Matt Johnson


Burgess Hill 1 Show Report


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Sunday saw Winterguard's first visit to the South for this season, with the Triangle Centre at Burgess Hill playing host to the first of this season's two Southern Classic events sponsored by the Southern Knights. With a pleasingly large and supportive audience throughout, we were treated to very enjoyable early-season contests across all four classes.

Cadet Class

The contest was opened by the Southern Knights Rugrats, performing to Britney Spears' "Everytime", realised with a winter-based theme involving cool blues and whites and snowflake-motif silks. The result was a solid and stylish -- not to mention beautiful -- performance, and very impressive indeed for a season debut performance in Cadet Class; evidently much hard work in the off-season has gone into this unit, and the judge (for there was only a single judge today for Cadet Class) agreed. (1st)

The bamboo flats then entering the arena were a harbinger to a rousing rendition of "Me Old Bamboo" from "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" by the Moonlight Cadets. The performance lacked precision in places, but given that this was a debut for the guard that's only to be expected. The show appears very well-written, and proved enjoyable for both the guard and audience -- given time this will prove competitive. Well done to the guard member at the front with her arm in a sling for soldiering on! (4th)

One of this season's new guards, the six-member Valiant brought us a rendition of music from Harry Potter -- "Hagrid's Theme" and a burst of "Nimbus 2000" -- complete with broomsticks! This was, overall, a great first showing for this unit, but perhaps a little weak in places, with transitions being a little too sluggish. However, they still show great promise and will certainly be part of the mle this season. I was expecting some twirling action with the broomsticks but turned out to be disappointed! (3rd)

The props for the next show were interesting in themselves: not many guards bring a giant plush monkey and an inflatable mattress into the arena, but these and several other interesting items were all part of the staging for the Alliance Antz, performing to "I Need Some Sleep" from the movie "Shrek 2". This was a sophisticated show for a Cadet Class group; I would associate the stagecraft we saw the Antz use more with a Junior Class guard, and the equipment book was certainly subject to no compromise. A very well-appointed debut, and the Antz will likely challenge the Southern Knights Rugrats for the Cadet crown, assuming Pride Cadets move to Junior Class. (2nd)

Another season debut followed from the Mini Moonlights, the second guard from the Worthing based organization to enter Cadet Class this year. As their name alludes, the Minis are very young indeed, but performed to Kylie Minogue's "Locomotion" with great aplomb. Using flags and hoops, we were treated to a display of (I would guess) the youngest participants of the show enjoying themselves greatly. Not a particularly technical show by any stretch of the imagination, and the members were looking a little lost at times; but more shows will certainly help the latter. Despite the tenor of these comments, the "aaah, cute!" factor -- even to this hardened Winterguard fogey -- was way off the scale. (6th)

Then, we saw the first of two guards from new Winterguard organization Atlantic Dawn. The Cadets performed a show to music from Disney's "Pocahontas", complete with Indian outfits. This was a young Cadet guard, with a minimalist approach to the equipment book: one set of silks. The members were confident in what they were doing, and their ending was particularly convincing, but there was unfortunately a lack of pizzazz to the performance. However, I wouldn't bet against steady, continued improvement throughout the season. (5th)

Junior Class

Moving into Junior Class, the vagaries of the draw meant that the second Atlantic Dawn guard immediately followed the first, this unit performing to Leanne Rimes' "Can't Fight The Moonlight". Eye-catching black and silver silks marked the opening, and the show featured some good solo work and a solid ending. However, the ensemble performance needs a little work, and there seemed to be a lack of vocabulary in both books -- that said, what they did out of the movement and equipment books, I felt they did well, with some occasional flashes of brilliance. In this case, it seems the judges didn't quite agree. (5th)

The guard's salute cry of "I'm innocent!" proved an amusing start to The Academy's Junior Class show, to the theme of a "Jail Break" -- once we got the very many flats and "jail cell" into the arena. The whole show felt a little scenery-heavy, particularly as the unit competed under a rules waiver today with only four marching members. While the concept of the show works fine, the low number of members on the floor and the limited equipment book conspired against them. Despite these failings, the show was delivered convincingly with plenty of gusto -- we'll see how this show evolves throughout the season. (4th)

Performing to the music of The Carpenters in today's season debut, Southern Knights Juniors already showed an impressive amount of control over the show. The first two thirds of the show were stronger than the last third, but this early in the season that's only to be expected. In short, this was a very classy show, with all the members enjoying themselves immensely -- an extremely good debut. The concept worked well -- a simple white floor with red print stating the three songs being performed, with the guard being allowed to shine on their own merits. Overall, a highly effective show. (2nd, High Equipment and High GE)

The audience certainly weren't allowed to forget their three times table with Mayflower's rendition of "Three (Is The Magic Number)". With a particularly large guard, the show uses the numbers on the floor very effectively, forming big flag flourishes and very strong accent moments. Some of the performance was a tiny bit on the ragged side, but that's nothing we wouldn't expect from an early season contest. Transitions between motives were particularly tight, and the writing permitted some lovely solo work and staging to take the fore. The show also has a nice sense of completion, with the guard ending up right back at the initial staging of a '3' being formed on the floor. A very enjoyable -- and, dare I say, "funky" -- show which will definitely be in the hunt this year. (3rd)

