BATTLE OF THE TITANS - Bands gear up for a titanic battle at the Royal Albert Hall

Issue 6016

COMPOSERS' CORNER - Dr Liz Lane looks at the subject of  networking 

HERE IS THE NEWS - Looking back at the Daily Herald's Nationals sponsorship

Butlins Mineworkers Festival Championship Section - Live!

Saturday 11 January, 2020

Flowers (Paul Holland)

Dawn of a Voyage (Dan Price)
The Descent (Christopher Bond) Soloist: Harmen Vanhoorne (cornet)
Monster Thrash (Paul Saggers)
La Cathedrale Engloutie (Debussy arr. Dan Price)
Escape the Kracken (Dan Price)

The last band of the contest now, and Flowers pick up where they left off yesterday by stamping their authority on the stage. Such a commanding opener and once again the most powerful sounds of the day. It calms down and flugel and cornet solos are full of emotion. PC stands and pulls on the heartstrings in the moody Descent by Christopher Bond. Takes a risk on the last note to deliver true pianissimo, bravo. Monster Thrash is exactly what it says on the tin, with high wire solos delivered by all of the bands principal players. A reprise of their Brass in Concert programme, this band really know how to play to their strengths and are delivering the most technically assured performance of the contest here. Cheers from the audience confirm that Flowers are putting on the best show here, giving us dynamics and colours we’ve not heard so far. 

There is less focus on entertainment here in terms of slapstick and comedy values but at this stage we are happy to concentrate on the music and fantastic band sounds. The Debussy is pulled around to great effect as the throbbing harmonies are blended masterfully. It’s beautiful stuff right down to the last note dying away. Escape the Kraken to finish the contest and basses simmer with dark intent. Technique is abundant around the sections and stamina is so good in this almost non-stop programme. A most convincing performance from the favourites Flowers, well done.


Woodfalls (Dr Robert Childs)

Procession of the Nobles (Rimsky Korsakov)
Miss Blue Bonnet (Frank Simon) Soloist: Jan Boler
Devil's Galop (Charles Williams)
Firebird — infernal dance and final hymn (Stravinsky arr. Farr)

Procession of the Nobles kicks off the show and is a most effective opener! Traditional playing and a fine arrangement, the cornets and euphoniums are in great shape. Couple of splits and untidiness but so much energy, it’s appreciated. It’s pure pantomime for Woodfalls, giving Frank a break as they have brought their own compere and telling a prince chases princess story. PC gives a dainty rendition of the classic Miss Blue Bonnet. We’ve had a lot of slow solo playing so this is a welcome contribution on the classic polka. Good technique on show and the audience really show their appreciation before the panto resumes. 

Slick stuff between speaker and the band adds to the entertainment and show good preparation in the first contest of the season. The prince is shot as the rim shot makes the crowd jump out of their seats. But he’s alive and marries the princess before the finale of Stravinsky's Firebird. Not the most secure playing as they start to tire and you get the feeling the want this one to end. The atmosphere is changed completely from chaos to cold as we skip the Berceuse and the euphonium is a sweet lead voice on the Prayer. Full band sounds at the end but be careful of a few players sticking out the texture. This is a hard one to pace but they’ve saved just enough for the ending. Fun programme, and got the audience involved well, good stuff Woodfalls.


GUS (Chris Jeans)

Starfire (Mike Sheppard)
Breathless (Mike Sheppard)
Do not go gentle... (Mike Sheppard) Soloist: Thomas Fountain
Dash — Flight of the Angry Wasp (Mike Sheppard)
Out of the Morning Light (Mike Sheppard)

Speed and light is the theme for GUS as we start the second half of today’s contest brightly. Cornet team leads well in this opener Starfire by Mike Sheppard. Their second piece is another funk number and takes a while to get in the groove. Peculiar start then develops to a percussion driven feel, with some solos that are well played but not always the most convincing in terms of style. It’s more than just about notes here, and they just lack some energy that has been present in previous performances, and the audience’s applause reciprocates.

