FORMIDABLE FODEN'S - Full coverage from the 2021 National Brass Band Championships

Issue 6112

HOW TO IMPRESS - Amos Miller on flourishing in a conservatoire audition

COMPOSER CAST - Liz Lane on her fascinating early musical life

DEPARTURE - Cornet star Kirsty Abbotts leaves Carlton Main

2021 National Brass Band Championship of Great Britain: live

Saturday 2 October, 2021

National Brass Band Championship of Great Britain

October 2, 2021

Royal Albert Hall, London

Test-piece: Heroes (Bruce Broughton)

Adjudicators: Robert Childs, Stephen Cobb, Rob Wiffin OBE

Mark Good reporting.

Issue 6111 digital September 30, 2021

 

Result

1) Foden's (Russell Gray)
2) Cory (Philip Harper)
3) Tredegar Town (Ian Porthouse)
4) Black Dyke (Nicholas Childs)
5) Ratby Co-operative (Mareika Gray)
6) Brighouse and Rastrick (Arsène Duc)
7) Camborne Town (Kevin Mackenzie)
8) WFEL Fairey (Adam Cooke)
9) Flowers (Paul Holland)
10) NASUWT Riverside (David Thornton)
11) GUS Band (Chris Jeans)
12) Friary (Chris King)
13) Zone One Brass (Richard Ward)
14) Whitburn (Garry Cutt)
15) Bon-Accord Silver (David Roberts)
16) Carlton Main Frickley Colliery (Allan Withington)*
17) Hepworth (Ryan Watkins)
18) Llwydcoed, (Chris Turner)
19) City of Hull (Stig Mærsk)

* Carlton Main Frickley Colliery was disqualified but will have the right to appeal the decision.

Best instrumentalist: Gary Curtin (euphonium), Foden's

Withdrawn: the cooperation Band (Phillip McCann); Desford (Michael Fowles)

 ***

With that, we’ve arrived at the end of the competitive element at the 2021 National Brass Band Championship of Great Britain. After the COVID-enforced break, the return to action has been most welcome and the standard, for the most part, has been pleasing. It could be a real tussle at the top, today, with two or three performances nudging themselves ahead of the rest. The delightful elegance of Foden’s, the unashamed, no-stone-left-unturned tenderness - and razor-sharp - precision of Cory, or the earlier, dynamic marker set by Brighouse and Rastrick. Who knows?! Three gentlemen in the box have a good idea - and we’ll find out more about what they think during the result ceremony. For what it’s worth, let’s opt for:


1) Foden’s
2) Cory
3) Brighouse and Rastrick 

4) Tredegar
5) Black Dyke
6) Flowers 

 

 

19) Zone One Brass (Richard Ward)

Zone One Brass opens in fruity fashion, tasty sounds apparent around the stand.

It isn’t quite settled, as far as ensemble is concerned, during the 11/8 though it gets more comfortable as the piece progresses.

In full flight, there’s no doubt about the excitement and full-blooded nature of the reading from Richard Ward and Zone Brass. The cornet cadenza embraces the bold approach, a broad, darker cornet sound evident and one which shines fresh perspective on the score.

Some of the individual and collective sounds on display from Zone One Brass are of a very high standard indeed and while it’s a little inconsistent, the different stages of this musical journey rise from the score, from the nervous anticipation of the journey ahead to the sheer poignancy of the sight which met the astronauts’ eyes when they took those infamous first steps. A fine close to the 2021 National Brass Band Championship.

***

 

Carlton Main statement:

A spokesperson for Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band said: 

In preparation for the National Finals representing Yorkshire, as a band we found ourselves in a very difficult situation a week before the contest. 

One of our players received a positive covid result in the run up to the contest. Fortunately we found a player to replace them that could sign for us and commit to rehearsals, however during the contest preparation we were made aware there could be a discrepancy to the registration due to the timing.

We therefore knew there was a risk that the band would be penalised, however due to the band not playing in public competitively for 18 months, and the time and effort already committed to preparation, we collectively made a decision that we wanted to play as a full band and give the audience the best possible rendition of a great test piece in one of the most prestigious competitions. 

