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2019 London & Southern Counties Regional Championships
Previews & Predictions

4BR's Rob Tompkins looks forward to the Cheltenham and London qualification action at Stevenage this weekend.

Stevenage
All to play for at Stevenage...

Where there is tempered pessimism when discussing declining contest numbers and falling performance standards in certain areas of the country, in contrast there is an encouraging sense of optimism to be found when the topics are chatted about in Stevenage.

Numbers are up – with 80 bands performing either in the Gordon Craig Theatre or Main Concert Hall this year (up from 2016, 2017 and 2018) whilst another three qualifiers at Cheltenham secured top-six finishes (they had four in both 2016 and 2017). 

Last laugh

For an Area that is more than occasionally ignorantly dismissed as being a mere provider of contesting cannon-fodder, the bands here are starting to have something of the last laugh.

Good news then, especially as it’s backed by the logistical excellence of the outstanding regional committee, headed by the indefatigable Kevin Williams.  The Stevenage Arts & Leisure Centre may not be the most evocative contest venue in the banding world, but it does its job and does it well. 

For an Area that is more than occasionally ignorantly dismissed as being a mere provider of contesting cannon-fodder, the bands here are starting to have something of the last laugh.

In addition, there is always a warm welcome and a supportive atmosphere to enjoy (there is a distinct lack of banding tribalism here), although the rather lively Main Hall can be a difficult acoustic to master for performers.

So too the deadened sound of the Gordon Craig Theatre (named after the modernist theatre director) which is more suited to the projection of actor’s soliloquies rather than principal solo cornet solos. However, it does make it a great venue to hear every nook and cranny of Ray Steadman-Allen’s ‘Seascapes’.

Lots to look forward to then - and we say that without any misplaced optimism.


Friary
2018 Champion Band: Friary Brass Band

Championship Section:
Test Piece: Seascapes (Ray Steadman-Allen)
Sunday 17th March

Adjudicators: Dr Robert Childs & Michael Fowles
Draw: 2.00pm
Commences: Following Fourth Section but not before 3.30pm

Aveley & Newham (Alan Duguid)
East London Brass (Jayne Murrill)
Friary Brass Band (Chris King)
Haverhill Silver (Paul Filby)
Hitchin (Martin Heartfield)
Jersey Premier Brass (Simon Jones)
Kidlington Concert Brass (Duncan Wilson)
Redbridge (Dr David Thornton)
Regent Brass (Paul Archibald)
Thundersley (Melvin White)
Wantage (Paul Holland)
Zone One Brass (Richard Ward)

‘Seascapes’ has already shown itself to be a stringent test of true Championship quality - an ensemble work rather than a spotlight solo challenge full of texture, colour and atmospheric, abstract imagery.

The best performances have tempered the dynamics excesses and have tried to bring a poetic sense of musicality to bear, and given the deadened acoustic of the Gordon Craig Theatre it will take a high quality band to do just that.  

The dominant band at present is Friary, and although they have yet to make an impact on the higher reaches of the results table at the Albert Hall, theirs has been an upwardly mobile trajectory of excellence.  

Others have caught onto their coat-tails though, such as Wantage, Thundesley (who qualified last year), the talented but more inconsistent Zone One Brass and the former perennial champion Redbridge, who are starting to kick back into competitive gear once more. 

Major contest success still eludes the region and there still isn’t a band at the British Open, but they are getting closer with strong performances in all sections at the Spring Festival (including victory for Wantage in the Senior Trophy) and Butlins this year. 

Much then for Dr Robert Childs (who led Woodfalls at Torquay last weekend) and Michael Fowles (who conducted Desford to success in the Midlands) to ponder in the box.

The dominant band at present is Friary, and although they have yet to make an impact on the higher reaches of the results table at the Albert Hall, theirs has been an upwardly mobile trajectory of excellence.  

4BR Prediction:

Friary head to Stevenage as favourites, as they seek to claim a fifth title in succession. 2019 started on a positive note with second place at Butlins and with a settled line-up they are surely the band to beat as they seek to equal the record of Redbridge (2007-2011).

Since last year Wantage has won the Senior Trophy and claimed a podium finish at the Scottish Open, whilst Thundersley Brass will want to make an immediate return to the Albert Hall after2018’s somewhat surprise qualification.

Redbridge is starting to make progress back to the level that saw them as the band to beat here, with solid performances in claiming a podium finish at the Senior Cup.

Zone One Brass have not contested since last year’s appearance so may be the perfect ‘dark horse’, whilst the likes of Kidlington and East London Brass could well be bands that could force their way into the reckoning.   

