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2018 National Championship of Great Britain
First Section preview & prediction

Someone's prescribed destiny may well come true in Cheltenham on Sunday evening — although thankfully they won't have to pull a sword out of a stone to prove worthy of winning the First Section title.

First Section:

Sunday 16th September
Test Piece: King Arthur - Scenes from a Radio Drama (Benjamin Britten arr. Paul Hindmarsh)
Draw: 2pm
Commence: at the conclusion of Third Section
Adjudicators: Alan Bourne, David Hirst, John Maines 

Arthur
Legend/myth or load of old baloney? The tale of King Arthur still fascinates us all...

The historical legend/myth/literary invention/load of tripe, call it what you will, of King Arthur has inspired many to believe in their own foretold destiny. 

For one band at Cheltenham on Sunday evening, theirs may well come true.

No sword pulling

Forget about pulling a sword out of a stone on a contest stage (we’ve already had some of that theatrical showmanship at the National Finals with Peter Meechan’s Championship Section set-work in 2014); this one is all about more mundane Arthurian matters – beating off the challenge of 16 other ambitious round-table rivals.

It is a test of musicianship that comes courtesy of a wonderful arrangement by Paul Hindmarsh of parts of Benjamin Brittan’s evocative scores for a rather troubled pre-War radio project; a much longer orchestral suite Paul also created from the same source material.  

The original play was due for broadcast in 1926, but it wasn’t until 1937 that it eventually reached the airwaves. That was not long after the destiny of another King of England was decided upon after being mired in constitutional controversy, and just in time to herald his stuttering brother stepping into the breach to save the monarchy from disaster.   

That was not long after the destiny of another King of England was decided upon after being mired in constitutional controversy, and just in time to herald his stuttering brother stepping into the breach to save the monarchy from disaster.   

It tells the tale of Arthur from childhood to death - coherently incorporating his relationships with Sir Galahad with a sprinkling of Merlin magic in-between. As with just about every Arthurian storyteller though, a little poetic licence has been employed to the narrative line.  

High order craftsmanship

What is presented is craftsmanship scoring of the highest order - elegant, refined and subtle.  As a result it will take a very good First Section band to play it well.  Alan Bourne, David Hirst and John Maines in the box could have their work cut out here. 

The opening ‘Overture’ sets the scene splendidly; bold, even playful in combining two simple but effective themes in its call to arms and coronation scene that link to a celebratory ‘Wild Dance’. Timeless challenges of dynamic balance and clarity of detail are starkly obvious. 

In contrast, ‘Galahad and The Holy Grail’ that follows is mysterious and troubling; a touch of the psychedelic visions induced by the old wizard’s apothecary skills and a few well chosen local mushrooms.

The main lyrical solo lines demand a level of tempered artistry, whilst the sombre, unsettling doom laden chords herald Arthur’s prescribed destiny.

In contrast, ‘Galahad and The Holy Grail’ that follows is mysterious and troubling; a touch of the psychedelic visions induced by the old wizard’s apothecary skills and a few well chosen local mushrooms

Pemberton
Pemberton wrote their name into the record books after their 2017 victory

Visceral drama

It’s a pity the third section is therefore omitted, as it’s a perfect bridge to the climax of the work - one riddled with complexities and rhythmic traps. What we get is therefore a flick of the ‘fast-forward’ button to a combination of battle scenes which are vividly captured by the visceral drama and searing excitement of the score.

Arthur eventually lies mortally wounded after the Battle of Camlann (the exact whereabouts of which could be anywhere between Cornwall to Cumbria), his body returned to Avalon (via a medieval form of UPS delivery service to Glastonbury) and his trusty sword dropped off to the obliging Lady in the Lake.    

And as for the bands after this sternest of musical challenges? 

One will be left standing in triumph – with their own entry into the legendary history book of National Championship banding assured. 

The contenders: 

In some ways this test mirrors that of ‘Tournament for Brass’, which caused all sorts of compact havoc last year – although the eventual winner, Pemberton Old Wigan DW showed a clean pair of heels and a real touch of class in claiming the honours. 

Oldham
Oldham (Lees) have already won the Senior Cup this year

North West and Yorkshire

This year, the task of returning the National trophy home to the Avalon of the North West lies with the imposing duo of champion Oldham (Lees) and fellow qualifier Freckleton.

Oldham will surely be one of the favourites having already claimed the Brass at the Guild and Senior Cup honours to go with the Area title in what has already been a memorable 2018 for John Collins and his band.

Meanwhile, Freckleton claimed this title way back in 1997 and has a proven track record at this level over the last few years under Paul Dalton.  Both could well be in the mix come the announcement of the results.

Oldham will surely be one of the favourites having already claimed the Brass at the Guild and Senior Cup honours to go with the Area title in what has already been a memorable 2018 for John Collins and his band. 

Yorkshire also sends representatives bristling with ambitious title winning intent in Strata Brass and Skelmanthorpe - both of whom have been busy strengthening their ranks ahead of their Cheltenham assault. 
 
Jonathan Bates is building an exciting outfit at Strata, as is Martin Heartfield with his busy band.  Another brace worth an each-way bet then for a potential top-six finish?

sandhurst
Will Sandhurst be smiling on Sunday evening?

