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2019 North West Regional Championships
Previews & Predictions

4BR Editor Iwan Fox looks forward to the first steps on the qualification road to London and Cheltenham — starting off at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool on Sunday.

Winter Gardens

Once again it falls to the North West to kick-off the qualification rounds of the National Championships of Great Britain - the first musical steps on roads that will eventually lead to either the Albert Hall in London or the Centaur auditorium in Cheltenham.

It’s been a fairly low-key lead-up to the Area contests this year, although there have been the usual grumbles about the suitability of the test-pieces choices as well as the number of errors they contain (the latter wholly justified).

Hopefully all those will have been sorted by the time the first band takes to the stage at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool on Sunday morning - because if they haven’t, it’s too late to do anything about them. 

Accurate picture

The event continues to provide a pretty accurate picture of the contesting health of bands in the region - with 75 competitors taking part this year (the same as 2018, but down from the 81 of 2017).

Whether or not they are all in the right section is a different matter for debate (the Championship is a chunky size 12) - although its less than six months since the North West was able to boast National Champions in Foden’s, Oldham (Lees) and Middleton. 

Whether or not they are all in the right section is a different matter for debate (the Championship is a chunky size 12) - although its less than six months since the North West was able to boast National Champions in Foden’s, Oldham (Lees) and Middleton.

In addition, Fairey was fifth at London, whilst there were top-six finishes for Bollington (Second Section), Allerton (Third) and Sale Brass (Fourth).

The health of the region therefore remains pretty robust (with well attended local contests in Rochdale and Preston for instance), although there is no doubt many bands are still struggling to fill seats.

The hard working Regional Secretary Richard Milton and his excellent team of volunteers should be proud of the turn-out here, although they do need a bit more support from those who can spare some time to help on what promises to be a busy and enjoyable contest day.


Fodens
Foden's will be looking to make it four wins in a row at Blackpool

Championship Section:
Opera House

Draw 1:30pm
Commences: Following results of Second Section
Adjudicators: Howard Evans and Sheona White

Ashton-Under Lyne (Philip Chalk)
Fairey (Garry Cutt)
Foden's (Russell Gray)
Freckleton (John Pearson)
Leyland (Thomas Wyss)
Milnrow (Dennis Hadfield)
Oldham (Lees) (John Collins)
Pemberton Old Wigan DW (Ben Dixon)
TCTC Group (Jef Sparkes)
VBS Poynton (Stig Maersk)
Wardle Anderson Brass (Sean Conway)
Wingates (Paul Andrews)

Foden’s will be looking for a 22nd Championship Section success. On current form few would bet against them extending that record under Russell Gray. 

With the Sandbach National Champion relaxed and pre-qualified it could mean the keenest battle will be for the two remaining qualification places.

The favourites tag perhaps sits with Fairey and Leyland, although both have had to bed in new personnel of late. 

However, they still appear to have the inherent class to stay a good margin ahead of the chasing pack (as Leyland showed at the British Open and Fairey at London), so if the heavyweight trio play to form (and you have to go back to 1995 for the last time the winner didn’t come from them) they could all be booking B&B in Kensington come October.

That won’t stop the determined efforts of rivals, especially as ‘Seascapes’ is more of an ensemble work rather than a spotlight solo challenge. 

Crafted composition

Ray Steadman-Allen’s crafted composition has lain in something of a dry-dock since it was used at the Nationals in 1988.

However, it is certainly full of texture, colour and atmospheric merchant shipping imagery - from the ancient riches of exotic spices and Iberian wine to the belching funnels of a decrepit British coaster chugging up the English Channel to London’s docks.

That emphasis on a cohesive ensemble approach could also suit the strengths of hard working outfits such as Poynton (fourth last year), Wingates (four consecutive top-six finishes), Milnrow, TCTC Group, Ashton under Lyne and Pemberton Old, all of whom are more than capable of bagging a podium slot. 

And that’s not forgetting the ambitious Oldham (Lees) who dipped their ‘Seascapes’ toes at the Guild Hall in Preston, but by the weekend could be worth a bob or two to make one heck of a splash in Blackpool.