1. Friary 
2. Wantage
3. Redbridge
4. Zone One
5. Kidlington
6. Thundersley

Dark Horse: East London Brass


Sandhurst
2018 Champion: Sandhurst Silver

First Section:
Test Piece: Symphony of Marches (Gilbert Vinter)
Saturday 17th March

Adjudicators:  Mark Wilkinson & Paul Norley
Draw: 1.00pm 
Start: After Third Section but not before 2.30pm

Alder Valley Brass (Lee Woodward)
Amersham (Paul Fisher)
Cawston (Leigh Sharpe)
Chiltern Hills Brass (Gordon Davies)
City of Cambridge (Philip Fisher)
East of England Co-op (Nigel Cooper)
Egham (Gareth Green)
Fulham (John Ward)
Grimesdyke Brass (Sharon Broughall)
Medway (Nigel Taken)
Milton Keynes Brass (Jonathan Mott)
Sandhurst Silver (David Johnson)
Soham Comrades (Mark Ager)
Staines Brass (Jonathan Pippen)
Ware Brass (Craig Patterson)

The region has produced just the one First Section National Champion - Friary Guildford in 2010, but it has been getting close to a second in recent years. 

2018 representatives Amersham and Sandhurst came 4th and 8th at Cheltenham (extending a roll-call of top-six finishers that now stretches back to 2012). That is some achievement. 

Whether or not that continues this year depends on who manages to get through on ‘Symphony of Marches’ - a piece that so cleverly conceals its myriad of traps in the less obvious recesses of the score. 

Try and bludgeon things into dynamic submission (and not a great way to go about things in the Gordon Craig acoustic)  and Vinter’s writing quickly loses it wit and delicacy.

The haunting soprano led minor inflections of the central section (hard 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 also easily blunted by thoughtlessness.

Much then for the both the bands and the adjudicators Paul Norley and Mark Wilkinson to consider on Saturday afternoon.

Try and bludgeon things into dynamic submission (and not a great way to go about things in the Gordon Craig acoustic)  and Vinter’s writing quickly loses it wit and delicacy. 

4BR Prediction:

As for the fancied contenders?

Last year’s qualifiers return, with winners Sandhurst and Amersham amongst the favourites to head back to Cheltenham once again. 

Sandhurst also enjoyed a fine outing at Butlins were they came runner-up, so will surely head to Stevange full to the brim with confidence (something which their MD is never short of), whilst Amersham will be keen maintain their recent progress under Paul Fisher.    

East of England Co-op just missed out on Cheltenham last year and another podium finish or better could see them promoted to the Championship Section, whilst the same goes for Fulham, who currently top the promotion rankings. Both are well led bands with the ability to claim a Cheltenham place. 

Staines enjoyed victory at the scaba Spring contest, whist the increasingly impressive Milton Keynes gained an excellent podium finish at Skegness. Our dark horse is Medway. 

1. Sandhurst Silver
2. Amersham
3. East of England Co-op
4. Fulham
5. Milton Keynes
6. Staines

Dark Horse: Medway


lgb
2018 Champion: LGB Brass

Second Section:
Test Piece: Rise of the Phoenix (Darrol Barry)
Sunday 17th March

Adjudicators: Mark Wilkinson & Mareika Gray
Draw: 10.00am & 12.noon
Start: 11.00am

BAE Systems (David Chapman)
Bedford Town (Craig Patterson)
Castleton Brass (Peter Ryan)
Chinnor Silver (David Pegram)
Colchester (Victoria Steinitz)
Cold Ash Brass (Jemma Johnstone)
Epsom & Ewell Silver (Paul Graham)
Fairlop Brass (Kevin Jordan)
Horsham Borough (Mark McLaughlin)
LGB Brass (Ian Stewart)
Littleport Brass (Ian Knpaton)
Oxford Cherwell Brass (Terry Brotherhood)
St Sebastian Wokingham (John Watts)
Tendring Brass (Antony Sanders)
Tilbury (David Stokes)
Wantage Concert Brass (Calum MacDonald)
Waterbeach (Andrew Kershaw)
Yiewsley & West Drayton (Christopher Cole)

18 bands to compare and contrast on Darrol Barry’s super set-work should make for an enjoyable late morning and early afternoon for both listeners and judges alike on Sunday in the Main Hall. 

And given that the vast majority of bands up and down the country have given performances of exciting merit on the piece (everyone loves a bit of James Bond), Mark Wilkinson and Mareika Gray may have a bit of working out to do in deciding the three qualifiers.

That maybe due to the fact that ‘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. 

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

That maybe due to the fact that ‘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. 

4BR Prediction:

As for the contenders?

LGB Brass and St Sebastian Wokingham will be looking for a repeat of last year when they picked up the qualification places, although when they headed to Cheltenham they couldn’t quite sparkle and had to be content with 14th and 17th respectively.  

The third qualification place last year went to Milton Keynes, who have since been promoted, but with a trio of slots up for brags once more, it will be a keen battle with the likes of Wantage Concert Brass, who were fourth, set for promotion if they can better that this time around.

Horsham Borough is another looking to get back to the First Section and they were boosted by the runner-up finish at the Oxford & District contest after a solid showing at Butlins. 

Meanwhile, Bedford having been relegated from the First Section has been testing their form at the Leicester Contest late last year and at Butlins in January, whilst Chinnor has also been out and about.

Promoted Tendring have picked up two wins at the Leicester BBA and scaba Spring Festival so could be worth a few bob as an each-way bet for a top-six finish or better as a dark horse. 

