2024 ConsTest Birmingham Open
Live coverage

4BR is at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire to bring you coverage of the second edition of the popular own-choice competition.


1. Sovereign Brass (Alan Gifford)
2. Newstead Brass (Martin Heartfield)
3. Seindorf Beaumaris (Bari Gwilliam)
4. Jackfield Band (Ryan Richards)
5. Oddfellows Band (Craig Williams)
6. Harborough Band (Ben Smith)
7. Skelmersdale Prize Band (Ben Coulson)
8. Amington Band (Chris Barker)
9. Nailsworth Silver Band (Anri Adachi)
10. City of Chester Blucoat Band (Ewan Easton)
11. Clock Face Miners Heritage Band (Will Haw)
12. Cleobury Mortimer Concert Band (David Nicholson)
13. Croft Silver Band (Henry Dunger)

Highest Placed Championship Section Band: Sovereign Brass
Highest Placed First Section Band: Seindorf Beaumaris
Highest Placed Second Section Band: Skelmersdale Prize Band
Highest Placed Third Section Band: Amington Band
Highest Placed Fourth Section Band: Croft Silver Band

Most Promising Lower Section Band: Skelmersdale Prize Band
Best Euphonium: Jackfield Band
Best Instrumentalist: Principal Cornet of Newstead Brass
Best Cornet: Oddfellows Brass
Best Back Row: Seindorf Beaumaris 
Best Bass Section: Seindorf Beaumaris

No 13. Nailsworth Silver Band (Anri Adachi)
Olympus (Philip Harper)

Another Cheltenham bound band - and one that booked its place in super style at the West of England Championships a few weeks back.  No ‘Corineus’ reprise but still a delve into antiquity with a bit of musical bubble and squeak and ‘Olympus’.

It’s a great little suite of filmatc narrative from the opening ceremony played with touch of jingoistic flair and driven energy, through to the Chariot Race would have done old Ben Hur proud. Great detail, texture and balance from the ensemble was added to by confident soloists and neat percussion and central section of Delphic mystery.

A return to  an almost Amish sense of celebration closed things with warmth, flamboyance, style and optimism, to give an uplifting ending to an uplifting and finely directed performance.

Matt Ludford-King

No 12. Cleobury Mortimer Concert Brass (David Nicholson)
Corineus (Christopher Bond)

A reprise of the Area test-piece for the Midlanders and not for the first time today, the extra time spent on the piece has paid off with a performance that had bags of character, colour and texture to add to its dramatic impact.

Excellent command from the middle helped a great deal, as did the confident tonality of the ensemble and the bravura solo contributions. There was so much to enjoy here – the adventure and musical narrative aided by excellent perc team.

Bravo – a super show on a piece that also showed the band off to its best.

Matt Ludford-King

No 11. Jackfield Band (Ryan Richards)
Pageantry (Herbert Howells)

Another band that took the welcome approach of testing their musical mettle against one of the acknowledged ‘classics’ of core top section banding repertoire.

Confident on the back of their recent First Section Midlands qualification to Cheltenham they certainly played with brio and brilliance in the opening ‘King’s Herald’, engaging excitement and energy if just being a bit scrappy and forced in places.

The ‘Cortege’ found its sombre, flowing tread after a hesitant start, with fine solo contributions building to its majestic climax. Just occasional intonation issues and some moments of unease robbed the reflection, but it found a tender repose to close. 

A classy bit ‘jousting’ from the solo cornet led into a messy moment or two (and some strange sounding entries), but it had a boldness and majesty right through to the end to round off a performance that very nearly matched its ambition. 

Matt Ludford-King

No 10. Clock Face Miners Heritage Brass Band (Will Haw)
Fire in the Blood (Paul Lovatt-Cooper)

Good to see this band back again on the contest stage after its encouraging performance at the North West Regional Championships earlier in the year.

Great to hear the ambition on show too, with a new choice of music with Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s optimistic, upbeat and vibrant ‘Fire in the Blood' – all Salvationist timbrels and melodic tonality.

It is so well played – nicely shaped and formed with all the internal balances in place and underpinned by rhythmic perc and indefatigable basses.  Lovely touches from the soloists, all making the most of their moment in the spotlight and the MD kept enough juice in the engine to drive to a fantastic end – complete with Thus Spake Zarathustra timps and crashing final chord. Bravo – super stuff.

Matt Ludford-King


No 9. Harborough Band (Ben Smith)
Mountain Views (Bertrand Moren)

A welcome reprise for the Swiss composer’s take on his alpine surroundings – one which we last heard about a decade or more ago at the National Championships.

Its filmatic scope and language makes for an enjoyable trip up and down Swiss dale – the peaks not insurmountable either. The approach from the MD helped a great deal here – a sensible selection of tempo and dynamics, pacing and balances that brought the colour and texture of the writing to the fore.

There were some problems areas when the music lost its secure footing in the solo and ensemble lines, but it was never too terminal or drastic.

Great brassy chords really shone through, but also elements of lyrical reflection too in a performance that just about met its ambitions to scale a difficult peak.

