by Richard Haw
September 18, 2004 — Coventry, Warwickshire, U.K. . . A cool day in Great Britain saw the meeting of 30 groups competing at the British Youth Band Association National Championship Finals, held at the brand new Butts Park Arena in Coventry, home of the Coventry Rugby Football Club.
This was the culmination of a season of hard fought contests across the United Kingdom, with only the top bands and corps in each of the national leagues making the cut for today’s championship event.
The five classes included these titlists — division 1, Northern Star; division 2, 6th Hove Scouts; division 3, Eclipse; divison 4, Downsmen; and the cadet division, Black Knights.
BYBA is an organisation which, unlike its U.K. counterparts, caters to all styles of marching units, from traditional B-flat bugle bands through to show bands and drum and bugle corps. Obviously, to do this, the judging system has to be very flexible and occasionally not without its issues.
The big payoff for this flexibility is that at BYBA Finals the audience gets to see a fantastic variety of styles and content with something to suit all tastes.
The day started with weather conditions more befitting November than September. Dark, foreboding clouds and a chill wind threatened rain for the early bands, however, as the start time of 9:00 arrived, the rain had held off so the BYBA staff was optimistic for a dry, even if rather breezy event.
Most units in the U.K. are based within a couple of hour’s travel of the championship venue, with the most distant on this occasion traveling from their home in East Kilbride Scotland, a distance of approximately 320 miles.
In recent years, the expense of traveling has limited many unit’s ability to travel long distances to events, with both new safety regulations and the cost of gasoline currently at about 82p/litre ($5.55/U.S. gal.), push costs up.
Division 4 opened the day’s proceedings with the first band entering the arena shortly after 9:00 AM. This class is the entry point for new units into the association. Typically, these are inexperienced or young groups getting their first taste of competition or more established bands rebuilding with a younger membership.
There were 10 bands and corps in the class this season and the average size seemed smaller than I remember from previous years, with the largest consisting of about 25 members and the smallest just nine. Regardless of size, however, each and every one of these groups gave 110%!
Division 4 Champion was the Downsmen Corps from Crowborough, East Sussex. Marching nine B-flat brass and five percussion, the small group gave a varied selection of music including Wind Beneath My Wings and Fiesta. The show was marked by good use of the frontline ensemble alongside creative use of body visuals to accent the musical highs and lows.
Runner-up in Division 4 was the Marching Mariners. The seven B-flat brass and six percussion took the audience through a popular mix of music including Mmm Bop, Take 5, Shabang and a great arrangement of a drum corps classic, Malagueña, to close.
Third after a season of inactivity in 2003 was the Revolution Show Corps from Bradford in West Yorkshire. Marching 15 B-flat brass, five percussion and five guard, this corps’ repertoire included La Pantera, theme from “The Patriot,” Barbara Ann and MacArthur Park. A visually impressive and fast-moving show earned the corps a well-deserved high visual caption award.
I can’t talk about Division 4 without mentioning the surprise package of the class, Beeches Cadets. This very young corps came into finals seeded eighth, but finished fourth overall, taking second spots in both the field wind and field percussion captions.
The corps from Birmingham, Midlands, had a beautiful, full sound with wonderful arrangements, which suited the young members perfectly.
Before continuing I should mention the judging system currently used in BYBA. There are five judges — two in the stands, General Musical Effect and General Visual Effect, both scoring out of 250, broken down into 100 for Programme Analysis and 150 for Performance Effectiveness.
Also in the stands is the Colour Guard judge, scoring out of 200 — 100 Programme Analysis and 100 Performance Effectiveness. However, the Colour Guard score does not contribute to the overall score as bands and corps are not obliged to have a colour guard.
On the field we have three judges: Drill and Deportment scoring out of 200 — 100 Technique, 100 Execution; and also Wind Field and Percussion Field judges, both scoring out of 150 — 75 Technique, 75 Execution.
Combined, these give a final score out of a maximum 1000 points.
Moving into Division 3, fans were treated to excellent performances from all six of this year’s finalists.
Eclipse Corps from Enfield, Middlesex, marched 11 brass, five percussion and seven guard. The group brought a selection of music from the classic film “The Wizard of Oz.”
A strong visual and musical design package really made this group stand out in a strong class. Great use of colour by the talented guard was perfect at the end of the show, which saw each guard member taking a different colour of the rainbow in Somewhere over the Rainbow. The closing note of the show was played by a solo guard member which was a surprise and a really nice touch.
In a contrast of style to Eclipse, runners-up York Scouts are more traditional. Marching 11 B-flat brass and 12 percussion, they included California Dreamin’, Maple Leaf Rag (tuned percussion feature), River Deep, Mountain High and closed with The Greatest Love of All.
This unit’s improvement since last season has been marked and a solid brass section and powerful drum line that took all but one of the musical captions. If York can get a visual book to match their musical ability, there’s no doubt they’ll be serious contenders again next season.
The next band into the arena was yet another contrasting style to both York and Eclipse.
Finishing third was 11th Northampton Boys Brigade and they have been a revelation to the BYBA circuit this year. They have a very traditional-style band with an emphasis on military precision, but with a show that has been a crowd favourite and talking point wherever they have performed.
Marching nine traditional B-flat bugles and 13 percussion (all marching), Northampton’s show included Swingin’ Safari, Soul Limbo, Dance for the Devil (percussion feature), It Ain’t What You Do, It’s the Way that You Do it and Pigbag.
