What’s on my iPod No. 4

With the Regional contesting season back with us – starting today in Blackpool with the North West Areas – I’ve been listening to what, for me, is one of the best years for regional test pieces. 

In 2008 I dropped for the Band of the Cheshire Constabulary in the 4th section where the piece was the charming Four Cities Symphony. It was fun, tuneful and playable; a great choice for band and audience alike. In contrast, the 3rd section item, The Dark Side of the Moon, was an audience friendly price but, at twelve minutes long, was not quite so playable by bands of that section. 

I’m not a huge fan of the second section piece from that year so, in all honesty, I skip through it but the top two sections… wow! Firstly, James Cook Circumnavigator is a great piece for first section bands, full of challenge and melodies that once more poses interest for players and watchers. There’s also a bit that reminds me of Legend of Zelda too!

The highlight of the disc though is music from the master; Eric Ball. His Festival Music is something else. Brass Band contest pieces the way they should be – none of these modern ‘blastathons’ that just reward big sounds. There is music to be found, music to be made. 

What a treat it must have been to hear the best bands play at the various regional contests across the country. 


Catching a Toad

Due to the space constraints of my challenge layout entry, I’ve decided to modify the Toad kit and make it one of the smaller variety of the type. Therefore I’ve started work on cutting down the chassis and roof, losing three centimetres from both. A bit of filler and sanding down and this is where I’m at currently;

The best bit of all though; when testing, the chassis runs nice and true and is true and square, enabling all wheels on the track!

Since the picture above I’ve filled, sanded down and painted the chassis base again. Overall I’m pretty pleased! 


Yes, honestly! There’s been some progress on my ‘thinking inside the box’ idea. The track has been ballasted with some sand that I acquired recently; I felt that ballast was a bit too ‘main line’ for what is going to be a couple of sidings on a light railway. This will get a waft of the brown acrylic spray I’ve been using to weather the track and then I’ll paint the rail sides.

I’ve also – very roughly – mapped out a small goods store. Using the Wills kit dimensions (which I intended to use until deciding I wanted to scratch build everything) I discovers it’s slightly too big, so I’ll knock 5mm off the depth and that should all be good. 

Finally, you might have noticed that Clara now has name plates. Narrow Planet have once again done a great job and I’ve wasted no time fixing them to the grubby little Sentinel. That – and the Peckett I have in order – will be more than sufficient motive power for this little layout. 

Tomorrow, if coursework allows, will hopefully see me have a bit of time to work on the goods yard and a scenic break. Fingers crossed. 

A rainy few days in North Wales

The weather might have been pretty grim thanks to Storm Doris but Amy and myself spent an enjoyable couple of days in North Wales.

On the way to our B&B (near Talsarnau) we went via Betws-y-Coed and paid a visit to the Conwy Valley Model Railway and Museum. Sadly, I found the shop a bit of a let down but Betws-y-Coed was nice enough. 

Next we headed over to Porthmadog, following the Ffestiniog Railway down from Blaenau. Although there didn’t seem to be any trains running we still had a porter about the station where the 009 models called out to me. However I left with wallet intact!

Our next stop was a wander around the coast to Borth-y-Gest, a lovely cove. Yet, despite the overcast weather, we had the beach to ourselves for an hour or so before heading back to our car and then on to the B&B. 

After a good nights sleep and a super fry up we headed down to Harlech and visited the castle. The new visitors centre was most impressive but again, with the poor weather, the view wasn’t what it could have been. Still, at least it was reasonably dry and we spent an hour or so walking the walls.

Finally we headed to Barmouth, but as we got closer the weather deteriorated so after a quick leg stretch I pointed Clara (my car’s name!) in the direction of home and we headed back across Wales. 

As we hit Welshpool we decided to make a quick call in at Powys Castle. This was quite a find for a last minute call. An excellent castle, superbly preserved, and the most lovely grounds. We only had time for a couple of hours before leaving sadly, but still managed to have time for a Powys Hot Chocolate… well worth the price!!

After deciding Powys was worth another visit in the summer – and that we could tie in a visit to the Welshpool and Llanfair Railway – we made our last journey, heading home to Shropshire. 

All in all, a wet but busy and enjoyable two days. 

An influx of mojo

This week the modelling mojo seems to have awoken… for now.

I’ve made a start on the Toad. It’s nothing too major at the moment; a flash of primer, a lick of Humbrol 67 Tank Grey on the underframe. Next job is to stick that together. For a kit as old as it is, I’ve been reasonably pleased so far – not too much flash for starters! Progress is currently as below.


But there’s more…

I found an old Really Useful Box when visiting my parents recently, one lying in a cupboard that I’d forgotten about. It’s 9 litres, just big enough for an a4 sheet of paper. Well, recently I’ve discovered the ‘Gnatterbox’ forum (Gn15 scale) and have stumbled across a few excellent threads (Simplicity Sidings, Orchard End, Badger’s Bottom and Ambassador Works) which all have a similar, very basic track plan.


One sheet of foam board, a bit of glue, two lengths of track and a few items of stock (posed to gauge size) and I have this…


I’ve got a few ideas for what to base it on; either the end of a set of exchange sidings for the Lilleshall company, with a suitably leafy backdrop, Wills Goods Shed and a view block (that I’m yet to decide on) or a wagon works, with a few grounded van bodies used as stores for the workers.

It’s a start at least!

That’s Entertainment! (Or is it?)


Entertainment (noun)
the action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment

I’ve been pondering over this for a while. What is entertainment? As a brass-bander I can’t help but feel that perhaps we’ve lost sight – as a whole movement – of just what entertainment is.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel entertainment contests are fantastic. At their best they encourage band to ‘think outside the box’ when planning programmes that appeal to both audience and adjudicators alike, yet I can’t help but feel that the majority rely on ‘tick-box’ criteria which sees bands rewarded for complying with a set of unpublished ‘rules.’

Silly hats, people moving all over the stage, fancy band set-ups, a ‘hit you between the eyes’ opener, a soloist that relies on technical dexterity rather than musicality, a tenuously linked ‘theme’ for a programme, outrageous clothing, standing up and sitting down and a real ‘tub-thumper’ of a finale are all, seemingly, in the checklist.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve played in bands that have done those things. In fact, with the Lions Beginners I have designed programmes that do as many of those things as we can. But is it right? Is a piece of music more entertaining than another purely because players are sat in a different formation, have to grunt three times during it and stand up for the last note? Of course not. Last weekend I went to watch the world famous Halle Orchestra and I was thoroughly entertained. No silly hats, people moving, fancy formations or silly uniforms required. I didn’t criticise the concert for being ‘too still,’ a comment I know appeared on one band’s adjudication sheet. What utter rubbish.

The bottom line is this; a brass band sat on stage, playing well, is entertaining. Fact. If I listen to Cory on CD I am entertained. I can’t see them so I don’t know if they wore silly wigs, ‘mankinis’ or whatever whilst recording it. What I do know is they play well and it entertains me.

‘Entertainment,’ as the brass band world seems to see it, has it’s place. We owe it to the audiences, the people who pay to watch us, to be entertaining. That can’t be denied. Uniform ‘amendments,’ hats or singing can add to the entertainment. But surely the really important element of being an entertaining brass band – and one, sadly, that a lot of bands and adjudicators seem to miss – is playing the dots, the music, well – anything is a (nice, admittedly) bonus, surely?