EESB recently made their annual pilgrimage to the shrine of London & Southern Counties banding that is Stevenage Arts & Leisure Centre, for the regional championships on Sunday 16 March. The band had enjoyed bringing the test piece, "Chaucer's Tunes" by Michael Ball, to life, with its vivid depictions of literary character, and many varied musical moods, and we were looking forward to giving our performance, which we hoped would offer something a little different for all to hear and enjoy. Expectation was high following our appearances at the National Finals last September and at Butlins in January, with online brass band magazine 4barsrest.com predicting us as likely winners for the contest - so not too much pressure, then... [...More]
With a good run-up of rehearsals behind us, and the knowledge that we wouldn't have to get up too early (playing on the Sunday morning, the eighteen bands competing in the Second Section at Stevenage would be drawn in two ballots, of which we were fortunate to be placed in the second), morale was high on the contest day. On arrival at the leisure centre, a brief warm-up and top-and-tail rehearsal was enough to refresh the memory, settle at least a few nerves, and also highlight how warm it was throughout the centre - an unexpectedly mild turn in the weather didn't seem to have filtered through to the geyser in the boiler room (whoever he was), and the whole building was warm, uncomfortably so in parts. Knowing how warm it would be under the lights on stage in the Gordon Craig theatre, we somewhat reluctantly took the decision to perform in shirt sleeves, and leave our heavy woolen jackets behind. Whilst the visual effect would not be so impressive, it was felt that it was more important that we should feel more comfortable in order to play well - and we certainly intended to show we meant business by the way we played! (We also appeared to set a trend, as most bands in the championship section, which followed later in the day, also took to the stage without their jackets).
Having been drawn to play fifteenth out of the eighteen bands, it felt like rather a long wait to play; we eventually walked on to the stage around 1 p.m. - quite a few of the audience left at this point to get their lunch, it seemed, but we had a few stalwart supporters in the 'house', including ex-players who had made the journey from various places more northerly even than Stevenage in order to cheer us on. Our performance got off to a flying start, at a tempo which surprised everyone on hearing the recording subsequently - this wasn't criticised by either of the two adjudicators, however, and if anything seems to have helped catch their attention early on. Although it was not a blemish-free performance, the tricky changes of mood and tempo were navigated safely by all, and we built to a rousing, confident finish. MD Jack Smith was so pleased with how it had gone that he seemed at a loss as to what to do afterwards - we had done what we set out to do, to reproduce on stage what we had worked on in the band room.
Time for a cooling beer...
The results ceremony was rather interesting, as for the first time at Stevenage, we had been judged not by one, but by two adjudicators: Welshman Lyn Morgan (a stranger in these parts) and Linda Cole, an experienced conductor and band trainer with more local connections, but less experience in the box. Both had clearly given much attention to the performances, and thought to their remarks and the placings they had given. What was also slightly unusual this year was that the placings from fourth upwards were announced, rather than the top six placings - one of those times when you want to hear your band announced, but not too soon... Our performance had attracted a great reception in the theatre, and from various commentators - some of whom still predicted EESB as winners, so it was something of a disappointment to hear our name being called out first - in fourth place. (Interestingly, there seemed to be an audible intake of breath from various quarters at this pronouncement, and not from our supporters either).
Whilst it was a shame not to be invited for a second year to compete at the National Finals in Cheltenham, where we would have relished the opportunity to improve on our performance in 2013, we could at least take heart in having played very near to (if not right at) our very best on stage, and having given a committed performance of which we could be proud. Following some beermat arithmetic later on, and consultation with the mystical runes known as "The Grading Table", we also worked out that the band would be promoted back to the First Section (national grading) from 2015, which pays tribute to the hard work of all our players, and their continuing development under the direction of Jack Smith. Besides this elevation of status, playing in the First Section means we won't have to get up early on a Sunday morning for next year's trip to Stevenage; surely a bonus in itself...
EESB recently made the long journey to the North Sea coast, to take part in the National Mineworkers Band Festival at Butlins in Skegness(Jan 2014). Despite its name, the weekend-long festival attracts bands from a wide range of backgrounds besides those with their historic roots in Britain's mining and associated industries. Bands from across the country competed by performing a set test in their respective sections on Saturday, January 18th, with the Championship Section also providing light relief throughout the day on Sunday 19th as they competed in the entertainments contest. [...More]
Playing in the Second Section, Epsom & Ewell were set 'Kenilworth' by Sir Arthur Bliss; a piece which still poses a great many challenges to bands today, despite dating from 1936, when it was written for the National Championships. The band had spent a good deal of time preparing their performance thoroughly, including a preview performance at their Christmas Concert. Competing against sixteen other bands from around the UK (including three other bands from the London & Southern Counties region), the band gave a confident performance which drew much attention and positive comments from those who heard it.
