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Oh Hells Bells! | North West Regionals 2024

A Day of Ducks, Sheep, Penguins, a Pterodactyl and Accidental Manifestations

How on earth are we into the swing of Regional Brass Band Championships already?! It doesn’t seem 5 minutes since we were playing Jingle Bells!

Although February has been non-stop with Regionals prep, it’s been a little while since I last enjoyed the run up and taking part in a contest as much as I have with the Regionals this year. It’s also been a little while since I last played off a number one draw, which I feel I may have played a part in causing…

Going Back in Time

Just in case anyone wasn’t sure (or is actually interested) - I’ve moved to Rainford Band. It wasn’t a secret or anything - I guess I just didn't want to make an announcement that sounded like I assumed everyone was waiting with baited breath to see where I’d moved to, like football fans on transfer deadline day.

When I ended up opening quite a few messages during the morning of the contest and bumped into friends who all said ‘I didn’t realise you had moved bands!’ or ‘since when did you play for Rainford?!’, I realised that I maybe should have said something. So, there we are.

This is the first time in 4 years that myself and my other half, Rob, have competed in separate bands in general, but this was made even more interesting with the fact that we were competing against each other in the same section. With rehearsal times not matching up on contest morning, there were some logistics to be figured out, and it made more sense for me to stay with my parents, the night before the contest (as they live near Rainford) and to go up with the band on the coach in the morning. The last time I woke up in my parents’ house on a contest morning, I wasn’t long out of my teenage years, so I did feel like I had been transported back in time. However, what happened when I woke up aged me about 10 years, through panic.

Contest Morning

When setting my alarm, the night before, I thought it would be a motivating start to the day if I changed my alarm sound to Kenny Loggins’ ‘Danger Zone’ from Top Gun. You know how boxers listen to motivating music to pump them up before a fight? I thought this would have the same effect.

It didn’t.

I was dead to the world when it blasted right next to my ear and frightened the living daylights out of me; causing me to jump about three feet in the air. Coupled with the fleeting confusion of waking up in my mum and dad’s house rather than my own and the cold, wet nose of my mum and dad’s cocker spaniel, Monty, being pressed against my face with over-excited zeal, the only thing that was in the ‘danger zone’ was my heart rate.

After a brew was supped and walking out uniform was donned, it was time to make my way to the bandroom. Again, being dropped off at the band coach by my mum and dad took me back in time to competing at the area as a teenager!

After meeting up with my band bestie, Natalie, and being handed my cornet by my other band bestie, Matt (also known as Daff - if you know, you know)...

…wait, I’ve skipped a chapter.

Why was Matt carrying my cornet, I hear you ask?

Well, dear reader, it was because I’m an idiot. The afternoon before, we had popped to the pub after rehearsal and not wanting to bring my cornet into the pub, I thought I would leave it in Natalie’s car. I then proceeded to waltz off home…leaving said cornet in Natalie’s car. Good job we play in the same band. What an absolute buffoon. Can’t even blame it on the pints, I only had two!


The trip to Blackpool flew by, thanks to a band quiz, which was great fun. In the words of many bands over the course of the weekend. The team made up of myself and our lovely bass player, Mark, gained a respectable 15 out of 20 points. After a quick round of ‘guess the tune’, a game that has become a firm favourite from the band’s trip to the Scottish Open last year, we found ourselves in the, surprisingly sunny, seaside town. Once we arrived it was time for a rehearsal, as we awaited the draw.

My Life is a Sitcom

Those of you who follow the blog’s social media will have seen the daft videos I’ve been posting recently. The day before the contest, I had (what I thought was) a funny idea for a video, surrounding the dread some bandspeople (myself included) feel around drawing number one to play at a contest. It involved a scene from Only Fools and Horses, with Del Boy saying ‘Oh hells, bloody bells.’ See below for reference.

So, when we were told that we had drawn number one, I laughed thinking we were being messed with. That laugh turned, very quickly, into a similar reaction to Del Boy in the video when I realised that we had actually drawn number one. This was followed up by a line uttered by a character from another classic sitcom, Victor Meldrew - “I don’t believe it!”. It would appear that my feeble attempt at humour was an accidental manifestation of a number one draw - that’ll teach me. If my life was being viewed by a studio audience, they would have been wetting themselves - oh hells bloody bells indeed.

