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2019 West of England Regional Championships
Previews & Predictions

4BR Editor Iwan Fox looks forward to the qualification action in Torquay this weekend.

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As always there is sure to be a warm welcome at the Riviera Centre in Torquay as 79 bands battle to claim qualification places at the Royal Albert Hall in London or the Centaur in Cheltenham. 

It’s also great to see the numbers remaining healthy in the region - up two from last year and just a snip below the 83 of 2016.  

Excellent

Excellently organised by Sue Oldfield and her team, the action starts on Saturday morning with the Third Section at 9.00am (Forum) followed by the First Section (2.30pm) and the Fourth Section at 9.30am (Arena).  Sunday sees the Forum host the Second Section (9.00am) followed by the Championship Section (2.00pm).

2018 was an encouraging year for the region at the National Finals, with top-ten finishes from both qualifiers in the Championship, Second and Fourth Sections, with one in the First. Only the Third Section found the lower midfield placings.

That said, ultimate top flight success still seems as far away as ever, whilst the winner’s trophy was last held in triumph in the First Section in 2016, in 2011 in the Second and 2009 in the Third and Fourth.  Perhaps that will change this year.


Flowers
2018 Champion: Flowers

Championship Section:
Sunday 10th March 

The Forum
Commence: Not before 2.00pm
Draw: 12:00
Adjudicators: Major David Barringer MBE & Ludovic Neurohr

Aldbourne (David Thornton)
Bournemouth Concert Brass (Dr Howard Evans)
Camborne Town (Kevin Mackenzie)
Chalford (Steve Tubb)
Filton Concert Brass (Tom Davoren)
Flowers (Paul Holland)
Hyde (Garry Cutt)
Lanner & District Silver (David Hamilton)
Lydbrook (Glyn Williams)
St Austell Town (Iain McKnight)
St Dennis (Darren R Hawken)
Verwood Concert Brass (Kevin Smith)
Woodfalls (Dr Robert Childs)

With two weekends of ‘Seascapes’ to ponder, it seems that bands that have decided to temper their dynamics to try and find the poetic essence of Ray Steadman-Allen’s work through subtle balances, colours and textures have been rewarded.

And whilst the Forum stage is as dead as a stuffed sea lion, it won’t need a marine resuscitation unit to bring to life the more exotic elements of the score’s detailed writing.

'Seascapes’ is proving to be a fine test of interpretative abstract musicianship. It certainly doesn’t require brazen volume and misplaced pace.

Much to look forward to then, and although there is increasing strength in depth here (last year’s qualifiers came 7th and 10th at London), it’s still a hard argument to win to say that there are really 13 true top section bands.  The best though are very good.

'​Seascapes’ is proving to be a fine test of interpretative abstract musicianship. It certainly doesn’t require brazen volume and misplaced pace.

4BR Prediction:

Normal Flowers service seemed to be restored last year as they reclaimed the title under David Childs (their sixth in seven years) after their surprise fourth place finish in 2017. 

However, Paul Holland’s return as MD got off to a stuttering start at Butlins where they were not at their test-piece best by any means, so it will be interesting to hear how the renewed partnership has since progressed.

They perhaps remain favourites, although less clearly than in previous years, whilst 2017 champion Woodfalls should also be worth an each-way Albert Hall bet after they impressed on the test-piece discipline at Butlins under Dr Robert Childs – beating their rivals in the process.  

We’ll wait and see then, although it’s hard to see past the hefty duo for the qualification places on offer, although they will have to be careful not to try and use volume as a default mode if they are to impress David Barringer and Ludovic Neurohr in the box.

These gents know a thing or two about blending and balance (Dave with the Band of the Welsh Guards and Ludo as a brilliantly inventive composer – try listening to his recent test-piece for brass band and Ondes Martenot). Harshness isn’t something they tend to opt for very often. 

The ambitious Filton Concert Brass will want to give Tom Davoren a winning send-off before he departs to the USA, whilst the growing maturity of St Dennis could make an even bigger impression this year under Darren Hawkin as they seek a first Albert Hall appearance since 1978. 