We respect all the other bands that managed to meet these rules and acknowledge that covid has likely impacted all bands in one way or another. We also would like to thank the registry for communicating with us promptly over the past week on this matter. 

We fully expect to appeal the decision and will keep the exact details private until it is appropriate. 

Whilst we feel the contest organisers were exceptional in setting up rules for the safety of everyone with regards to Covid, we hope this situation provides an opportunity to constructively discuss the registration rules for future contests, in what now is a pandemic society.  

More importantly, we thoroughly enjoyed being back playing today and we hope the audience and every one involved enjoyed the day as a whole. 

With best wishes to all involved,

CMFCB

***

18) City of Hull (Stig Mæersk)

Bubbling textures and an unrelenting sense of pulse pervade the opening moments of City Hull’s interpretation of Heroes. This is a performance which does not linger, moving forward with purpose. It occasionally feels a tad untidy during some of the 11/8 passages.

There are some butterflies in the stomach around some of the solo lines, though they are only fleeting and the sounds are suitably tender and endearing, as long as the air continues to flow.

Intonation gremlins make themselves known in some of the softest passages; confidence soon returns when the volume increases.

The back row cornets stand to play the reappearance of the romantic theme from earlier on and it carries, sweetly, across the band.

This was a performance that had plenty of promise from City of Hull, but at times, it didn’t quite go to plan. There was, however, engaging musical storytelling.

***

 

17) NASUWT Riverside (David Thornton)

NASUWT Riverside is bold to open; maybe a touch excited, but full of spirit. The band has a Cory bass player (ie the previous band) lending a hand.

There’s some dainty soprano cornet playing, with an appropriate lightness of touch in the fleeting solo bars.

Nerves raise their head at times in what are often exposed lines, but not to the detriment of the musical intentions, which remain crystal clear and engaging during the reflective passage of Heroes. It’s enhanced by some very fine solo euphonium playing, a suitably romantic feel to the music. There’s a great sense of discipline to the whispering soft passages which speak cleanly and clearly.

David Thornton is channelling the spirit of the dramatic return journey back from the Moon to Earth; animated in his gesture and drawing everything from his NASUWT Riverside players to ensure nothing is left behind or neglected. The partnership land safely, rightly content with a job well done.

*** 

 

16) Cory (Philip Harper)

Philip Harper draws a razor-sharp opening from Cory as the Welsh titan seeks to defend its National title. It’s majestic in the opening stages, a performance full to the brim with drama and excitement. The opening vigour gives away to neat, nimble semiquaver figures which spring off the RAH stage with ease.

The 11/8 music flies forward, this a real thrill-seeking musical ride to the moon. 

Solo cornet sounds are of the highest calibre, apparently at ease when the eyes of the RAH audience (as full as it’s been all day) turn in his direction. The mantle is taken on by horn and flugel, languid and aptly wistful qualities to the music making as Philip Harper strains at the musical sinews, drawing every last ounce that Bruce Broughton’s score has to give. It’s nicely paced, keeping the audience on board in this inherently programmatic music.

The whispery sounds have an eerie, haunting quality and are so secure. They soon give way to bristling energy and purpose as Cory begins to turn around its spaceship and make for home. There’s even a fleeting hint of the characteristic ‘Harper wiggle’ as the band flies forward in a performance almost entirely clinical in its execution.

The world’s number one band was not messing around. The intentions were clear and they were realised, to great success, in a performance drama, style and panache.

 

***

 

15) Bon-Accord Silver (David Roberts)

Bon-Accord proudly takes to the stage following its runner-up place at the 2020 Scottish Championship and, aside from some slight untidiness, opens with confidence. 

This is spirited playing, and tuned percussion sounds ring from the stage in an impressive display during the fast and furious 11/8 passages.

David Roberts ensures a well-measured and organised reading from the Aberdeen band, which goes a long way to finding the warmth and delicate touch required to bring the middle passage of Bruce Broughton’s score to life. 

Soloists are neat and lyrical in their approach, with flugel projecting particularly nicely around the cavernous surroundings of the Royal Albert Hall, as does euphonium.