1. LGB Brass
2. St Sebastian
3. Horsham Borough
4. Bedford
5. Chinnor
6. Wantage Concert Brass

Dark Horse: Tendring


City of Norwich
2018 Champion: City of Norwich

Third Section:
Saturday 16th March
Test Piece: First Suite in Eb (Gustav Holst arr. Sydney Herbert)

Adjudicators: Mareika Gray & Michael Fowles
Draw: 9.00am 
Start: 10.00am

Bradwell Silver (Brian Keech)
Brighton & Hove City (Matthew Hackett)
Chichester City (Rom Stanko)
City of Norwich Brass (Mark Ager)
Crystal Palace (Michael Gray)
East Coast Brass (Paul Speed)
Epping Forest (Keith Schroeter)
Godalming (Jams Haigh)
Hangleton (Richard Baker)
Hungerford Town (Tim Crouter)
Jubilee Brass (Oxford) (Clifford Sadler)
Olney Brass (Kevin Nicholls)
Regent Community Brass (Chris Bearman)
Tadley Concert Brass (Paul Chapman)
Welwyn Garden City (Duncan Wilson)

Gustav Holst’s ‘First Suite in Eb’ has been a great test of banding basics this year.

The Gordon Craig Theatre stage will also be a stern acoustic test on the piece - 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 Mareika Gray and Michael Fowles 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 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:

Last year’s qualifiers didn’t enjoy the best of returns at Cheltenham - with City of Norwich coming 10th and Chichester 18th.

Both will look to get back there again though to put that right - with Norwich perhaps the favourite, whilst a top four finish will edge Chichester to the Second Section. 

Olney Town claimed the honours at the recent Oxfordshire & District Winter contest, whilst Epping Forest enjoyed a fine return at Butlins in gaining a podium finish against a strong field of rivals.  

Hungerford and Welwyn Garden City have come down from the Second Section but have shown their quality here over the years, whilst the likes of the promoted Bradwell Silver (who came fifth at the National Final in Cheltenham) and Brighton & Hove who were runner-up at the scaba contest and tenth at Butlins, may be dark horses.

1. City of Norwich
2. Olney
3. Chichester City
4. Welwyn Garden City
5. Epping Forest
6. Bradwell Silver

Dark Horse: Hungerford


Brdwell
2018 Champion: Bradwell Silver

Fourth Section:
Sunday 17th March
Test Piece: Stantonbury Festival (Ray Steadman-Allen)

Adjudicators: Nick Garman & Paul Norley
Draw: 8.30am & 10.0am
Start: 9.30am 

Abbey Brass (Rob Tompkins)
Amersham Community Brass (Malcolm Peach)
Bletchington Silver (Sheldon Barwick)
City of Oxford (Gareth Coulson)
Cottenham Brass (Peter Mackley)
Great Yarmouth Brass (Colin Swaep)
Hadstock Silver (Diane Pannell)
Hemel Hempstead (Paul Fothergill)
Letchworth Garden City (Tim Welch) 
Luton Youth Brass (Simon Router)
Norfolk Wherry Brass (Eddie Baker)
Pangbourne & District Silver (Stewart Lewins)
Patcham Silver (James Benka-Coker)
Royston Town (Steve Earley)
Simon Langton Brass (David Cutting)
Snowdown Colliery (Andy Collins)
Wantage Academy (Nikki Jones)
Watford (Ian Graves)
Witney Town (Steve Sizeland)
Woodbridge Excelsior (Chris Lewis-Garnham)

A great field of 20 bands will give it their all in the Gordon Graig Theatre on Ray Steadman-Allen’s wonderful ‘Stantonbury Festival’.

It has been a solid test of banding basics ever since it was commissioned by Milton Keynes Borough Council in 1980, so a little bit of local knowledge may just give a few bands the edge in the tent with judges Nick Garman and Paul Norley.

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.  

Get it right and a trip to Cheltenham awaits three qualifiers where last year’s representatives came 6th (Bradwell), 9th and 16th.

It has been a solid test of banding basics ever since it was commissioned by Milton Keynes Borough Council in 1980, so a little bit of local knowledge may just give a few bands the edge in the tent with judges Nick Garman and Paul Norley.

4BR Prediction:

As for the contenders?

As always at this level it’s not an easy job to pick out a potential winner, let alone three hard working qualifiers.

Great Yarmouth came third last year and went on to put in a performance of merit at Cheltenham. That experience did them a great deal of good as they started the year with a fine sixth place finish at Butlins.

Hadstock was fourth last year and will want to push for the qualification places this time around, whilst the consistent 

Cottenham Brass could be another band good shout for another good result after their fourth place finish at Skegness.

The relegated duo of Norfolk Wherry (9th at Butlins) and Simon Langton Brass may be bands to watch out for, whilst City of Oxford used the recent Oxfordshire & District contest to give the test piece an early run-out alongside the likes of Abbey Brass and Witney Town.  

1. Great Yarmouth
2. Cottenham Brass
3. Hadstock
4. Simon Langton Brass
5. Norfolk Wherry
6. City of Oxford

Dark Horse: Abbey Brass

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Alwyn Green

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Conductor, composer, arranger, adjudicator, teacher and soloist