Warrington - 18th July 2010 - Show Report

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Report by Andy Hewlett

The sky was dark and grey as I arrived at Warrington's Victoria Park, but this wasn't going to detract from what promised to be the biggest DCUK show for some years with 13 corps in competition. As I walked across the car park there was a real buzz of excitement as the corps were warming up and I knew that even if it rained, we were in for a great day of drum corps.

The first corps on were the Kidsgrove Scouts Juniors who were the one competitor in Junior Class. This young group wear the same uniform as their older counterparts and really are a miniature version of Kidsgrove Scouts, who they did proud with a confident performance. I particularly enjoyed the trumpet trio in 'Bolero' which was enhanced by a solo snare drummer and guard sabre. It was also great to see members of Kidsgrove's Open Class corps up in the stand supporting their junior counterparts. 

Open Class got underway with special guests from Ireland, the Boyle Marching Band, who really provided something completely different for British drum corps fans with their tradition Irish line up of accordions and tin whistles. Boyle presented an Abba tribute show with favourites such as 'Money, Money, Money' and 'Fernando' which was enhanced with the percussion section dressing in outlandish 70s costumes and suitable scenery back field. Boyle also included a young but capable guard who finished the show by running through a banner entitled 'Abba tribute' to great applause from an appreciative audience.

Despite this I was left wondering if it would have been fairer to have given Boyle an exhibition spot rather than to put them into competition, as their instrumentation clearly put them at a competitive disadvantage in a drum corps show. However I found out later that Boyle had competed at their own request and that they had all had a very enjoyable day.

37th Kingswood Scouts entered the field looking slightly smaller and younger than usual giving me the impression that they maybe going through a rebuilding phase. Their show was entitled 'The Olympic Games – The Race to the Finish' and this image was conveyed well with the guard wearing athletes costumes and starting the show in a crouched position. The opening number showed that Kingswood's show was a demanding one, both musically and visually and I was impressed by the difficult tempos and timings, especially when the brass marched at different tempos and then came back together.

A strong percussion section handled a demanding book well and I enjoyed Eye of the Tiger which had the guard boxing each other. But I was left with the feeling that the show may be slightly over ambitious given the age profile of this years corps. However with the experienced staff 37th have, they could still be on for a top 8 finish at DCUK finals.

6th Hove Scouts had won the BYBA Aldershot contest in June and I was keen to see how they had progressed since then. I wasn't disappointed as they opened with Mike Oldfields Tubular Bells, using the tubular bells in the pit to great effect. The inclusion of a Guard this season has really added to Hove's already strong visual programme and as usual I was impressed with their marching technique and deportment which they maintained throughout the show.

The show entitled Angels vs Demons featured music used in films about the supernatural and the corps created the light and dark moments well. O Fortuna worked well as a closer and featured a strong lower brass section which was visually enhanced by the guard on strong red flags.

Trinity looked big and impressive as they took the field, which they brought alive with a roulette wheal, gambling tables and dice giving a real casino feel to their show. Trinity were the only group today, other than Boyle, using woodwinds which they did to good effect, particularly in their opener Big Spender which contained some complicated passages and tricky tempos. The battery percussion section came to the front for the drum feature whilst a large guard section performed with “fruit machine” motif flags to great effect.

The roulette wheel was spun to the shout of “Place your bets – 16 red” to which the corps shouted “ohhhh” and after clearly loosing the bet went into Frank Sinatra's That's Life which featured a good trumpet solo. A further spin of the wheal resulted in a win as the corps played an entertaining version of Sing, Sing, Sing which lead to a strong ending of an excellent theme show.

Home town favourites Cheshire Cadets opened to a mallet intro with the brass facing back field as they built to a strong opening hit to the music of Swan Lake. The guard performed with two white flags each which enhanced the mood and the solid mallet section performed well throughout the show.

The brass line featured a strong mid voice section as well as the individual talents of a Conta soloist and a well executed Septet. Cheshire Cadets are the latest in a long line of Warrington corps and I am sure that we will see much more of this corps in the years to come.

Poynton Commodores set the scene for their show “Communication” with the Daily Bugle newspaper as scenery and began in a huddle in the middle of the field. Opening to Billy Joel's The Stranger, Poynton demonstrated a small but powerful horn line and a good soprano soloist. Fascinating Rhythm got an enthusiastic reaction from the crowd before the mood softened and the trumpets performed with mutes in That Old Devil Called Love.

The show climaxed in a rousing ending with the horns down the front, right behind the pit which again went down well with the crowd. Yet again Poynton have shown what a small determined corps can do. Hopefully they can rebuild their guard numbers from a solo member which no doubt hurt them in the visual captions.

I was particularly looking forward to seeing Spirit of Coventry as I had not seen this relatively new corps before, who appeared in smart, modern blue and white uniforms with black slouch hats. Presenting a show of the ever popular Music of Lennon and McCartney, Spirit opened with Imagine which built nicely from the mallets, through the mellophones to the sopranos to a big hit before moving into Eleanor Rigby.

