BYBA National Championships 2018 Review

The 2018 British Youth Band Association Championships will be remembered as a triumph of collective resolve, good humour and the banding spirit over adversity.

Anybody watching the weather reports for the week or so prior to the event would have been in no doubt that it was going to be a wet day, in fact a very wet day but we are an outdoor activity and as I tell my kids ‘it’s only water!’… so the show must go on!

A few words about the venue, it’s fair to say it wasn’t ideal with the main stand open to the elements and an 8 lane running track between bands and audience but considering the issues Paul Cartwright and his team had in securing a venue this year it served its purpose.

So in heavy rain and cold blustery conditions more akin to late November than early October the day got underway.

In Contest Class there were five units in competition. The first was Warwick Corps of Drums who performed music from the musical ‘Annie’, including ‘Maybe’, ‘It’s a hard knock life’, ‘Never fully dressed’ and of course ‘Tomorrow’. For a small group they did a great job and a special mention to the guard who did very well in appalling conditions.

A quick personal apology to Warwick for using last year’s staff list in the programme. For the record Warwick’s drum staff are Libby Simmons and Jessica Wyatt, hopefully I am now able to safely show my face in Warwick again!

Lanesfield BB/GB Cadets were next up with music taken from the 2006 Pixar film ‘Cars’. This was the band’s first National Championships appearance since 2015 after which it relaunched as a Cadet unit with virtually all the members new to marching activity.

Both Warwick and Lanesfield had staff and performers who march with other units. I know this is frowned upon by some but personally I think it great – they can meet their own needs to move on themselves and have a fresh challenge but still continue to support the band that brought them into the activity … I used to have enough trouble remembering one marching show let alone two!

Concord AllStars were due to perform next but mechanical issues had befallen their equipment truck so in the spirit of the day the other bands in the class agreed to go on early to allow them more time.

So the next band on were 1st Ibstock Scouts performing ‘The Sound of Music’. This is a tremendously entertaining and fun show and I’m not sure I’ve seen so many bicycles used in a BYBA show in the past. The bed prop and role play from the guard really told a story and the usual precision from the band made this a visually compelling performance.

Now it could be said that Christ Church Ashton CLCGB have no theme or concept to their show but I’m not totally sure that’s the case… okay the music isn’t linked thematically but it’s all Bb bugle music and when I hear it I’m transported back to the heyday of the Youth Band activity and it never fails to bring a smile to my face.

Christ Church go to prove that if you have the talent and enthusiasm then the British Youth Band Association can cater for you, whatever your style may be. Greg Small, who had come all the way from Scotland for the event, said “I've not heard ‘Marching through Georgia’ played on brass since my own Boys’ Brigade days. It was good to hear it again.”

Finally with truck on site and unloaded, Concord AllStars took to the field and again highlighted the diversity that makes BYBA so unique in the marching arts activity with their 'Under Pressure' production; a homage to the ‘Pop idol / X Factor’ talent show genre. I’m not a huge fan of pre-recorded sound effects but Concord used them in a way that enhanced their performance, told the story and engaged the audience. An audience pleasing performance from a young band who are much improved this year.

My job on the day was to livecast the performances on the BYBA Facebook page. To my dismay I forgot to bring my tripod with me so was forced to hold the camera in my hand so you may notice a slight tremor on the recording as by this point I was shivering a bit, well actually a lot – it was very cold!

After a short interlude we moved into Championship class which was kicked off in style by Thurrock Marching Brass with their production ‘The Story Teller: A Tribute to Robin Williams’. Thurrock’s performance was dedicated to all affected by cancer but especially corps mum, instructor and BYBA colleague of many years Marie Leighton-Morgan who we lost earlier this year. A great and emotional performance from TMB, special mention to the guard who coped well with the conditions and to the unsung heroes of so many bands – the prop builders and movers. Even from the distance of the stand they looked great!

Speaking of props, the next band on were Stafford Brigades YMB with their fairytale inspired show ‘Once Upon a Time’, a show including ‘Oz The Great and Powerful’, ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ and ‘Into The Woods’. I mention the props as until today the band had used Christmas tree props to create the effect of being in a forest, however worries about the wind and the uneven nature of the arena. A wise move I feel and unhindered by moving trees around the field Stafford Brigades gave their best performance of the year!

Arguably the most improved group at National Championships were Comets Performance Ensemble with their 2018 production ‘Heist’. Their show depicted a robbery and getaway with music from ‘Skyfall’, ‘Kingsman’, ‘The Rock’ and ‘The Italian Job’. Undoubtedly their best performance of the year, I particularly liked the atmospheric Skyfall number, a good arrangement and the synth worked well to support the brass.

