HITTING NEW HEIGHTS - Glenn Van Looy talks exclusively to British Bandsman

Issue 5977

FRANKLY SPEAKING - The first of a new series by Frank Renton, this month focusing on musical education

THE GREAT TRIUMVIRATE - Tim Mutum looks at the life and times of John Gladney 

Nationals - LIVE!

Saturday 6 October, 2018

Live coverage of the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain

Test-piece: Handel in the Band - (Dr Kenneth Downie)

Adjudicators: Alan Morrison, Paul Holland, Luc Vertommen

Andrew Wainwright Reporting

 

FULL RESULTS

1. Fodens (Russell Gray)**
2. Cory (Philip Harper)*
3. Brighouse & Rastrick (Prof David King)*
4. Black Dyke (Prof Nicholas Childs)*
5. Fairey (Garry Cutt)
6. Grimethorpe Colliery (Allan Withington)
7. Flowers (Steve Sykes)
8. Tredegar (Ian Porthouse)
9. Whitburn (Florent Didier)
10. Woodfalls (Dr Robert Childs)
11. Friary Guildford (Chris King)
12. Co-Operative Funeralcare (Frans Violet)
13. Virtuosi Gus (Adam Cooke)
14. NASUWT Riverside (David Roberts)
15. Desford Colliery (Michael Fowles)
16. Leyland (Thomas Wyss)
17. Thundersley (Nigel Taken)
18. City of Cardiff (Mellingriffith)
19. Tongwynlais Temperance (Andreas Kratz)
20. RMT Fishburn (David Hirst)

Best Instrumentalist: Chris Thomas, (trombone) Cory


* Top 4 pre-qualified for 2019 National Final
** Denotes Qualification for 2020 European Brass Band Championships as highest placed English representative

 

British Bandsman predictions
A long and enjoyable day of contesting has come to an end, and overall the standard has been extremely high across the board. Thanks to Dr. Kenneth Downie for an appealing, listenable test piece in Handel in the Band. This is a piece that on the face of it may not have seemed as challenging as some others in the past, but it has certainly provided a number of pitfalls and it’s safe to say that almost no bands came away unscathed. Whilst many handled the technical challenges more than competently, it was the exposed, slower music that proved the biggest challenge. For us, there is a clear winner first and second, but there will be a number of bands vying for the top six places. So here goes with our predections:
1.    Cory
2.    Brighouse & Rastrick
3.    Foden’s
4.    Grimethorpe Colliery
5.    Fairey
6.    Black Dyke

 

20. Virtuosi GUS
The Lowdown: This will GUS’s ninth Finals in ten years. It is conductor Adam Cooke’s fifth straight Finals and last with the band before moving to Norway and Stavanger Band. The Cooke era sees five Midlands wins and prominence at Butlins and the Masters. The Nationals high point at this time was seventh in 2016. GUS will miss his musicality, skill and consistency. The band should be applauded for giving their top job to the then young conductor, who has gone on to become one of the best around.
 
Live Comments: GUS certainly mean business from the off, although there are one or two clips in the opening. The quaver triplets just float over the chorale. Letter B is well shaped by MD Adam Cooke, who is on his swan song with the band before departing to pastures anew in Norway. This is exciting stuff at the Allegro con fuoco as the band takes no prisoners. There are just one or two slips at F but the band settles back in at G and cornet and flugel shine. The muted cornets at H are used to dramatic effect, before a sensitive legato in the euphs. Chris Jeans is pure class in his solo at I. The colouring before J is effective. The Vivo is taken at a real lick. We hear fine trombones at M and there is lyrical playing from the flugel followed by solo cornets, and the cornet/trombone octaves in N are cleaner than most today. The Vivo at P is again taken at a bright tempo and the band is well on top of things. The flugel and euph are exuberant at S. The glock at V doesn’t quite sound evenly, and W perhaps sounds a little frantic, although you can’t question the commitment. The band holds a good piano at P although the sop plays it safe dynamically. The Presto is full of verve and panache and brings a wonderful day of a contesting to an end.


Overall: Virtuosi GUS have the honour of being the last band of the day and send their MD off to Norway in style. Like so many on the day it wasn’t without its flaws, but there was much to commend in this committed rendition.

 

19. Thundersley
The Lowdown:
A proud day in the Essex band’s history: their first finals appearance. It's only 12 years since the band were in the 4th section. As the lowest ranked band, some might predictably say that they could be favourites for the wooden spoon, but conductor Nigel Taken has been here before. 12 times at the RAH to be exact (as well as six First Section Finals) and he has a habit of galvanising his bands and bringing the best out players. Nigel’s debut at the RAH back in 1989 led to a 5th place.

Live Comments:
The band head into the opening at full throttle, but not everything is completely accurate. The underlying chorale is nicely played at A and we hear a fine Eb bass solo. Solo Cornet line comes over well in the Allegro con fuoco and there is a good sense of drive about this. There is a touch of insecurity towards the end of F but the Adagio con moto has a sense of purpose. I is going along well although nerves start to jangle and just undermine the quieter playing. J is energetic but perhaps a touch bold dynamically. Well done solo cornet and trombone at the Calmato! Intonation suffers a little before P, but we get a good start to the Vivo and sense of forward motion. There are particularly good contributions from the horn section in this variation. Fine solo cornet at T, but it’s not quite balanced with the trombone. Letter X is well managed in terms of tempo and flugel and solo cornet lead us flawlessly into Y. There’s a slip at the start of the final Presto, but the band finishes with confidence.


