James Cook – Circumnavigator

Every year us Brass-banders head off to various locations in the UK to compete in “The Areas” – a regular, graded competition much loved/hated by the brass band community.

This year we’re off to Bedworth for the first time after the Midlands Area was moved from Burton-upon-Trent. It’s a bit of a trek for those of us further north but we were promised better facilities at the new place. The Civic Hall turned out to be a little dated in design but it had a rather excellent auditorium and plenty of rooms for bands to get ready. The biggest problem with Burton Town Hall was the lack of space and this new venue has it in spades.

Anyway, we headed to Bedworth with high hopes of doing well at the contest – our very first foray into the First Section. However, the first test piece we had to master was James Cook – Circumnavigator by Gilbert Vinter, one hell of a test for most Championship Section bands, never mind us in the lower sections. We spent many rehearsals going over this difficult, if likeable piece and were looking forward to playing it on-stage.

James Cook, as you might imagine, has a nautical theme. The music is written in a very descriptive manner  and you can imagine the Endeavour sailing over the oceans in search of adventure. There are three quite loud sections which test a player’s stamina to the max, but there are some lovely quiet, emotional parts too. It’s a great piece but quite difficult.

We were drawn number five, out of eighteen, and headed onto stage just after mid-day. We were nervous but we’d had some good run-throughs during the week before and were feeling confident that we could produce something good on the day.

I was playing the repiano cornet part which was mostly identical to the solo cornet part apart from two bars of a little solo, among a few different harmonies and some other little fillers. I was nervous about these two bars – they were written in a tricky 7/4 time signature and had to be played giocosso (playfully). I had some difficulty in playing these notes in the correct style but I was determined to get it right.

We started a little nervously but improved as we went along. My two bars weren’t quite perfect (dammit!) but I did well enough and we were bringing out some nice, emotive music at times. The soloists all did brilliantly and, a few blemishes aside, we headed into the final march in fine style. Some untidiness at the end spoiled it a bit but there really wasn’t anything to complain about – considering this was out first try at this level we did brilliantly.

When we finished out soprano cornet player said to me, “Bloody Hell, we did it!” or words to that effect.

Buoyed by our performance we headed to the pub for a celebratory pint, as you do. As with all brass band contests the local pubs will benefit from increased sales, and the local Wetherspoons was inundated with burly men (and women!) in shirts, ties and variously coloured jackets. The locals looked a little bemused by all these foreigners in their bar but I’m sure that the publican was rather pleased by it all.

After a pint and some food some of us headed back into the Civic Centre to listen to a few bands. It seemed that James Cook was causing quite a few issues and few bands really fine performances but there were a good few “nearly there” attempts. It’s a hard piece and although I enjoyed most performances nobody really gave “the” winning performance.

However, close to the end one band did pull out an excellent performance – Glossop Old Band. They had a lovely, big sound and gave a wonderfully descriptive rendition. There were a few blips here and there but when they finished our conductor said “That’s the winning band”. I had to agree, although I’d missed a number of other bands. If anyone were to beat that they’d have to play out of their skins.

There was one more band to play and then we had to patiently wait for the results. This is the most nervous part of the day, even more so than playing itself. We’d played well and even though we weren’t expecting to win it we were hoping to finish in the top half, and maybe even in the tops six.

There were three bands to qualify for the National Finals in Harrogate and they announced the top four. As soon as the announcer said “…the band in fourth place, with 178 points…” I just new he was going to give our name out. And he did! Somehow we’d managed to finish right near the top, and only one place away from a visit to the Nationals.

As suspected the winners were Glossop, with some fine performances by Phoenix West Midlands and Hathern Band coming in second and third. No trophy and no visit to Harrogate for us, but a very pleased bunch of players nonetheless. Some more beer was required, plus a visit to a curry house.

The only disappointment was the fact that we’d finished one single place outside the National Qualification places for four years on the run. It would have been great to try our hand in Harrogate but I think we can live without another three months of intensive rehearsals before September.

Fourth!

Roll on March next year. If we can repeat that fourth place we may be able to earn a place in the Championship Section. Now that is a scary proposition!