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2018 North West Regional Championships
Preview & Predictions

The first Area contest weekend of the year sees a Sunday battle for qualification at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool.

WInter Gardens, Blackpool
Winter Gardens, Blackpool

The first of over 500 competitive qualification performances around the country will be heard at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool this weekend, as 74 bands battle for an invitation to compete at the National Finals in Cheltenham and London.

It heralds the start of an event that continues to stand firm despite the obvious struggles many competitors face week in week out – from the recruitment and development of the next generation of young players to the financial concerns of raising money to purchase instruments and the fund raising required to meet the hotel costs if they do get through to the Centaur Centre or the Albert Hall.

For the moment though, they are worries for another day - as all powers of fortitude and concentration will be geared towards a window of test-piece concentration of between 10 and 14 minutes sometime on Sunday that will help decide their plans for September and October. 

Spare a thought

Hopefully it will also give those attending the Winter Gardens the opportunity to spare a thought for the hard working team on the Regional Committee, which under Peter Bates continues to do a remarkable job in organising the Championships.  

They also face week in and week out challenges – and it would be great if just a handful of competing bands could get in touch to offer some volunteer player-power services to help out on the day. 

Hopefully it will also give those attending the Winter Gardens the opportunity to spare a thought for the hard working team on the Regional Committee, which under Peter Bates continues to do a remarkable job in organising the Championships. 

Fine returns

2017 saw a fine return for the North West National Finals representatives, with Fairey claiming a top-four finish at the Albert Hall to secure a pre-qualification return, with Foden’s fifth and Milnow a solid tenth.   

Pemberton Old Wigan DW was a fine winner of the First Section, with Boarshurst joining them in the winner’s enclosure in the Second (after quaifying in fourth place), whilst Trinity Girls was runner-up in the Third. There were also top-six finishes for Delph (Second Section) and Brindle (Fourth Section), with just two qualifiers ending up outside the top-ten.  

And with contests such as Brass at the Guild offering an early season opportunity to test pre-regional progress and some excellent returns at Butlins, little wonder there will be a host of pretty confident bands taking to the various stages on Sunday.  It has all the makings of a cracking day of contest action.


Fodens
Foden's will be looking to make it a hat-trick this year

Championship Section:
Opera House
Draw: 1.30pm (commences following results of Fourth Section)
Adjudicators: Derek Broadbent and Jim Davies

1. Ashton-under-Lyne (Phil Chalk)
2. Fairey (Garry Cutt)
3. Foden's (Prof Nicholas Childs)
4. Leyland (Thomas Wyss)
5. Longridge (Mark Peacock)
6. Milnrow (Mark Bentham)
7. Pemberton Old Wigan DW (Ben Dixon)
8. Rainford (Gareth Brindle)
9. TCTC Group (Jef Sparkes)
10. Vernon Building Society Poynton (Stig Mærsk)
11. Wingates (Paul Andrews)

For the first time since 2001 just 11 bands will compete for the two qualification places on offer for the Albert Hall (Fairey is pre-qualified).   

That may sound an alarm bell or two in some quarters, but it shouldn’t - far from it. 

Lean high quality

The grading stats meant three bands (Blackburn & Darwen, Diggle and Roberts Bakery) were relegated last year with just Pemberton coming up in the opposite direction following their fine Cheltenham victory.  The contest now has a lean, high quality look about it with the potential for more than the usual suspects to force their way into the reckoning on a set-piece that is testing but certainly not overtly treacherous.

‘Odyssey’, was initially commissioned by the International Staff Band in 1997 and subsequently used in an amended version as the set-work at the 1999 European Championship in Munich.   
 
Its inspiration is as clearly defined as its familiar structure - reminiscent of the pathways taken by Robert Redhead in ‘Isaiah 40’ and ‘Infinity’; a metaphorical journey from spiritual darkness to light via compact elements of indirect quotation (the hymnal ‘Slane’) and even as the composer himself has stated, a little bit of ‘Star Trek’ imagery.     