Lush cerises and pinks were the order of the day in Guardsmen Cadets' show, performing to Maroon 5's "Songs About Jane". With rigour impressive for this early in the season, the ensemble work throughout was particularly convincing, with the guard producing a remarkably expressive but controlled performance. A particularly strong movement book and a satisfying ending topped off a very good day for the Cadets. (1st, High Movement and High Ensemble)

'A' Class

After a much-needed interval to stretch one's legs and find some refreshment, we return to begin the 'A' Class contest. The Squires returned for the new season, debuting their 2005 show today. While some promise was shown in the movement book for the soloist, the show's effect was badly wounded by extremely wide staging for the number of marching members on the floor at any one time. When we finally got the full guard into the staging there was some solid coordination, but smaller groups -- for whom much of the show was staged -- were far less confident. There seemed to be a mismatch between the number of silks available and the number of members; two sets of silks were apparently one short? This looked a little bizarre. None of this, however, denigrates the valiant effort put in by all the members of the guard. (8th)

Mayflower certainly sang a rainbow -- or more accurately showed us one -- with their 'A' guard's performance. The silks in the first motive (the classic "Sing A Rainbow") are absolutely ideal -- brilliant silver, later accented with a red stripe and pole, this contrasting with the white dresses, floor and flats. My only suggestion is for the white sabres: the colour of course makes sense, but because of all the white around them, when they're thrown I lost them in the white clutter behind! Perhaps add a tiny bit of accent colour to them? The show was particularly strong for this early in the season: the demons I saw still lurking at the Mayflower Preview a few weeks ago are now well and truly excised. The change of mood into the second pacier motive, was also handled exquisitely well. (4th)

Featuring music from the US Disney TV series "Kim Possible", Cohesion brought their brand of Winterguard into the new season today. I say "own brand", because this year's show is perhaps similar to last year's in that it seems to appeal to the audience but apparently not the judges, unfortunately; but the enjoyment of the guard still shines through. The first transition was very awkward -- not helped by the music falling to silence; indeed, the show's alignment to the music might use some work, with some of the accent points in the music perhaps not being fully exploited in the writing. A very solid debut with many good aspects to this observer; a little more use of the whole unit instead of solos or small groups would not go amiss. (6th)

New to the Winterguard circuit, Eclipse is definitely here to make its mark in this year's 'A' Class proceedings. Performing to music from the film "City of Angels", Eclipse's show was pacey, moody, and downright mind-blowing in places. A particularly convincing movement showpiece opener set the tone for some elegant staging for solo weapons, and later flag effects and sequences. Occasionally transitions were rushed, but that's something that can be tuned as the season progresses. The ending as it stands is anticlimactic: we get the big hit where we think we've reached the end, and then a coda which doesn't really go anywhere and blunders off into a dark alley. If you want my advice, kill the coda and finish the show on a high note! I was really left with a breathless "where the heck are we going now?" by the end: particularly action-packed writing must take some credit for this. A really impressive movement book throughout catapulted Eclipse up the rankings; if they can put the same rigour into the other books, they will be a force to be reckoned with this year. (5th)

While the costumes for Moonlight 'A' looked like they'd had a fight with a shark and won convincingly, the shark-themed show didn't quite hit the spot for me, nor the judges. The show just felt a little off-kilter; it was rather hard to read whether the writing was deliberately very individual -- if I was talking about a music score, I'd use the term 'contrapuntal' here -- or whether the ensemble just wasn't working together. Some of the staging was also rather nebulous -- the audience needs clues where on the floor we're supposed to look, and I certainly wasn't getting them. Once the staging and ragged edges are changed and the guard is a bit more confident, this one could be in the race. The concept is solid, but today the ill winds blew and the performance didn't work out. (7th)

The draw for the early shows certainly brings up some interesting music combinations. Abba via Chopin to heavy metal is not the itinerary your Winterguard fan tends to expect to follow, but that's what we got at the end of today's 'A' Class.

The cynic in me says that Southern Knights' 'A' Class show was designed to be a crowd-pleaser: choosing "Abba - A Retrospective" as a concept is bound to get the audience going! Taking this route can occasionally be a risky business -- as Pride of Bristol found last year when their Beatles' "Long and Winding Road" show worked for the audience but not for the judges -- but this time the wizards of the South Coast seem to have conjured up the right combination. Some really nice accent moments throughout, and the members are happier with some numbers then others -- "Waterloo" buzzes along particularly well. The concept lends itself to some really good GE moments, which in today's particularly tight 'A' Class contest won the day -- spot the spread of caption wins! The show has a pretty challenging equipment book, and it will take a while for the heads and the hands to wrap themselves around the show in its entirety. However, tremendously solid, enjoyable for both guard and audience, this early in the season: what more could you want? The judges were of the same mind. (1st, High GE)