Despite being the only non-valve unit in the class, Northampton deservedly took high Field Wind with a display of excellent musicianship.
The highpoint in the show for me, though, has to be where the buglers picked up cricket bats and helmets and enacted a game of cricket on the field. This was done to the strains of Soul Limbo, known for being the BBC’s Test Match theme . . . I know it sounds a little crazy, but it worked perfectly!
The next segment of the day was the Cadet Class. This grouping was introduced about three years ago to try and encourage existing bands and corps to form feeder units in an attempt to arrest the decline in the U.K. activity.
Whether or not this has been successful is open to debate. What is not at issue is the enthusiasm and enjoyment these young groups have brought to the activity and, once again, they were a crowd favourite at finals.
Being marked on a different system to the other divisions, the cadet scores are awarded from a maximum of 60 points, with the two General Effect judges awarding marks out of 30.
The class was won by Black Knight Cadets with their production of Walt Disney’s “The Jungle Book.” Just a quick note to congratulate the young soprano soloist in this group who had a range and quality of sound to put many Division 1 players to shame!
Runner-up was 11th Northampton Junior Band, like their more senior group, they put on a display of precision drill. The third spot went to the Upton Youth Band Cadets, using members dressed as cartoon and television characters to illustrate their TV themes show.
As we moved into Division 2, the heavy skies started to clear and sunny intervals lifted the mood of the event, warming the audience gathered in the stands.
League Champions and hot favourites coming into Division 2 finals, 6th Hove Scouts from Brighton in Sussex weren’t about to disappoint.
Marching 13 G bugles, nine marching percussion and four pit, their show, based on the music of funk/rock artist Jamiroquai, took all but one caption.
This was a paced, driving, aggressive show with the strong drum line exploring use of tempo and rhythm throughout, and the powerful horn line not afraid to let it rip when required.
Giving 6th Hove a run for their money and deservedly taking the Field Wind caption, was class runner- up, The Cavaliers from Basingstoke in Hampshire.
Marching seven B-flat brass, six percussion and four guard, this corps is an example of what can be achieved with just a limited number of members. Their repertoire consisted of Karn Evil 9, Johnny’s Mambo, Loss and One More Time.
With fewer members than in previous years, the Cavaliers’ design staff has taken every opportunity available to enhance their show by clever visual and musical writing. I particularly liked the dance feature in Johnny’s Mambo, which really sold the Latin feel.
Third place in Division 2 went to Distant Thunder. Marching 17 brass, 13 percussion and three guard, this group’s 2004 show was based on selections from “Phantom of the Opera,” including Phantom of the Opera, Masquerade, Wishing you Were Somehow Here Again and Music of the Night.
Considering the corps that have played “Phantom” in the past, Distant Thunder gave themselves a hard act to follow. However, they were able to put their own stamp on this performance and generated good effect and emotion throughout, especially in the Music of the Night closer.
As we moved into Division 1, the dull weather of earlier had transformed into a wonderful, late summer evening with the warm sun illuminating the stands, which along with the floodlights created a fantastic atmosphere.
The stands were not only full of spectators, but also with members from units that had already competed earlier, eager to see the current elite of the association.
The 2004 British Youth Band Association Division 1 National Champion for 2004 was Northern Star Drum & Bugle Corps from Pudsey, West Yorkshire.
Fielding 16 G bugles, seven pit and eight guard, Star’s production was titled “Unity” and was comprised of Heat of the Day, Candle in the Window and First Circle.
With no marching percussion, the corps relied heavily on their front line ensemble to carry the show from a percussive standpoint, which they did with great style and musicality.
The horn line had a deep, rich tone with the excellent written book allowing them to demonstrate their ability to its optimum extent. The colour guard was much improved from earlier in the season and looked as though they really enjoyed themselves.
Runner-up in Division 1 was another northern corps and Star’s local rivals, The Forgemen from Sheffield, South Yorkshire. Marching 14 G bugles, 13 percussion and four guard, they brought us a show titled “Desert Winds.” This show was probably the most complete package of the day, with great audio-visual coordination evident throughout.
The level of demand placed on the members was incredible, with fast-moving drill forms packed with visual highlights following in quick succession.
Forgemen’s staff has really gone to town to milk every drop of potential from this concept. There was repeated use of the triangle/pyramid form as a design motif and I liked the use of the spoken word to extend the scope of the production.
Coming third in Division 1 was the dark horse Black Knights from Gravesend in Kent. Marching 15 G bugles, 10 percussion and 10 guard, the corps brought us a show titled ”Feeling Good!” which included Feeling Good, Johnny One Note, At Last, Jump, Jive and Wail and closing with Next Year, Baby taken from a new album by Jamie Cullum.
Not having seen Black Knights since the first half of the season, I was amazed by the improvement.
Speaking to their corps director at that event in June, he promised we would “see a completely different drum corps” in the second half of the season and he wasn’t kidding!
This was a high-energy, high-entertainment performance that held the audience’s attention from beginning to end.
Black Knights’ strong point has to be their colour guard, that rightly took the high guard award. Visually, the guard was used to their best potential by good staging through key points in the show.
I can’t end this report without congratulating championship organiser Paul Cartwright and his team, along with Coventry RFC, for providing the fantastic organisation and facilities for this year’s event.
And, of course, every band and drum and bugle corps that provided such a memorable day of great entertainment.
For more information about the British Youth Band Association and for a complete review of all the championship performances, visit the BYBA Web site at: http://www.byba.org.uk/.