Countdown to Blackpool: The North West Regional Championship Preview

Boarshurst Band Club, 21 February 2016

Four Saddleworth bands could land a place in the National Finals if they succeed in the North West Regional Championships at Winter Gardens, Blackpool. This coming Sunday [28 February] will see Delph, Greenfield, Boarshurst Silver and Uppermill bands competing for a place in the nationals. Two Saddleworth bands, Delph and Greenfield, were among five brass bands at a preview evening in Boarshurst Band Club last Sunday.

Packed House

A packed house at the Boarshurst Band Club saw the five bands play their allocated test pieces. The adjudicator was Duncan A. Beckley with each band drawn as follows (sections detailed in brackets):

  1. Blackley Band (4): The Journal of Phileas Fogg (Peter Graham);
  2. Milnrow Band (Ch.): Cambridge Variations (Philip Sparke);
  3. Eccles Borough (1): Essay (Edward Gregson);
  4. Greenfield Band (3): A Cambrian Suite (Michael Ball);
  5. Delph Band (2): The Mermaid of Zennor (Philip Harper).

Blackley, Milnrow and Delph bands decided to play warm-up pieces prior to performing their test piece. Blackley opened with the traditional march Bramwyn, followed by Amid All The Traffic. The latter seemed fitting given how the second half of 2015 was an annus horribilis for Manchester’s roads.

A piece by Gustav Holst was played by Milnrow Band whereas Delph Band (conducted by the unflappable Phil Goodwin) opened with Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr Blue Sky. Eccles Borough and Greenfield bands decided against playing warm-up pieces.

The Journal of Phileas Fogg is set to tax many Section Four bands. As described in the review of Sale Brass’ Sunday Brass concert, 80 days is condensed into ten minutes with a variety. Their musical director, John Atkinson, gave us our first cultural reference of the night, recalling Around The World With Willy Fog (shown on Children’s BBC from 1989 to 1991). It is a vibrant test piece, suitable for formal contest settings as well as concerts.

Similarly testing on technical grounds is the Championship Section’s test piece. Cambridge Variations is a breathtaking piece with five continuous sections. For the technically minded, it has six variations of the musical notes within Cambridge (hence CAmBriDGE). It is an immersive piece good for concerts as well as contests. On recorded form, definitely one for the best music centre and a good set of headphones.

Whereas Cambridge Variations is a most complex test piece, Edward Gregson’s Essay is a more sensitive and minimalist piece. The test for First section bands will be keeping to its moderate volume. The three movements (Dialogue, Soliloquy and Epigram) have their own distinct character with an exciting finish. Not only a good test piece but a very good piece for the last item in the first half of a concert programme.

Also good for a concert piece as well as a test piece is A Cambrian Suite, arranged by Michael Ball. Featuring three familiar pieces (Men of Harlech, Cradle Song, The Rising of the Lark), it was commissioned jointly by the Black Dyke Band and the Brass Band Heritage Trust. If you wish to scotch the myth about “test piece being [perceived as] boring”, this is a good one to introduce to listeners new to brass band music.

The most vibrant test piece – and one that I would heartily add to any concert programme – is the Second section’s allocated piece, The Mermaid of Zennor. This is the newest piece of the 2016 NWRC programme, composed in 2015 for the Cornwall Youth Brass Band. Its three sections (The Sea and Seafaring, At the Church, Return to the Wave) make for an atmospheric piece.

On the whole, it was a fantastic night, and the £4.00 price tag was excellent value for money. The excellent turnout was helped by relatives of fellow band people as well as regular devotees of the Sunday Brass concerts. With more in the band club than usual (counting the oft-packed Christmas concerts), it was standing room only for a number of spectators. The whole event was tightly managed by our fellows from the Boarshurst Band Club.

We wish Delph, Greenfield, Milnrow, Blackley and Eccles Borough bands the best of luck in Blackpool. We also extend our good luck to Uppermill and Boarshurst Silver Bands.

Getting to Blackpool

If you wish to make your way to the Winter Gardens, I recommend adding more time to your journey. The M6 and M55 motorways are likely to be busy, exacerbated by engineering works on all train routes bound for Manchester Victoria. As a consequence, rail replacement buses will be the order of the day.

Next at Boarshurst Band Club…

The usual Sunday Brass programme resumes on the 06 March at the usual start time of 8pm. For the first concert of March 2016 is Mossley St. Johns Band. Founded in 1933, they are the band of St. John’s Church in the Roughtown area of Mossley (served by the 353 bus at daytimes). They are one of three brass bands in Mossley (the other two being Mossley Band near the George Lawton Hall and Mossley Hollins school band).


Alight at stop next to Greenfield Conservative Club, then walk past club and turn left onto Greenbridge Lane. After passing Boarshurst Band Club, turn right onto driveway and right again towards the entrance.

  • 180: Lees, Oldham, Hollinwood, Failsworth and Manchester [Oldham Street] (First Greater Manchester).
  • 350: Mossley, Ashton-under-Lyne or Uppermill, Dobcross, Delph, Scouthead, Waterhead and Oldham (First Greater Manchester; Stagecoach in Manchester on journeys after 6.30pm).

Spread the word:

Twitter: going to any of the Sunday Brass concerts? Add the #SundayBrass hashtag to your Twitter feed. Don’t forget to add @boarshurstband to your status too!

Tell Your Friends! Nothing beats word of mouth. Tell them about the joys of watching top class brass band entertainment within the westerly fringes of the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Facebook: use the #SundayBrass hashtag on the Lil’ Ol’ Book of Face. Why not subscribe to the Boarshurst Band Club page to keep up to date with forthcoming concerts?

S.V., Wednesday 24 February 2016.


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