Reflexions took Winterguard down a road seldom travelled, into the realm of classical music. Today's season debut showed tons of promise: an elegant opening punctuated by a really effective early sequence effect. The writers have been bold and brave: having the whole unit doing non-trivial rifle work isn't the path to easy success, but if they can clean up the drops and the effect that has on the Equipment and GE captions this will definitely prove to be another challenger for the title, given that the movement book is really impressive already! Challenging both guard and audience throughout, this was a real success. (3rd, High Movement, High Ensemble)

Alliance had a very successful first season last year doing the 'classic Winterguard thing' with "More Than Words", but today they proved in their season debut that they definitely are not a one trick pony by performing to music from "The Crow" -- could there possibly be any bigger difference between two years' repertoire? "Brave, new, and different" sum up my thoughts, with a downright stonking equipment book reinforcing particularly solid writing and staging. In general, some cleaning is required throughout, and perhaps a few minor timing and staging changes, but it's already proven its potential. A downright "evil" show in more ways than one: the mood is dark and well-portrayed by this dynamic unit, and the pacey nature of the music makes fitting in the uncompromising books pretty difficult for the guard, a task they tackled with no small amount of panache. I was worried that the judges wouldn't "get" the show when I saw it, but my fears proved to be completely unfounded. (2nd, High Equipment)

Open Class

Moving swiftly into Open Class, Moonlight's show -- for which I have very little information, not even a concept name or the music used! -- shows promise but hasn't quite grown wings yet. A steady, solid performance overall with a few ragged moments, but not helped by the first choice of music. It's certainly interesting, but it doesn't offer any real opportunities for the guard to show off what they can do. However, the second motive is much stronger, as are the effects and flourishes we get in it. We then see a couple of slightly ropey transitions, but a gratifyingly convincing ending. Technically it looks plausible, but it wasn't particularly memorable for me -- this could easily be my fault though. We'll see next time I see the show. (5th)

"Blast"-style curved rifles made an appearance in Deep Purple's show themed around Friends. Staging was good, if a little wide and vague at times. Bizarrely, this too was enjoyable, but rather nondescript overall. The books look pretty reasonable once the equipment issues are dealt with, and the show works well on the enjoyment factor for both guard and audience and finishes solidly, but it didn't leave me particularly satisfied. Again, probably more me than them. (4th)

The Guardsmen presented us with really quite a bizarre concept: the initial staging is of a London Underground "Tube" car, and, as far as I can tell, the general concept is that of the "commuting grind" -- something which I can certainly understand, experiencing the joys of the Tube daily. However, it works really well! The ensemble works very well together, and the guard exudes a lot of fun and enjoyment from the show -- the latter probably making them more than halfway to getting the show "over" to the audience! The equipment book is flashy and challenging, and the show works well with the music in forming solid, punctuating accents. I had to grin at the Frank Beck "Tube map" inspired silks, too. Definitely in with a shout of the places this year. (3rd)

Having come off second best to Mayflower a couple of weeks ago in Cannock by a fair margin, a big push was needed to get the Southern Knights machine back off the ground. Today's performance was a triumph of everything "Up, Up and Away"; a truly solid show, with the ensemble really gelling by the second motive. The trademark SK "power flourish" and impressive ensemble work came out of its box too, and probably clinched the day on GE. Some ragged edges, but for an early season performance this is not particularly surprising; but the truly memorable aspects of the performance were "big air" rifle and sabre throws, and the truly enormous hit entering the finale leading to an elegantly understated conclusion. An excellent showing for this point of the season, and we'll have to enjoy the ride and see where their balloon takes us in the next few weeks. (1st, High Equipment, High Movement, High GE).

With their show to the music of Nick Drake, Mayflower's journey to Dayton is very much alive. The truly awesome opener, tight ensemble work, and elegant transition between motives all served particularly well today. The sabre work certainly impressed the audience, and the quality -- much as with Southern Knights -- is truly incredible for this early in the season. There was little I could see in scope to improve as far as faults were concerned, so it will be the tough, but rewarding, process of tweaking the show to get the very best of it as we progress through the season. Despite the switch in places, I certainly wouldn't want to lay money against Mayflower defending its title this year in the UK, and doing well in WGI. (2nd, High Ensemble)

In closing...

The retreat featured a group from 6th Hove playing the National Anthem, and then the scores. There were close contests everywhere: places in all classes were decided by fractions of a point, with 'A' Class looking like it could go any-which-way, with the top three all within one and a half points of each other. Finally, thanks to Alan Thompson, Alan Chatfield and the cast of thousands from Southern Knights who made sure things ran smoothly, our esteemed judges and tabulators, our hosts at the Triangle, everyone who came to support, clap and cheer, and, of course, to everyone who competed today. We look forward to Winterguard's warm West Country welcome in Chippenham in two weeks' time!

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© 2005 Matt Johnson & Winter Guard United Kingdom