Its inspiration is as clearly defined as its familiar structure - reminiscent of the pathways taken by Robert Redhead in ‘Isaiah 40’ and ‘Infinity’; a metaphorical journey from spiritual darkness to light via compact elements of indirect quotation (the hymnal ‘Slane’) and even as the composer himself has stated, a little bit of ‘Star Trek’ imagery.  

It’s testing enough, if not particularly memorable (it’s lain rather forgotten for the past two decades) but still offers the prospect of either purgatory or qualification salvation for all the competitors on the day.

Hat-trick seekers

The pre-contest favourites are sure to be Foden’s who will look to repeat the hat-trick of victories claimed previously under Prof Nicholas Childs between 1998 and 2000, whilst the pre-qualified Fairey will surely love to give the type of revivalist performance Garry Cutt brought to bear on ‘Resurgam’ at the recent RNCM Festival.  

If they do even Billy Graham could rise again to offer his congratulations, let alone the two very experienced judges in Derek Broadbent and Jim Davies, alive and well in the box. 

If they do even Billy Graham could rise again to offer his congratulations, let alone the two very experienced judges in Derek Broadbent and Jim Davies, alive and well in the box. 

The increasingly impressive Milnrow (although they were understandably a little under cooked at Brass at the Guild) and the solid virtues of Wingates could well be in the qualification mix alongside Leyland, who has been in a qualification limbo over the last few years, whilst some well led dark horses may come in the form of Ashton under Lyne, Rainford and TCTC Group (the former Co-op Funeralcare North West).

4BR Prediction:

1. Foden’s
2. Fairey
3. Milnrow
4. Wingates
5. Leyland
6. Ashton under Lyne

Dark Horse: Rainford


Pemberton
Last year's winner Pemberton went on to win the National title

First Section:
The Empress Ballroom
Draw: 1.00pm (commences following the results of the Third Section)
Adjudicators: Sarah Groarke-Booth and Glyn Williams

1. Blackburn & Darwen (David Thornton)
2. Boarshurst Silver (James Garlick)
3. Cheshire Constabulary (David Woollam)
4. Crewe Brass (Matt Pithers)
5. Diggle (Steven Walsh)
6. Eccles Borough (Mareika Gray)
7. Freckleton (Paul Dalton)
8. Haslingden & Helmshore (Simon Cowen)
9. Manx Concert Brass (Ian Clague MBE)
10. Mossley (Duncan Byers)
11. Oldham (Lees) (John Collins)
12. Poulton-le-Fylde (Andrew Warriner)
13. Roberts Bakery (Paul Lovatt-Cooper)
14. Silk Brass (Tony Wyatt)
15. Wardle Anderson Brass (Sean Conway)

The relegation of three bands from the top section means 15 contenders will look to claim the two qualification places that are on offer amid the vast expanse of the Empress Ballroom.

Tricky acoustic

It’s certainly a tricky acoustic to master and with a test-piece that has such well-defined dynamic and tempo markings, conductors will have to work hard to obtain clarity and precision. ‘Brass Metamorphosis’ is a typical, expertly constructed work by James Curnow - one that showcases his craftsmanship and inventiveness on what is initially a basic five note cell.    

Technically the vast majority of the solid looking bands here will know it’s well within their grasp, but that in itself may be an Achilles heel.

This is stylish music demanding control, balance and finesse - blast away merrily and it may sound exciting, but will lack creative musicality - the essential element to success that both Sarah Groarke-Booth and Glyn Williams know a great deal about.

This is stylish music demanding control, balance and finesse - blast away merrily and it may sound exciting, but will lack creative musicality - the essential element to success that both Sarah Groarke-Booth and Glyn Williams know a great deal about. 

Ambitious bands

Lots of ambitious bands on show and plenty of them more than capable of securing their place at Cheltenham in some style, this is a contest to test true Championship ambitions. 

The recent Brass at the Guild contest in Preston certainly gave a tantalising glimpse of the potential of some of the bands with those ambitions, with Oldham (Lees), Boarshurst and Blackburn & Darwen all flexing their early season muscles.  