Variations on Waiting

Before I go on, I do have to say a big thank you to all the volunteers and stewards who make these events possible. I know we banders take the mick about waiting around to play, but I am grateful for those who give up their weekends to run band contests. Despite my humour, I do appreciate that the running of a contest as big as the Regionals is a huge task - so, thank you!

The one perk of being drawn number one? Not having to wait around for too long to play, right? Wrong. There had been a bit of a delay from the previous section, as there usually is at these types of contests due to the number of bands attending. As such, the run up to us taking to the stage was a variation on a theme of waiting:

Variation One took place in our little corner of the changing room - I spent most of this triple checking that I had everything - mutes and music in one hand, cornet in the other, jacket on, glasses on face - check, check, check.

Variation Two took place on the stairs going out of the changing room. This is where we had a nice little group photo and myself and our Soprano Cornet, Darren, compared our lucky charms we keep in our pockets to take on stage - mine’s a penguin, whereas Darren had the more exotic choice of a bright pink pterodactyl.

Variation Three was in the little vestibule outside of the stage door. This turned into an opportunity for some selfies, but a few of our team nearly dropped off on a bench, whilst we waited.

Finally, it was time to take to the stage.

It’s Showtime!

In our bandroom, attached to the wall, above our conductor’s head, there is a little platform where a single rubber duck sits, overlooking our rehearsals. As a band, we have grown quite attached to this rubber duck, as when we moved the band room round the day before the contest, we moved the duck, so he was still supervising the rehearsal from ‘on high’. We’ve called him Steve.

Well, Steve is now a member of the band - obviously, we will seek out to complete the relevant registration and issue him with a card as soon as we can. Although not competing in a playing position within the band (wouldn’t want to risk performing with an unregistered player), he did join us on stage for moral support during our performance.

When the initial nerves subsided, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of our performance on Sunday. As a band we're lucky to have a plethora of soloists around the stand who, without question, smashed it out of the park on Sunday. I would have given every single one of them a soloist prize. Every single player worked so hard on that performance and it was a privilege to be a part of.

Feeling Sheepish

One interesting part of my day occured when me and Rob were walking from the car park to the Winter Gardens, before Wingates’ performance and bumping into a few members from Flixton Band. After a brief catch-up I was handed a very interesting gift. A peg with a sheep attached to it and the words ‘#highpeaksheep’ emblazoned on the peg.

The aim was to distribute as many of these sheep as possible during the day and see how far they travelled. The purpose of this challenge or what sheep have to do with High Peak is still a mystery, but I do intend to find out! I did consider passing it on, in order to take part in the challenge, but in the end I couldn't part with my sheep, he was far too cute, so I think I'll let him take up permanent residence on my practice stand.

On the Sidelines

It's very rare that I get to listen to Rob from the audience. I always seem to be a part of a 2 for 1 deal when it comes to depping, so try as I might, I always end up listening to him from within the band. Sunday was different. For the first time, I was watching from the sidelines.

Now, Rob is very similar to me in the fact that he is a very self-critical person and sitting on the Sop seat, I would be able to see very clearly whether he was happy or not with his performance. His part wasn't easy and although I had every confidence he would smash it, I couldn't help but be a little bit nervous, as Wingates Band took to the stage. It's not a short journey home from Blackpool and if he didn't play up to the standards he sets for himself, it was about to get a whole lot longer! Unsurprisingly, he played a blinder and was happy with his performance - phew! A 6th place for Wingates Band was a nice bonus for him too - well done to everyone at Wingates for that result!

Worth More than Trophies

As for our results, 9th place wasn't what we hoped for, but that’s contesting for you. What I took away from Sunday was worth more than a trophy. Yep, I can see you rolling your eyes saying, “you wouldn't be saying that if you’d won a trophy”. And that, dear reader, is where you would be wrong. I would still have said this:

“Being a part of Rainford Band on Sunday reminded me of why I love banding, from having a laugh on the coach to performing to chatting over a pint in the bar afterwards. It’s what the experience of being in a band should be,and that means more than a trophy.”

The only difference to that statement would be the addition of: “This trophy is nice though! Wahoo!”

Ah well, you can't have it all!

All in all, it was a lovely day out and I had a great time playing, catching up with friends and spending time with my band mates. Next stop, Brussels Requiem in May.

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