4BR Prediction:

Hard to see past a confident National Champion. If they play to form then Howard Evans and Sheona White shouldn’t be troubled too much in the box. 

That said, ‘Seascapes’ should suit the musical approaches of Garry Cutt and Thomas Wyss, although you suspect Foden’s may have to be holed beneath the Plimsoll Line to come a cropper. 

Milnrow could be best placed to grab an Albert Hall spot for the second time in three years, whilst TCTC Group and Wingates should just have enough top flight experience about them to edge out the dark horses of Oldham (Lees).

1. Foden’s 
2. Fairey
3. Leyland
4. Milnrow
5. TCTC Group
6. Wingates
 
Dark Horse:  Oldham (Lees)


oLDHAM
Oldham (Lees) went on to claim the First Section National title

First Section:
Empress Ballroom

Split Draw: 9.15am and 11.15am
Commences: 10.15am
Adjudicators: Leigh Baker and John Doyle

Blackburn & Darwen (Daniel Thomas)
Boarshurst Silver (James Garlick)
Cheshire Constabulary (David Woollam)
Crewe Brass (Matt Pithers)
Diggle (Alan Widdop)
Eccles Borough (Mareika Gray)
Flixton (Matthew Ryan)
Haslingden & Helmshore (John Binns)
Haydock (Mark Quinn)
Longridge (Mark Peacock)
Manx Concert Brass (Ian Clague MBE)
Middleton (Kevin Gibbs)
Mossley (Duncan Byers)
Rainford (Gareth Brindle)
Roberts Bakery (Paul Lovatt-Cooper)
Silk Brass (Tony Wyatt)

Bands may find out pretty quickly whether or not they are going to enjoy a good contesting day in the battle for the two qualification places on offer in the First Section - perhaps as soon as the fourth bar of Gilbert Vinter’s ‘Symphony of Marches’.

Splash that run-up all over the Empress Ballroom ceiling like Henry Cooper opening a 1970’s bottle of ‘Brut 33’ aftershave and potential hopes of a trip to Cheltenham may have already been dealt a knockout punch. Right from the start bands will need plenty of poise to go with the hardness and brilliance.

Myriad of traps

There is of course much more to a work that so cleverly conceals its myriad of traps in the less obvious recesses of the score. 

Try and bludgeon things into dynamic submission and Vinter’s writing quickly loses it wit and delicacy; the haunting soprano led minor inflections of the central section (a bugger to play in tune let alone ‘bright and clear’ and ‘molto dolce’), and the scalpel-edged brio of the last movement (the first 13 and half bars no louder than pianissimo) are easily blunted by thoughtlessness.

Despite its age, it’s not a piece to be under-estimated; conductors with reinvention on their minds should have their knuckles rapped. Whoever gets through courtesy of adjudicators Leigh Baker and John Doyle will have deserved it. 

Despite its age, it’s not a piece to be under-estimated; conductors with reinvention on their minds should have their knuckles rapped. 

Last year’s qualifiers certainly made a mark when they got to Cheltenham, with Oldham (Lees) taking the title and Freckleton coming a solid 10th. This year there are a number of solid looking contenders that if they do get through may fancy their chances of also adding their names to the National silverware.

4BR Prediction:

Of those a few stand out - with the form bands of 2019 coming in the shape of Butlins Champion Boarshurst Silver and Brass at the Guild winner Longridge (where six of the contenders tested their early ‘March’ prowess)  

Add to that the likes of Rainford (rather unluckily relegated from the top flight last year), 2015 champion Roberts Bakery and consistent outfits such as Haslingden & Helmshore, Blackburn & Darwen and our dark horse of Mossley, and you should have a contest that has more than a splash or two of quality about it (unlike Brut 33). 