The year also opened with the impressive Eccles claiming the Butlins title, whilst consistent performers such as Freckleton, Roberts Bakery and Mossley could be worth an each-way bet.   

4BR Prediction:

1. Oldham (Lees)
2. Eccles Borough
3. Boarshurst
4. Blackburn & Darwen
5. Freckleton
6. Roberts Bakery

Dark Horse: Mossley


Flixton
2017 winners Flixton

Second Section:
Pavilion Theatre
Split Draw: 10.00am and 12.15pm (commences 11.00am)
Adjudicators: Tom Davoren and Derek Southcott

1. Besses Boys (James Holt)
2. Besses o’ th’ Barn (Trevor Halliwell)
3. Blackpool Brass (John Pearson)
4. Bollington Brass (Peter Christian)
5. Darwen Brass (Gordon Clough)
6. Delph (Phil Goodwin)
7. Eagley (Chris Wormald)
8. Farnworth & Walkden (Luke Pallister)
9. Flixton (Ian Brownbill)
10. Formby (Louise Hough MBE)
11. Greenfield (Tom Haslam)
12. Haydock (Mark Quinn)
13. Hazel Grove (Nigel Beasley)
14. Horwich RMI (Matt Ryan)
15. Marple (Stephen Curtis)
16. Middleton (Kevin Gibbs)
17. Old Hall Brass (John North)
18. Pemberton Old Wigan DW ‘B’ (Mike Golding)
19. Trinity Girls (David Ashworth)
20. Valley Brass (Haydock) (David Chadwick)
21. Whitworth Vale & Healey (Chris Binns)

There will hopefully be quality to go with the quantity for judges Tom Davoren and Derek Soutcott to compare and contrast in the Pavilion Theatre - aided by an engaging set-work from the pen of Jonathan Bates.

It’s been interesting to hear how his compositional maturity has grown over the past few years, with ‘Ex Terra Lucern’ a thoughtfully constructed work that although originally composed for a youth band in 2016 has enough adult challenges to separate the best from the rest. 

Appropriate choice

It’s also a rather appropriate choice (it’s the Latin motto for the famous glass making town of St Helens) with each of the three movements providing a window of opportunity for bands to shine.  The opening section, ‘The Brigantes’ is lively and militaristic but powerful fleet-footed. This is tribal hit and run territory rather than siege warfare, so the conductors may have to be wary of any blitzkrieg approach from the cleverly written percussion elements.

The central ‘St Elyn’s Church’ is a lovely piece of lyrical writing - with echoes of Bliss and Ball, ‘Checkmate’ and ‘Kenilworth’, whilst the finale ‘From Ground, Light’ is an accumulative power-train of drive and energy - short, detailed and as clear as a newly polished window pane. 

Technically it should be within the scope of all the bands, but it needs thought and a touch of cultured appreciation of style. Those who get it right will be raising a glass or two of their own in the bar for certain. 

Technically it should be within the scope of all the bands, but it needs thought and a touch of cultured appreciation of style. Those who get it right will be raising a glass or two of their own in the bar for certain

Unreliable barometer

Although early season form can be a somewhat unreliable barometer, there were some good performances on show at the recent Brass at the Guild contest in Preston where Hazel Grove and Blackpool Brass gave ‘Ex Terra Lucern’ a run out with Butlins winner Haydock opting for a reprise of ‘Variations for Brass Band’.

Those three may well fancy their chances once more alongside the likes of Besses Boys, Whitworth Vale & Healey, Eagley (who were impressive at Butlins) and our dark horse of Delph.   

