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2019 Welsh Regional Championships
Previews & Predictions

4BR Editor Iwan Fox looks forward to the qualification action for London and Cheltenham as Welsh banding heads north to Wrexham.

aSTON
William Aston Hall provides the venue for the event this year

The Welsh Regional Championship returns to the north of the country for the first time since 2014, with 40 bands taking to the stage at Wrexham’s William Aston Hall, part of Glyndwr University. 

The regional committee has been actively searching for new venues following the announcement of the long term redevelopment of the Brangwyn Hall in Swansea and the significant changes in charging structures that have occurred.

The contest is planned to take place here for just this year, so it may well mean that in the immediate future the event will have a more peripatetic existence as other venues are explored.

The hard work of regional chairman Pedr Roberts and his colleagues in north Wales has helped to secure the event at the modern 1200 seat Aston Hall on a campus that offers excellent facilities with its free parking (although if Wrexham FC is playing at home you may have to pay) and room for the bands.    

Hard battle

However, despite its contest success, Welsh banding is fighting a hard battle to try and gain financial support from various government departments and ‘third sector’ agencies to support grass roots community development as well as high profile projects such as the potential hosting of the 2024 European Championships.

And whilst Wales can boast success at all levels over recent years, as well as two nationally televised competitions (with a BBC Wales commission programme also being filmed this weekend following Cory and Tredegar), the long term outlook of properity is challenging to say the least.

And whilst Wales can boast success at all levels over recent years, as well as two nationally televised competitions (with a BBC Wales commission programme also being filmed this weekend following Cory and Tredegar), the long term outlook of properity is challenging to say the least.

In 1999 there were 53 bands taking part in the Championships, and although the past few years it has hovered around the 40 mark, many bands in all parts of the country are in a pretty fragile state - not helped by a latent tribalism that still permeates the banding culture with three separate local associations not always seeing eye to eye.  

National success at Cheltenham and London eluded representatives for a second successive year. 

However, Cory’s runner-up spot at the Albert Hall means that three bands will return (Tredegar was 8th, City of Cardiff 18th and Tongwynlais 19th), whilst the First Sections representatives were 6th and 15th; the Second Section, 2nd and 12th; the Third, 7th and 9th and the Fourth, 3rd and 13th.    

Given the record over the last few years, that’s still a pretty good return for such a numerically and financially challenged region.  

Hopefully, there won’t be a repeat of the terrible arctic weather that struck last year’s event, although spare a thought for the First Section bands taking to the stage on Saturday afternoon at the same time as the Welsh rugby team takes on Ireland to see if they can win the Grand Slam.


Cory
2018 Champion: Cory

Championship Section:
Test Piece: Seascapes (Ray Steadman-Allen)

Sunday 17th March
Adjudicators: David Hirst & Roger Webster
Draw: 11.30am
Commences: 1. 15pm

City of Cardiff (Melingriffith) M1 (Garry Cutt)
Cory (Philip Harper)
Ebbw Valley (Gareth Ritter)
Llwydcoed (Christopher Turner)
Northop Silver (John Doyle)
Tongwynlais Temperance (Gareth Hann)
Tredegar (Ian Porthouse)

Many regions of the country will cast an envious eye towards Wrexham on Sunday afternoon and wonder how on earth Wales is able to send three bands to the Albert Hall from such a small field.  

Simple really - and last year it was four, as both Cory and Tredegar claimed top-four finishes at the 2017 contest. 

With Cory continuing to live up to their world ranking by being the band to beat at the 2018 majors, this year a third band will once again make the trip.  You have to go back to 1999 for the last time Wales only sent two bands to Kensington. 

Plenty to play for then for all competitors - and with the added ‘bonus’ of the winners also gaining the honour of representing the nation at the European Championships in Palanga, the £200 top prize may just come in handy...

Plenty to play for then for all competitors - and with the added ‘bonus’ of the winners also gaining the honour of representing the nation at the European Championships in Palanga, the £200 top prize may just come in handy...

4BR Prediction

The challenges of ‘Seascapes’ have been well documented over the last few weekends, so it’s unlikely that the bands will ignore them- even in the generous acoustic of the William Aston Hall, and especially with the experienced duo of David Hirst and Roger Webster in the box. 