Overall:
A first performance at the Nationals for Thundersley and one they can be rightly proud of. Like so many bands today it was the quiet playing that proved the biggest challenge, and that was no different for Thundersley, although there was also much to admire.

 

18. Friary Guildford
The Lowdown:
It seems simple: hard-working players at regular rehearsals, a conductor to bring the best out of them, ambition and the organisation to plan it and surprise, surprise, Friary have been the most consistent band in the South East for over five years. Their sixth finals in a row and 12th last year leads us to an interesting Nationals stat: in four years, the highest placed London band have averaged higher results (9th) than their counterparts in the Midlands (12th) North East (11th) and Scotland (10th).
 
The Conductor:
Chris King has been conducting Friary since 2006, (the second longest reign after Nick Childs/Dyke in 2000) and has conducted 71 out of 73 contests since.
 
Live Comments:
A confident start from the London band lead into organ-like sounds and the stops are pulled out at the fortissimo before A. There are rich sounds in B supported by a big bass end. There is a bit of edginess before F, but otherwise some find playing around the stands. There are a couple of slips in F, but G is stylishly played. Tasteful euphs in H. Things just come off the rails a tad between I and J. The band get back into gear at the Vivo at J and seem to be enjoying the limelight here. M is symphonic in approach, led classily by young Izzy Daws on trombone. Bravo cornet and trombone at the Calmato! Just a moment of intonation before P, but Friary are quickly into full swing again at the Vivo. As we head towards the climax of the piece, there is a certainly a sense of confidence around the stands. The cornets are overtly trumpet in nature before U, but this helps cuts through the texture. The glock solo at V doesn’t sound particularly even and there are moments of scrappiness as the band enter, but momentum is maintained. V could do with being a tad quieter and the band play it a bit safe here, which detracts somewhat from the crescendo the focal point before Z. The Presto is bristling with energy though and Friary finish on a high.


Overall:
London's highest placed band have waited a long time to play today but it didn’t show. There was a real sense of confidence around the band, but it was just the minor details that have proved the undoing of so many today. Friary can be very satisfied with their day’s work though.

 

17. Grimethorpe Colliery
The Lowdown: Everyone likes a finals with Grimethorpe. Somewhat surprisingly it's their first since 2015, with their last win coming in 2007. Since then it hasn’t been the happiest of places in terms of results (10th, 8th, 5th and 7th). With top class soloists, great strength in depth and Allan Withington back at the helm, this is sure to be one of the most anticipated performances of the day.
 
The Conductor: Allan Withington ties with Peter Parkes on seven RAH wins. For more, you have to go back to the years between 1945 and 1955 when Harry Mortimer won nine times. This is Allan's 22nd RAH appearance and don't forget, he’s led Grimethorpe to the trophy twice before.
 
Live Comments: Grimethorpe start as they mean to go on and there are majestic sounds in evidence, particularly from the bottom end as the RAH floor rumbles. Letter A is so atmospheric it sends shivers down the spine. The band just melts into each chord in the chorale’s opening statement at B. The cornets come ablaze at B -  what sounds! Katherine Gaspoz on her Grimey debut negotiates the solo well at F, although not without a clip, and there are rich sounds from the cornet section through F. Delightful solo work from cornet and flugel in G. There is just the odd moment of insecurity in the solo lines through H and I – a shame because things are going so well otherwise. The Vivo at  J has the audience on the edge of their seats. Fine trombones at M lead into a well controlled Sostenuto section. This is passionate playing without being overly sentimental. The fiendish Calmato doesn’t quite sit right,  but Grimey get down to a true pianissimo at O. Xylo at P isn’t quite in sync with the Bb bass, but there is much to admire about the rest of the fugue.  V into W is cultured in its approach and the music is well poised as we get to the climactic section at X. Lovely Flugel and cornet to lead us into Y. The Presto is Grimey at its best as it roars through to the end.


Overall: A performance of real stature from Grimey, although they will probably rue having to take the stage right after Cory. However, there was so much to admire and in isolation this was a performance that had very little to fault other than the occasional clip and moment of intonation. It should figure near the top of the pile though, but probably not quite enough to take the title on this occasion.

 

16. Cory
The Lowdown:
The band to beat. A fantastic line up of players with a conductor who seems to balance musical integrity and a contest winning approach. They are the only band to have played at every Nationals this century. Their average result over these 18 RAH's is a staggering 2.5. There are a few players making their RAH debut with Cory: Harvey Rees (cornet), Bobby Corkish and Karen Fletcher (horn), Kyle Blake (trombone) and Nathan Cole (percussion). Phil Harris on cornet is the band's most decorated player, with six wins with Cory.
 
The Conductor:
Philip Harper’s 6th RAH with the band brings an average of 1.8 place result. His 14th overall after a debut with Flowers in 2001. Incidently, on that day Cory came 5th. They haven't finished lower at the RAH since.