Matt Ludford-King

No 8. Newstead Brass (Martin Heartfield)
Of Distant Memories, (Music in An Olden Style), (Edward Gregson)

A timely reprise for Edward Gregson’s wonderful piece of adaptive facadism - an expert piece of musical architectural veneer that maintains the look, feel and style of the original but which inside is packed with all mod cons.

It's a glorious work that never sounds pastiche – and thanks to an informed approach by the MD here, never sounded false either. Lots to enjoy with the style and execution courtesy of confident soloists and a solidly balanced ensemble. 

Little nuances in pacing and balances were heard throughout, and despite the obvious little niggles, scratches and chips, that essence of Edwardian tone poem splendour and drama seeped through – all echoes of ‘Epics’ of bygone years.  

Just got harsh and too intense in places towards the end, but it still had a fine triumphant feel.

Matt Ludford-King

Lunch break

As we break for lunch it’s time to reflect on what has been an excellent morning of music making here In Birmingham. A really diverse selection of pieces has allowed individual bands and soloists to shine, while still giving the adjudicators plenty to work with.

Sovereign Brass, the defending champions, have put up  their bold marker, although the likes of Oddfellows and Beaumaris are hot on their heels following some really electrifying moments. Amington, Croft and Skelmersdale have all put in fine performances too and it is great to see bands of all levels delivering so well. 

The second half will see Newstead Brass take to the stage first in a challenge for the top on one of Gregson’s most highly regarded works, and last year’s runners up Jackfield will surely be chasing on too. It’s all to play for here at Constest. That’s all from me until 1:30pm – see you then!

Matt Ludford-King 

No 7. Skelmersdale Prize Band (Benjamin Coulson)
Tournament for Brass (Eric Ball)

Really good to hear one of the ‘classic’ works of the establish brass band repertoire again.  

It is also a piece that caused all sorts of problems the last time it was used at the First Section National Finals in 2017, as MDs found it almost an ‘alien’ form of brass band music making – an academic exercise in cultured form and function.

Good to hear an MD who had certainly done his homework and referencing on it though – with a neat appreciation of the compact structures and phrasing.  The opening had a lean bounce and stylistic lightness of touch, whilst the central section flowed with musicality – helped by some excellent solo contributions, ornate but not overdone. 

Just the odd moment or two of unease and intonation, but the wit and pathos was well balanced right to the close.

The thoughtfully paced scherzo to close had a waspish lilt and wasn’t raced through to add to the style. A little scrapy in places but again the soloists played so well to give things a pinch of elan. Bravo – really nicely done from one and all.

Matt Ludford-King  

No 6. Croft Silver Band (Henry Dunger)
Music for Jock Tamson (Alan Fernie)

Another band that has taken the option to reprise their Area test-piece – and once again it proves to be a good choice as under their MD they produced a performance rich in character and solid basics.

Lots to enjoy in each of the three movements – all delivered confidently by the ensemble and the lead solo lines. 

The ensemble danced its way through the first movement, bringing out the stylistic nuance and snap of the music to a tee. The second movement flowed with freedom and majestic lyrical intent - like a fine fog settling over the tips of highland peaks. Super work by the MD made the most of the melodic lines as it passed through the band. 

The third movement had a tartan pride too – with great troms leading the way to an excellent close on a performance that captured the essence of Alan Fernie’s score bang on the sporran.

Matt Ludford-King

No 5. Sovereign Brass (Alan Gifford)
The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (Derek Bourgeois) 

An ambitious choice this on a piece of darkly acerbic wit combined with ferocious technique that has lost none of its bite, despite now being more than 30 years after it was first heard at the Royal Albert Hall in 1993. 

Echoes of old spitfire fugues and Eurovision song contest winning entries abounded, that required an immense amount of self-confidence, brio and sheer hutzpah to pull off.

Sovereign certainly gave it a great feral go – edgy, messy, exciting, and bags of venomous fun.

Just how it should be really, even if the ensemble precision and clarity needed to be ratcheted up a notch or three in places.

Super sop was the pick of the soloists and the troms had a fine edge to go with the robust engine drive tubas.  

Lots and lots to enjoy in a somewhat wayward, but hugely engaging and characterful performance from the defending champion.  

Matt Ludford-King

No 4. Seindorf Beaumaris (Bari Gwilliam)
The Saga of Haakon the Good (Philip Sparke)

Such a visceral choice and played as if the North Walians were intent on invading Birmingham!

This was clearly a very well-rehearsed performance brilliantly led by their MD (who looked a bit Viking), allowing the ensemble to perform to an incredibly high standard. There was such  
a super sense of the ethereal and downright dangerous created by excellently blended soloists and ensemble from start to finish. 

The solo euphonium was the pick of the bunch, but closely followed by her colleagues with a trio of troms who were superb.  The music had such purpose and energy, colour and vibrancy, even when in reflection. The battle cry raised the hairs on the back of your neck to round off a real Welsh corker of a show.

Matt Ludford-King

No 3. Oddfellows Brass (Craig Williams)
Tallis Variations (Philip Sparke)

An ambitious choice for Oddfellows Brass with a past former European Championship Section set-work – one that received its premiere not too far away from here at Symphony Hall in 2000.