1. Rainford
2. Boarshurst
3. Longridge
4. Haslingden & Helmshore
5. Roberts Bakery
6. Blackburn & Darwen

Dark Horse: Mossley


mIDDLETON
Middleton Band went on to the win the Second Section National title

Second Section:
Opera House

Split Draw: 8.45am and 10.45am
Commences: 9.45am
Adjudicators: Derek Broadbent and Brian Rostron

Allerton Brass (Adam D.J. Taylor)
Besses Boys (James Holt)
Besses o' th' Barn (Trevor Halliwell)
Blackpool Brass (Len Charnock)
Bollington Brass (Peter Christian)
Delph (Philip Goodwin)
Eagley (Chris Wormald)
Farnworth & Walkden (Luke Pallister)
Formby (Louise Hough MBE)
Greenfield (Patrick Marshall)
Hazel Grove (Nigel Beasley)
Marple (Stephen Curtis)
Old Hall Brass (John North)
Pemberton Old Wigan DW "B" (Mike Golding)
Poulton-Le-Fylde (Alex Webb)
Rivington & Adlington (Malcolm Wilson)
Tyldesley (Robert Taylor)

Middleton’s National victory in Cheltenham last year makes it a hard act to follow for the three bands that will get through from the opening act in the Winter Gardens Opera House on Sunday morning.

That said, a look at the line-up shows plenty of solid outfits, five of whom enjoyed decent run-outs at the Brass at the Guild contest in January. Confidence won’t be in short supply. 

That maybe due to the fact that Darrol Barry’s ‘Rise of the Phoenix’ is typical of the much missed composer’s knack of combining catchy tunes with rhythmic vibrancy and a clearly defined sense of musical purpose. 

Nothing alien

There is nothing alien to its structure or the tonality. In fact it is very straightforward and at times repetitive, although it all amounts to a trio of well-crafted movements that make honest demands on the conductors, soloists and ensemble. 

You could say that it was perhaps a tad generous of the Kapitol Music Panel to select it for this level, but that could make it a close contest to call.  

4BR Prediction:

Derek Broadbent and Brian Rostron could have a difficult task on their hands if the more fancied runners really hit form, with the likes Brass at the Guild winners Poulton-le-Fylde, podium finishers Delph and local favourites Blackpool Brass certainly showing quality at Preston.

Allerton seems to be a band on the upward curve of success, whilst Old Hall Brass and Pemberton Old Wigan DW ‘B’ might just edge out our dark horse of Eagley for a top-six finish.

1. Blackpool Brass
2. Poulton-le-Fylde
3. Delph
4. Pemberton Old Wigan DW ‘B’
5. Allerton
6. Old Hall Brass

Dark Horse: Eagley


eCCLESTON
Eccleston claimed the 2018 title

Third Section:
Pavilion Theatre

Split Draw: 10.00am and 12.15pm
Commences: 11.00am
Adjudicators: Ian Brownbill and Sarah Groarke-Booth

City of Chester (Ewan Easton)
Darwen Brass (Mike Cotter)
Douglas Town (Ken Mitchell)
Eccleston Brass (John Wood)
Goldborne Brass (Jason Smith)
Greenall's (P.Boardman)
Hawk Green (Neil Hewson)
Hoover Bolton (Craig Mann)
Littleborough (Adrian Woodhead)
Lostock Hall Memorial (Joshua Hughes)
Parr St Helens (John Ludden)
Pilling Jubilee Silver (Steve Hartley)
Stalybridge Old (James Atkins)
Thornton Cleveleys (Stephen Craig)
Trinity Girls (Richard Evans)
Uppermill (Dean Redfern)
Valley Brass (Haydock) David Chadwick
Whitworth Vale & Healey (Chris Binns)

A classic test of brass band contesting basics all wrapped up in a delightful piece of beautifully crafted musical deception awaits the 18 contenders in the Pavilion Theatre.

It’s an ideal stage for Gustav Holst’s ‘First Suite in Eb’ to be performed; the bands close enough to the box for balance, texture, detail and stylistic nuance to be heard clearly.  The score allows no place to hide. 

The adjudicators Ian Brownbill and Sarah Groarke-Booth also know exactly what it takes to prepare a band at this level, so the age old contest performance adages of confidence, consistency and control will have to be shown in spades - right from the opening to the slow, but fluid ‘Chaconne’.  

The central ‘Intermezzo’ will have to be paced just right to retain its lightness and poise, whilst the ‘March’ has a noble energy - only allowing a loosening of its dynamic funnels at its close. It all looks and sounds so simple - but it is anything but.