Live Comments:
There’s a buzz in the hall as the band takes to the stage – energy levels are now at the highest of the day it seems. From the first note there is an air of assuredness about this. Soprano soars above the band then puts down his instrument as if nothing has happened! There is a sense of grandeur about this and we are hearing things we haven’t heard today. It is so well shaped by the MD. B is so well controlled and the last chord before C is simply stunning. What clarity we hear at the Allegro con fuoco! Tom Hutchinson reels off his solo as if he’s playing it in his living room. Letter G has a sense of playfulness and character that has been lacking in so many performances. Chris Thomas is so brave by playing a genuine piano in his solo in the lead up to I. The Vivo at J just sails along. The Sostenuto in M is so sensitively played and shaped by the MD, as if he’s conducting a hymn tune in church on a Sunday morning. Cornet and trom are nigh on perfect at the Calmato. The pianissimo is mesmerising and the tuned percussion shines through gloriously in O. The Vivo at P is razor sharp. I’m just running out of superlatives! It helps when you have Glyn and Helen Williams when you have a fugue like the one at S, and boy do they get it rolling! The rall. In X is so dramatic and sets the performance up perfectly for the finale. And what a climax it is! Steve Stewart gets the Presto off to a blistering start and sets up a barnstorming finish.


Overall:
Well having just heard what we thought might be the winner, Cory have just taken things to a completely different level. We heard things we’ve not heard in this piece today as the Welsh giants simply went into overdrive. It’s very difficult to find anything to be critical about – a complete performance in just about every way.  It’s going to take some performance to overtake this.

 

15. Brighouse & Rastrick
The Lowdown:It took 15 attempts, four bands and four agonisingly close second places, but at the first try with Brighouse, David King won at the RAH in 2010. This is his 23rd Finals appearance and 31 years since his first (a fifth place with the electric Kennedy Swinton) in 1987.
 
The Conductor: In contest results, the Brighouse/King partnership is the most fruitful in the band's history at the Nationals. Eight appearances with an average of 2.1 place, only a mere 0.3 behind Cory. David King seems to bring something very special out of the band and just at the right time. Looking through history books, Brighouse seem to make a habit of winning two Nationals in row: 68/69, 97/98, 10/11, so what about 18/19?


Live Comments: Prof. King is renowned for thinking out of the box and the cornets are stood at either side of the band which produce sounds that we haven’t heard before in this piece. Will it pay off in the box though? Letter A is wonderfully atmospheric and there is a clear confidence in what the band is seeking to portray. The cornets face away from the box at B, which brings the dynamic down, but boy do they burst into life at G. We hear lovely golden sounds around the band and a dynamic range as vast as the Albert Hall. The cornet solo at F is nearly flawless and the flugel is so lyrical. The held note at G just falls off for a second, but the approach is so musical. Lovely jazz trombone at I and each soloist excels in turn. The cornet/trombone duet before J which has caused so many problems today sounds effortless. The tempo selected at the Vivo is perfect for the picture that the MD wants to portray and feels so natural. The quartet in M is nearly flawless, although there is a clip at the Sostenuto as the cornets face towards the choir stalls again. In N, the tutti cornet section produces a moment of untidiness, but the duet between cornet and trombone with the top D is handled so confidently. What a pianissimo we’re hearing at O, and the music blooms into a majestic fortissimo in just a few bars. The Vivo at P has all the ingredients this type of music demands and in particular is light in touch, something that many bands haven’t achieved today. Chris Robertson shines in the fugue as the music builds in momentum. What a sound at X as the band opens up! The Presto isn’t without clips, but what clarity and precision to the finish!

Overall: The crowd loved it and with good reason! This had all the hallmarks of a classic David King performance and Brighouse have done everything they can to hold onto their title as the National champions. The next band on stage might have something to say about that, but for us Brighouse have leaped to the front of the queue with a simply mesmerising performance!

 

14. RMT Fishburn
The Lowdown: Initial disappointment in the North East Regionals  gave way to joy when it was confirmed Fishburn had secured a place at the finals after the disqualification of Reg Vardy Band. On paper, it’s not been the best set of recent results in other contests of late, but that is by the by when the band say they are thrilled with their first RAH appearance in 12 years. Many players make their RAH debut, including the band's youngest player, eighteen year old James Corking.
 
The Conductor: This is conductor David Hirst’s second RAH appearance (the last was 27 years ago in 1991) and adds to the ten lower section finals to his name, as part of a long career of conducting and adjudicating.
 
Live Comments: The first note is a little suspect in terms of tuning, but recovers when the whole band comes in. Minor intonation issues resume at in the trombones but there is expressive quality at B. C is taken at quite a stately tempo, and this helps with clarity. The band seems to be at its best when it opens up dynamically. Cornet very nearly tackles F perfectly! Nerves come into play later in F though and the sound waivers around the band somewhat as the music loses its way for a few bars. It recovers in G though. There are a few too many mishaps which undermine the flow, although there is still some good playing going on here. The band seems more comfortable when it gets back to the fast music, and the Vivo is clinical in its approach. Letter M onwards is cleaner than several bands we have heard today, and the dynamic level is as marked. The Vivo gives a chance to display the technical facility around the stands, although the fugue at S is a tad edgy. The rall. in Letter X into the allargando works well and feels natural. The Presto is again taken a little slower than many other bands, but is clean as a whistle and this may pay dividends in this acoustic.
 