The battle for the title will surely be between the defending champion Cory and their great rivals Tredegar once more, whilst the scrap for what could be the priceless ticket to London could well be one to savour between the likes of last year’s qualifier City of Cardiff (Melingriffith) who once again showed their growing maturity at the recent Welsh Open, Llwydcoed (who ended up a point behind them) and Northop.

Tongwynlais is still in the rebuilding process at present, whilst Ebbw Valley is still finding its top section feet, although both have quality in the ranks to make a mark.  

1. Cory
2. Tredegar
3. Llwydcoed
4. City of Cardiff (Melingriffith)
5. Northop
6. Ebbw Valley 

Dark Horse: Tongwynlais Temperance


ebbw valley
2018 Champion: Ebbw Valley

First Section:
Test Piece: Symphony of Marches (Gilbert Vinter)

Saturday 16th March
Adjudicators: Sheona Wade & Roger Webster
Draw: 2.00pm
Commences: 4.15pm

Abergavenny Borough (Sean O'Neill)
BTM (Nigel Seaman)
Burry Port Town (Ceri John)
Deiniolen (Lois Eifion)
Goodwick (Matthew Jenkins)
Ifton Colliery (Scott Lloyd)
Lewis Merthyr (Craig Roberts)
Markham & District (Matt Rowe)
Pontardulais Town (Paul Jenkins)
Seindorf Llanrug (Brian Connolly)
Tylorstown (Gary Davies)

First Section bands have encountered enough problems in tackling Gilbert Vinter’s 55 year old test-piece this year, let alone having to put up with the additional distraction of the ‘Grand Slam’ decider taking place in Cardiff at the same time when they are playing.

That may yet prove to be a less bruising encounter, unless the bands, much like Warren Gatland’s players, are on the very top of their game.  

If they are then it promises to be just as engrossing a battle, with a number of well-matched contenders for Sheona Wade and Roger Webster to compare. 

As has been highlighted by all the judges so far, 'Symphony of Marches' is 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 it 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.

Hopefully the games against Ireland will be a bit easier to manage.

That may yet prove to be a less bruising encounter, unless the bands, much like Warren Gatland’s players, are on the very top of their game.  

4BR Prediction:

No stand out favourite, although it will be interesting to see how Matthew Jenkins has been developing his latest batch of talented youngsters at Goodwick.

BTM had an encouraging run-out on the piece at Brass at the Guild and were solid at the Welsh Open, whilst if Deiniolen has continued the progress they showed last year under Lois Eifion they may also fancy their chances. 

Pontardulais, promoted from the Second Section after doing so well at Cheltenham under Paul Jenkins will be keen to make their mark, as will Ifton and Tylorstown.

First Section Welsh League champion Burry Port, Llanrug and Abergavenny could also spring a surprise or two.

1. BTM
2. Goodwick
3. Deiniolen
4. Pontardulais
5. Ifton Colliery 
6. Tylorstown

Dark Horse: Markham & District


Pontardulais
2018 Champion: Pontardulais

Second Section:
Saturday 16th March

Test Piece: Rise of the Phoenix (Darrol Barry)
Adjudicators: Sarah Groarke-Booth & David Hirst
Draw: 10.30am
Commences: 12 noon

Abertillery Town (Joshua Ruck)
Ammanford Town Silver (Glyn Davies)
Mid Rhondda (Alan Gibbs)
Newport Borough (Robin Hackett)
Newtown Silver (Steve Edwards)
Penclawdd (Tony Small)
Royal Buckley Town (Keith Jones)
Seindorf Arian Crwbin (Andrew Jones)

Not many people may know it, but there has actually been a Welsh James Bond. 

Timothy Dalton was born just up the road in Colwyn Bay, whilst in a strange quirk of war time fate, a chap from Pontypridd with 007’s name worked under the author Ian Fleming in the then Special Operations Executive. 

Not that any of this will help the eights bands here on Darrol Barry’s exciting ‘Rise of the Phoenix’, but you never know, although given what we have heard so far over the last few weeks it should provide Sarah Groarke-Booth & David Hirst with plenty of solid playing to ponder over in the box.

Timothy Dalton was born just up the road in Colwyn Bay, whilst in a strange quirk of war time fate, a chap from Pontypridd with 007’s name worked under the author Ian Fleming in the then Special Operations Executive. 