The adjudicators Ian Brownbill and Sarah Groarke-Booth also know exactly what it takes to prepare a band at this level, so the age old contest performance adages of confidence, consistency and control will have to be shown in spades - right from the opening to the slow, but fluid ‘Chaconne’.  

4BR Prediction:

North West banding at this (and Fourth Section) level is invariably well led, with Hoover (Bolton) and Whitworth Vale & Healey enjoying excellent results at Butlins in January.  

Just a few weeks ago five of these contenders also tested their form at Brass at the Guild, with Pilling Jubilee Silver coming out on top and City Chester gaining a podium finish.  If they have built on that they could certainly be in the mix. 

With three qualification places on offer there is plenty to play for, with last year’s Cheltenham representative Eccleston looking to make an immediate return alongside the ambitious Lostock Hall who won the Fourth Section here last year. 

Our dark horse Douglas Town makes the trip over from the Isle of Man keen to make another impression on the top-six after last year’s fifth place finish, whilst Uppermill certainly won’t want to miss out on qualification again after coming third last time out.

1. Hoover (Bolton)
2. Pilling Jubilee Silver
3. Whitworth & Healey
4. Uppermill
5. City of Chester 
6. Eccleston

Dark Horse: Douglas Town


lOSTOCK
Lostock Hall cliamed the 2018 title

Fourth Section:
Empress Ballroom

Draw: 1.00pm
Commences: Following results of First Section
Adjudicators: Jim Davies and Andrew Warriner

Blackley (Adrian Smith)
BMP Europe Ltd Goodshaw (Alan Seymour)
Brindle (Matthew Balson)
Cadishead Public (David Holland)
Dobcross Silver (Grenville Moore)
Dobcross Youth (M.Hindle)
Ramsey Town (Robert Quane)
Red Admiral Brass (Stuart Barton)
Rode Hall Silver (Nigel Butler)
Sale Brass (John Anderson)
Skelmersdale Prize (Ben Coulson)
Stacksteads (Fred Bowker)

It’s a rather telling fact that 20 years ago 22 bands took to the stage to play in the Fourth Section contest here. This weekend it will be almost half that number.

The North West has done remarkably well to retain its competitive numbers since 1999 (the overall figure this year is the same), but just like every other region, long term sustainability is surely threatened when the foundations are denuded to the bare bones by a system of grading that reflects nothing more than short term survival.

This year there are two qualification places on offer for Cheltenham (last year’s representatives came sixth and seventh); the competitors having to catch the ears in the vast expanse of the Empress Ballroom of the experienced Andrew Warriner and Jim Davies in the box.

Ray Steadman-Allen’s ‘Stantonbury Festival’ is an archetypical Fourth Section work that has been a solid test of banding basics ever since it was commissioned by Milton Keynes Borough Council in 1980 (used as the Fourth Section qualifier as far back as 1988 when 30 bands were listed here).

Measured

It is measured, considered writing (the cornets rarely venture above the stave), the dynamics set in context with the percussion requirements within the scope of two nimble players. 

Each of the three movements ask questions of contrast and style – the opening marked ‘Andante’ but with an underlying rhythmic pulse set from the opening bars. 

The central ‘Moderato’ opens decisively with a hint of ‘kilted’ inspiration intertwined in its structure before closing tenderly, whilst the third, marked ‘Allegro’, is bells and bluster to open before heading with a touch of bombast and clashing verve to its close.  

It isn’t particularly memorable, but it will do its job. 

It is measured, considered writing (the cornets rarely venture above the stave), the dynamics set in context with the percussion requirements within the scope of two nimble players.  

4BR Prediction:

Quite a few of the bands have already tested the 2019 waters - with last year’s podium finishers Sale Brass (who went on to come sixth at Cheltenham) opting to go to Butlins.

The Brass at the Guild contest also saw a good turn-out - led by Skelmersdale, who just pipped Rode Hall. Brindle also put in an encouraging show alongside Stacksteads, whilst Dobcross Silver and our dark horse of Blackley (who was runner-up at Bolsover late last year) could be contenders for a qualification spot.

1. Skelmersdale
2. Sale Brass
3. Dobcross Silver
4. Rode Hall
5. Brindle
6. Stacksteads

Dark Horse: Blackley

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