Whitburn continues winning ways

Tuesday 13 March 2018

As the dust settled on the 2018 Scottish Brass Band Championships in Perth Concert Hall, Whitburn Band once again emerged victorious in the Championship Section with several of its players making significant contributions in their various conducting roles in the lower sections.

This was Whitburn’s 20th success at the event and, somewhat surprisingly, its first successful title defence for 25 years when Major Peter Parkes won the last of his eight titles with the West Lothian outfit. Professor Nicholas Childs has now overtaken the ‘Major’, collecting his ninth Scottish win and securing back-to-back trebles having repeated last year’s victories in Yorkshire (Black Dyke) and the North West (Foden’s).  

The weekend action also saw excellent wins for Johnstone, Campbeltown Brass, Newmains and District and Highland Brass. They will all hope to build on last year’s Scottish successes at the National Finals in Cheltenham where they will be joined this September by Dunaskin Doon, Annan Town, Selkirk Silver and Whitburn Heartlands.

A number one draw at a major championships can be often be an unsettling factor, raising doubts in players’ minds that their efforts might be in vain as their performance fades in the memory of an adjudicator or two. Not so with Whitburn, for which it was simply an opportunity to lay down what proved to be an unbeatable marker. That the band came off the stage delighted at how they had performed was enough to convince the remaining contenders that they would have their work cut out if they were going to challenge a band currently holding 6th place in the world rankings.

Whitburn’s Paul Kiernan (trombone) and Chris Bradley (cornet), both of whom enjoyed excellent conducting results over the weekend, collected the John Campbell Award and Terris Medal respectively for their individual performances while the Hugh Johnstone Memorial Trophy for best percussion section also made its way back to the West Lothian band hall.

Adjudicator Paul Holland, in his closing remarks, noted that there were two ‘top-class’ performances of Kevin Norbury’s Odyssey, and it came as no surprise to those in attendance that Co-operative Funeralcare came closest to usurping its perennial rival. Playing immediately after Whitburn, Russell Gray guided the ‘Co-op’ to an excellent rendition of the set work, different in style perhaps but no less thrilling to listen to. The Glasgow band had to make do with individual awards for best horn (Caroline Tennant - flugel), best euphonium/baritone (Scott Findlater - baritone) and best basses along with the solace of yet another trip to the Royal Albert Hall in October.

In full knowledge that a decent result was needed to be sure of retaining its Championship status, Kirkintilloch Kelvin and Charles Keenan came up trumps to make up the podium place while Bo’ness and Carriden enjoyed another fabulous Scottish result to claim 4th spot. Of the newcomers, Bathgate’s return to the top flight was met with an unenviable draw right after the top two while Newtongrange made a more successful return, securing sixth place.

Johnstone Band’s decision to prepare for the 1st Section contest by competing at the Brass at the Guild event in Preston six weeks ago proved a telling one, as Martyn Ramsay directed the band to top spot with James Curnow's Brass Metamorphosis, gaining promotion to the top table after a five-year absence. By next March it will be 10 years since Dunaskin Doon enjoyed Championship Section status, but, after what has been one of the most difficult and emotional years in the band’s history, the aforementioned Chris Bradley led the Ayrshire outfit to second place. There were near misses from Newmilns and Galston and Kingdom Brass, both bands impressing many in what was a sizeable audience for the late Saturday afternoon contest.

Johnstone players celebrating in style


In what would become a weekend to cherish for both Chris Bradley and Paul Kiernan, the latter hit the heights on Saturday morning, guiding a youthful Campbeltown Brass to a memorable victory in the 2nd Section. It was refreshing to see so many youngsters apply themselves with such a high degree of confidence, and no little ability, as they powered their way through Jonathan Bates’ Ex Terra Lucem with unflustered panache. There was no need for a score for the ever-prepared Paul Drury as Annan Town bounced straight back from last year’s disappointing result to claim second place, just ahead of an impressive Broxburn and Livingston, with St. David’s Brass back in fourth.

Campbeltown young team


In the 3rd Section, the ever-improving Newmains and District continued its remarkable progress under Michael Marzella with a two-point margin of victory over Stuart Black’s Selkirk Silver, in turn just ahead of local hopes Perthshire Brass. Such was the manner of the 2017 4th Section National Champion’s account of Philip Harper’s Napoleon on the Alps, it would be misguided to rule out another successful Cheltenham visit for Newmains come September. A delighted MD Mike Marzella commented: "It was important to maintain that momentum and I'm so proud that the players' hard work came to fruition and was recognised by both adjudicators in their glowing remarks. As we aim for our return trip to Cheltenham, the band organisation will be focused on various events to continue developing our shared practice of music making and representing Scottish banding to the best of our abilities."


 Highland Brass, under the stewardship of Mark Bell, rose to the top in the 4th Section at the fifth time of asking, edging out 2015 champion Whitburn Heartlands (Iain Fleming). Stuart Black landed third place with Penicuik Silver, narrowly missing out on the challenging prospect of preparing two bands for the National Finals. The top two, both established in 2013, successfully negotiated their way around Rodney Newton’s World Tour and can be reasonably confident of doing well on their trip to the Cotswolds in the autumn.

Highland Brass in their element


Both Granite City Community Brass and Coalburn Intermediate put on entertaining sets in the non-contesting 4b Section prior to the Championship Section on Sunday, and they can now look forward to a visit from SBBA Education Officer John Boax as they continue their development.

Coalburn Intermediate and Granite City Community


A thrilling weekend of banding was enjoyed by most, if not all, at Perth Concert Hall and it was definitely a memorable one for Whitburn, not least in the contributions of many of the players who continue to successfully develop the talents of bands in the lower sections.

From SBBA’s perspective it has been a most enjoyable weekend – it is quite obvious that the work done by Carrie Boax and her team is not under-appreciated. One of that team was not there this year, so perhaps the most coveted trophy of the weekend should be the one presented to the winning conductor in the 1st Section (Martyn Ramsay), a new trophy which marks the outstanding contribution to Scottish banding made by the late Andy Smith.