Overall: A brave effort from Fishburn who excelled in the fast technical aspects, even if the overall performance was undermined by nerves in the more exposed sections. At this level that may prove costly, but there was still much to enjoy.

 

13. Cooperative Funeralcare
 
The Lowdown:
Regulars at the RAH (9th in 10 years) but the band doesn't seem to have travelled well in the last year or so. That said, it was only in 2015/16 when they claimed four impressive National and Euro results.
 
The Conductor:
Europe is a hot topic at the moment and both Scottish bands have voted 100% to remain with EU conductors. Let's hope they can get visas next year. Frans Violet brings to the Co-Op almost 40 years of experience with Willebroek Band. That partnership (as well as a top class youth band) has played a huge part in establishing Belgium as the major banding force it is today. Frans has multiple Belgian Nationals and a hat-trick of Euros victories under his belt. He conducted the Co-Op back in their CWS days, including a third place at the Open in 1993.


Live Comments: A tidy start, although the running triplet quavers perhaps take the attention away from the chorale a bit too much. In B there are one or two instruments not blending with the texture. We launch into the Allegro fuoco with energy though and we hear a fine cornet cadenza at F. Here we hear the band’s lyrical side, aided by Frans Violet who is conducting without a baton. This section is taken a shade quicker than other bands have chosen to, and it helps the music move along. This pays dividends at G as we move into the jazzy section. The muted cornets and troms at H are effective and cut through the texture well. Confident solo cornet before I. Nearly trombone at I! Flugel and Euph sing in I and there are gorgeous sounds around the band. The Vivo at J flies by effortlessly and grinds to a conclusion before we move into the sombre chorale. Intonation suffers a little at M as the MD tries to keep a lid on the dynamics, but the sound quality remains. There is untidiness in N in cornets and troms which takes a few bars to recover, although not many bands have got through this section unscathed today. The Vivo just loses its momentum around Q and gets a bit out of sync for a bar or two. The fugue at S runs off the fingers. Sop really goes for it in W – bravo! The transition to Y is clean and the band take the opportunity to express themselves here. The Presto at Z isn’t unblemished, but
 
Overall: A fine account from the Scottish outfit and their Belgian conductor. A tidy performance overall with very few mishaps to speak of, so the band will be quietly confident.

 

12. Tredegar
The Lowdown: The neutrals' favourite? There’s so much to admire at Tredegar: a decade of very strong results across all major set test and entertainment contests, as well as pursuing wider artistic endeavours. In the 2017 Finals they came second, a hair's breadth away from winning there for the first time in the band's history. A performance like last year's and it'll be another close one.
 
The Conductor: The recent success has much to do with the direction, drive and vision of Ian Porthouse, who in 11 years at Tredegar has led them to qualification at every Finals. There, the band have averaged 4.8th place in the last five years. Other bands clearly want to know the secret of his success: Ian has contested with nine other bands in three years.


Live Comments: Blistering stuff from the Welsh outfit to start out. There are touches of real class as the music unfolds. The jazzy section is handled with aplomb. Fine solo trom in I – one of the best so far today. Cornet and trom duet comes a bit unstuck before J, but settles again. Great Bass trombone at J! Wow this is scintillating from Tredegar through J and K! The quartet at M isn’t quite together. There is tasteful rubato from the MD as he pushes and pulls the music around in M and N. Stunning cornet and trombone duet, probably the cleanest of the day so far. The band doesn’t quite land together at O but explodes into life at the climactic fortissimo before P. The contrasting colours on display in the Vivo starting at P come through well. Q is magical! Cornets drive into letter R. There is real contrast immediately and a real lightness of touch. The band then turns into an organ as we hear a majestic chord before V and there’s a real sense of stillness before they break out at AA to a magnificent finish.
 
Overall: Tredegar have really made a case for themselves here. So much contrast in dynamic, style and texture. Will it challenge at the very top? It remains to be seen but they haven’t done themselves any harm.

 

11. Woodfalls
The Lowdown: Woodfalls have shown solid form over the last year. The band’s RAH results have improved in recent years too, with an average of 9th in their last four appearance and 16th in the four preceding that. This will be their seventh Finals in 10 years.
 
The Conductor: The band will be delighted to have held onto Robert Childs as their conductor. Despite news stories, a move to Flowers Band didn’t happen. This is his third successive Finals with Woodfall. Out of his 21 RAH appearences, he lead Cory to 11 consecutive Finals (winning at the first attempt), which brought an amazing average of 3rd place.
 
Live Comments: The opening seems to lack a bit of energy and note production issues pervade. The Allegro con fuoco at C gains in energy and is well shaped by the MD. The transition into F is well handled and the cornet does well to negotiate the cadenza. The soloists shine in G and H. The Vivo has plenty of character about it and the musical line is well maintained. Trombones are sonorous at M and the Sostenuto is reflective in nature as a sense of calm ensues.  Well done cornet and trom at the Calmato on the top D! A good start to the Vivo at R, and the band shows its technical prowess in the fugue. Excellent flugel and euph at S, followed by exuberant cornet and trom at T. The texture is cleared nicely U as the MD continues to give a transparent reading. The balance at X doesn’t seem to allow the tune to come through, but there’s a clean transition into the Sostenuto at Y. It’s a riproaring finale!
 
Overall: Much to commend about this performance from Woodfalls. Despite what felt like a slow start, the band grew in confidence and stature.

