A report from our special correspondent Phil (he knows cos he was there)

Areas day 2005 had arrived. Three months of practice on Vaughan Williams’ Variatiations for Brass Band behind us and we were off to Burton-on-Trent Town Hall to play it one last time.

The day was certainly a memorable one, full of laughter, tragedy, fights, booze, bacon butties, foot fetishists, bad smells, the usual dodgy results… oh and a bit of music in there somewhere.

First fight of the day was hand bags at dawn, when one bandsman greeted the other with a friendly “Aye Up you old BEEP, what the BEEP are you wearing. You should be in your BEEPing uniform – if it’s not good enough for you, you can BEEP off and join another BEEPing band” – or some other such early morning pleasantry.

“Yeah just BEEP off and stick it up your BEEP” came the friendly reply. Sensing a fun game another triade of abuse was offered as an opening gambit. This was expertly riposted with another volley of filth and threats of violence. 2 or 3 minutes into this game of verbal ping-pong and the first looks of doubt appeared on the faces of the first protagonist and the watching audience. Hang on a minute is there only one person actually playing this game here? OOops – never mind, both eventually kissed and made up later.

The bus and our usual driver Ernie, arrived and we were on our way to pick up outlying members. The traditional practice was observed of stopping the coach 50 yards after the bus stop so we could watch Brendan and Wink run, panting up the road and expel some of the fag smoke they had consumed during their wait.

An hour later and we were at the St John’s Ambulance HQ in Burton . Time for a cup of tea and a chance to warm up on a couple of hymns while we waited for the draw. In a show of mutiny the band refused to practice the Queen this year, they didn’t want to tempt fate after the poor result the previous year off a number one draw. But not to worry, the phone rang and we were very pleased at being given a number three draw between bands not considered to be a real threat.

A mountain of Sausage and Bacon Butties was delivered to the practice room and we had another hour to chill out, have breakfast and steel our nerves for the contest ahead.

Over the road to the town hall and we were shown to our changing room – a large hall shared with 2 other bands. Eagle eyed officials gave a stern look and a shush to any one who dared breathe down their instruments – Cue for Alan Carling to strike up an impromptu Jazz concert with a cornet player from one of the other bands. “Shut up you ?r@t”, people shout, “You’ll get us disqualified” Oh dear, were contest nerves beginning to show?

After a trip outside to a bizarre ‘warm-up’ room, reached by braving an icy, arctic wind that was very effective at chilling our instruments, we were shown back into the town hall and through to registration.

It now appeared those nerves may well be having an effect if the evil smell in the registration room was anything to go by. Either somebody had had a sudden lack of personal control, or they must have had a good curry the previous night. Obviously it was the latter. As everyone backed away, a wide circle appeared in the crowded room. In the middle was a calm and serine looking bass trombonist and a puzzled looking cornet player who (fortunately for him) had been suffering severe sinus problems.

Onto the stage and it was time to show the audience and the adjudicator, Mr Malcolm Brownbill, why we were considered one of the pre-contest favourites.

12 minutes later and the job was done. It was a good, safe performance. In most players opinion it was ok – but, frustratingly, not nearly as good as we knew we could play it. Still, this was a very difficult piece and getting through largely unscathed would still leave us with a good chance. No use dwelling on it – we would not have another chance this year.

So, while some went to listen to the other bands and some went off to do a bit of shopping (guess which sex they were), for most it was off to the nearest pub.

The second band contest of the day was Carlton against Harborough on the pool table. Although Carlton put up a good fight we were always able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Smuggly we thought, ‘Yes, but I bet we’ll beat you in the contest that really matters’.

However, band rivalry was forgotten and we joined forces in the second ‘fight’ of the day. A pretty young member of Harborough was subject to unwelcome advances from one of the local toerags. Her father, another band member, asked the idiot to leave her alone. Things got a bit out of hand and at least one punch was thrown before the bar staff restored order.

We must look an imposing bunch as a couple of Harborough band came and meekly asked ‘When we go, can we leave with you please?”. Funny thing though is that they asked Stef !

With impeccable timing, we arrived back at the hall just in time to hear the sound that indicated the adjudicator had come to his decision and was ready to read the result. Expectation was high, but tempered by the fact that we knew we could have played better. Our resident experts, who had listened to all the bands, reckoned we were in the frame.

And so it turned out to be. A fantastic 3rd place out of 14 bands. There was a bit of disappointment that we were just one point away from a national finals place, but it really was a great result for the band, who are only into their 2nd year in this section.

Never mind. Our challenge will be even stronger next year and the result did secure our future in this section so it was a very good day’s work.
So back on the bus to Carlton with yet another trophy to add to our impressive collection. This time it was the North Midlands Area European Shield. (so we can now call ourselves European Champions)
The trip back was marred by a phone call informing us of the untimely death of a former member, trombonist Lorraine Briggs. Lorraine was fondly thought of by all members of the band and will be long remembered as one its true characters. Our deepest sympathy goes out to Lorraine ‘s family and friends.

Lorraine would have enjoyed our after-contest bash back at the Fox & Hounds, where we laughed about some of her old exploits. Lorraine faced many problems in her life but we know she got great enjoyment from her time in the band.

And enjoyment is what we all got out of our evening too. No silver cup to fill up with booze this time – a shield is not very good at holding beer. And some bandsmen are not very good at holding their beer either, if the ribald behaviour witnessed in the snug of the Fox was anything to go by.

The evening saw the third fight of the day and the the third contest of the day. Gloves were off in the struggle between Ray and Michelle to see who could pull each others shoes and socks off and who could stick wet fingers in each others ears. Also Brendan put up a very strong challenge to Simon in the production of noxious gasses competition.

Several impromptu committee meetings were held where a resolution was passed each time that authorised a round of drinks on the band. However the treasurer, who managed to stay sober, never actually got around to releasing the funds.

As closing time approached we made our way home full of apprehension that we would soon be facing the fourth fight of the day. Oh why oh why did I make that phone call home at half past four saying I’d be home in half an hour?

Anyway that’s it for another year. The pressure is off for a short while before a busy season of summer concerts and entertainment contests starts. If all goes well, this time next year the band should be booking a trip to the finals and riding high in the grading tables. On paper, next year’s challenge is only a small ask i.e. improve by 1 place. But, in Tony’s often repeated words, “That was good, but we’re better than that. Come on you buggers, Lets take it up another gear” (A bit of pool practice wouldn’t go amiss either).

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