and District just behind. Our dark horse is Pontypool Brass.
1. Hucknall & Linby
2. Dronfield Genquip
3. Eccles Borough
4. Ireland Colliery (Chesterfield)
6. Wotton & District
Dark Horse: Pontypool Brass