Camborne can be a bit of a variable contesting outfit but at their best (as last year) they are right on the cusp of qualification, whilst Lydbrook is a solid contender. 

The two really interesting ones though could well be Aldbourne (led by Dr David Thornton fresh from his Yorkshire Area triumph with Brighouse) and Bournemouth Concert Brass with Howard Evans (who was in the top section box at Blackpool). 

1. Flowers
2. Woodfalls
3. Aldbourne
4. Filton Concert
5. St Dennis
6. Camborne 

Dark Horse: Bournemouth Concert


Bournemouth
2018 Champion: Bournemouth Concert Brass

First Section:
Saturday 9th March

The Forum
Commence: Not 2.30pm
Draw: Noon
Adjudicators: Major David Barringer MBE & Dr Nick Grace OBE

A W Parker (Drybrook) (Joshua Ruck)
Andover Town (Steve Large) 
Bodmin Town (John Maines)
Brunel Brass (Daniel Hall)
City of Bristol Brass (Ian Holmes)
Forest of Dean Brass (Bryn James)
Glastonbury Brass (Daniel Shave)
Helston Town (John Berryman)
Michlemersh Silver (Melvin White)
Mount Charles (TBC) 
Otterbourne Brass (Phillip Littlemore)
Roche Brass (David Johnson)
Sherborne Town (Gary Greenstock)
Soundhouse Brass Plymouth (Lee Clayson)
St Keverne (Gareth Churcher)
SW Comms (Chris Spreadbury)

‘Symphony of Marches’ is proving to be one heck of a challenge - not helped it must be said in the opening two rounds in Blackpool and Huddersfield by some bizarre interpretations.

Despite its pre-low pitch provenance, it’s a totally transparent, beautifully crafted work that does not need to be re-invented in any way shape or form - just played as the composer intended. 

Some of the tempo choices have been bewildering, as have the dynamics - especially given the clear indications in the score. 

A ‘Brioso’ 126 in the third movement isn’t a presto gallop whilst ‘brilliant and hard’ to start doesn’t mean ‘blow your knackers off’. 

The demi-semi quavers in the first bar of the second movement should in theory be the same value as the semi-quavers in the opening bar of the piece.

Few have accomplished all three. 

Pay it the respect it deserves and all becomes crystal clear. Gilbert Vinter knew what he wanted. 

It should be an entertaining battle of wits then for the military duo of David Barringer and Nick Grace in the box - both of who know a thing or two about a march.

Last year’s qualifiers came 7th and 11th at Cheltenham, but with plenty of experience at the helm of a lot of these bands, whoever gets through may fancy their chances of emulating St Dennis’ win in 2016.

‘Brioso’ 126 in the third movement isn’t a presto gallop whilst ‘brilliant and hard’ to start doesn’t mean ‘blow your knackers off’. 

4BR Prediction:

A hard one to call, with the likes of Roche Brass, Michelmersh Silver and Forest of Dean Brass all led by wise older heads. 

The in-form Brunel Brass (who won at the recent Oxford contest) and City of Bristol (both led by the younger generation) could also be worth an each-way bet for a qualification place, whilst SW Comms and our dark horse of Helston Town (conducted by a man who knew Gilbert Vinter in person) could upset the apple cart. 

1. Roche Brass
2. Brunel Brass
3. Forest of Dean Brass
4. City of Bristol
5. Michelmersh Silver
6. SW Comms

Dark Horse: Helston Town


Helston
2018 Champion: John Berryman and Helston Band

Second Section:
Sunday 10th March

The Forum
Commence: 9.00am
Draw: 8.00am
Adjudicators: Alan Bourne & Brian Rostron

Bream Silver (Hugh Bamford)
Camborne Junior Contesting (Alan Pope BEM)
Cheltenham Silver (Nigel Galliott)
Cinderford (Chris Howley)
Corsham (TBC)
Denmead Brass (Estelle Flood)
Downton (Paul Williams)
Hatherleigh Silver (Matt Green)
Lydney Town (Kevin Ford)
Midsomer Norton & Radstock Silver (Jo Sykes)
Phoenix Brass (Crewkerne) (David Boorer)
Shrewton Silver (Peter Bede)
Sidmouth Town (Adrian Harvey)
St Pinnock (Colin Hudson)
Weston Brass (Carl Whiteoak)
Wotton-Under-Edge & District (Ian Dickinson)

Where Gilbert Vinter’s 55 year old work highlighted some of the more unattractive contest traits from competitors, Darrol Barry’s ‘Rise of the Phoenix’ has showcased many of the best.

