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Report & Results: 2023 North of England Regional Championships

NASUWT Riverside, York Railway Institute, Durham Miners Association, Jayess Newbiggin Brass (above) and Lakes Brass claim the titles in Durham.

Gala Theatre
  The event takes place at the Gala Theatre in Durham

The NASUWT Riverside Band lived up to its pre-contest billing as the short-priced favourite to claim the North of England Area title with a substantive Championship Section victory at Durham's Gala Theatre.

Their sixth victory since 2013 was also a hat-trick success — although one that was directed not by professional conductor Prof Nicholas Childs, who was claiming a 41st Area accolade with Whitburn Band in Scotland, but by his elder brother, Dr Robert Childs.

Sublime

It proved to be his thirteenth Area success — his first since 2017, as he led the defending champion through a 'Red Priest' packed with trademark detail and security, as well as what was later described by one judge to 4BR as 'sublime' lyrical sections of playing.

The immediate reaction of David Hirst and Martin Heartfield in the box as the band laid down the contest marker off the number 5 draw was equally definitive: "A very good performance with a good band sound and excellent direction," wrote David, whilst Martin said that the "triumphant ending" had rounded off a performance "of some merit. Bravo MD — so musically shaped!"

Speaking later to 4BR, David Hirst added: "It was a fine winning performance, technically and musically. We found a great deal to enjoy and endorse with the playing and the direction which realised Philip Wilby's musical intentions so well."

Well prepared

Speaking about the victory, Dr Childs also told 4BR: "I was very fortunate to be able to come into a band that was so well prepared by my brother and Andrew Hunter. The players were right on the button at rehearsals and especially on stage.

It was a super performance from a band that has so much dedicated talent in it ranks."

That talent was also recognised by the band claiming the 'Best' soprano, trombone and percussion awards, further confirmation of the ensemble and individual contributions that marked their continued dominance at the Area contest.

Joining the winner back in London for the first time since 2019 will be Reg Vardy, as Russell Gray provided a lyrical Vivaldi portrait to edge out rivals and last year's runner-up, Easington Colliery.

Well constructed

David Hirst told 4BR: "They both gave well-constructed performances, and it really was close between them to gain the second qualification place."

Reg Vardy picked up the 'Best Cornet' award, with Easington the 'Best Basses'.

All three bands will now focus their attentions on the British Open Spring Festival in Blackpool in May, with NASUWT Riverside keen to make an immediate return to Symphony Hall. Reg Vardy join them in the Grand Shield battle, whilst Easington will look to take a step close from the Senior Trophy.

British Open focus

Speaking to 4BR, NASUWT Riverside Band Manager Tony Thompson said: "It was great to be able to claim a hat-trick of victories. Our thanks go to Dr Bob Childs for taking the job on and it was so good to see him in conducting action once again.

Getting straight back to the British Open is our next task and we know its going to be difficult, so if we can build further om this performance I'm sure we will be in with a good chance."

Although 'Red Priest' proved to be a demanding challenge, the judges stated that there was merit in each of the performances, especially from fourth placed City of Hull, who claimed the 'Best' baritone and euphonium prizes, as well as the remaining top-six finishers of Fishburn and Shepherd Group.

First Section:

Philip Lawrence's 'A Day in the Life of a Knight' once again proved to be a testing screen play of musical characterisation, although winners York Railway Institute and fellow Cheltenham qualifier Harrogate showed considerable mastery of its filmatic intent.

Led by the experienced David Lancaster, York rounded off an engaging contest with a performance that had a stamp of musical authority, aided by excellent ensemble balances, especially from their prize winning trombone Rob Foden and bass section team.

David later stated on his Facebook page that he was "so very proud" after the band had given what he said was "a fabulous performance" to become champion.

Coherent

It was an opinion backed by adjudicators Martin Heartfield and Jonathan Pippen who subsequently told 4BR that they had been impressed by not just the winners but also by the overall standard.

"There was a coherent continuity about the musical approach of the winners," Martin said. "It was a genuine, well-informed attempt to bring the character of the music out. The runner-up also did this in a very good performance, but the winner had a little extra about it."

Substance

Jonathan agreed: "The top two were performances of substance — the winners in particular. There was also something from each of the bands, despite the struggles at times with the maintenance of tempo. Lots to enjoy in fact."

York will now return to Cheltenham for a second successive year boosted by their first Area win since 2014, whilst Harrogate will join them for the first time since 2018.

They secured their place ahead of third placed Cockerton, who claimed the 'Best Percussion' award, whilst there were performances of merit from North Skelton, GT Group Peterlee, Houghton and Felling.