It was certainly confidently approached and delivered too – from all corners of the band and helped by a steadying hand from the middle, and a notable principal cornet in Kirsty Abbotts who shone throughout. 

All the soloists played well in fact with style and precision and although there were some minor moments of rushing and unease the music retained both its lyricism and rhythmic pulse when required.  

Just got a little scrappy and untuneful towards the end, but this was a performance rich in colour, virtuosity and excitement.

Matt Ludford-King

No 2. City of Chester Bluecoat Band (Ewan Easton)
Triptych (Philip Sparke)

City of Chester also opted for the recent regional work – and it also proved to be an excellent choice, building on their performance at the North West Regional Championships with real verve and eagerness. 

There was a lot of energy and vibrancy about the playing and then the contrast came with lovely shaping of the phrasing from the MD and players. The principal cornet and euphonium duet performed with beautiful tones, all topped with a sumptuous sop sound riding well above the band. 

The final movement had a great jovial feel too, balanced by a super perc section to round off a performance of confident note. 

Matt Ludford-King

No 1. Amington (Chris Barker)
Corineus (Christopher Bond)

Amington opt for the recent regional test piece by Christopher Bond, and it proves to be an excellent choice, building further on their solid performance at Corby – confident and evocative.

The opening fanfares showed great attention to articulated detail and control of both the ensemble balance and dynamics. Some little moments in the first movement of unease, but it got better as it progressed.

A fab euph soloist was a star with musical unity between himself and the sweet-sounding principal cornet. Bravo to the sop and flugel in a fine central section. The closing furioso had a visceral bite, but also a great deal of control to round off a superb show and a great start to the day.

Matt Ludford-King

Nearly ready...

There is a diverse spread of bands from across the country to enjoy today - and at different levels.

Last year this new approach proved a hit and its popularity continues with returnees and newcomers to the event. Founder and organiser, Mikey Foley-hall (now a graduate of RBC) has a great inclusive approach - from the bands to the youthful team of volunteers clad in suits. as well as branded merchandise to add to the coffers.

With not one, but three after-party performances lined up one can’t help but feel the festival atmosphere. The Flowers Band are top of the bill for tonight’s gala concert, followed by the newly formed Flourescent Brassolecents, featuring a set-list of the Arctic Monkey’s greatest hits, and the formidable Ambrassadors making their return to the Eastside Jazz Club to boost the celebrations long into the evening.

The bands are starting to arrive and the hall is slowly filling ahead of what will, undoubtedly, be another great ConsTesting day. 

Matt Ludford-King

Don’t forget today’s event is being live streamed. Access is only £4.99 through Next Step Films: http://www.nxtod.com

Good morning from Birmingham

Good morning and welcome to our coverage of the ConsTest own-choice competition that kicks off at 10.00am at Bradshaw Hall at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

Adjudicators Ian Porthouse and Ryan Watkins will have to compare and contrast 13 different contenders with a wide selection of ambitious selections on show.

These include those recent Area test-pieces, ‘Corineus’, ‘Music for Jock Tamson’  and ’Triptych’  as well as ‘Of Distant Memories’, ‘Pageantry’, 'The Saga of Haakon the Good’, ‘Mountain Views’, ‘The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’, 'Tournament for Brass’, ‘Tallis Variations’, ‘Olympus’  and ‘Fire in the Blood’. 

Live stream

The contest itself will also be live streamed by Next Step Films on their NXTOD platform - so you can also enjoy it all at home, as well as the gala concert with Flowers Band and the results ceremony.

Flowers will perform their award-winning ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Brass in Concert set featuring soloists Emily Evans and Paul Richards.

You can secure your live streaming ticket for £4.99 at: http://www.nxtod.com

There will also be an equally wide variety of prizes on offer for bands at each level thanks to partnerships created with Geneva, Denis Wick, thecornetshop.com and Alliance. 


In addition to the usual musical attractions there will be the opportunity to enjoy the fine on-site facilities which will also include a number of trade stands.

Tickets are available at: https://www.bcu.ac.uk/conservatoire/events-calendar/constest2024

After the results ceremony, The Fluorescent Brassolescents will play Arctic Monkeys’ hits, followed by the Ambrassadors playing party anthems to close the night, in the Eastside Jazz Club. 

For more information, go to: http://www.constest.co.uk

Matthew Ludford-King

Adjudicators: Ian Porthouse & Ryan Watkins
Commence: 10.00am 

1. Amington Band (Chris Barker)
2. City of Chester Bluecoat Band (Ewan Easton)
3. Oddfellows Brass (John Davis)
4. Seindorf Beaumaris (Bari Gwilliam)
5. Sovereign Brass (Alan Gifford)
6. Croft Silver Band (Henry Dunger)
7. Skelmersdale Prize Band (Benjamin Coulson) 


8. Newstead Brass (Martin Heartfield)
9. Harborough Band (Ben Smith)
10. Clock Face Miners Heritage Brass Band (Will Haw)
11. Jackfield Band (Ryan Richards)
12. Cleobury Mortimer Concert Brass (David Nicholson)
13. Nailsworth Silver Band (Anri Adachi)

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