Thomas Fountain is the cornet soloist in a premiere of Do not go gentle… that suits the singing quality of his playing. Not the most balanced here but sensitively accompanied by the band, although there are some problems with octave slurs that are noticeable! Sublime to ridiculous as Dash sees the front row stood with bumblebee antenna for the one minute throw away item. Seemed to go down well in the hall, and a bit of comedy is always welcomed. Time to shuffle in Bedazzle, with the band seeming to enjoy this style much more. Percussion section sound great, love the vibes, and there is some pantomime humour with the timpani fighting for the spotlight. Each section stand to great effect but still not 100% convincing, it’s a strange one from GUS. The finale has a weird structure that takes you on a journey but you don’t know where or why you’re going. Maybe not quite enough from them today to consolidate a strong showing yesterday, and you feel the door has always been left open today. Fine playing around the band but a less convincing concept and theme with this one.


Redbridge Brass (Chris Bearman)

Back to the Future 3 (Silvestri arr. Newton)
Overture to the Marriage of Figaro (Mozart arr. Wright)
Share My Yoke (Joy Webb) Soloist: Cliff Pask
Gospel (MarchFourth)
Virtual Reality iBand

A bit of déjà vu as Redbridge give us a full-blooded opening with a Back to the Future that really grabs the attention. Real commitment to dynamics blow away any early signs of nerves. Not Bach this time, but Mozart, as they somewhat follow Wantage’s lead with a rendition of the classic Marriage of Figaro Overture. Good playing, but wasn’t by any means error free. Careful not to rush crotchets at the end, but really strong last line to round it off. The solo is Share My Yoke and is much more successful than the overture. Great sounds all around the band but not always moving together, a shame! Soloist does a beautiful job at this slow tempo and is very subtle and calm sounding. The band could be more balanced, and not sure about the piece choice, but the enormous crowd eat it up.

A funkier choice now from Redbridge with a bit of Gospel as the band sing in four part harmony and sound great! The audience are loving this one, with street band like percussion rhythms underpinning wild solos from sop and trombone, complete with dancing. Such tight playing we had at the start is spoiled slightly with untidiness in the closing chords, but a fine choice for here, well done. We segue to The Can-Can and are treated to some great choreography with a remote control operator showing us fast forward, mute, and rewind features of the band. The best entertainment so far today here with everyone on their toes and switching between styles effortly and instantly. Offenbach is given the “big brass band ending” treatment to great success. This programme just got better and better, thank you Redbridge!


Wantage (Jonathan Bates)

Bach to the Future...
Toccata in D Minor into Back to the Future (arr. J. Bates)
Prayer to St Michael (arr. Bates) Soloist: Sam Wynne (euphonium)
Cafe 1719 (Jacques Lossieu arr. Bates)
Badinerie (Bach arr. Bates)
Peel Park from Lowry Sketchbook (Wilby)
Toccata in D Minor (arr. Bates)

Wantage are playing a JS Bach theme and open with snippets of Toccata and Fugue in D minor before taking us Bach to the Future. Prayer to Saint Michael is the solo item and the captivating tone of the soloist really does create a sacred and holy mood, especially with the voice recording that accompanies. Full of drama, this really worked for Wantage. Next a bit of Handel jazz in Cafe 1719 in a clever arrangement by the conductor. Not quite as secure in the swing feel as Desford but great choreography as the band rotate soloists. 

A bit of ringtone comedy now as the band play in accompaniment to a mobile phone to start a truly unique Badinerie with a brilliant lead from the percussion, very well played! It’s a vintage Bates concept with graphic humour about Frank and Butlins resonating well in the hall, they are buying this! Bach’s Partita influence next as Wantage play Lowry Sketchbook iii. Peel Park. Tempo is spot on and most techniques come off well. Timp drives us forward slightly too much but the band show no signs of tiring. This concept has worked so well here today, from bad jokes to slapstick to visual humour, this is modern day band brass entertainment, whilst using the music and theme to great effect. Not as big an ending as Desford, and we go almost straight into a rock beat driven encore of Fugue in D minor. Well done Wantage, rest of the weekend is your own!