Second Section:

The North of England will certainly send to Cheltenham two strong contenders for honours after a highly competitive Second Section contest.

They will be led newly crowned champion Durham Miners Association, as under MD Stuart Gary they secured their first ever Area title with a super performance of Rodney Newton's 'The Pilgrim's Progress', built on the foundations provided by an excellent 'Best Bass' section.

Speaking soon after the success on their Facebook page they said: "So 48 hours after our "big win" we start the planning for the National Finals in September. We are itching to find out what the test piece is going to be!

There are coaches to sort, hotel to book and fundraising to make sure we can get there to start."

Massive thanks

They added: "We'd like to say a massive thank you to our MD Stuart Gray, who put a huge amount of time and effort into making sure we got the best out of our performance. Conductors don't just stand at the front and wave a stick!"

Indeed they don't, with this win the culmination of a decade of development under his baton — and one that they now hope will see them better their sixth place finish at Cheltenham in 2021.

A band that has certainly enjoyed its visits down to the famous Gloucestershire racecourse is Tewit Silver. Formed in 2017, they claimed a fifth National Finals berth under MD Martin Hall, with a finely judged account.

Worked hard

Writing on their Facebook page they said: "We worked hard as a team preparing and performing and each and every member gave a performance to be proud of." Rob Cavender picked up the 'Best Euphonium' award with Ben Fearnley taking the 'Best Soprano' prize.

Just missing out was Ashington Colliery, although they also gave a performance of considerable note, whilst the remaining bands in the top-six in Dunston, Ferryhill and Trimdon as well as the remaining contenders also successfully brought a great deal out of a tricky score thanks to the informed direction of their MDs.

Third Section:

Although there were only six bands in the Third Section, the contest was topped and tailed by quality performances from the winner and defending champion, Jayess Newbiggin and fellow qualifiers, Barton Community.

It was a second successive victory for the band that came close to claiming the National title itself in Cheltenham last year.

Finely judged

They now head south in September as one of the short-priced favourites to go one better after a finely judged rendition of the subtly testing set work, 'Chorale and Toccata' by Stephen Bulla, aided by a splendid and colourful (in more ways than one with a fantastic hairstyle) contribution of their impressive 'Best Percussion' team.

Writing on their Facebook page the band said: "A proud weekend for Northumberland banding. What a journey. Double champions in both the 4th and 3rd Section. So proud!"

They have every right to be with those victories in 2016/17 and now 2022/23, with Andrew Griffiths returning this year to make it a personal hat-trick of titles and the band receiving the very best wishes before their performance from Duncan Beckley, who led them to their 2022 success.

Strong performance

Joy too for Barton Community Band, as a youthful outfit (they first competed at the Area contest in 2012) made it back to the National Final under Garry Oglesby for the third time — rounding off the contest with a strong performance.

Both qualifiers were able to meet the contrasting technical and musical challenges of Stephen Bulla's work, displaying rich warm sounds and neat pacing to enhance the solid basics.

Just missing out was Ellington Colliery as last year's National Finalist ended in third (with a fine personal contribution from their 'Best Cornet'), whilst there was a great deal for the judges and audience to compare and contrast with the other well directed accounts from Flookburgh, Spennymoor and Knaresborough.

Fourth Section:

Another band with a youthful history but mature musical outlook, claimed the Fourth Section title.

Based in Keswick in Cumbria and with players drawn from across the region, North Lakes Brass only made their debut at the Area contest in 2022 — qualifying for the National Final where they came runner-up.

Now they return as North of England Champion and as with a few of their counterparts for the region in different sections, will travel south in September with realistic hopes of claiming the title.

Led by the well-known trombonist Gareth Sykes they delivered a rendition of Darrol Barry's colourful 'Hungerford Town' suite that both judges Jonathan Pippen and David Hirst said was "excellent".

Excellent performance

Speaking to 4BR, Jonathan said: "It was an excellent performance that stood out for us. The quality of the basic requirements was so well managed, as was the maintenance of tempos. There was so much to enjoy."

David endorsed that opinion, telling 4BR: "There are basic elements to be put in place at this level, and this performance had them all. It was good to hear the care taken and the end result spoke for itself."

It was also a result that made it quickly into the local press, with a feature piece in the Keswick Reminder, where band member Andy Cannon said the win was like "Carlisle winning the Second Division."

Andy also took the time to pay tribute to their inspirational MD. "We are very lucky to found Gareth," he said. "He is such a talent." The band's second cornet player Sophie Richardson was presented with the 'Youngest Player' award.