In their powder blue uniforms, runaway league winners and odds-on favourites in Championship Class Phantom Knights were the final unit to perform in Championship Class.  Their 2018 show was a selection of music from West Side Story including 'Tonight', 'America', 'Maria', 'I Have Love', 'Jet Song', 'One Hand, One Heart' and 'Somewhere'.

A big shout-out to the small but effective guard who did a great job portraying the rival gangs. The Corps’ strength lies in mastering the basics, both musical and visual and building on those to create a high quality show that would give those in the higher classes a run for their money.

For those not aware, to retain its youth focus BYBA has an age rule that limits competing units to 8 members over the age of 25. An ‘Open Class’ also exists for those groups who do not meet that age criteria and allows them to march as many +25 years old as they like. Premier and Open Class run in parallel with the same judging criteria used, however separate awards are presented, with BYBA National Champions being the Premier Class 1st place unit. With that explained, on to Premier and Open Class!

The first band in Premier Class were Liberty Drum Corps with their show ‘The Day They Came’ outlining the arrival to earth of an alien culture and the eventual enslavement of the human race.  The show featured music ‘Caliban's Dream’, ‘Sunny’, ‘Theme from Schindler's List’ and ‘Run’. Liberty gave themselves a hard act to follow after last year’s evocative ‘The Bench’ show. At times I was a little confused as to the story being told but that didn’t detract from an enjoyable and visually intriguing show. I particularly liked the hemispherical props that were eventually used as cages to subjugate the puny humans … and I for one welcome our alien overlords!

By this time the flood lights were up to full power although I’d suggest that Bedford International Athletics Stadium might want to invest in a few new light bulbs before the next floodlit athletics event…

Premier League Champions Revolution were next on field with their show ‘Imaginarium’.  To quote Revolution’s show description “There is a place where things can happen, where your possibilities are endless, with no boundaries. Imagine the potential? In 2018 we present … the Imaginarium!” To be honest I struggled to make sense of Revolution’s concept earlier in the year but from a slow start the Corps peaked at the right time. The guard have really developed over the course of the season, with some young members performing at a high level. Special mention to Megan Spencer on piccolo trumpet solo during Imagine, great job!

The final Performance of the evening came from Beeches Performance Ensemble in the Open Class. Fresh from a credible 7th place finish at the Drum Crops Europe Finals in the Netherlands. Beeches show was entitled ‘Bounce’ comprising of Part 1: Spring to Action, Part 2: Elasticity, Part 3: Up, up and away, Part 4: What goes down must come up.

As you might expect this was a very energetic performance from Beeches with large trampolines rolled around the field and bounced upon at regular intervals, further emphasising the theme of the show.  The weaker middle section of the show had been worked on over the summer break and this paid dividends. All due credit should go to the designers for so successfully weaving the concept into both the music and visual performance.

With so many wet uniforms muster and presentation of awards was sensibly Drum Major only allowing the bands to mingle in the stand, which created a great communal atmosphere.

The National Anthem was played by a large ensemble of brass players made up of 16 years old and under members of the assembled bands. Thanks to Bethany from Beeches and Emma from Revolution for ably conducting it with only 15 minutes notice.

I can’t write this review without mentioning the three judges and friends we have lost this year: Lynne Horton, Nigel Brown and Marie Leighton-Morgan all three judged at the 2017 National Championships just 12 months ago and were sadly missed this year.

Marie’s husband, daughter, mother and father presented the Marie Leighton-Morgan Memorial Award which went to Ellie Hopkins from Beeches Performance Ensemble.

The Terry Kemp award is awarded annually in memory of the former bandmaster and BYBA contesting Chairman who passed away in 2001. This year it went to Meadow Clampin from Thurrock Marching Brass, who unfortunately was unable to attend the day due to her illness.

Congratulations to all bands who took part. Every single performer on the field was a star and I hope in the years to come you’ll look back on the day and remember … yes, the rain, yes, the cold … but more importantly that great sense of family and camaraderie that was on display all day and especially during the awards. Banding isn’t always easy but it’s always rewarding.

The results were as follows:

Premier Class
1. Revolution - 75.47
2. Liberty Drum Corps - 60.88

Open Class
1. Beeches PE - 84.80

Championship Class
1. Phantom Knights - 77.30
2. Comets Performance Ensemble - 65.37
3. Stafford Brigades - 55.45
4. Thurrock Marching Brass - 54.65

Contest Class
1. Christ Church Ashton CLCGB- 64.8
2. Concord AllStars - 64.5
3. 1st Ibstock Scouts - 64.37
4. Warwick Corps of Drums- 46.65
5. Lanesfield BBGB Cadets - 45.55


Review by Richard Haw

Photos by Carolyn Croot