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2022 National Championship of Great Britain
Preview

All connections lead to the Royal Albert Hall this weekend, but there is a danger that it is no longer the hub attraction it used to be.


The biggest musical hub in the world 

All connections, hyperlinked included, lead to the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday.

It may be a 150 year old hub made of Victorian red brick and cast iron, but it still commands the focus of the modern musical world – although whether or not it retains the attraction it once did for the brass band movement is slightly more questionable.

The thrill of performing on its great stage remains – as was shown with the return of the Proms this year and its list of future high profile attractions, but it has been a long time since banding crowds gathered impatiently outside its portico doors with prized tickets in their pockets whilst others looked for ticket touts in the hope of grabbing a seat in the gods. 

Times have changed

Times have changed – none more so since Covid-19 stopped everything in its tracks in 2020.

Last year Kapitol Promotions took the brave decision to host the Championship when essential health restrictions were still in place and could have stopped it in its tracks.  They deserved huge credit for doing so. 

Last year Kapitol Promotions took the brave decision to host the Championship when essential health restrictions were still in place and could have stopped it in its tracks.  

It was as admirable as it was financially risky and as a result the audience was understandably substantially reduced.

However, even with the government grant help Kapitol subsequently received, this year’s contest can ill afford to played out against another sea of empty red seats.


The audience was understandably reduced in 2021

Any bankers

Worryingly, bands, players and supporters are now faced with a cost of living crisis every bit as pernicious and undiscriminating – unless you have a few city bankers in the ranks.  

Persuading people to make even a day trip to enjoy 20 bands playing the same test-piece is getting a much harder sell.  

Those who once wouldn’t have given it a second thought (European friends included) now look much closer at the ticket prices (let alone travel, food and accommodation) which they argue are now reaching potentially unaffordable levels. You can multiply that tenfold for any competing band.  

Cost and price

That though also applies to the fixed as well as variable costs for Kapitol, who are faced with working with a host venue that still insists on an almost Victorian constraints. As someone told 4BR quite recently: “Anything you want comes at a price at the Albert Hall.” 

Getting the type of investment then that can also help with sponsorship and prize money is another problem that is exacerbated by our financial times.

The £2000 that was first offered to the winning band in 1980 is now worth just over £400 today, but in this age of hyperlinked advertising, on-line shopping and next day deliveries, who would want to sponsor a brass band contest?  


There was friendly atmosphere of support last year at the event

Encouraging atmosphere

We should all hope then that this year’s event can build on the encouraging atmosphere of togetherness and optimism that was in evidence last October. 

Whether that is enough to provide a lasting boost to audience numbers that will come close to the pre-internet days when all 5,000 plus seats were snapped up quicker than Elon Musk buying shares in Twitter we will have to wait and see.

The again, we could ask him if he wants to sponsor the event.

Tweaking the interest

The title of this year’s test-piece would certainly tweak his interest.

Peter Graham’s ‘Hyperlink’  bridges eras and ideas. And with its clever connective links to Bach, Vaughan Williams, Ray Steadman Allen and Hubert Parry as well as flashes of Quincy Jones and Bernard Hermann and a couple of his own favourites, there is certainly something for everyone to enjoy.

It’s also short by modern test-piece standards; three leanly packed movements amounting to 14 or so minutes of playing time.

It’s also short by modern test-piece standards; three leanly packed movements amounting to 14 or so minutes of playing time.

Little wonder Kapitol has boosted the pre-results entertainment by inviting the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain to perform a short programme. It's a fine, inclusive idea to try and inspire the next generation. 


The National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain will provide the pre-results entertainment

Qualification routes

The results at the various Area contests this year came up with a few tweaks and detours from expected qualification routes, but with a few of notable exceptions the usual suspects managed to make their way back to Kensington Gore.

The four pre-qualified bands will certainly be in many people’s minds to feature once again in the prizes.

Defending champion Foden’s will be chief amongst them, especially given the form shown at the Europeans and British Open. 

Defending champion Foden’s will be chief amongst them, especially given the form shown at the Europeans and British Open. 

So too Cory. The European champion didn’t quite hit their straps at Birmingham, but they have a remarkable record here that they are keen to enhance.


The defending champion will look to celebrate once more

Strong say

In the absence of Brighouse & Rastrick, punters may be wary of the risk of putting a few bob on another band carrying off he famous silver pot, but both Tredegar and Black Dyke will head to Kensington Gore confident of doing just that.

If the Welsh band minimise the annoying little slips that cost it dearly at Symphony Hall, and if the Queensbury outfit can get a better draw and free itself of some of its inherent conservatism then this may a piece to suit them both. 

Others may well have a strong say in that - notably Flowers and Desford, both of whom will surely have taken note of what Dr Bob Childs so carefully deliberated upon (and backed up in his adjudications) at the British Open.

Others may well have a strong say in that - notably Flowers and Desford, both of whom will surely have taken note of what Dr Bob Childs so carefully deliberated upon (and backed up in his adjudications) at the British Open.


Can Ratby wow the judges again?

Dynamic welly

He is joined by Rob Wiffen and Stephen Cobb for the second successive year (Bob and Rob were also in the box in 2019) with all three noted for their forensic appreciation of the score and with their consistent findings.

So, whilst the Albert Hall can take a fair amount of dynamic welly, on this occasion those who meander too far from the clearly defined dynamics and pacings could be in for a spanking.  

So, whilst the Albert Hall can take a fair amount of dynamic welly, on this occasion those who meander too far from the clearly defined dynamics and pacings could be in for a spanking.  


2022 has already tunred into a great year for Aldbourne

That could also be encouraging news for the likes of Aldbourne and Ratby who caught the adjudication ears at the recent British Open and here last year, whilst other perceived ‘light weight’ sounding ensembles such as Northop (who were excellent at Symphony Hall) and NASUWT Riverside (somewhat unlucky to lose their Open spot) may find their clarity brings reward.

Savvy

Whitburn, Hammonds and Leyland are also contest savvy, malleable outfits led by informed MDs, whilst Rothwell Temperance could be a bit of a dark horse as they return to the Albert Hall for the first time in a decade. They are a much better band than their result at Symphony Hall last month.


The prize winning journey of Oldham (Lees) has been incredible under MD John Collins

Incredible journey

Another dark horse could well be Oldham Band (Lees) who are keen to make one heck of a mark on their debut here.

The ambition is backed up by talent as well commitment too – from MD to star players and an ensemble, the majority of whom have been with John Collins for on what has been an incredible journey over the last decade.

The ambition is backed up by talent as well commitment too – from MD to star players and an ensemble, the majority of whom have been with John Collins for on what has been an incredible journey over the last decade.

Elsewhere, it’s great to see Haverhill making their debut (the first Suffolk band to do so) as well as former Albert Hall regulars Redbridge return (for only the second time since 2011). 

The last time Easington Colliery stepped foot onto the stage was 1986 so they will be relishing the change to make their long overdue mark, whilst Bon Accord makes the long trip down from Scotland for the second successive year and City of Cardiff (Melingriffith) makes the run up the M4 for the first time since 2018.

Iwan Fox 

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Alwyn Green

LRAM, LTCL
Conductor, composer, arranger, adjudicator, teacher and soloist


               

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