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Report & Result: 2019 National Championships of Great Britain: Section 2

South Yorkshire Police and Leigh Baker enjoyed their title winning 'Occasion' in Cheltenham

Cheltenham
  South Yorkshire Police Band rounded off the Cheltenham weekend by winning Section 2

Edward Gregson's amalgam set-work made for a surprisingly difficult test for the 18 contenders in the Second Section.

'Occasion' displayed its challenges in plain sight; the familiar compositional architecture revealing the internal workings MDs had to consider as well as control in pursuit of the National title; from the balanced opening 'Fanfare' to the playful 'Festivities', a melancholic 'Elegy' and lively 'Dance' to close.

Ignored

Technically it was within the scope of the bands, although stylistically it was another matter; the elegant beams and stanchions of Gregson's construct all too often ignored by misplaced heavy handedness in both tempi and dynamics to rob the music of character.

John Maines' pre-results analysis said as much (he was joined by Nicholas Garman and Steve Sykes in the box). He carefully alluded to the fact that even though there "wasn't one bad one" the piece certainly "sorted the bands out" to make it "easy to adjudicate". The trio could "pick out the frailties and strengths".

Those considered stage remarks implied that the piece took an almost camouflaged toll; expensive minor errors and blemishes regularly appearing almost from nowhere to catch bands unawares. It made for the one slightly underwhelming contest of a fine weekend of competitive music making.

Clear winner

The judges' later confirmed that South Yorkshire Police had been a "clear winner", with the podium finishers not far behind, although in a clear order ahead of the remaining top-six finishers.

Chapeltown Silver made it a Yorkshire lock-out at the top of the results table, whilst West of England champion Sidmouth Town was third. Epsom & Ewell Silver, Newmains & District and Besses Boys rounded off the prize-winners. The top end "kept things under control" John said.

The best came from South Yorkshire Police, as the experienced Leigh Baker carefully calibrated tempi, dynamics and style both to suit the music as well as the acoustic.

"That was the key, I felt,"Leigh said afterwards. "Edward Gregson writes with a very clear sense of purpose and understanding of what he wants, so there is little need to try and reinvent things.

Follow his instructions and the style emerges from the music. You don't have to search for something that isn't already there."

The control of dynamics and pace in the opening was marked by a welcoming lack of aggression in the crisp ensemble, whilst the 'Festivities' that followed were light and breezy.

Some moments of unease just tempered the 'Elegy', although the cohesive warmth permeated through. The spirited 'Dance' drew things to an uplifting, and ultimately highly successful close.

Plaudits

His approach as the first band following the comfort break found immediate favour in the box; the judges littering their remarks with plaudits about style as well as substance.

John Maines summed up by calling it 'a fine show with great sounds, good soloists and a fine MD!', whilst Nick Garman said it had been, '...a very good performance with excellent solo contributions'. Steve Sykes literally underlined his opinion that overall it was 'Very enjoyable'.

The band will now aim to build on the success as their proud 15 year old representative Maddie Rowe told 4BR. "I love playing in the band and we are all looking forward to moving up a section. We have a great team atmosphere and we are proud to represent the Police Force and especially Yorkshire."

Hard work

The hard work for the judges came in sorting out the expansive wedge of midfield finishers — from seventh to fourteenth or so, after they produced renditions highlighted by the litany of inconsistencies John spoke about.

At times the opening 'Fanfare' lacked a sense of "angular"rhythmic clarity, whilst the 'Festivities' needed an injection of playful joyfulness. The 'Elegy' had to be "pristine"with "good dynamics and tuning"whilst the last movement to often became frenetic. Over ambitious tempi and wayward dynamics simply "lost clarity".

It resulted in frustrations for the performers as well as neutral listeners, as few bands were able to provide four movements imbued with a level of stylistic and technical consistency. Wry smiles and shrugged shoulders as the players and MDs walked off the stage spoke of so many 'nearly' performances.

Well honed

Chapeltown led to the halfway break in some comfort as the judges enjoyed their well-honed account under Sam Fisher's neat direction. Some fine solo contributions, especially in the haunting 'Elegy', set them apart. They will have been quite rightly delighted at coming runner-up from the early number 2 draw.

So too third-placed Sidmouth. They followed the eventual winners onto the stage with a fine performance that had a lightness of touch and taut flow in its interpretation from MD Adrian Harvey.

The spirited approach of Epsom & Ewell led by Paul Graham also caught the ear — showing admirably stylish intent from start to finish, that despite the occasional noticeable unforced error or two, captured the distinctive characteristics of each movement of the piece to end fourth.

That was also the case with Newmains & District under Michael Marzella.

Theirs was perhaps the most stylish performance of the day, but just when you thought it was a potential winner, little blemishes in execution tarnished the picture. Fifth place was a tad unlucky, but the judges were clear about what cost bands in their bids for glory — and their little mistakes added up.

It was much the same for the lyrical musical approach of James Holt at Besses Boys — fine intentions that were just scarred by poor intonation to end sixth. Their wonderful flugel soloist Lizzie Logie took the 'Best Instrumentalist' award for her stunning playing (on a day when the soloists of all bands were very good).

Head scratching

Behind them the head scratching would have begun in the box; Cockerton Prize tickled the fancy of quite a few listeners with their robust, confident approach to end seventh, whilst the remaining top-ten places went to engaging, if variable accounts from the last and first bands of the day in Farnworth & Walkden and Weston and Tendring.

Each delivered performances of merit, just crucially undermined by noticeable frailties.

Comparing the strengths and weaknesses of the musical intentions of Bollington, Rolls Royce (Derby), Gresley Colliery, Coalburn Silver and Newport Borough may have perhaps resulted in a different result on a different day, whilst Bedford Town, North Skelton and Royal Buckley Town gave spirited accounts that ended in the credit side of the ledger despite their fragility.

Iwan Fox

His approach as the first band following the comfort break found immediate favour in the box; the judges littering their remarks with plaudits about style as well as substance4BR

Result:

Section 2:


Test Piece: Occasion (Edward Gregson)
Adjudicators: Nicholas Garman, John Maines, Steve Sykes

1. South Yorkshire Police (Leigh Baker)
2. Chapeltown Silver Prize (Sam Fisher)
3. Sidmouth Town (Adrian Harvey)
4. Epsom & Ewell Silver (Paul Graham)
5. Newmains & District (Michael Marzella)
6. Besses Boys (James Holt)
7. Cockerton Prize Silver (Andy Hunter)
8. Farnworth & Walkden (Luke Pallister)
9. Weston (Carl Whiteoak)
10. Tendring (Antony Sanders)
11. Bollington (Peter Christian)
12. Rolls Royce (Derby) (Graham Cardwell)
13. Gresley Colliery (Craig Stevens)
14. Coalburn Silver (Gareth Bowman)
15. Newport Borough (Robin Hackett)
16. Bedford Town (Craig Paterson)
17. North Skelton (Lewis Wilkinson)
18. Royal Buckley Town (Keith Jones)

Best Instrumentalist: Lizzie Logie (flugel) — Besses Boys

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