 

 

At the half way stage


The verdict so far: Well we’ve reached the half way point here at the Royal Albert Hall and have heard some fine performances so far. For us, it’s Foden’s who are out in front at the half way stage, with Fairey and Black Dyke not far behind. There was much to commend about Leyland, Desford and Flowers’ performances but inconsistencies prevent them from featuring higher we think.
Our predictions so far:

1.     Foden’s
2.     Fairey
3.     Black Dyke
4.     Leyland
5.     Whitburn
6.     Desford

 

10. NASUWT Riverside
The Lowdown:
The band from Chester-le-Street have had consistent results across all contesting in the last five years, including strong showings amongst their peers in the Grand Shield. They have become regulars to the RAH, this being their fifth visit in eight years, where their average has been 17th.
 
The Conductor:
David Roberts returns to conduct Riverside for the second time at the RAH. Overall, this will be David's tenth Finals appearance, which has featured an impressive run of 6th, 4th and 4th between 2008 and 2010 with Rothwell Band, who he has conducted since 1993.

Live Comments: It’s a no-holds-bars approach from NASUWT Riverside from the off. Intonation issues creep in slightly at A, but the triplet quavers are well handled. Some good sounds at B although there’s a crescendo which isn’t written. Sop really goes for it in this 1stvariation and there’s some good technical playing. Cornets waiver a little before G. A jazzy approach is taken by the cornet in the Adagio con moto, but there’s an over use of vibrato around the band which detracts somewhat and there are some harsh sounds in the louder parts. Euph does well in I and the cornet and sop duet is well handled. The Vivo goes well, although there are intonation issues at M. is there anything more difficult than playing quietly after so much fast, high and loud music? There is good controlled playing at O on the pianissimo, and the Vivo sets of with confidence. The cresc/dim swirls at R are well nuanced, and there is a sense of forward motion about this. There are times the notes get in the way of the music though. The glock at V is played with a sense of grace, although the band are tiring a tad now. The band puts everything into the finale as they reach the final hurdle.
 
Overall:
A gutsy performance from NASUWT Riverside, in which the band gave their all. Like so many bands, the technical aspects are falling into place but it’s the basics such as note production, intonation and playing together in the quiet sections that are proving the biggest challenge. The band can be proud of this performance though.

 

9. Flowers
The Lowdown: Some horticultural jokes: Flowers are perennials at the RAH - it's their ninth Finals in ten years. Two bad draws at the Open and no RAH performance in 2017 slightly masks a return to form. The hope must be for the days where the band bloomed to three straight top 6 RAH finishes in 2014-16 and were everyone’s ‘dark horse’. This band is a nice bunch of young seedlings and wise oaks.
 
The Conductor: Very experienced musician Steve Sykes is that rare conductor who is at home working with all level of bands. This is his 8th RAH Finals, to compliment to ten Lower Section Finals to his name. 
 
Live Comments: Full bodied opening from Flowers here. Suddenly out of nowhere the band open up at fortissimo – dramatic! Triplet runs aren’t quite clean throughout, but we’re already hearing some accomplished sounds. Soprano glows before C. We hear various sounds leaping out of the texture to good effect. Cornet at F starts tentatively but navigates the 2ndhalf of the phrase well. Some mispitching before G but the Adagio con moto is cultured in its approach. Fine trombone cadenza in the piu mosso followed by wonderful sop. The Vivo is full of energy but doesn’t quite hang together in a couple of places. There’s a natural way the music finishes before we move into the Grave section which is well handled by the MD. Cornet and trom duet very nearly! Fugue at S is perhaps a touch heavy in places, which detracts from the flow, although the playing is technically assured. The runs before V aren’t quite tight, although things pick up. Massive sounds at in V and sop gets the Presto off to a good start, before a finish that is full of bravura.
 
Overall: A rendition of real commitment from Flowers, as we’ve come to expect from them. Full of drive and energy, although moments of ensemble playing didn’t quite hang together and perhaps called for a lighter approach in places. The band can be well pleased with their performance today though.

 

8. Foden’s
The Lowdown:
A winner in 2012, Foden’s are another band whose RAH average is surprisingly modest (7th in seven appearances), yet this is a quality band with plenty of experience who could go close on the day. Two fifth places in 2016 and ’17 show a band who could be coming back to the form they showed in the 2000's. Away from contesting, Foden's should of course be applauded for doing more than their bit to find new audiences, make interesting recordings and supporting new music.
 
The Conductor:
Russell Gray made a spectacular start at the RAH in 2000, conducting Ransome Band to secnd place. You have to go back to the Parkes/Dyke win in 1975 for a better debut. A Nationals winner with Leyland in 2005, Russell is an experienced and respected conductor whose skills are in demand around the world. This will be the fifth band he’s taken to a contest in 12 months. He makes his 18th RAH appearance (with his eighth band) and a return to Foden's, a band he hasn’t conducted since 2003.