4BR Prediction:

1. Eagley
2. Haydock
3. Hazel Grove
4. Besses Boys
5. Blackpool Brass
6. Whitworth Vale & Healey

Dark Horse: Delph


2017 Cham
Rivington & Adlington claimed the Third Seciton honours

Third Section:
The Empress Ballroom
Split Draw: 8.45am & 10.45am 
Commences: 9.45am
Adjudicators: Leigh Baker and Gary Davies

1. Allerton Brass (Adam Taylor)
2. City of Chester (Ewan Easton)
3. Dobcross Silver (Grenville Moore)
4. Douglas Town (Ken Mitchell)
5. Eccleston Brass (John Wood)
6. Golborne Brass (Matthew Shaw)
7. Greenalls (Phil Boardman)
8. Hawk Green (Neil Hewson)
9. Hoover (Bolton) (Craig Mann)
10. Littleborough (Adrian Woodhead)
11. Pilling Jubilee Silver (Steve Hartley)
12. Rivington & Adlington (Malcolm Wilson)
13. Skelmersdale Prize (James Hall)
14. Stalybridge Old (David W. Ashworth)
15. Thornton Cleveleys (Stephen Craig)
16. Uppermill (Dean Redfern)

Philip Harper has a penchant for writing evocative works about small heroes who battle against the odds - with Napoleon Bonaparte the latest diminutive protagonist (following the waif-like Tintin) to enjoy a typically colourful and dry witted portraiture based on his exciting exploits.

Boney splendour

This is ‘Boney’ in his pomp - the General who held Europe in his sway before his spanking at Waterloo; egotistical, brilliant and brave, the miniature Emperor-in-waiting, pointing his troops towards the Alps astride his horse Marengo (which in rather macabre fashion, minus two hooves, can be seen in ‘boney’ splendour  at the National Army Museum in Chelsea).

'Napoleon on the Alps' is the type of writing that both conductors and players alike will have certainly enjoyed preparing for battle - a triptych of bold contrasts that has something of interest and purpose for everyone - from the mounted soloists to the big guns on the percussion.   

There are whole regiments of good quality bands here - led by a few conductors with martinet tendencies Napoleon himself would have been impressed with. 

Bluff pride

The opening movement is full of atmosphere and bluff pride, played out to the relentless foot march of the troops - all ‘Pines of Rome’ meets James Bond via ‘Cloudcatcher Fells’.  It’s followed by touches of Beethovenian reflection in the central section of flowing expression before any self-doubt is erased in a blaze of all conquering glory as the heroic or ‘Eroica’ ‘Petit Corporal’ heads towards glory in the finale. 

There are whole regiments of good quality bands here - led by a few conductors with martinet tendencies Napoleon himself would have been impressed with. 

The recent Brass at the Guild Hall contest saw ten of these contenders in action playing the test-piece - headed by the well led podium finishers of Eccleston, Allerton and City of Chester. 

Not far behind them came Skelmersdale, Greenalls and Golborne, whilst the likes of Butlins champion Hoover (Bolton) could also fancy their chances of being crowned champion too - and beware David Ashworth and Stalybridge Old.

4BR Prediction:

1. Hoover (Bolton)
2. Eccleston  
3. Allerton Brass
4. Stalybridge Old
5. Greenalls
6. Golborne Brass

Dark Horse: Skelmersdale Prize


Thornton Clevelry
2017 Champion Thornton Cleverley

Fourth Section:
Opera House
Draw: 9.30am
Commences: 10.30am
Adjudicators: Paul Holland and Brian Rostron

1. Blackley (Adrian Smith)
2. BMP Europe Ltd. Goodshaw (Alan Seymour)
3. Brindle (Keith Richmond)
4. Cadishead Public (David Holland)
5. Denton Brass (Jim Hunter)
6. Lostock Hall Memorial (Joshua Hughes)
7. Parr St. Helens (John Ludden)
8. Ramsey Town (Robert Quane)
9. Rode Hall Silver (Nigel Butler)
10. Sale Brass (John Anderson)
11. Stacksteads (Fred Bowker)
12. Stockport Silver (Alex Parker)

Whereas the reduced entry list for the Championship Section may be seen as a positive, the lowest number of bands in the Fourth since the sections were reorganised in 1992 could become a major cause for concern.