Swinging back into the 11/8, this surges forward purposefully. Not everything goes quite to plan but Bon-Accord embraces every moment on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall after that lengthy journey from the Granite City. It can be proud of its work today.

***

 

14) Foden’s (Russell Gray)

Foden’s Band takes to the stage, having given a very fine account of Heroes at the concert at Regent Hall Salvation Army the previous evening.

This is another very well-considered reading, the balance so well honed. There’s a sense of urgency and danger to the 11/8, effectively transporting the audience in the RAH on the thrilling ride from Earth to the surface of the moon.

Mark Wilkinson has occupied the top chair at the Sandbach organisation for something in the region of 29 years and shows exactly, effortlessly taking the performance on his shoulders for the exposed cadenza. The cinematic, melodic passages are blessed with rich solo sounds; tenor horn, flugel, euphonium and baritone all so endearing in their efforts.

In Russell Gray is a supremely musical mind and the way he gently guides and nudges his charges around each twist and turn of this reflective music is worth the entry fee alone.

Foden’s negotiates its way out of the wistful side to Bruce Broughton’s score neatly, quickly finding its 11/8 groove, with a level of confidence around the stand that suggests the band is in very fine form indeed.

The Sandbach band powers to a storming conclusion, arriving back at Earth safely from its space mission after the most thrilling and moving of musical journeys. Ufft.

 ***

13) Tredegar Town (Ian Porthouse)

Ian Porthouse is characteristically understated with his gesture - every subtle movement means something and it has the desired effect, drawing a precise, colourful opening from Tredegar.

The balance is particularly pleasing, detail finding its way from score to stage to the back of the hall in the RAH. The sense of clarity continues, the 11/8 an alluring, engaging melting pot of sounds.

The playing from Tredegar remains tempered, though, the discipline apparent throughout the opening stages. Fine solo playing follows, one endearing tone followed by another. The flugel is beautifully understated, maybe a shade light, but still manages to rise out of the texture. The reading is nicely paced, suitably impassioned when it needs to be, the baritone the epitome of grace.

Tredegar is one of only a few so far to truly ‘whisper’; this really took ‘learning forward’ and tuning in to try to hear what was happening.

The solo euphonium elects to stand and project during a solo moment, the sound carrying nicely across the hall.

This was such a well-considered reading from Tredegar. It felt a tad lighter compared to a couple of heavyweight sounds today but it was meticulous in its organisation and, aside from some scrappy moments right at the end, a convincing display.

***

 

 

 ***

12) Friary (Chris King)

Friary bursts into life, with slight intonation issues in the middle of the band rearing their head early on. It’s dynamic and exciting, though, a powder keg - rather apt when blasting off into space. Not all the semiquaver lines during the 11/8 burst forth with quite the desired effect, though.

The Sea of Tranquility is tender and wholehearted, a decidedly lyrical approach to the melodic lines. It isn’t immune from intonation frailties, with slight wobbles taking the sheen off an otherwise fine approach, confidently directed by Chris King.

The latter stages see the band retain composure, hurtling back to Earth full of excitement following an engaging reading from Friary and its musical director.

***

Interestingly, that Ratby performance is the second major contest for the band - both under female conductors. The first came in 1978 at the British Open, with Betty Anderson at the helm.

***

 

11) Ratby Co-operative (Mareika Gray)

Break time’s over and we’re back under way at the 2021 National Brass Band Championship, as Ratby Co-operative proudly takes to the stage under Mareika Gray.

The Midlands is committed from the word go, clearly relishing the opportunity to take to the famous RAH stage. It feels like the inner workings of the piece don’t quite find their way off the stage at times, though Mareika Gray ensures it flows well through the seemingly unrelenting 11/8 passages in the early stages.

Well done to solo cornet, who showcases a delightful sound during the exposed cadenza and maintains composure, inspiring colleagues around the stand in the melodic passages that follow. Bands appear to be enjoying this lyrical music and Ratby is no exception, maintaining control in spite of an alarm or ringing of some description from a section of the auditorium.

There is neat interplay, a sense of cohesion to the tender moments of the score. The softest, whispery sections feel a little uneasy but the outline is there.