Live Comments:
Clean opening and the majestic Foden’s sound resonates around the hall. Cornets are precise in the poco accel leading into the poco piu mosso which simmers. Eb bass sings over the band in his solo in A. Dynamic is nicely tapered away before C as we prepare to launch into the 1st variations. Eb bass again impressive in quaver runs. Soprano gives it everything and the band really goes for it here. Mark Wilkinson shines in his solo at F, and we hear sensitive lyrical playing thereafter, underpinned by a rich bass sound. I want to stop typing because I’m enjoying the playing so much here! John Barber makes it sound so easy in his cadenza and Gary Curtin does what he does best in the stratospheric euph solo. The Vivo is full of verve. The quartet at M is about the best we’ve heard today, although there is a clip at the first note of the Sostenuto - so difficult to achieve at piano though. Cornet and Trom handle the duet very well at the Calmato and the pianissimo just shimmers at O. Andy Cattanach on Bb bass gets the Vivo off to flying start and sop is clinical before Q. The music just glistens in Q and we’re hearing timbres we haven’t heard yet today. Outstanding flugel at the fugue in S, and each soloist excels as they enter. And WOW, when the band opens up it really is quite something! Sop starts finale impressively at the Presto, probably the best so far today. Brilliant finale and the audience loves it!


Overall:
An outstanding performance from Foden’s with a band on the top of its game. Soloists on fine form and a sonorous band sound, added to clinical technique around the stands. Although not spotless, this will certainly take some beating.

 

7. Leyland
The Lowdown:
Leyland's recent Open finish was very impressive and follows other strong results there of 12th, 7th, 4th and 11th. Leyland are sure to enjoy being back at the RAH for the first time since 2013. There are five players still in the band from the 2005 RAH win, including cornet player Brian Heyes, who soon retires from the band he’s played with since 1987. He’s one of three players who have each over 30 years' experience in the band. Talk of retirement leads to thoughts of the younger generation and recent additions to the band include University of Huddersfield graduate Joel Kirk on flugel, who made his contest debut at the recent Open.  
 
The Conductor: 
A new era under Thomas Wyss and a new lease of life for the band it seems. This partnership started in 2015 and this is his tenth contest with Leyland. Thomas has conducted at the RAH nine times before, including a third with Tredegar in 1999.

Live Comments: Exciting opening gets spectators on the edge of their seats, and a sonorous bass sound is evident without being overpowering. Good balance at A and a fine musical portrait is being painted here by Thomas Wyss. Eb bass perhaps a little over the top in solo which distracts from musical line. B is well settled and we hear gorgeous sonorities around the band. 1st variation is a little clumsy at the start, but soon gets going. We are hearing cultured sounds, particularly from the middle band. Is it perhaps a touch too heavy though? Solo Cornet is perfect at F - well done! The slent in F on the top B has claimed a few victims so far and this is the case again - so difficult to pull off. G flows so well, although there are slight moments of intonation which undermine. Trombone very nearly at I! Cornet and trom duet doesn’t quite gel before J. The Vivo is full of drama. Eb bass runs in particular cut through the texture nicely. The silence before M seems to evoke a real sense of drama as a result of what has come before - it's amazing how important silence can be in music! Intonation in M suffers somewhat, a shame because there’s so much to enjoy otherwise. Fugue takes a few bars to settle but gets into a flow. There are telling solo contributions here, with particularly fine playing from Iain Culross on cornet. The glock solo is bolder at V than previous bands, which perhaps undermines slightly the celeste/music box timbre that the composer is looking for here. A brilliant ending is set off by superb sop at at the Presto though, as Leyland finish in full glory.


Overall: So much to enjoy from Leyland today, but a slightly uneven performance might be telling in the placings later on. 

 

6. Black Dyke

The Lowdown: It’s tricky to predict Dyke’s RAH result. Three wins in eight years tells one very successful story. However, results around those wins yo-yo between 7th, 4th, 11th, 9th and 8th and gives them an average 5th place. With high expectations, 2017 was a tricky year for results, but it’s impossible not to have them as a favourite. An emphatic Areas win and 5th at the Open makes for a happier 2018.
 
The Conductor: Nicholas Childs not only has six RAH wins, but this year joins an exclusive post-War club of conductors who reached their 25th RAH Finals. Others are close (Richard Evans - 23, Melvin White and David King - 22), but Peter Parkes set the modern record of 26. Pre-70s it was quite common to conduct multiple bands on the same day, so Harry Mortimer (32), Stanley Boddington (30), Walter Hargreaves (25) racked up the appearances. But look pre-War and you’ll see a record never to be beaten: 137 for William Halliwell. He managed to conduct eight bands in 1925!

Live comments: Expansive opening reveals the famous Dyke sound emerging and is set on a rock solid bass foundation with a massive bass end. Triplet runs invoke a sense of mystery and the atmosphere is eerie – spine chilling. There are beautiful sounds here. Sop before C is muted although not written. Classy playing in C and Dyke’s wide dynamic range is coming into play here. Richard Marshall is sublime in his solo in F, although this is followed by slight intonation issues elsewhere. Tasteful flugel floats effortlessly. Meno mosso doesn’t quite hang together, although Brett Baker’s solo is sumptuous, and this is followed in equal measure by the other band’s soloists who display confidence in spades. The Vivo at J is full of vibrance and majesty. The chamber quartet at M, where the chorale is heard in full for the first time is so well controlled at a low dynamic, with careful attention that sound quality isn’t lost, although there is a minor clip in the trombones. Calmato is nearly perfect in cornet and trombone duet – fiendish and will claim a lot of victims today. The Vivo is taken at a brisk pace, quicker than any band we’ve heard so far, but that’s ok because the band has the facility to maintain clarity. There’s a strong drive here. Soloists stand for their solos in the fugue which helps them cut through the texture – will that give an added advantage in the box? The fugue is the cleanest we’ve heard today so far. Slight clip before V but the controlled dynamic and rich sounds are evident. The finale is rip-roaring and the audience show their appreciation.
 
