Over the weekend of Saturday September 18th and Sunday September 19th, all of us at Eagley Band were really proud to be based at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel down in Cheltenham, having qualified for the 2021 National Brass Band Championship Finals of Great Britain through our excellent North West Area Blackpool result from February 2020 before the Covid pandemic lockdowns of the previous year.
The National Finals weather was scorching for much of the time and a brilliant weekend was enjoyed by all of us, with the opportunity to explore the excellent shops, parks, gardens, eateries and centre of Cheltenham (birthplace of Gustav Holst, composer of The Planets), the opportunity for another excellent band meal together on the Saturday evening, organised to perfection by Janet Walsh, and finally the opportunity to represent the North West in the Second Section of the National Brass Band Championship Finals of 2021 on the Sunday afternoon.
On the day of the contest, Sunday September 19th, everyone in the band was up bright and early and in breakfast by 8.30am. Having checked out of our rooms, we rehearsed in the hotel from 10.30am through to noon, and sounded superb. Our MD Chris was clearly thrilled with the tuning and the standard and the atmosphere within the band was brilliant. After a few, initial early morning nerves, the playing became relaxed and focused and the vibe within the band was electric as we awaited the draw for order of play to take place at 12.30pm.
Our Chair and Band Manager Deb Lyons attended the draw and we were allotted the number 7 for order of play, a really good draw except that it immediately followed the contest favourites who had drawn number 6, and so often this affects the final placings dramatically, as would be the case for us on this occasion regrettably.
We took to the stage at around 4.30pm and at the conclusion of our performance, led brilliantly as always by our Principal Cornet Lynsey Hayes, the audience applauded with considerable enthusiasm. At the half way stage, website Four Bars Rest had Eagley in 2nd place, narrowly behind the predicted winners, and we would remain in 2nd place for the rest of the contest until the very final band of the seventeen able to accept their qualifications and attend. Prior to the announcement of results, the 4BR correspondent had Eagley Band in 3rd Place, predicted to win the £500 prize and 3rd Place trophy. Very sadly for us, and inexplicably in a variety of ways, in the results ceremony at 9pm, Eagley Band wasn’t mentioned or featured in the top 6 placings at all and we were soon to discover that rather than finishing in 3rd place, we were placed third from the bottom, in 15th position. This was clearly a shock to everyone and a very unpleasant and unwelcome one, but that’s contesting! It is doubtful that anyone listening to all seventeen bands in the hall would have placed our performance anywhere near the wrong end of the seventeen or even close to the bottom half, but sadly the only opinions which matter thought so and did exactly that, and our long journey back up the M5 and M6 was a far less enjoyable one than the journey down had been.
Overall, our Cheltenham experience was a really positive and highly enjoyable one, barring the surprise result after the way in which we, and other bands, had played. Due to the imposed national lockdowns, we hadn’t performed together as a full band in public since the Winter Gardens in February 2020 (Blackpool Areas) and after almost twenty months without performing under the pressure of an audience and nerves, everyone gave everything they had on stage. To have achieved such a performance in a matter of weeks from being allowed back to play was a great triumph and a huge thrill for everyone involved to experience.