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Promotion in Blackpool

18 May 2024

Grace Hancock, Solo Trombone for Wantage Band, reports on a successful trip to Blackpool

Last weekend, Wantage Band once again made their yearly trip up to sunny Blackpool to compete in the 102nd Annual Spring Festival. This is a major contest which, this year, saw fifty-seven bands from all over the country compete against each other across three sections. We competed in the middle section, the Senior Cup, playing ‘The New Jerusalem’, Philip Wilby’s formidable 1992 work. The New Jerusalem is an unusual test piece, biblical in theme and monumental in the sounds the band has to create. It features repeated offstage cornet solos, representing the ‘voice of God’. The band’s very own voice of God was our talented cornet player Edmund Tyler.

Our Preparations

Being a band from the London and Southern Counties, there’s not a long gap between the Area contest in March and Blackpool in May. We also had our busy concert schedule to keep up with, hosting our Friends and Patrons Concert in April, which was a challenging programme for the band. As a result we had only three weeks to knuckle down and get to grips with a daunting test piece. Our MD, Chris, was in Palanga for the European Championships a week before the contest, meaning the band went almost a week without rehearsing the test piece. Still, we pushed ourselves in our final few rehearsals and reached the weekend of the contest feeling confident and ready to perform.

Journey to Blackpool

Most of the band chose to travel by coach for the weekend, so we met at midday on Friday at the bandhall to make the journey up. Bogged down by traffic much of the way, we didn’t reach Blackpool until 7pm and time for our evening rehearsal. We were very grateful to Thornton Cleveleys Band for allowing us to use their bandhall on the night before and day of the contest. Wilby’s dramatic and often very loud test piece felt totally different in the new acoustic, and many of the band left rehearsal with their ears ringing! We then went back to our hotel and enjoyed a drink or two, keeping in mind our conductor’s warnings to be sensible!

Contest Day

Thankfully, a second-half draw meant the band could have a bit of a lie in, and most grasped this opportunity! The band took advantage of the hotel breakfast buffet before heading back to Thornton Cleveleys for another rehearsal. We shook off the pre-contest nerves and got any potential mishaps out of our system, including the ‘voice of God’ forgetting to oil his valves! We then headed back to the hotel to await the draw and get changed into our contest finery. Being drawn fourteenth meant we had plenty of time to get to the venue and prepare for our performance before being called to registration.

This year, the Senior Cup was held in the Pavilion Theatre, which was an unfamiliar environment for the band. We sat through the disconcerting experience of hearing the entire performance of the band before us, before it was our turn to go on. Winter Gardens, where the event was held, is a historic building with lots of glass roofing, and an unseasonably warm day meant the entire venue was very hot. It made for challenging conditions in which to perform, along with the fact that the adjudicators’ box was only metres from the band. Nevertheless, the band played very well, especially Edmund as soloist, and we left the stage feeling proud of our performance.


It was soon time for the results ceremony. Although we felt optimistic, contesting is subjective and we knew we couldn’t be too confident. It was an anxious wait as 4th and 3rd places were announced for our section, as we knew only the bands placed in the top four would be promoted to the highest section at Blackpool, the Grand Shield. It made it all the more exhilarating when we were announced in second place! We were also happy to see strong results for other bands in the region, with Amersham 1st in our section, Haverhill 3rd in the Senior Trophy and Friary 4th in the Grand Shield. The band was thrilled with this result, and the celebrations began immediately by taking a trip to the nearest chip shop, before most headed on to Wetherspoons! Band members took the opportunity to celebrate our result together and meet up with friends old and new. 

Our performance at Blackpool was the latest in a series of strong results for the band. We are now ranked in the top twenty bands in the world, the highest Wantage Band has ever placed, and we are going from strength to strength. We look forward to our busy schedule of concerts this summer, and beyond that, more contesting in the autumn. We are very excited to see what awaits us in the Grand Shield next year!

Grace Hancock

Solo Trombone, Wantage Band

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