That Great Day

It was Saturday, 8th September 1990 and Sun Life Band, along with 17 others, were bidding for glory in the 138th British Open Championships in Manchester's Free Trade Hall. Formed in 1968 as Stanshawe, the band comprised a group of mainly West Country players, dedicated to proving they could hold their own with the best bands in the land, and had already twice come within a whisker of lifting the coveted title. For me, personally, the British Open had become an annual challenge. I'd led Black Dyke to victory twice (1973 and 1974), beaten them with a winning performance from Besses in 1982 and beaten both of them with Faireys five years later. The 1990 challenge was to see if, with the help of Sun Life, I could go one further and beat them all.

The test piece was certainly to my liking, and one which I knew well. It was Lalo's overture, Le Roi d'Ys, known to bandsmen of my generation through a memorable performance given by Black Dyke at the Nationals in the Royal Albert Hall in 1959 under Major George Willcocks. I confess to being not a little influenced by Willcocks's interpretation, and was therefore inspired by the memory of that great performance. Rehearsals in Bristol had gone well, and with players of the calibre of Paul Richardson, Lyndon Baglin, Steve Walkley, Ian Dickinson, Graeme Lewis and Geoff Colmer in the team - all on key parts, I was surrounded by a wealth of experience. Nor must I forget the support of Resident Conductor, Bryan Hurdley.

The band stayed in Manchester overnight, and had an early morning rehearsal in Walkden Band bandroom - a few miles from the city centre. When we heard the draw - we'd picked up the unlucky (for some) No. 13 spot - we knew we could have a leisurely morning and return to Walkden (known locally as Wogden) for a last minute warm-up. Of course, if there's anything that hasn't been done by this time it's getting a bit late. We played through a few hymn tunes, and tightened up the final section so as to ensure leaving a good impression with the adjudicators (Albert Chappell, David Read and Bill Relton). I'm always reluctant to put soloists under pressure at this stage because of the possibility of clipped notes undermining their confidence. However, Ian Dickinson had quite an important flugel solo and I offered him the opportunity to run through it if he wished. He asked if we could just try the beginning - which we did, successfully. On asking Lyndon if he would also like to try the first few bars of the notorious euphonium solo he said he'd actually prefer to try it all. 'Save one', I remember saying to him. 'Save one', he replied, 'I haven't bloodywell found one yet!' Needless to say, he found one on stage. In fact, the whole band was on song, and it came as no surprise to the audience when Sun Life were declared the new British Open Champions - with a performance which gained 197 points.

It wasn't over yet, though. We had to return to the platform to record an on-the-spot 'Listen to the Band' programme. I knew from experience that this was never easy - with the excitement of the last half-hour, the added responsibility of carrying the prestigious title, and suddenly a potential audience of around half a million. For the second time in half a day, the band had its dressing-room tactical talk from me, at which I tried to settle the players down and prepare them for the ordeal ahead. If I did have any fears, they were totally unfounded, as this proved to be one of the most exhilarating broadcasts I've ever been involved in. Bryan did the opening honours, with Strike up the Band and, appropriately, Langford's West Country Fantasy - celebrating the first ever British Open title going to the West Country (and still a unique result, even in 1999). The band was already proving its right to the title; I was introduced, and we were into a scintillating performance of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro overture. Following a Walkley special, All I Ask of You - trombone playing at its best - and the Clog Dance, the actual winning performance of Le Roi d'Ys was inserted for the broadcast, and we closed with the march Honest Toil, symbolic of Sun Life's rise to what was to be the pinnacle of its woefully short life. These are my memories of one of the most wonderful days in my banding life; I hope they will revive happy memories for others - especially those involved in that great day.

Roy Newsome, 1999

YOUTUBE Thanks to this site for providing the vehicle for capturing, just a little, of the feelings of that great day. Just click on the arrow in the centre of the panel below. 

Ys - where is it? The story of Ys is no different to that of Atlantis - a fabled city lost to the sea with its location unknown. However, on the French Atlantic coast in the Bay of Biscay, between La Rochelle & Rochefort lies the town of Chatelaillon-Plage. Close to this quiet town are vast oyster farms which stretch along the coast line. Here we can also see in the shallow waters an ancient subterranean city some believe to be Ys.