Desford Colliery (LMTF) (Michael Fowles)

Los Hermanos de Bop (Mark Taylor arr. Sandy Smith)
The Impossible Dream (Mitch Leigh arr. John Barber) Soloist: Kevin Crockford
Balkan Dance (Etienne Crausaz)
Seaside Rendezvous (Freddie Mercury arr. Gilje)
Tell Her You Saw Me (Pat Metheny arr. Fieldhouse)
Stardust (arr. Gareth Westwood)

It's Los Hermanos de Bop to open, a bit of an entertainment contest favourite these days, and the band stand with antiphonal cornets whilst trombones face the audience in the centre. Shades of last night reappear with the Louis Dowdeswell Big Band, and Desford are finding all of the right grooves here, as well as some stylish jazz solos. A solid start from the defending champion, they continue with a soprano cornet solo from Kevin Crockford. What a player, and what a sound he makes.

It's John Barber's arrangement of The Impossible Dream and it's beautiful lyrical playing from the soloist, who captures the innocence of the instrument in this style so well. Huge reaction from the audience at the close and next we're on to Balkan Dance. Once again some really stylish playing in a genre we sometimes struggle to imitate, good soloists and fantastic kit playing underneath it all. Queen's Seaside Rendezvous is their slapstick contribution and the swing feel suits this band perfectly. The programme is fairly soloist heavy with most pieces featuring cornet, soprano, euphonium and trombone standing up. This is contrasted in the next piece, with both baritones walking to centre stage to play a duet in Tell Her You Saw Me arranged by the band's principal euphonium player Jim Fieldhouse. Warm sounds from the basses here set a lovely tone for their penultimate number. Stardust is the finisher and the band have been saving themselves for this one. The capacity crowd here appreciate the efforts of Desford off of the number one draw, but after hearing bands yesterday I have to question if they could have taken more risks dynamically. The title defense has concluded, but has the door been left open by the 2019 champion?



Good afternoon from Skegness once again! Today the championship section resumes with the entertainment contest and unbelievably the draw has repeated itself identically from yesterday! Frank kicks us off by explaining the chances of that happening are 1.5 million to 1, but here we, and Desford open the show as they did yesterday.




Flowers (Paul Holland)

More flow to the opening and the basses set up a brilliant contribution from the euphonium. Stood solo horn follows suit before the band come through on a massive fortissimo. Certainly the loudest band we’ve heard today, immense sounds. Sustained is much appreciated and balanced trombones are so full of character, bravo. Gets so loud that it sounds angry, but I like it. 110 sounds like the apocalypse is here, and we are treated to sounds not yet heard today on this piece, great commitment and well led from MD Paul Holland. Of course Flowers know this contest and stage more than any other in the previous decade so understandably know how to play to the room and audience.

Haunting sounds around 190 and good effort from cornets to play quietly. Cornet cadenza is handled well as he holds onto the last note really well. Hymn tune is lush with real singing voices, a contrast to the darkness and chaos of the previous section. Euphonium effects are so good with one muted and one open. Biting short notes from trombones show a brand new colour on this band’s extensive palette. Sustain is the best of the day, you expect it from them after such a good performance up to now. Cloudcatcher references are held down well before a huge build to the end. MD directs tam tam and makes you wait for it, so good. Massive ending, fantastic Flowers.


Woodfalls (Dr Robert Childs)

Great atmosphere to start. One of the slower renditions we've heard and straighter sounds from euphonium matches basses and is a more chilling texture. Soloists are great but ensemble is looser than GUS. Trombones sound great and basses keep out of the way nicely or funk bass line. Cool stuff before we're back to the driving 3/4. Triplet details are fast but very well played and the band sound comfortable at louder dynamics.

Sustained sections are powerful and this is one of the more balanced bands we’ve had on the loud stuff. Semiquavers are detailed in euphonium and 260 has great build up. Good playing from cornets before 280 in this most chaotic section of the piece. Certainly plenty left in the tank for the finale, well done. One more to go on day one of the top section here at Butlins, and it’s Flowers.


GUS (Chris Jeans)

2017 winners GUS take to the stage and start a little nervously with basses well above piano. Not quite together on cornet entry, whilst euphonium and horn do well but not 100%. This is a harder opening than it may seem at first glance. More detail is heard here than others and features some great nimble playing from the cornet section. Trombones are a bit raucous but some style is appreciated. High wire stuff from GUS and percussion are full of drive. Some of the best ensemble playing we have heard. 

