A Sunday Sojourn in Stevenage
Having attended the London & Southern Counties Regionals for the past couple of years, reporting on behalf of 4barsrest, this year I was faced with something of a dilemma: I had always covered the Saturday before, avoiding any clash with my Salvation Army involvement on the Sunday. This year, however, we had Kettering Band presenting a programme at Hadleigh on the Saturday evening, which I wanted to be present for. Having discussed this situation with Iwan at 4barsrest, it was agreed that I would go to Stevenage on the Sunday instead, to keep an eye on the 1st Section and, for my first time at a Regionals, the Championship Section.
All well and good, so I put various arrangements in place, giving my apologies to my bandmaster and songster leader, and checking on travelling times. Here was the first problem: Hadleigh to Stevenage on a Saturday is not a great problem: walk to Westcliff Station, train to Fenchurch Street (my usual commute, and so covered by my season ticket), tube to King’s Cross, train to Stevenage (about 30 minutes), then a short walk over the bridge and straight into the Leisure centre itself. On a Sunday, however, there was the bane of weekend travel by public transport: ENGINEERING WORKS!
Firstly, trains were not going into Fenchurch Street, but to Liverpool Street instead: not too much of a problem, as it only added an extra ten minutes. Secondly, tube closures meant that the usual route via the Circle Line was not available. Thirdly, engineering work in connection with the new Eurostar terminus at St Pancras meant that trains from King’s Cross were being replaced by a bus service. When seeking suitable times to get me there for a 10 o’clock start the initial response was, a la Little Britain, “The computer says ‘No’ ”, as it recommended travelling outwards the previous night. Not wishing to do that, a second search revealed an alternative, which was the ultimate solution: 05.47 train from Westcliff, bus from Liverpool Street to King’s Cross, 08.01 bus to Welwyn Garden City, 09.26 train to Stevenage, arriving at 09.42 with precious little time to spare. (There was also the unexpected bonus of breakfast at MacDonalds as I waited for the bus at King’s Cross.) There was an alternative bus direct to Stevenage, but as that took a more circuitous route, and didn’t arrive until after 10, it was not going to be much help!
I was aware that a representative from 4barsrest might not be the most popular person at the contest, both because of controversial remarks in previous retrospectives, and also due to an unfortunate misunderstanding which had led to there being no-one to cover Saturday’s proceedings. As it was, I managed to obtain my ticket and have a very cursory glance at the trade stalls before the draw for the 1st Section arrived from the Contest Controller and was posted in the foyer. It was then a question of ringing the details through to Wales to be put on the site. Unfortunately, although they also had the details of the 4th Section draw, they could not be released as the adjudicator was not yet closeted in the box – that would have to wait until my colleague arrived from the Midlands.
Saturday visits to Stevenage had found me reporting from what the programme refers to as the “Main Concert Hall” – in actual fact, a large sports hall, generally either too warm (as last year) or too cold (as was reported this year), not the most pleasant of venues for either band or audience. This year, however, I had the experience of being in the comparative luxury of the Gordon Craig Theatre - comfortable reclining seats with a reasonable amount of leg-room, although with no central aisle it was a little awkward for late-comers trying to find a suitable place. The other surprise, as a first-timer at this venue, was to find the adjudicator’s box located well over to one side of the theatre, leading to a reminder at the draw that the cornet sections would find themselves pointing directly at the adjudicator; conversely, the trombones were to a large extent facing away from the box.
I do not claim to be an expert in any sense, but I do try to report fairly on what I see and what I hear, this being made a little more awkward as for the 1st section bands I did not have a score to refer to. I am also very much aware that, sitting in the open rather that being “in the box”, my perception of the performances will be significantly different to that of the adjudicator. In addition, I am conscious that over recent years I have come to know many of the participants personally, and that I need to try to be objective in such instances. The first of the sixteen competing bands struck up the opening notes of the National Anthem a little after ten, and then we were off into the contest itself. There were no undue delays, and the “run rate” was about three and a half bands an hour. Knowing I was to be there for the duration I had gone prepared with bitter lemon (in a plastic bottle to appease the stewards) and various eats cut into bite-size pieces that could be surreptitiously consumed at appropriate points in the proceedings. Although there was to be a short comfort break after the eighth band, no indication was given as to how long “short” was to be, so it was not possible to go too far afield.
Having listened to the bands there was the usual wait while the results were collated and checked. Various brief thanks were given before David Horsfield stepped forward to give the audience something of his reaction to the day. Most bands had played to reasonable numbers during the morning, and the theatre was pretty full as the announcement of the results approached. For me, it was a question of frantically noting down his key points – no short-hand skills, I’m afraid, just my own hieroglyphics that I can often not decipher when I try to read them afterwards – for use in my later write-up. Once the soloist prize had been announced, followed by the top four bands, in reverse order, it was a question of trying to exit the theatre to allow Anthony to put the details on the site, and this was where I regretted not having moved to a position nearer the exit, as I found myself caught up amidst celebrating bandsmen and women.
Once outside, and able to get a signal on the phone, there was the frustration of needing several attempts to get through. The same thing happened with the draw for the Championship Section, resulting in me missing the first band completely, much to my disappointment as I had promised to listen out for a friend who was playing. It was interesting to hear the “big boys” in action for the first time, and particularly to see how the two recently-promoted bands would fare. I was able to relax a little, however, since my colleague was to be responsible for the write-up, and I also had the assistance of a score.
With the announcement of the results, and another bout of frenetic scribbling, came something of a surprise to many as Redbridge, looking for a fifth consecutive win, had only been placed fourth, and excitement from the seats immediately behind me as Kidlington were awarded a well-deserved third place. Newly promoted Staines had secured a London place at their first attempt, and they had been pipped to the top slot by Aveley & Newham. After ringing through the top four I left my colleague to collect the full results list and set off on my return journey. In the event, this was somewhat easier than anticipated, as I was able to get straight through to King’s Cross, and was back indoors just after 10.30.
All that would remain over the next day or so would be to make sense of my scribbles, and prepare a lower section focus for possible inclusion in the British Bandsman and the 1st Section Retrospective for 4barsrest. It would be a question of trying to get the balance right between an honest report and not causing undue offence; of reporting things as I saw and heard it, but pointing out the good as well as the not so good. Only time, and the comments posted on various websites, would tell whether I managed it!