The promotion of successful bands has had an effect, but there has been a general decline in numbers in the last decade - from a regular line-up of around 24 or 25, down to 16 or 17 in the last couple of years.  This time there is just a dozen. 

Hopefully things will pick up as the area has traditionally been one of the strongest in terms of quality as well quantity at this level. Adjudicators Paul Holland and Brian Rostron should enjoy themselves in the box comparing some pretty solid looking rivals on the enjoyable postcard ‘World Tour’ test-piece.

Melodic and the mechanical

As always, composer Rodney Newton has a perceptive feel for the balance between the melodic and the mechanical in a work that was originally written in 2006 to celebrate the centenary of the first of the epic musical adventures of Besses o’th’ Barn Band to the other side of the globe. 

The writing is descriptive and full of character; an expansive first movement ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’ full of nautical majesty and sounds of on-board rehearsals of hymn tunes, marches (‘Punchinello’) and even the National Anthem.

The writing is descriptive and full of character; an expansive first movement ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’ full of nautical majesty and sounds of on-board rehearsals of hymn tunes, marches (‘Punchinello’) and even the National Anthem.

The neat little reference to ‘Auld Lang Syne’, not to forget ‘auld acquaintances’, reminds the listener that this was no two week sojourn to the sun. This trip took months.

It’s followed by a ragtime trip to Chicago - a neat pastiche hoot written with an authentic nod of appreciation to the sounds of Scott Joplin, whilst the humid Pacific sounds of the sun-soaked shores of Hawaii and the Empire pride shown in the ‘Australian Walkabout’, with that touch of dry witted ‘Waltzing Matilda’ humour, are skilfully presented. 

Musical character

All 12 contenders will have enjoyed working on a piece that should be well within their technical grasp, allowing conductors to search out the musical character in each of the movements.  

Half the field has already enjoyed a quick ‘mini-tour’ so to speak with their outing at Brass at the Guild Hall, where Lostock Hall Memorial came away with the honours ahead of well-presented accounts for podium finishers Blackley and Rode Hall Silver. 

Meanwhile, Sale Brass came runner-up at Butlins and will be keen to build on that success, whilst the likes of Stacksteads, Brindle and Ramsay Town could be worth a few bob or two at the bookies.

4BR Prediction:

1. Lostock Hall Memorial
2. Sale Brass
3. Brindle
4. Blackley
5. Ramsay Town
6. Stacksteads

Dark Horse: Rode Hall Silver



Enderby Band - Enderby Band Christmas Concert

Monday 17 December • Enderby Church. Corner of Leicester Lane/Blaby Road. Enderby. Leicestershire LE19 4AR


Foden's Band - Little Lever High School

Tuesday 18 December • Little Lever High School ,Church Street, Little Lever, Bolton, BL3 1BT


The Wigston Band - The Wigston Band Christmas Concert

Thursday 20 December • St Thomas Church, South Wigston LE18 4TA


Regent Hall Concerts - Royal Greenwich Brass Band

Thursday 20 December • St Alfege Church. 3 Greenwich Church Street SE10 9BJ


The Wigston Band -

Thursday 20 December • St Thomas Church, South Wigston LE18 4TA


Haslingden & Helmshore Brass Band

December 18 • Haslingden & Helmshore, North West 1st Section Brass Band. . MD Mr. Simon Cowen (Principal Trombone with RLPO) . Require 2 front row Cornet players & Percussionist to complete the band. . A very sensible mix of engagements with rehearsals every Tuesday 8pm


Meltham and Meltham Mills Brass Band

December 18 • We have a vacancy for a Soprano and BBb Bass to complete the line up for the areas. Nice Schilke Sop sat waiting for the right person! The band currently competes in the 2nd Section and has a full program of concerts and contests.


The Corsham Band

December 18 • The band are currently looking for an experienced Back Row Cornet Player to join our friendly and enthusiastic team. Second or Third Cornet position available.


David Hirst

MA, B.Ed (Hons), LTCL
Conductor, adjudicator and arranger