Band hits the right notes to earn final spot

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Stiff competition from some of its more storied rivals proved to be no hurdle for a Ryedale brass band which earned its place at the National Brass Band Championships this summer - for only the second time in its proud 78 year history.

Now the hard work begins for members of Swinton and District Excelsior Brass Band as they look to raise the estimated £5,000 it will cost to pay for the trip to Cheltenham in September.

The players booked their spot after finishing second in the Fourth Section of the regional championship at Darlington last week.

In a further boost for the area, they will be joined by York Railway Institute and Kirkbymoorside Town brass bands who came first and second in the First Section.

Stephen Pop-ham, secretary of Swinton and District Excelsior Band, said: “It’s our FA Cup final as it is for any band in any section. It is the competition you want to be in. There are many strong bands in the North East with long contesting pedigrees, so to go up there and get a result is quite an achievement.”

“It’s the prestige of making the finals - it’s certainly not for the monetary rewards. We won £100 at Darlington and yet we needed £400 just for the bus to get there!”

It was just desserts for two months’ of graft which began with the competition organisers announcing that Spanish Impressions by Alan Fernie would be the piece that bands in the Fourth Section would have to perform on the day.

Under the exacting eye of conductor Robin Rutter, the players gradually put together their interpretation of the piece, devoting more and more hours as the big day approached.

But it paid off with the judge, known as the “man in the box” because he can only hear and not see the performances, ruling that Swinton had finished runners-up - even though it took a few moments to sink in with band members.

Stephen said: “The secretaries have to sit at the front near the stage to collect the trophy but when it was announced that band number 10 was second - which was our number - there was a delayed reaction before the cheers broke out! It was a very happy bus load that came home.”

Stephen, who joined the band in 1977 and is the third longest serving band member, was one of six players who have enjoyed the experience of the national finals in 2001 at Preston Guild Hall which was also led by Robin, the conductor.

He was also joined by former Malton Mayor Jane Ford, a member for 46 years and one of the first women to play in the main band.

“For me it was a terrific experience,” said Stephen. “It’s what any band member that is in a contesting band wants to do. It doesn’t matter what section you are in, to appear in the national final is the Holy Grail. We do other competitions but the national final is the big one. It’s a yardstick as to where we are as a band and what standard we are at.

“We will go with hope to Cheltenham but it depends on how you play on the day, someone may have an off day or the adjudicator may not like your interpretation.”

It is gratifying, he adds, that the majority of the current crop of players are graduates of Swinton’s Learners Band, including a 70-year-old who only took up the trombone after retiring three years ago and two 14-year-olds.

“It shows the effectiveness of our training band and our teaching,” said Stephen, whose wife Tracey and son, Rob, also play. “In the learners band, the ages are similarly wide spread. That’s why we don’t call it a junior band. We teach anyone of any age if they are keen to learn.”

But, saying that, there are still a few gaps that need to be filled, especially a Solo Cornet or Soprano Cornet and a B-Flat Bass.

Now, the band will get together at its annual general meeting this week to discuss a plan on how to fund the overnight trip to Cheltenham.

Plans are already in motion - a tombola and auction of promises have been mooted - but it will be difficult as the registered charity also needs to cover the costs for the day-to-day running of the band room on Middle Street, Swinton, and replace any instruments that have seen better days.

It means the coming months will be busy for the band whose bread and butter is in its performances at events such as last weekend’s beer festival at the Milton Rooms, Malton, or the upcoming Malton Food Lovers Festival, among others. There they will have to rely on the kindness of strangers to throw a few coppers into the collection box.

Stephen added: “We have got our summer programme in which we entertain the public. Then as we get nearer to the national championships in September, we will begin rehearsing the competition piece. That gives us time to get it, look through it and do some serious work on it in August and September.” Anyone interested in becoming a member or supporting the fundraising appeal should call Stephen on (01653) 696417.




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