Overall: Playing of supreme quality from Dyke, although not without one or two slips which might leave the door open for bands later on. So much to commend though, and a clarity and depth of sound that will be hard to match. 

 

5. Tongwynlais Temperance
The Lowdown: Another third place at the Welsh Regionals, claiming an 8th RAH visit since 2010, ‘Tong’ are a consistent force in Welsh banding. The Cardiff band has had strong showings in local entertainments contests (Welsh Open and Band Cymru), though this form hasn't translated across to contests with wider fields of late. Ten members of the band make their debut at the Finals. The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama is well represented with nine current students and many more graduates in the ranks.
 
The Conductor: The band team up again with conductor Andreas Kratz. A trombone player with the Gothenburg Opera House, Andreas is also the conductor of Windcorp Brass Band in Sweden. He joins the ten players all making their RAH debuts. The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama are well represented with almost a third of the band being current students, as well as many of their graduates playing.

Live comments: A few mispitches in the cornets in the rising pyramid contribute to a slightly unsettled opening.Fine Eb bass, although quaver triplets don’t quite hang together across the band. The band settles into the chorale though and we hear well controlled tuneful playing, with sop sitting nicely on top. A little detail is lost in the 1st variation, but the acoustic certainly doesn’t help in that regard. Solo Cornet handles well the wide ranging cadenza in F. G reveals one or two intonation issues, but there are nice touches from the soloists. Effective muted cornets cut through the band here. Trombone is schmaltzy in I and captures the style effectively. Cornet and trom duet comes unstuck somewhat in I. Chromatic runs are precise in the Vivo. M is well controlled and clean, and the MD does well to keep a lid on things here. Nerves come into play somewhat in the Calmato but soloists are brave. The band gains in confidence at the Vivo though. There is a sense of the tension building here which is well portrayed by the Swedish MD. The fugue doesn’t quite hang together before W, but settles as it goes on and the band finishes strongly.

Overall: A tasteful and well shaped rendition by the Welsh outfit, although a few mishaps along the way might be costly in this company.

 

4. Whitburn
The Lowdown:
Whitburn return to the RAH for the ninth time in ten years. With domestic dominance sewn up (it’s 23 years since they finished out of the top three of a Scottish contest) and some very impressive recent ‘majors’ results, the recent Open result (off a number 1 draw) was just a hiccup in their impressive progress.
 
The Conductor: Florent Didier has been spearheading the French band scene and making waves at the Euros with his Paris Brass Band since 2011. His day job is as a trombone player with the French Army Airforce Band and a freelance conductor. He led Whitburn to one if the best results in the band's 144 year history: second at the 2017 Open.

Live comments: Opening is full of Scottish bravura! Poco accel doesn’t quite seem to get going into A like the previous bands. Triplets seem to detract somewhat from the overall picture. Big tuba sound resonates well. Lovely soprano before C sits well on top of the band. C feels a touch laboured, but gets more comfortable as it progresses. The band is now in full throttle. Sumptuous solos in F and G, particularly from flugel. Intonation between muted cornets and open instruments jars a little in H. I is plaintive and there are fine solo contributions between euph and flugel – euph glides effortlessly over the band. The Vivo is full of energy and vitality. Letter M – tutti cornets a little forceful and not quite in keeping with the musical context before the Calmato. Fine glock and xylo in fugue. This is humorous in approach. Quaver runs are seamlessly knitted together here. Slight clip before Y, but we hear expansive sounds here to the end.
 
Overall: A fully committed performance from the Scots. The technical playing is full blooded and full of zest, although it’s the quiet playing that might undermine the band’s placing at the end of the day.

 

3. Fairey
 
The Lowdown:
Fairey has had superbly consistent form at the RAH, yet they still seem to slip under the radar of many punters. They might like it that way. This is their ninth RAH in ten years and seven top five finishes has given them an amazing average result of 3.42, third only to Cory and Brighouse. They've experience in abundance: Brian Taylor, Jimmy Leggett, Gary Parker, Nigel Fielding on cornet, horn player Steve Riddler, and bass players Gav Wyn Saynor and John Gillam, have a staggering 136 Nationals between them. Jimmy Leggett has the most Finals appearances of anyone in all the bands on the day: this year is his 41st. Contrast that with percussionists Alex Walton, 15  and Sophie Stephens, who at 14 is one of the youngest competitors on the day. Both make their RAH debut - only 40 more to catch Jimmy!
 
The Conductor: This will be Garry Cutt's 20th straight contest performance with the band and his 18th RAH overall. Now is a good time to be reminded of the hat-trick of consecutive second places he led Foden's to in 2007-09 and another second with Fairey's in 2016. This is a conductor who has over the years worked out how to sound good in the RAH. Some of the best orchestras in the world struggle to do that.
 
