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Cossacks, Wizards and Bridesmaids- Blackburn Darwen Hymn and March Contest 2019

Last weekend I had the pleasure of being asked to dep for two bands at the Blackburn and Darwen Hymn and March contest. Before I get into the weekend’s shenanigans, I have to say that it was one of the most organised contests, I’ve ever taken part in. I can’t imagine that running such an event is easy, but the day ran so smoothly. Everyone involved in the organisation of the contest should be incredibly proud of what was achieved on Sunday.

A Very Important Question

So, this was my first time taking part in the competition and despite the weather, it was an enjoyable experience. On the previous day it had been cracking the flags with glorious sunshine and not a cloud in the sky. True to contest tradition, I stayed with the other two of the Three Musketeers- Natalie and Daffodil (Matt). Now, I was already chuffed to be asked to play with Freckleton (whom Daffodil conducts) as they’re a lovely bunch, but I was asked another question that afternoon which was far more important. Not too long ago on a cruise ship that was coming into port in New York, Daffodil asked Natalie to marry him (aww!). So, on Saturday afternoon, it was a lovely surprise to be asked to be a bridesmaid at, what is going to be, the wedding of the millennium. There is also another very exciting role I have the privilege to do during the ceremony, which I may talk about after the event, but that’s very hush, hush for now- exciting times! I don’t think you can start a contest weekend any better than that!

A post shared by Liv Appleton (@liv.appleton) on Sep 21, 2019 at 9:57am PDT

After the glorious sunshine on Saturday, the rain that had been predicted for the Sunday seemed like an impossible event. However, I woke up on Sunday morning to grey skies, grumpy looking clouds and rain…lots of rain, which is just what you want when you’re spending an entire afternoon outside. I may have indulged in one too many celebratory gins on the Saturday night (I mean, when your two banding besties are getting married, I don’t think there is a better time to have a few too many gins to celebrate…and it was colour changing gin- I was fascinated by it…) so my mood pretty much reflected the weather- grey and grumpy with a rather thunderous headache. Thankfully the contest only began in the afternoon, so I had a much needed lie-in. After a couple of coffees, many pancakes with Nutella and a cold shower, I was feeling a little more human- although not looking forward to spending all day in the rain. Uniform on, instruments packed, the Three Banding Musketeers set off for Blackburn and Darwen.

The geekiest hoodie known to man

Slippery Shoes and a Forgotten Flugel

There is something lovely about walking into a town centre and hearing a brass band in the distance. We had a bit of time before our slot, which was spent listening to other competitors and the fantastic compering of Daniel Thomas (someone should really give that lad a presenting job on ITV or something) as well as chatting to friends who were also at the contest. Eventually it was Freckleton’s turn to warm up in the rehearsal room. This was one feature of the contest that I really appreciated. Having the chance to warm up (both musically and physically- it was blummin’ cold!) before competing, I thought, was a brilliant idea. The members of B&D and who were managing the rehearsal spaces, so everyone had a slot to warm-up/rehearse were beyond efficient- simply fantastic.

Credit: Blackburn and Darwen Band Facebook

It’s worth noting that although my band shoes look very smart they’re not the most practical for marching…especially on slippery flags when it has been raining. In short they have about as much grip as wearing a pack of Lurpak on your feet. Let’s just say I’m glad that the Repiano part didn’t have a lot to play in our excerpt of ‘Army of the Nile’ for the march down, as trying to march and avoid falling head over heels was probably the hardest challenge of the whole competition for me. Thankfully the rain managed to hold off as Freckleton performed their choices of Deep Harmony and The Wizard, both of which, in my opinion, were distinguished performances with excellent solo contributions.

Ready to march. Credit: Blackburn and Darwen Band Facebook

Freckleton Band competing at Blackburn and Darwen Hymn and March Contest. Credit: Blackburn and Darwen Band Facebook

Contest one of two down, it was suggested that we have a drink before the next contest slot, where the Three Musketeers would be depping for Thornton Cleveleys Band. Off I trotted towards Blackburn and Darwen’s bandroom (I personally think all bandrooms should come with a bar- playing is thirsty work!) with my cornet in my hand and with the enthusiasm of Bilbo Baggins heading off on his adventure in the Hobbit (except I was in search of Strongbow rather than a magic ring). I’d forgotten one vital thing in my quest for a pint. I wasn’t playing cornet with Thornton, I was playing Flugel…which was sat in Natalie’s car…in the car park… which was in the completely opposite direction of where I was currently skipping off to. Luckily Natalie is used to dealing with my utter buffoonery and called over the road to me:

‘You won’t be needing your flugel then, Liv?’

Realising my error, I came running back up the road, much to the amusement of the banders who were standing on the steps of the pub opposite the contest venue and who had just seen me skip down the road only to frantically run back up it again. What a plonker.

Flugel retrieved, it was time to enter the rehearsal room once more, this time with Thornton Cleveleys. After a quick rehearsal, I managed to do another march down without slipping and sliding like Bambi on ice. Thornton’s hymn choice was Love Unknown, a popular choice at this type of contest and it’s easy to see why- it’s a beautiful piece…and has a rather lovely flugel part- happy Liv! The march was The Cossack, an intimidating sounding march, which is the signature Whit Friday march for Foden’s Band. Again, I was lucky to be a part of another fantastic performance and came away from the ‘stage’ with a smile on my face.

Thornton Cleveleys at Blackburn and Darwen Hymn and March Contest Credit: Blackburn and Darwen Band Facebook


There is something novel about sitting on a bench in the middle of a town centre, supping a pint and waiting for a set of brass band results. Thornton took the Best Third section prize, which was a lovely little bonus to the day. Freckleton came a respectable 12th out of twenty two bands. Although it wasn’t a podium finish, it was a performance I was incredibly proud of. Maybe the adjudicator just didn’t like wizards. Maybe he had a bad experience with one of those children’s entertainer magicians as a small child- a balloon animal popped in his face or the magician accidentally hit him with the wand and just the mention of magical people sent him running.

Third Section Winners- Thornton Cleveleys Credit: Blackburn and Darwen Band Facebook

I would just like to point out that this is a joke before anybody thinks I’m seriously suggesting that our placing was down to the adjudicator being afraid of wizards (or as it’s known in the medical profession- Dumbledoraphobia). I do have every respect for adjudicators. You wouldn’t think I’d have to make this disclaimer, but it seems that attempts at humour are sometimes lost on some individuals, so before I receive the hate mail from people threatening to hit me with a harmon mute- calm down dear, it’s only a joke.

Moving on.

At the end of the day, regardless of results, I can safely say I had a blummin’ marvellous day. Congratulations to the prize winners. Thank you to both Freckleton and Thornton Cleveleys band for putting up with me for the day and well done to Blackburn and Darwen Band for a superb contest. I will definitely be back next year!

Two of the Three Musketeers

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