It’s a cleverly realised pastiche, linked indirectly to the type of commercial film music so brilliantly written by the  composer’s namesake John Barry - especially his evocative ‘007’ James Bond and ‘Dances with Wolves’ scores. 

Add in a pinch of 'Mack & Mabel', some great lyrical solo spotlights and fab percussion writing (not forgetting a fruity ball bearing popping bass trombone part) and you can readily hear why it’s been such a popular and effective hit with competitors.

That should also be the case here, with 16 well-matched contenders all wanting to be crowned champion and to sip celebratory dry martinis in the bar - shaken not stirred of course.  

Although you have to go back to 2011 for the last time a band went on to become National Champion, a number of these contenders will fancy their chances of at least emulating last year’s qualifiers in gaining two top-ten finishes.

Add in a pinch of Mack & Mable, some great lyrical solo spotlights and fab percussion writing (not forgetting a fruity ball bearing popping bass trombone part) and you can readily hear why it’s been such a popular and effective hit with competitors.

4BR Prediction:

Alan Bourne and Brian Rostron should enjoy themselves in the box for this one - as they could well be faced with a difficult task of picking a winner.

Shrewton Silver qualified for Cheltenham last year (where they came a solid 8th) and will be looking for a return trip, whilst Downton and Cinderford will be looking to turn their 2018 top-six finishes into potential podium spots this time around.

The youthful tyros of Camborne Junior Contesting are always a band to watch out for, whilst Wotton under Edge & District (who won the recent Oxford Contest) and Denmead Brass may be in the mix come results time with Sidmouth Town our dark horse. 

1. Downton 
2. Cinderford
3. Shrewton Silver
4. Wotton under Edge & District
5. Camborne Junior Contesting
6. Denmead Brass

Dark Horse: Sidmouth Town


Hatherleigh
2018 Champion: Hatherleigh

Third Section:
Saturday 9th March

The Forum
Commence: 9.00am
Draw: 8.00am
Adjudicators: Alan Bourne & Dr Nick Grace OBE

Bath Spa (Martin Perry)
Bratton Silver (Simon Carr)
Bugle Silver (Steve Osborne)
Gillingham Imperial Silver (James Bennett)
Gosport Solent Brass (Colin Garner)
Indian Queens (Mark Arnold)
New Forest Brass (Ian Luxford)
Ocean Brass (Martin Humphries)
Pendeen Silver (Leonard Adams)
Pillowell Silver (Ian Whitburn)
Poole Borough (Lloyd Bartlett)
Porthleven Town (Tom Bassett)
South Molton Town (Gil Taylor)
St Stythians (James Burns)
Swindon Brass (Francis Cowley)
Swindon Pegasus (Danny Dullforce)
Verwood Town (Emma Button)
Weymouth Concert Brass (Helen Brind)

A classic test of brass banding basics should provide adjudicators Alan Bourne and the Nick Grace with plenty of opportunity to compare and contrast the qualification virtues of the 17 bands first thing on Saturday morning.

Holst’s ‘First Suite in Eb’ has been a crafty choice by the Kapitol Music Panel - giving enough scope for the better bands at this level to show their command of stylistic nuance; from the slowly flowing ‘Chaconne’ dance to open, to the delicate ‘Intermezzo’ and the noble ‘March’ to close. 

It looks deceptively easy, but it is anything but.

The quality of the bands at this level is good, and although last year’s qualifiers could only manage 11th, 12th and 16th at Cheltenham they put on solid shows.