Scotland and London & Southern Counties

The Scots have yet to win the First Section title - although Bathgate came close last year in coming as runner-up. How the determined duo of Johnstone Silver and Dunaskin Doon get on under MDs Martyn Ramsay and Chris Bradley then?

Johnstone has been known to venture south of the border to test the mettle of their rivals, and the experience of podium finishes at Wychavon and Brass at the Guild should hold them in good stead, whilst Dunaskin has been making solid improvement under Whitburn principal cornet Chris Bradley. If they can play as well as he did last weekend at the British Open then who knows?

Dunaskin has been making solid improvement under Whitburn principal cornet Chris Bradley. If they can play as well as he did last weekend at the British Open then who knows?

Confidence should be high for the London & Southern Counties after last year’s qualifiers came third and fourth. This time it will be up to champion Sandhurst Silver led David Johnson and Amersham directed by Paul Fisher to see if they can just go a couple of places better.

Sandhurst may be a good bet for a top-six finish after their recent contest outings, whilst the rapidly improving Amersham returns to Cheltenham for a second successive time after competing in the Second Section in 2017. 

Ebbw Valley
Ebbw Valley has already notched up three National title wins

West of England and Wales

Over in the West of England the task of emulating St Dennis, who won in 2016, falls to champion Bournemouth Concert Brass (who returns after coming eighth last year) and Chalford, who bounced back after a disappointing Butlins to secure their first Finals appearance since 2012. 

Both are led by vastly experienced MDs in Howard Evans and Steve Tubb – and that could just give both a bit of an extra competitive edge.

Meanwhile Wales sends two heavyweight contenders in Ebbw Valley (who certainly know how to win a National title or three) and Burry Port Town.

Ebbw Valley continues to build impressively under Gareth Ritter’s baton, whilst Burry Port is starting to get back into potential Championship Section shape.

North East and Midlands

Harrogate and Houghton Brass fly the flag for the North East – the former now enjoying an extended period of solid contesting form under Dean Jones, whilst Lee Morris has also built on the excellent work of the likes of Tom Gibson to lead Houghton to their fourth consecutive National Finals appearance.  

Harrogate and Houghton Brass fly the flag for the North East – the former now enjoying an extended period of solid contesting form under Dean Jones, whilst Lee Morris has also built on the excellent work of the likes of Tom Gibson to lead Houghton to their fourth consecutive National Finals appearance. 

That just leaves the trio of Midlanders in champion Staffordshire and fellow qualifiers Foresters Brass and Enderby.

Staffs has a fine pedigree at this level (winning the title in 2002) and could be a band to watch out for again, whilst Foresters has been in solid form under John Davis over the last couple of season.

Enderby has had to contend with a late change of conductor due to illness, but the experience of Simon Oates should hold them in good stead.

Iwan Fox


Who will win?

This is a test piece that will elegantly expose any deficiencies in potential title winning aspirations from the word go, so consistency as well as confidence and cultured musicality will be the key.

The likes of Oldham (Lees), Bournemouth Concert Brass, Sandhurst Silver and Ebbw Valley may be the bands to watch out for, with the Yorkshire duo of Skelmanthorpe and Strata not far behind. Our dark horses are Staffordshire and Johnstone Silver.

4BR Prediction:

1. Oldham (Lees)
2. Bournemouth Concert Brass
3. Sandhurst Silver
4. Ebbw Valley
5. Skelmanthorpe 
6. Strata Brass

Dark Horses: Staffordshire, Johnstone Silver 



Blidworth Welfare Band - Autumn Welfare Concert

Thursday 20 September • Blidworth Miners Welfare. Mansfield Road. Mansfield NG21 0AR


Rhondda Fach Youth Band - Residential Brass Band Course

Friday 21 September • The course will take place at Manor Adventure – Abernant Lake Hotel from Friday 21st September 2018 concluding with a mini concert for family member Ld5 4rr


The Fairey Band - Celebrating 150 years of Lytham Methodist Church

Saturday 22 September • Lytham Methodist Church. Park Street. Lytham Saint Annes . FY8 5LU FY8 5LU


Roberts Bakery Band - St Luke's Hospice Gala Concert

Saturday 22 September • St Mary's Church, Church Ln, Nantwich CW5 5RQ


Black Dyke Band - Lucerne Switzerland

Saturday 22 September • KKL, Europaplatz 1, 6005 Luzern, Switzerland 6002


Carlton Brass

September 20 • A fantastic opportunity has arisen for the position of Assistant Principle Cornet (a posh bumper-upper), plus one other cornet player (front or back row). Our Nottingham-based band rehearse in our own band room in Netherfield each Monday & Thursday 8-10


Newstead Brass

September 18 • Settled in at Nottingham, Trent or Derby university and looking for a band? . . Newstead Brass and MD Jim Davies are always keen to welcome and support young players looking to develop their brass or percussion skills.


Amington Band

September 18 • #TeamAmington is looking for back row cornets, a tenor and bass trombone and a bass player or either flavour. We're a friendly band of mixes ages with a varied concert diary worked in around contests throughout the year.


Sandy Smith


Conductor, teacher, adjudicator and arranger