The journey back home is purposeful and energetic, if not entirely successful, but credit to Ratby for embracing the opportunity to come to the Nationals and really make a contribution to the contest, which it did. Mareika Gray rightly takes applause from the RAH audience - while by the side of the stage, a proud husband (yet to take his place on the podium) and son clap with much enthusiasm.

***

 

Break time at the 2021 National Brass Band Championships, and audience members are enjoying a quick refreshment. It’s been an engaging morning, featuring an accessible piece. 

Tricky to pick a top three so far, apart from the band out front, but let’s say:

1) Brighouse and Rastrick
2) Black Dyke
3) Flowers

 

*** 

10) Camborne Town (Kevin Mackenzie) 

Next to transport the RAH audience to another world is Camborne Town, and there’s a pleasing solidity to the opening moments of the piece as the band sets out its stall.

Bringing intricate semi-quaver lines to the fore in an environment like the Royal Albert Hall is no mean feat and Camborne does it rather successfully in the initial 11/8 passages, brief moments aside.

This is a flowing Sea of Tranquility, but it’s engaging and the understated twists and turns happen with grace. The solo sounds are quality, too, euphonium taking the opportunity to blossom - and rightly so. The baritone playing is also very refined.

Camborne feels like a band on a mission today in what is an extremely committed reading from Kevin Mackenzie - and his players are doing him proud. It isn’t one of the biggest, most dynamic performances of the day but what it does, it does well.

The confidence remains through to the final stages of the piece, attempting to avoid efforts to become too hurried. Lots to enjoy here.

 ***

9) Carlton Main Frickley Colliery (Allan Withington)

Some uncertainty surrounds Carlton Main’s performance, after reports the band might be intending to field an ineligible player. 

Regardless, the band takes to the stage and excites from the off, retaining its focus, under Allan Withington. It’s bold, perhaps to the extent that brass momentarily struggles to make itself heard above the thundering percussion.

The 11/8 enjoys a natural lilt and the band seems comfortable. It’s crisp and clear in the intricate lines, which hasn’t always been the case so far today, 

The slightest hint of fragility creeps in during some of the pearly, exposed twists and turns but it doesn’t detract from the musical intentions, which are of the highest order, courtesy of the musical mind of Allan Withington. 

There is a great deal of assurance about the euphonium playing, displaying a warmth of character that lends itself very well to the tender, cinematic nature of the Sea of Tranquility.

The whispered playing is so incredibly soft, great care and attention taken to achieve a sound so delicate.

It bursts back into life as the return journey from the Moon takes flight. Though it gets a little scruffy at times, the performance is given a new lease of life in the final stages, surging forward with energy, excitement and power on the way to a dramatic ending.

***

8) Hepworth (Ryan Watkins)

Hepworth comes out the traps with a spirited opening, lots of excitement and anticipation on display at the musical take-off.

It’s not short on drama, Ryan Watkins guiding every twist and turn of this engaging score. Room to breathe in music is often neglected and the cornet cadenza makes use of silences to good effect. There are subtle, yet pleasing, musical nuances rising to the fore and while not quite everything comes off as intended, it retains its composure. 

The rising, prickly solo lines don’t gel quite as much as one might hope prior to the return of the 11/8 material, at which point the band finds its groove again. The intentions are clear and at full tilt, Hepworth provides high-octane excitement, carefully guided by Ryan Watkins.

***

7) Whitburn (Garry Cutt)

Suitably sparkling sounds from Whitburn in the opening passages of Bruce Broughton’s Heroes. The West Lothian band has done so much to impress during the COVID-enforced break from in-person playing, from organising its own online contest to producing high-quality performances of its own.

Fresh from success at the Dr Martin Contest, Whitburn soon settles into its stride, with Garry Cutt at the helm. The 11/8 is largely tight, with occasional moments where the busiest writing doesn’t quite make it out from the stage.

The solo cornet is of a high standard, putting an early clip firmly in the rear-view mirror en route to an endearing cadenza. The middle of this piece weighs heavily on three or four solo players and in Whitburn are the resources to meet the task, with the prickly baritone and euphonium writing dispatched with ease, providing a neat transition into the return of fast-moving, exciting, rhythmic writing.