The battery percussion section began the show with 6 snares, before the 3 younger players moved on to cymbals who really added to the effect in the percussion feature, whilst the guard performed in a striking pink costume and danced alongside the horn line. Norwegian Wood proved an entertaining piece before the corps closed with a reprise of Imagine and a “down ending”. This clearly worked well as you could have heard a pin drop as the show finish in absolute silence before loud applause broke out. This young corps has bags of potential and are defiantly one to watch for the future.

Pacemakers performed later than scheduled due to transport problems, but thankfully arrived safely to take their place on the field to present a show entitled Back for Good, the music of pop group Take That. Let it Shine featured some good soloists before the recently reformed guard section performed with fire motif flags in Relight My Fire. 

A percussion feature saw the brass line dance before the battery section moved into the pit and came out with guard equipment for the ballad number Patience. A Contra solo introduced an interesting arrangement of Shine which saw the melody move smoothly across the various sections of the brass line before building to an effective company front hit. After some years Pacemakers are back where they belong in the top classes of both DCUK and BYBA and I am sure it won't be long before they are pushing for honours again.

A fast moving start and a large, strong guard made a very clear statement that Black Knights had made a huge improvement since Aldershot. O Fortuna opened the show before Knights moved into Stings, An English Man in New York. A well written percussion book was ably played by a capable line with a particularly effective bass drum section.

An up-tempo jazz piece featured some great visual effects and the guard performed on sabres with their usual precision. A change of mood into a ballad saw the battery move to the back whilst the pit accompanied the brass and the guard performed with double yellow flags, before changing to very effective red, yellow, blue and green _ flags for the closer. Another strong ending with some tricky mellophone runs had the audience on it's feet, proving yet again the BK are real crowd pleasers.

Staffordshire Knights set up with the guard in eye catching red and white uniforms with yellow flags which made a real contrast to the black and white of the corps uniforms. As is their custom, Knights presented a show of classical music starting with the opening movement of New World Symphony, conducted by a very familiar face to most British fans on the box, Jason Oates.

The second piece was well controlled by the brass line and a sympathetic battery percussion section, before they came forward for the percussion feature. I was particular impressed by Knights experienced lower brass section including two strong contras, whilst visually the corps formed a large X on the field which rotated before the battery came down the front for a great finish complete with rifle toss from the guard. Every year Staffordshire Knights make steady, solid progress and 2010 sees their best to date.

Now came the chance to see the corps that everyone seemed to be talking about. THE COMPANY Performance Ensemble, to give them their full name, are a new corps this season from Barnsley in Yorkshire, containing a number of members and staff from the former Northern Star corps which has folded. They looked smart as they lined up in all black uniforms with light blue trim and black shakos. Only the purple of the guard's trousers provided any contrast and really made them stand out.

The show is untitled Expect the Unexpected and as the corps opened with Sting's Seven Days, I soon realised that was to be a higher quality show than anything we had seen previously. An effective wind chime intro from the pit saw two large circles of brass and percussion revolve opposite ways around the guard who were in the middle. A mid range brass feature produced a clear quality sound from a well tuned horn line whilst the guard performed on bright pink flags. As they moved into Bernstein's Candide, The Company performed some intricate drill moves whilst maintaining the high quality of the music before going into a well arranged Michael Jackson Medley demonstrating good use of dynamics as the guard performed with sabres.

Despite the name of the show, I was still caught by surprise when The Company began their closer with the opening strains of the 1812 Overture and then moved into William Tell featuring an excellent drum line and fabulous pit. The corps were making good use of the field going right out to the edges and then suddenly, the show was over with the Drum Major saluting from down on the track. Not sure if there is another section to go on the end, or if it was an “unexpected” ending! Either way it was a great show and I cant wait to see it again.

There was a tangible sense of excitement in the stadium as the final corps of the day, Kidsgrove Scouts took the field looking big and ready for business. As they warmed up, the quality of the brass was already noticeable and given a rich deep sound from seven contras. A wood block intro got the Scouts underway and the lower brass were again impressive as the corps built to a strong hit which they blew the stand away. The impact, with the guard on red flags, had the crowd on it's feet and I knew we had a contest on.

The second piece saw the brass play backfield whilst the guard dressed in “hoodies” climbed through what looked like laser beams stretched between the battery percussion to an excellent bass drum run. Good dynamic effect by the brass and a siren from the pit worked well as the James Bond theme appeared before a mood change leading to an effective company front. A jazz feel came over well in Pink Panther as the guard performed in orange tops and flags before the brass went back field to turn and again blow the crowd away with another tremendous company front. 

Kidsgrove now prepare for the forthcoming DCA tour where I am sure they will be well received. But as the scouts left the field with the crowd wanting more, thoughts turned to the results. People I spoke to were divided equally on who would win between Kidsgrove and The Company, but one thing they were agreed on was that it would be close. I felt that Kidsgrove had probably just edged it but as usual I was wrong with The Company taking first place by just over a point.

A thoroughly enjoyable day at a well run contest, which has now become a victim of it's own success and probably needs a bigger venue for next year. With a number of corps still to enter the mix including the legendary Dagenham Crusaders, who are back in competition this season, it promises to be the best DCUK Finals in years before England's finest meet their European counterparts at DCE Finals. Make sure you're there.

30th August 2010



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