Unfortunately, the two adjudicators were less enthusiastic about our rendition, despite giving some very positive comments on the quality of the band's soloists, and broadly praising the musical interpretation of the piece. After a long wait for the results (the band played shortly before 11 a.m. and the results were not announced until the evening), the band were understandably disappointed to find that they had ended up in a joint thirteenth place. Most players, along with MD Jack Smith, were philosophical on reflection, and felt that the band had benefited from the experience of preparing such a challenging piece, and competing at a national contest for the second time in less than six months. Needless to say, all are determined to use this experience positively in putting in a good showing at the forthcoming Area contest in Stevenage.
The performance at Butlins also marked a fond farewell for EESB's soprano cornet and 2nd horn, Lewis and Hazel Shaw, who have had to relocate owing to work commitments. Having been with the band since 2011, they have played a big part in its development and life both musically and socially - we wish them well, and will miss them very much.
2013 was a successful contesting year for the Band having been invited to the National finals in September and placed 6th in the 2nd Section. We were on a roll! Why not have a go at the big prizes on offer at Butlins. EESB had never played at the Mineworkers National Open Brass Band Festival held in Skegness, in mid-January(2014), what could be more appealing. So following a short playing break over Christmas, we got stuck into 'Kenilworth' the 2nd section test piece. On Friday 17th January we set off for bracing Skeggy. [...More]
As we hit the last couple of miles on the winding A52,in the distance we could see the white top of the Skyline pavilion and above that the faint glimmer of a rainbow. Was this a sign of things to come and the pot of gold we were seeking? Our expectations were high.
We arrived at the 'resort' in small groups throughout the afternoon and early evening. At 9.00pm with yellow wrist bands on, we met up in the Crazy Horse for a final practice session and to make sure instruments were all in good order for the contest in the morning. Afterwards some went back to their rooms some went on to sample the evening entertainment in the big shed with two bars called 'Reds'. Some even joined in with the live show on stage with much vigor and enthusiasm. A special thanks to our guest players at this point. The Weekend had begun.
During the early hours of Saturday morning, the now legendary 'Born Free' played on a Tenor, were heard by those still awake. The light sleepers dreamt they were in some kind of Brass Band fantasy land. Welcome to Butlins 2014. The next morning at 8.30 we tuned the TV to channel 800 to watch the draw for all sections 'Live from Centre Stage'.This was a new experience for most of us, normally only familiar to the contest secretary. We drew number 5, right behind one of the favourites. Playing commenced at 10.00am at Lakeside. At 10.30 we gathered together outside our apartment block for the 100 yard walk to the 2nd section contest venue at Lakeside. There was a large white tent outside a large grey shed. Once in the tent, we warmed up and got ready to move across to the shed and sign in. We got on stage, which was a white line separating us from the first row of chairs by about a foot. We sat down and waited for the whistle. Sometimes the whistle goes before everyone is ready sometimes there is a long silence. Often that is because the previous band has given an outstanding performance or is getting lots of tips from the adjudicators on how to improve before their next contest. The whistle blew. This was it we were ready to make our Butlins debut.
We started with a very good opening. All soloists played well and we all came together to a very dramatic closure. We felt that we had given our best in a very competitive field of wide ranging bands. It was now down to the Adjudicators. The results would be given at 8.00pm in Reds.
One of the attractions of Butlins Mineworkers is there is always something to do. Some stayed in Lakeside to listen to the competition or moved to other section bands at their venues. Some put on their bathers and went to Splash World. Some went to the sports bar or other bars to bathe the throat. There were at least 4Bars to rest.. Some went home.. All of us were awaiting the results.
So at 8.00pm all first to fourth section bands met in Reds to find out if they were in the prizes. We had not made it into the top finishers, we all felt a little disappointed, never mind we were having a good time and we did play well. For the bands whose results are not announced on stage a representative is sent to the contest office to pick them up along with the remarks. With eager anticipation Paul arrived with the envelope. There it was - 13th with Dronfield Genquip. Some swore, Some went into shock, Some could not believe it, all of us were disappointed. Only one thing for it re-group and head for the bar. We were not alone in our thoughts. Many other bands were doing the same thing including some members of Dronfield band who were in the queue right next to us. We had gone to Butlins for a number of reasons. One of those was to say farewell to Lewis and Hazel Shaw who were heading back home and would be back playing with Dronfield next week. What a small world this Banding is. There was the rest of the evening to get through and of course the Championship Band Entertainment contest on Sunday.
During the early hours of Sunday morning the dulcet tones of 'Born Free' could be heard again along with the opening of 'Jurassic Park' and a number of Hymn tunes. Some bands need the practice whatever the time of day. On Sunday morning the Entertainments contest started in Centre Stage compared by Frank Renton who had been in the box all day adjudicating the 1st section. Well done to Sandhurst Silver who won. We listened to Jack Smith, our conductor who was playing with East London Brass. ELB also came thirteenth in the Championship section. Some very fine playing was heard from all the bands taking part and congratulations go to Flowers who took home the top prize. Grimethorpe gave a concert before the results of the championship section.
What a wonderful banding weekend was had by all those attending. Of course there was disappointment with our results, but also sadness that we say farewell to Lewis and Hazel. Good luck to you both, see you at Cheltenham!