It doesn’t quite feel like it’s firing on all cylinders at times; perhaps Whitburn is leaving something in the tank to ensure that safe journey and descent back to Earth.

The final moments do see the West Lothian open up somewhat and proceed, full steam ahead, towards the conclusion of Bruce Broughton’s engaging score. It had its moments, this one, but didn't quite take flight as much as it might have.

***

6) Brighouse and Rastrick (Arsène Duc)

Brighouse and Rastrick is neat and well-organised to open. Arsène Duc works hard to find the lighter touches in Bruce Broughton’s score and this makes for a pleasingly-varied tonal palette. Scruffy moments raise their heads but the opening moments are propelled forward by a magnificent bass sound in the engine room.

There has generally been some fine cornet playing so far in today’s National Brass Band Championships, though the solo sound here from B&R is particularly refined, as is that of flugel; so tasteful and elegant. The euphonium and baritone playing remains very fine, as B&R showcases a fine array of soloists around the stand, Arsène helping their contributions to gel and interact in a way which has not always been the case so far today.

There’s a heightened sense of drama in the whispering playing; it’s very secure and that puts the audience at ease, instead able to enjoy the musical lines on offer.

Brighouse and Rastrick clicks back into the 11/8 groove naturally, retaining balance and poise throughout the busier moments in the latter stages of the piece. The reappearance of the tender melodic line is confidently played and it remains so through to a triumphant close, before receiving a warm reception from the audience in the RAH.

***

 

5) Flowers (Paul Holland)

A dynamic opening from Flowers, which bursts into life from the off, a pleasing variety of musical colours apparent. This is exciting but crucially, not excited playing, Paul Holland ensuring the band retains its discipline as he guides the good ship Flowers skyward.

It’s neat, nimble and engaging in the 11/8 sounds, barring occasional momentary lapses in tightness.

The sounds fade away gracefully, making way for the solo cornet cadenza, which features a delightfully expressive tone, albeit with the occasional clip in the melting pot.

The moments which follow capture the wistful nature of the music, rich solo sounds emanating from the Royal Albert Hall stage for the assembled audience. There’s a poignant nature to Paul Holland’s reading of the score, which feels like it allows the sheer scale of the magnificent Apollo 11 journey to sink in, the tender corners offering room to breathe and reflect.

The heightened passion and energy of the solo euphonium cadenza provides an apt change of tact, the moment of reflection replaced by knowledge of the impending journey back to Earth.

In full flight, Flowers opens out into a magnificent, full-blooded account. It feels like the shackles are off and it has a definite ‘lean forward’ feel to it, with the audience appearing to remain engaged throughout. 

***

4) WFEL Fairey (Adam Cooke)

The recently-renamed WFEL Fairey takes to the stage boasting a wealth of new signings and it’s a bright start to Heroes from the Stockport band and conductor, Adam Cooke.

This journey to the moon feels quite understated at times, Fairey leaving something in the tank to ensure it can safely negotiate the journey there and back.

Hedley Benson, of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, offers another fine solo cornet cadenza.

A touch of the sheen comes off in the Sea of Tranquility, where intonation grumbles become apparent at times, but the musical intentions are clear. The whispering sounds flow, Adam Cooke ensuring there’s no threat of over-sentimentality.

There’s a neat sense of organisation to WFEL Fairey Band’s performance; maybe it just the jet thrusters at times. There are some undeniably classy sounds on display, though, and there’s a sense that, if the band can continue to bed in its new recruits, there could be exciting times ahead.

***

 

3) Black Dyke (Nicholas Childs)

Black Dyke takes to the stage with an empty chair, where one might expect principal cornet player, Richard Marshall, who is present and leads the cornet line from a seat down.

The opening is bristling with energy, enhanced further by sounds of the highest quality, brooding noises from the low end. There’s a sense of clarity to the small notes, projecting around the RAH with much precision during the lilting 11/8 sections of this music. Yes, it isn’t without the very occasional scrape and split but the story being told is an engaging one; the band should be familiar with the tale, of course, as the piece was dedicated to Black Dyke and its conductor upon its conception.