Live comments: Evocative opening with a wide dynamic contrast and some lovely sounds from the middle band and bottom end. Delicate triplet quavers glide over the band and don't detract from the flow. Superb Eb bass cuts through the texture. The quiet playing is the best so far of the three bands we’ve heard. 1st variation is technically assured although perhaps a touch edgy in places. Stunning flugel in G and we’re hearing some sensitive lyrical playing here across the band. Letter I trots along nicely with a sense of humour. Tutti cornets are razor sharp at Vivo in J. M is wistful and so well nuanced. Climax before P perhaps a little over the top. Fugue is so well poised and metronomic. A slightly untidy moment in T for a couple of bars which is not in keeping with the quality that has come before, although this section is fiendishly difficult. Well done sop at Z! Cornets project superbly at AA and drive us to a magnificent conclusion. The audience respond with rapturous applause – this is clearly one that has gone down well around the hall.
 
Overall: A highly enjoyable performance from Fairey and so well shaped by Garry Cutt. So much to enjoy and sets a real marker early on.

 

2. City of Cardiff (Melangriffith) M1
The Lowdown: The band’s first time at RAH since 1972 (Kensington Concertoseeing as you asked!). They are no strangers to the lower section finals recently, with seven appearances since a climb from 4th section in 2004. Squeezing to the RAH via an extra Welsh qualification place, they had a tough time of it at the Grand Shield.
 
The Conductor: This year, the very experienced musician Nigel Seaman celebrates 40 years of contesting. He has worked with every level of brass band, but currently plays a role in Cory’s success as their Assistant Conductor, as well as a brace of impressive victories at the New Zealand and Australian Nationals. He makes his first RAH appearance since 2010 and his seventh overall, to go with seven Lower Section finals.
 
Live comments: More of an understated opening than Desford. Production not quite there in chorale at times but some fine sounds here. Snare not quite together with band in C. Well done xylo in E! Solo Cornet so nearly at F! Cornets not quite together on slent. in F. G is playful in touch and flows well. Intonation waivers slightly before H and we hear a little untidiness. Bravo Solo Cornet before I! Slight clip on trom cadenza but tastefully done. J is taken at a stately tempo but doesn’t quite gel at times. The melancholic section M is played with passion although not without clips on some entries. Tutti cornet figure is well handled. Start of fugue at P doesn’t quite settle into tempo until a few bars in, but soon gets into full flow. Fine euph in fugue. The finale is well judged and brings to a close a well handled performance from the Cardiff band.
 
Overall: A well shaped account by Nigel Seaman in what is the band’s first appearance at this contest since 1972. Some minor slips and untidiness at times reveal what a deceptively difficult piece this is, but the band can be proud of their performance today.

 

1. Desford Colliery

The Lowdown: Desford's brand of project/extreme banding always makes for interesting listening and results. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The Open has bore fruit (11th, 7th, 9th and 6th) but the RAH has been more barren: in seven visits since 2007 they've only had one top ten finish. It’s the band's first Nationals since 2015.
The Conductor: Michael Fowles is one of the top 'gigging' conductors around. Foden's Musical Director has been the 'go to man' for seven different bands in four years of contesting. His talents have certainly helped put Desford on an upwards curve since 2016 and this will be his eighth contest with the band. This will be Michael's 13th RAH appearance, guiding Whitburn to an impressive 6th place in 2017.

Live comments: Atmopsheric opening. Poco accel is well handled into. The broad sounds resonate around the cavernous hall. C Allegro – balance in the quavers isn’t always quite equal when handed across the band. Kevin Crockford on sop is on top form! Wood block not quite together with horns before F. Balance isn’t quite right at G with flugel not so evident. Warm sounds into H as the music gains in momentum and intensity. Meno mosso before I is well shaped with stylish cornet solo from Gary Wyatt. Nick Hudson on trombone glides up to the top D with ease. James Fieldhouse on euph soars beautifully over the band in I. A good tempo is set at J to allow clarity to come through and there is some impressive technical playing on display. M – Sost. entry not quite clean but we’re hearing good controlled playing here without it being overly sentimental. Tutti cornets not quite in sync on quintuplets before Calmato. Top D is well handled by solo cor and trom – well done! Slight clip at O but doesn’t detract too much. Expansive sounds before P as the band opens up. Excellent Eb bass in fugue. Fugue is jaunty and playful and the style is being captured well here. S is so well nuanced. Fine glock at V. Subtle change of tempo into X is effective. Fine quiet playing at V and lead into this section. Start of Z not quite clean. A rip-roaring finale to conclude a fine opening account from Desford.

Overall: A fine account from Desford to open the day’s proceedings and they will be cursing the early draw because this is a performance that should figure in the reckoning later on. 

 

 

Good morning from the Royal Albert Hall! British Bandsman is here to provide live coverage of all the day's action.

The draw:

1.     Desford Colliery
2.     City of Cardiff (Melangriffith) M1
3.     Fairey
4.     Whitburn
5.     Tongwynlais Temperance
6.     Black Dyke
7.     Leyland
8.     Foden’s
9.     Flowers
10.  NASUWT Riverside
11.  Woodfalls
12.  Tredegar
13.  Cooperative Funeralcare
14.  RMT Fishburn
15.  Brighouse & Rastrick
16.  Cory
17.  Grimethorpe Colliery
18.  Friary Guildford
19.  Thundersley
20.  Virtuosi GUS