Billingham delight

Delight too for Billingham Silver as they secured their first Cheltenham appearance since 2008 under their experienced MD, Vaughan Evans. Writing on their Facebook page they said: "Second is a great result for the band", with their euphonium player Colin West taking the 'Best Euphonium' award.

Craghead Colliery claimed the final podium spot ahead of the top-six finishers of Backworth Colliery, Swinton & District and Penrith Town, with solid performances also coming from Penrith Town and Marske Brass with their player James Chisholm taking the 'Best Cornet' accolade.

Thanks

Thankfully the severe weather that caused considerable havoc in the two days leading up to the event, dissipated somewhat by the time of contest day, with Tony Griffiths and his excellent team of volunteers running a typically smooth and professional event with support form a raft of sponsors.

He told 4BR: "My thanks go to all the bands and everyone who came to support the event. The standard of playing was excellent and we were highly encouraged by the way the region's bands have continued to bounce back after Covid."

Iwan Fox

It was a super performance from a band that has so much dedicated talent in it ranksDr Robert Childs

Results:

Championship Section:

Test piece: Red Priest (Philip Wilby)
Adjudicators: David Hirst & Martin Heartfield

1. NASUWT Riverside (Dr Robert Childs)*
2. Reg Vardy (Russell Gray)*
3. Easington Colliery (Stephen Malcolm)
4. City of Hull (Dean Jones)
5. Fishburn (Duncan Beckley)
6. Shepherd Group Brass (Richard Wilton)
7. Westoe Brass (John Roberts)
8. Kirkbymoorside Town (Sarah Woodward)
9. Ripon City (Mark Sidwell)

*Qualify for National Final

Best Soprano: NASUWT Riverside
Best Principal Cornet: Reg Vardy
Best Baritone: City of Hull
Best Euphonium: City of Hull
Best Trombone: NASUWT Riverside
Best Bass Section: Easington Colliery
Best Percussion: NASUWT Riverside


First Section:

Test piece: A Day in the Life of a Knight (Philip Lawrence)
Adjudicators: Jonathan Pippen & Martin Heartfield

1. York Railway Institute (Dr David Lancaster)*
2. Harrogate (Craig Radcliffe)*
3. Cockerton Prize Silver (Andrew Hunter)
4. North Skelton (Tim Oldroyd)
5. GT Group Peterlee (Chris Bentham)
6. Houghton Brass (Michael Franey)
7. Felling (Jason Smith)

*Qualify for National Final

Best Trombone: York Railway Institute
Best Bass Section: York Railway Institute
Best Percussion: Cockerton Prize Silver


Second Section:

Test piece: A Pilgrim's Progress (Rodney Newton)
Adjudicators: Sam Fisher & John Doyle

1. Durham Miners Association (Stuart Gray)*
2. Tewit Silver (Martin Hall)*
3. Ashington Colliery (Nigel Steadman)
4. Dunston Silver (Fraser Hodgson)
5. Ferryhill Town (Jonathan Fenwick)
6. Trimdon Brass (John Bell)
7. NASUWT Concert Band (Brian Thompson)
8. Bearpark & Esh Colliery (Phillip Tait)
9. East Riding of Yorkshire (Fiona Bishop)

*Qualify for National Final

Best Euphonium: Tewit Youth
Best Bass Section: Durham Miners Association
Best Soprano: Tewit Youth


Third Section:

Test piece: Chorale and Toccata (Stephen Bulla)
Adjudicators: Sam Fisher & John Doyle

1. Jayess Newbiggin Brass (Andrew Griffiths)*
2. Barton Community (Gary Oglesby)*
3. Ellington Colliery (Calum Hartwell)
4. Flookburgh Silver (John Iveson)
5. Spennymoor Town (Danny Brooks)
6. Knaresborough Silver (Nicholas Garrett)

*Qualify for National Final

Best Cornet: Ellington Colliery Band
Best Percussion: Jayess Newbiggin Brass


Fourth Section:

Test piece: Hungerford Town (Darrol Barry)
Adjudicators: Jonathan Pippen & David Hirst

1. North Lakes Brass (Gareth Sykes)*
2. Billingham Silver (Vaughan Evans)*
3. Craghead Colliery (Stephen Goddard)
4. Backworth Colliery (Chris Travis)
5. Swinton & District (Simon Miller)
6. Penrith Town (Ian Butterworth)
7. Marske Brass (Victoria Wilson)

*Qualify for National Final

Best Principal Cornet: Marske Brass
Best Euphonium: Billingham Silver
Youngest Player: North Lakes

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