The cornet cadenza, sitting in the traditional ‘bumper-up’ chair though leading the line, is refined and expressive, as are the solo sounds elsewhere around the stand, including in the flugel (stunning contribution) and tenor horn departments. There’s a variety of colour to the Sea of Tranquility and this is shaped beautifully, without becoming overwrought. Baritone goes for a wander, occupying a space beside principal cornet, and it allows the bell to face outward a little more, ensuring projection.

The whispered sounds are so very hushed.

The opening of the return journey is not without the odd splutter and misfire , bringing the sheen off slightly, but largely, it’s a commanding ride home, an imperiousness to the sounds on display around the stand.

Black Dyke and Nicholas Childs know this piece intimately, having been involved in its conception, and offer a fine performance, though perhaps not one that was in full flight today.

***

 

2) GUS (Chris Jeans)

A business-like opening from GUS, wasting no time in the opening stages. The sound here is exciting, capturing a mood which would have permeated the nation - and the wider world - ahead of the Apollo 11 venture.

The 11/8 flows well and for the most part, there is a good sense of clarity to the nimble writing. There’s the odd scruffy edge but it’s an engaging display as GUS takes the audience on its second space journey of the day.

The cornet cadenza is handled with grace and finesse, more fine work during this very exposed corner of the piece. Picking up the baton in an equally elegant manner is the tenor sound, this romantic, wistful writing handled with poise. GUS and Chris Jeans are relishing the tender corners of Bruce Broughton’s score. The ‘whisper’ mute moments are suitably soft and largely well negotiated, with slight frailties apparent.

There is steely confidence to the band’s soloists, and the euphonium sound is no exception, calm and cool in front of what, admittedly, is not one of the largest RAH audiences of recent years, which isn’t a surprise, to be fair.

Basses project the intricate lines well and consistently underpin this performance from GUS, a musical security blanket, giving it a confident platform on which to negotiate its return journey to Earth.

Chris Jeans stamps authoritatively as he guides GUS through the final few bars of what was an exciting, engaging musical journey.

***

 
 

1) Llwydcoed (Chris Turner)

First to take off at the 2021 National Brass Band Championship of Great Britain is Llwydcoed Band, making its debut. 

This is a largely neat, controlled take-off which hurtles along with with energy and vigour. The 11/8 writing has pulse and flow, with occasional moments where it isn’t entirely cohesive.

The odd clatter makes itself known (perhaps that was the shedding of empty fuel tanks en route to the moon).

The cornet cadenza is handled very well indeed, full of confidence at this relatively early hour, and the confidence is shared by soloists in the early moments of Sea of Tranquility , a fine horn sound among those ringing around the RAH. There is a good deal of warmth to the sounds here and it’s neatly shaped; only occasionally do slight intonation frailties rise to the fore.

Flugel and baritone interplay remains sensitive.

Alas, a whistling sound from the audience during some of the piece’s softest corners causes a distraction for some in the hall; hopefully it didn’t carry over to the stage and it doesn’t sound like, as the focus remains with Llwydcoed, which demonstrates fine control in some potentially pearly corners of Bruce Broughton’s score.

The return trip to Earth begins with purpose and the groove holds steady. It doesn’t always feel like the detail makes its way to the back of the cavernous space in the RAH; it’ll be interesting to see how the adjudicators find it, sitting closer to the action, albeit hidden from view by their curtains.

The route back home is handled safely and it’s a successful landing for Llwydcoed, which can be very proud of its first outing at this prestigious event, under the baton of Chris Turner.

***


Good morning from the Royal Albert Hall. The BB editor is catching some fresh London air and is ready for a fine day of music making awaits. How refreshing it is to see and hear bubbling chatter, enthusiastic audience members milling around before making their way into the iconic RAH, looking forward to what lies ahead.

Filling their ears will be the sound of music from American composer, Bruce Broughton. Heroes was dedicated to Nicholas Childs and the Black Dyke Band, and celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landings. It’s programmatic music and should make for an engaging day of listening; at least, it will do if the performances are on a par with what listeners were treated to by Foden’s Band, during its curtain raising concert under the baton of Russell Gray at Regent Hall Salvation Army on Friday evening.