4BR Prediction:

Another difficult one to call, with each of these contenders showing enough form over the last year or so to suggest that they could be in with more than a fighting chance of claiming one of the two qualifications.   

Welsh League Second Section champion Newport Borough are growing in contesting stature under Robin Hackett, whilst Mid Rhondda is packed with experience.

Abertillery Town and Ammanford are solid outfits and Newtown can also lift its game when the mood takes them alongside Welsh League runner-up Crwbin. 

Royal Buckley Town could be the dark horse here under the baton of the experienced Keith Jones to top the lot. 

1. Newport Borough
2. Mid Rhondda
3. Royal Buckley Town
4. Abertillery Town
5. Penclawdd
6. Ammanford

Dark Horse: Newtown


Taff Vale
2018 Champion: Taff Vale Brass

Third Section:
Saturday 16th March

Test Piece: First Suite in Eb (Gustav Holst arr. Sydney Herbert)
Adjudicators: Sheona Wade & Brian Rostron
Draw: 9.00am
Commences: 10.00am

Briton Ferry Silver (Jeff Pearce)
RAF St Athan Voluntary (Alan Bourne)
Taff Vale (Gareth Ritter)
Usk (James Jones)
Ynyshir (Gary Davies)

It’s a great pity that we will only get to hear five performances of Gustav Holst’s wonderful ‘First Suite in Eb’ to kick off the contest weekend on Saturday morning.

It’s been a superb test of brass banding basics, as well a lovely music to listen to - 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 constraints at its close. It all looks and sounds so simple - but it is anything but.

Hopefully then the contest will be short, sweet and of high quality for Sheona Wade and Brian Rostron in the box.

Hopefully then the contest will be short, sweet and of high quality for Sheona Wade and Brian Rostron in the box.

4BR Prediction:

If the form book is anything to go by then defending champion Taff Vale should be the band to beat. Gareth Ritter has a hard working outfit under his baton and one that shares his desire to be successful. Another trip to Cheltenham could very well be theirs for the taking.

Who will join them there is a tougher ask although Usk could push them close, whilst RAF St Athan will be bubbling with confidence after their win on their last contest outing at the Welsh League event in Cardiff.   

With just the five bands here, a well led pair of dark horses Briton Ferry and Ynyshir will fancy their chances of heading to Cheltenham.

1. Taff Vale
2. Usk
3. RAF St Athan Voluntary

Dark Horses: Briton Ferry and Ynyshir


Rhondda
2018 Champion: Upper Rhondda

Fourth Section:
Sunday 17th March

Test Piece: Stantonbury Festival (Ray Steadman-Allen)
Adjudicators: Sarah Groarke-Booth & Sheona Wade
Draw: 9.00am
Commences: 10.00am

Northop (Aled Williams)
Buckley (Steve Pugh-Jones)
Crosskeys Silver (Sion Rhys Jones)
Cwmtawe (Wayne Pedrick)
Gwaen Cae Gurwen (Robert Burnett)
Holywell (Chris Barnes)
Menai Bridge Porthaethwy (Chris Williams)
Seindorf Arian yr Oakeley (Aled Williams)
Seindorf Beaumaris (Scott Lloyd)

Great to see nine bands in the Fourth Section this year (up three from 2018) for what promises to be a fascinating battle between north and south.

‘Stantonbury Festival’ is an archetypical Fourth Section work; measured, considered writing with the dynamics set in context and with the percussion requirements within the scope of two nimble players. 

Each of the three movements ask questions of contrast and style too; 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.

‘Stantonbury Festival’ is an archetypical Fourth Section work; measured, considered writing with the dynamics set in context and with the percussion requirements within the scope of two nimble players.  

4BR Prediction:

This section has provided us with great entertainment and plenty of high quality playing over the last couple of years in Swansea, and there may be more to enjoy here on Sunday morning.

As to form? 

That’s anyone’s guess, but rumours from our northern spies tell us to watch out for the likes of Seindorf Beaumaris, Northop and Menai Bridge, whilst closer to 4BR home it seems like the main challenge could come from Crosskeys, Cwmtawe and Gwaun Cae Gurwen.  

Drop into the mix our dark horse of Buckley and this could be a cracker.

1. Seindorf Beaumaris
2. Crosskeys
3. Northop
4. Gwaun Cae Gurwen
5. Cwmtawe Youth 
6. Menai Bridge

Dark Horse: Buckley

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