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Music Fills the Square Again - Blackburn and Darwen Hymn & MArch Contest

I can't quite put into words how amazing it felt to be back on a contest stage again!

Before I go any further I have to say thank you to Blackburn & Darwen Band for the fantastic organisation of their March and Hymn Tune Contest at the weekend.

It was an incredible day from start to finish and I'm so grateful, not just for the chance to compete, but to have an opportunity to stand and listen to loads of amazing performances.

There was so much about contesting that I forgot I missed - the atmosphere, getting to stand with friends and have a chat over a pint and listening to other performances - I've missed it so much!

I competed with the Freckleton Band, who chose to play Knight Templar and a fantastic arrangement of Abide With Me by Matt Shaw (or Daffodil as he's known on the blog!). I really would give it a listen, it's a real gem to both listen to and to play.

I always used to hate playing outside, but due to the pandemic, it's not quite as offputting as it once was and due to what happened on the last rehearsal before the contest, I knew I was prepared for anything nature could throw at me!

With Covid still doing the rounds, we kept the doors open during rehearsal which is great for keeping the room ventilated, but lights and open doors are clearly an invitation for the cast of 'A Bugs Life' to float in and join in with the rehearsals.

Now anyone who knows me knows that I don't like things with more than 4 legs and wings - so trying not to be distracted by the fluttery entourage that invited themselves in was quite the task!

I just about coped with the daddy-long-legs, but I made the mistake of noticing what I thought was a small bird flutter its way into the band room and hover above the trombone section.

To the horror of both me and Freckleton's Assistant Principal, Charlotte, we discovered it was in fact a moth the size of a sparrow - we weren't thrilled, but we did our best to ignore the gigantic, flying beast.

So yes, by the time contest day arrived, I think it was safe to say that we were ready for whatever Mother Nature tried to put in our way.


Contest Day

When I awoke on contest morning, I felt that feeling I hadn't felt in a while - nerves.

Sounds weird, but I've missed this feeling.

I don't know about you, but contest nerves are very different from concert nerves.

I was incredibly excited to play in a competitive setting, but even more excited to finally talk to other banders - many of whom I haven't seen since before the pandemic and some I hadn't seen for years!

As we stood ready to march down, I felt that rush of adrenaline and I wanted to make sure I remembered every second of this performance.

We marched down to 'Army of the Nile' - a strident entry into the contest arena and it was brilliant to hear the sound of a band ricochet around the square as we paced towards the contest stage.

As we charged into 'Knight Templar', I couldn't quite believe that we were here.

After everything we've been through over the last 18 months, there was a time when I thought it would be an age before contests of any kind would be back and when Freckleton signed up to Blackburn & Darwen, I did fret that Covid-19 would swoop in and ruin the chances of it going ahead.

Thank heavens Covid didn't spoil the party!

As we played Matt's arrangement of 'Abide with Me', I will admit that there were tears that needed to be held back.

It was a really poignant moment, again after everything we have been through as a community, and this arrangement was the perfect soundtrack to Freckleton's return to the contest stage.

I was honoured to have been a part of that performance, I'm grateful to Freckleton and Matt for having me back and letting me be a part of it and I hope they were proud of their performance because it was great.

And this isn't just me being biased, the adjudicator, Sheona White, clearly enjoyed the performance too, as she placed us 2nd in the First Section and 6th overall!

Not a bad day at the office!

I also have to extend my congratulations to the Hebden Bridge Band, who were the winning band on the day!

Your hymn in particular was so stunning it brought me to tears!

Granted crying into a pint in the middle of a town square is a little embarrassing, but the sound Hebden Bridge produced throughout their performance was nothing short of divine!


Marathon Catch-Up

I have to say my favourite part of the day came after the playing was done.

I have truly missed the social aspect of contesting, it's just fantastic and these are the memories you hold dear, long after contest day.

From this point on, I think all contests should come with a craft beer tent - this idea was inspired!

Although many players stayed around to support the bands playing anyway, I think the beer tent was a great incentive to prevent players from hot-footing it to the nearest pub and missing out on some truly sublime playing and a great chance to catch-up with old banding friends and also make some new ones!

It was just lovely standing around listening to bands performing and having a good old natter with bandspeople I haven't seen before the pandemic - some I hadn't seen for a few years, it was fab!

Also the 'I Can't Believe it's Not-Ella' beer from Glen Affric Brewery that I had the pleasure of trying (potentially more than one can of) was absolutely awesome and I would totally recommend if beer and a particular brand of chocolate-hazelnut spread are two of your favourite things in life - simply lush!

All in all, it was a super day and a great return to the contest stage!

Thanks again to everyone at Blackburn and Darwen for a simply superb event - long may it continue!


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