Coming from Ireland, March mainly means one thing, St Patrick’s Day on 17th. As a school kid, it means the manufacture of your very own “St Patrick’s Day Badge” (a green white and gold rosette), participating in the Parade with your school or other sports group. As a member of a brass band, it meant that long march in the town’s parade, usually right behind a slow moving articulated truck spewing out diesel fumes!
Since moving from Ireland to the Isle of Man, then on to London, March means only one thing to brass band musicians, The Areas! In the brass band world, the UK is divided into Areas, consisting of 5 divisions of contesting bands, Championship and sections 1,2,3 and 4.
Every year, each March, the Area Qualifiers for the Brass Band National Finals are held in each of these areas across the country. Championship section bands compete to qualify for a place in the National Finals, held each year in the Royal Albert Hall London. Sections 1-4 compete to qualify for their respective finals which for the last few years have been held at Cheltenham.
For the contest, each band must prepare a set test piece to be played to one or two judges who do not see the performance, judging by what they hear only. Bands draw for their position to play on the morning of the contest, hoping to avoid the dreaded number 1 draw.
My first area contest was with Manx Concert Brass in the 4th Section in the North West Area in 1996, where we were awarded 1st place and qualified for the National Finals that year, held in Cardiff International Arena, where we were also awarded 1st place and became 4th Section National Champions.
My most recent area contest was last year with Regent Brass in the Championship section in the London & Southern Counties area, where we were awarded 1st place and qualified for the finals in the Albert Hall (where we came er.. last).
Over the years, I’ve played with 4 different bands in the Area contests, Manx Concert Brass (North West Area), Aveley and Newham, Welwyn Garden City and Regent Brass (London & Southern Counties), under 6 different conductors.
My record stands at:-
- 1 4th Section Area (North West Area)
- 2 3rd Section Area (North West Area)
- 2 Championship Section Area (London & Southern Counties)
This year sees Regent Brass with a new Musical Director, Paul Archibald. Paul is a well known professional trumpet player and educator. His approach to this years test piece, Kenneth Downie’s, St Magnus Variations has been very different to the many conductors I’ve worked with for contests in the past.
With 3 weeks to go, we are all looking forward to this contest with anticipation!