2022 British Open Championship
Contest preview

The 168th British Open Championship was always to have taken place in more reflective circumstances this year, but there is still the opportunity to rejoice in respect and admiration.

Queen Elizabeth II was patron of the British Open Championship since 1952

Even before the death of Her Majesty The Queen was announced, the 168th British Open Championship was always likely to have taken place against a more considered backdrop of reflective circumstance than would have been initially envisaged on its return from its two year competitive hiatus.  


Events of any kind at present are invariably accompanied by thoughts linked to individual loss as well as communal struggle – those of loved ones through Covid-19 as well as the economic pressures of a cost of living crisis chief amongst them.

It may then seem a somewhat uncomfortable musical anachronism that the variations on the Lutheran Chorale, ‘Nun danket alle Gott’  by Edward Gregson that will face the 18 bands and entertain a packed Symphony Hall audience, is entitled ‘The World Rejoicing’. 

However, it is not. 

The original text by 17th century pastor Martin Rinkart certainly pays joyful thanks to God “with hands and hearts and voices, Who wonderous things has done”,  yet as the 19th century translation by Catherine Winkworth reveals, it also touches on more troubling concerns. 

“And keep us in His grace, 
and guide us when perplexed; 
And free us from all ills, 
in this world and the next.”

Rinkart was the only surviving pastor in the German town of Eilenburg of the 1637 plague – one which saw him conduct as many as 50 funerals a day.

As he knew full well, any celebration of life was always accompanied by an acceptance of the ephemeral nature of mortality – be it constitutional monarchs to the members of the poorest families in our society.

The iconic gold shield awaits...

Prescient text

Whatever your religious beliefs or political inclinations, it is a remarkably prescient text in relation to what has happened in the past 24 hours or so.

That has certainly been the reasoning behind the decision made by Martin and Karyn Mortimer and contest controller Frank Hodges following detailed discussions with the management of Symphony Hall. 

With protocols, advice, legal and financial ramifications to consider, their response brought the focus of the event onto that of the celebration of a life of dedicated service to the nation – and one that had seen The Queen offer her patronage from the centenary contest in 1952 to date. 
Hopefully then the contest atmosphere will also reflect that – the celebrations still joyful as players and their conductor grasp the golden British Open Shield, but perhaps on this occasion a little more measured and respectfully restrained.

The defending champion: Cory

Respectful battle

Who that will be on this occasion is an intriguing question - one based less on year on year form than perhaps ever before.

That said, few would bet against Cory and Philip Harper retaining the title – one they last celebrated in 2019 with victory on another work that celebrated life and loss, in Peter Graham’s ‘Dynasty’.

Hat tricks?

They could well become the first band since Black Dyke in 1974 to claim a hat-trick of wins (albeit with that two year break), although unlike the Queensbury band they won’t be barred from defending the title in 2024. 

Philip Harper could also emulate history - becoming the first conductor since Leonard Lamb in 1964 to claim a personal hat-trick of victories.

Philip Harper could also emulate history - becoming the first conductor since Leonard Lamb in 1964 to claim a personal hat-trick of victories.

As they showed in retaining the European title here in May, they remain the band to beat, their record at this contest remarkable to say the least.

Foden's will be looking to add the British Open title to the National silverware

Euro rivals

There are rivals snapping at their heels though – including two that impressed greatly at those European Championships. Both National Champion Foden’s (who last won here in 2012, and Tredegar (2013) displayed the full array of their considerable talents in May and will be confident of being in a title mix once more.

It's eight years since Black Dyke took the trophy back to Queensbury, but having recorded the work recently for a forthcoming CD and with Prof Nicholas Childs having a close affinity to Gregson’s major works, Pondashers are quietly confident.

It's eight years since Black Dyke took the trophy back to Queensbury, but having recorded the work recently for a forthcoming CD and with Prof Nicholas Childs having a close affinity to Gregson’s major works, Pondashers are quietly confident.

Surprisingly, it’s been 44 years since the trophy headed to Brighouse – although their MD, Prof David King certainly knows just what it takes to lay his hands on a Mortimer Maestro statuette as winning conductor.  The Australian already has four to his name with room you suspect for a fifth on his living room sideboard.   

Impressive Yorkshire

Yorkshire certainly provides impressive challengers. 

Grimethorpe being Grimethorpe have done things very much on their own terms over recent months as they look to a partnership with the exciting Swiss conductor Michael Bach to secure a sixth win – and a first since 2015.

Carlton Main Frickley also looks overseas for a third Open title (1922 and 1958).  Allan Withington won here a decade ago and his informed approach could well see them claim a first top-six finish since 2011. 

Watch out

Meanwhile, two Yorkshire dark horses tipped to do well are Grand Shield winner Rothwell Temperance and Hammonds.  Both were fine value for their Albert Hall qualifications at Huddersfield earlier in the year, whilst Rothwell were even more impressive in winning at Blackpool.

Packed with youthful as well as more mature talent, David Roberts and Morgan Griffiths have built solid, high-quality outfits under their command. Ones to watch out for?

Both were fine value for their Albert Hall qualifications at Huddersfield earlier in the year, whilst Rothwell were even more impressive in winning at Blackpool.

Two other good value each-way bets for a top-six finish come in the form of Flowers, who are a remarkably consistent major championship contender under Paul Holland’s direction, and Desford, who benefit greatly from the nous and insight of Michael Fowles.  

It could be a crowded neck and neck field at the top end of the results table if all these bands play to peak form.

Past winners

Past winners WFEL Fairey and Leyland have experienced a few ups and downs in recent years but have solid records of achievement here over the past decade or so.

Swiss conductor Arsene Duc has a young band (sprinkled with a few older heads) under his command, eager to impress, whilst as Thomas Wyss showed at the North West Area earlier this year, Leyland retains a very persuasive musical polish when the mood takes them. 

Arsene Duc is one of eight overseas based MDs taking part in the contest this year

Up in class

If Aldbourne play as well as they did in winning the West of England Area title earlier this year under the talented Ivan Meylemans, then they will be confident of adding a second successive top-10 finish to their name, whilst a busy Northop has been rejuvenated in the past year.

That was shown in their qualification from the Grand Shield but in also winning the National Eisteddfod of Wales title and in qualifying for the Royal Albert Hall.

Meanwhile, NASUWT Riverside has shown that they have made the move up in class to the British Open (and the Albert Hall) in the last couple of years with a bold confidence, and although they have work to do to retain their status here they won’t lose it through a lack of determination.      

Scots and French

The sole Scottish and French representatives head to Birmingham also looking to impress – with the cooperation band also in need of a good result to repel fears of potential relegation to the Grand Shield. 

They have enlisted the assistance of Belgian/Swiss euphonium star Glenn Van Looy to lead them in a show of ambition, and it is one that could stand them in good stead.

Paris meanwhile makes their long awaited British Open debut.

Paris meanwhile makes their long awaited British Open debut. They qualified after coming runner-up at the 2019 European Championships and have undergone a number of changes in personnel since – including their conductor.

After some contest uncertainties, Laurent Douvre has brought them back to form in winning the French Open title, so they will be keen to show that they can make their mark against their British rivals. 

Worth rejoicing

The British Open Championship has faced many challenges over its history – including the cancellation of its event as far back as 1859 and again in 1997. 

And whilst 2020 and 2021 will also be marked in the record books with an asterisk, 2022 will hopefully be remembered for a very long time to come as the day when the oldest and most prestigious event returned with a show of communal respect and determination that echoed the finest values embodied by its greatly admired patron.  

That is certainly worth rejoicing.

Iwan Fox

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