However, the last time the region boasted a National Champion was a decade ago when Brunel Brass triumphed, so another victory is long overdue.

It looks deceptively easy, but it is anything but.

4BR Prediction:

Not much current form to go on here, so it’s a bit like putting a finger in the Torquay wind, although the promoted Gosport Solent Brass and Ocean Brass had encouraging run-outs at the recent Oxford Contest.    

Unfortunately last year’s runner-up Weymouth Concert Brass has withdrawn, but third placed Bugle Silver has been rebuilding impressively over the last few years and would love to return to Cheltenham for another bite of the cherry.

New Forest Brass and Indian Queens could be bands to watch out for alongside Bratton Silver and our dark horse of Porthelven Town.  

1. Gosport Solent Brass
2. Ocean Brass
3. Bugle Silver
4. New Forest Brass
5. Indian Queens
6. Bratton Silver 

Dark Horse: Porthleven Town


Gosport
2018 Champion: Gosport Solent Brass

Fourth Section:
Saturday 9th March

The Arena
Commence: 9.30am
Draw: 8.30am
Adjudicators: Ludovic Neurohr & Brian Rostron

Bideford Town (Mark Durham)
Chalford Academy (Steve Tubb)
Exeter Railway (Graham Eaton)
Great Westerm Youth (Ben Halstead)
Illogan Sparnon Silver (Shaun Marsden)
Launceston Town (Ann Brown)
Nailsworth Silver (Steve Ruck)
Okehampton Excelsior Silver (Robert Julian)
Redruth Town (Andrew Craze)
Saltash Town (TBC)
Shaftesbury Town Silver (Martin Hill)
Shanklin Town Brass (IoW) (Malcolm Lewis)
Test Valley Brass (John Heritage)
Tewkesbury Town (Nigel Morgan)
Tiverton Town (John Fitton)
Torbay Brass (Joe Rowlands)
Woughton Silver (Neil Webb)

The Fourth Section is invariably a treat in Torquay - packed with cracking bands all performing with enthusiasm, endeavor and bags of talent.

Occasionally it has given us slightly surreal moments too - such as the chap who serenaded us with a quite brilliant ad-lib Harry James trumpet cadenza on ‘The Journal of Phileas Fogg’ in 2016.    

The good news is that numbers are up from last year’s low of 14. 17 bands will take to the stage, but it’s still a bit of a worry that there may be some fragility in competing numbers. There were 25 here in 2012, 21 between 2013 and 2016 and 20 in 2017.  

Test piece choices can play a major part in that, so Ray Steadman-Allen’s lovely ‘Stantonbury Festival’ seems to have had a positive effect. Right from its opening chords (nicked from Auber’s ‘Black Domino’ overture?) it’s a cracking piece that allows scope to build of solid banding basics. 

Plenty for adjudicators Ludovic Neurohr and Brian Rostron to enjoy as they decide on which three bands make it through to Cheltenham hoping to build on the encouraging 4th and 10th place returns of last year’s representatives.

Plenty for adjudicators Ludovic Neurohr and Brian Rostron to enjoy as they decide on which three bands make it through to Cheltenham hoping to build on the encouraging 4th and 10th place returns of last year’s representatives.

4BR Prediction:

Another hard one to call, although Nailsworth Silver gained a fine runner-up spot at the recent Oxford contest with the Great Western Youth Band coming fourth.

Test Valley Brass just missed out on qualifying last year and so will look to claim another podium spot to gain a place in the Cheltenham starting line-up, whilst Tewkesbury Town, Bideford and Oxehampton could be there or thereabouts.

Our dark horse is the quite splendidly named Illogan Sparnon Silver. 

1. Nailsworth Silver
2. Test Valley Brass
3. Tewkesbury Town
4. Great Western Youth Band
5. Bideford Town
6. Okehampton Excelsior

Dark Horse: Illogan Sparnon Silver

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Howard J Evans

MA (Dist), Mus.B (hons), ARCM (hons), LRAM, LTCL, PGCE
Conductor, composer, arranger, tutor and pianist