Chris Jeans keeps a lid on it all leading to a fine flugel duet before the twisted harmonies start to take over. LA Noire chords are used to great effect to introduce the cadenza. Cornet soloist is most secure of the day, but also plays with lots of space and poise, great playing. The stood back row point out for the hymn and baritones play so well together stage left, fantastic. Moments of stillness are really appreciated in a piece with very busy sections, great MD. Here is the sustain we have been waiting for, but just not quite together. So close. Another funny ending and much more dragged out than some others. Sop rides and carries the band to a massive finale. The crowd goes wild, well done!


Redbridge Brass (Chris Bearman)

A slower start from band #3 but all the notes in basses are heard clearly. Duet at 50 is much quieter than before but crescendos are really good. This is the kind of piece you could hear ten times and heard new things in each listen. Trombone section lead the fortissimos from the front but I like it. Some differences in note lengths again through sustained sections c.150 and as always quiet dynamics could be much quieter. In a contest like this risk taking could be highly rewarded. 

Cornet soloist starts so well but loses some sense of emotion as the solo develops. Bass section are lovely through Guide Me but some of the middle band parts are a bit weak so the overall timbre is lost a bit. The section at 250 is some really effective writing and Redbridge do so well but be careful not to rush quavers. Fantastic shape to the end and the power of this band is unleashed. Last note is somewhat anticlimactic, but have felt this with all three bands. Desford probably most convincing thus far. Halfway there, GUS next.


Wantage (Jonathan Bates)

Effective opening as the band push the lower dynamics to great effect. Great low notes on euphonium! More subtle than Desford and less shimmer in the tone, but it works. Into the faster section we could really take more for forte! Maybe some early nerves but in a room like this the louder bands will really show their teeth. Dynamic effects from 90 onwards can be more extreme but great bass rhythm in the previous complex section. 

Flugel duet is well played and shaped. Great percussion effects to underpin the cadenza, cornet plays well but can take much more time to create the atmosphere! Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah is the hymn tune inspiration that follows and expansive sounds with the back row lead is appreciated. Industrious and mechanical sounds at 260 and the fortissimo is huge! Perhaps more balanced than Desford with fewer gaps in the lower band. Nice build up to the end with less of a rallentando. The composer and MD looks pleased with that. Next up are Southern rivals Redbridge. 


Desford Colliery (LMTF) (Michael Fowles)

Here we go with Desford, and the Butlins Première of Songs of Ascent. The dark opening certainly ascends, with each bass voice being added to great effect with top EEb really shining. Euphonium solo sets the tone and solo horn plays expressively. This is powerful stuff from composer Jonathan Bates, who is becoming known for his use of extensive colours within the band as well as plenty of percussion effects. There is a hint of George Lloyd here with some fine detailed work throughout the band. Note lengths not always the same when they open up to fortissimo, but still show off the dynamic capacity of the band. Some loose ensemble around 140.

Cornet could take more risks in the cadenza to really tell a story. Great sound and well delivered before soprano adds the sweetness to follow it up. 260 all too loud, but is made up for with very strong fortissimo. 290-320 could be more sustained again and now we have some unbalanced ensemble. 

Hard to judge the level off of band #1 on a new piece but Desford showed few signs of January nerves with a well rounded performance. A couple of individual errors but Songs of Ascent, although well within these band’s capabilities, should separate the bands today with some tricky moments of solo and ensemble playing. On to the next one, the composer himself conducts London contenders Wantage Silver.



Good afternoon from Skegness! Centre Stage is the venue for today’s Championship Section with a small but strong field of six contenders looking to start their decade with some silverware, as well as a prize pot of £12,000. 

It’s Desford to start and last year’s Midlands Area Champion also look to defend the title they won here last year to give us our third different winner in as many years. Frank Renton gets us in the mood with his usual spirited introductions as well as welcoming our two adjudicators for today’s contest, Russell Gray and Dr David Thornton.

Chris Robertson reports

Championship Section:
Venue: Centre Stage
Saturday 11th January
Test-Pieces: Songs of Ascent (Jonathan Bates)
Adjudicators: Russell Gray & Dr David Thornton

1. Desford Colliery (LMTF) (Michael Fowles)
2. Wantage (Jonathan Bates)
3. Redbridge Brass (Chris Bearman)
4. GUS (Chris Jeans)
5. Woodfalls (Dr Robert Childs)
6. Flowers (Paul Holland)