20th Northern Ireland Open Accordion Championships, Carrickfergus

by Clyde Johnston, Saturday February 25th 2017

Clyde JohnstonThe 20th Northern Ireland Open Accordion Championships took place at the Loughshore Hotel, Carrickfergus, on February 25th. This festival was another huge success with reaction from spectators and competitors alike being very favourable towards the festival which ran like clockwork in a very relaxed and friendly spirit.

The NI Championships are run under the rules of the National Accordion Organisation (NAO) of the United Kingdom and are a qualifying heat for the 2017 NAO UK Championships, held at The Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool, April 21st to 24th.

Organised by Clyde Johnston (picture right) it is the largest accordion festival in Northern Ireland and again attracted a good entry. Clyde was delighted to again welcome competitors from the Chilton School of Music in County Cavan and Gerry Kelly’s Accordion School from County Meath as well as other entries from County Meath, County Dublin, Southern England and Glasgow in addition to the local competitors.

There were also trade stands on display by Alan Shute, Sean O'Neill, Rob Howard, Glitterbug Bagz, Frazer Mclellan, and Scotland Accordions, which added great interest and atmosphere to the festival. Clyde was also delighted to welcome surprise guests to the festival in the form of top UK duettists Nigel Pasby and Helen Newton, from Hungerford, Berkshire. They only decided to attend at the last minute but enthralled the audience by performing, on borrowed accordions, a few delightful duets in the afternoon.

The adjudicators, Ivan Black, and Sarah McEvoy were greatly impressed not only by the high standard of playing but also with the smooth and efficient manner in which the Championships were run.

Star performers were Madison Doherty, Molly McKenna and Cassie Honan from County Meath, who are pupils of Gerry Kelly. Madison so impressed the adjudicators with her performance in the Junior Recital that she was awarded the prize for Best Overall Performance of the Day and Molly’s performances in winning the 13 & Under Championship Solo and the Higher Elementary Test and Own Choice sections got her second place in the Best Overall category whilst Cassie with firsts in the 11 & Under Solo and the Elementary Own Choice as well as a second in the Test Piece earned her third prize in the Best Overall category.

Louise Boomer, from Islandmagee, had a memorable day picking up 5 first prizes in the Senior Polka, Musette & Frosini as well as the Late Starters Higher Intermediate and teamed up with her teacher Clyde Johnston to win the Intermediate Duet and 9 year old Truly Mills from Larne also had a day to remember picking up four firsts in the 9 & under Championship Solo, 9 & Under Musette, 10 & Under Polka and 10 & under Sacred.

12 year old Ciaran Gilligan (Hertfordshire) also had a memorable day picking up 3 first prizes in the Higher Intermediate Solo Test & Own Choice and the 12 & under Polka Sections whilst Evelyn Moore from Templepatrick had triple success in the Senior Sacred Solo, Higher Intermediate Duet & Sacred Duet as well as leading the East Antrim Sacred Ensemble to victory in the Sacred Group & sacred march Group Sections with Michael Daly, (Dublin) winning three prizes the Late Starters Higher Prep, and the Irish & Scottish Traditional Sections.

Double prize winners at the Championships were Laura Dunlop, from Carrickfergus, in the Scottish Traditional 12 and under and the 11 & under Musette Solo in addition to second prize in the 12 & Under Polka and the Higher Preparatory Own Choice Sections; Micheal McKinnon, Co Meath, in the Preliminary Solo Test and Own Choice Sections; Amy Murray, Co Meath, in the Higher Preparatory Solo Test and Own Choice Sections and Michael Leavey, Co Meath, who won the Elementary Solo Test Piece section and teamed up with Laura Masterson to win the Elementary Duet.

Other competitors from the Republic of Ireland who won their solo sections were, Ciara Masterson, Open Solo; Katya Murray, Advanced Solo Own Choice; Robert Caffrey, Intermediate Solo Test Piece; Tara Sullivan, Intermediate Solo Own Choice; Charlotte McKenna, Junior Frosini; Juliann Bouchard, Senior Tango: Emma Thornton, Preparatory Solo; Madeline Hughes, Introductory Solo  and Sean Brady in the Irish Traditional 12 & Under.

Scottish prize winners were Matt Murdoch in the Senior Jazz Solo and Alan Shute in the Senior Scottish Traditional Solo. Alan also teamed up with Susanna Brooking, from Cambridge, to won the Accordion and Another Instrument category where Susanna played an accordina.

In the Group Sections the East Antrim Accordion Ensemble won the Advanced Group Section as well as being awarded Silver in the Mozart, and in the Entertainment The Eazy Skweezers were awarded gold whilst East Antrim Sacred Ensemble won the Sacred and Sacred March sections.

Once again the Orchestral Sections drew the largest audience of the day and they were not disappointed with the musical feast that was served. In the Marching Band Sections Lily of the Valley Accordion Band from Co Down won the Intermediate Test and Own Choice sections and the Intermediate Orchestral March Section as well as taking second prize in the Sacred Marching Band and the Marching Band Drum Corps sections, whilst Aughafatten Accordion Band from Co Antrim won the Sacred Marching Band category and were placed second in the Intermediate Marching Band test piece section and third in the Intermediate Marching Band Own Choice and Marching Band Drum Corps Section.

Making their first appearance at the Championships was the Pride of the Birches Accordion Band from Co Armagh and they had a good day winning the Marching Band Drum Corps prize and taking second place in the Intermediate Marching Band Own Choice Section.

The Sacred Orchestra section was won by East Antrim Seniors Accordion Orchestra who were also awarded gold for their Entertainment programme as well as winning the Senior March and Club Band Sections and taking first prize in the Orchestral Percussion.

In the graded Orchestra Sections Royal Meath Accordion Orchestra won the Elementary category and were also placed second in the Orchestral Percussion with the Castletown Accordion Orchestra from Co Cavan winning the Preparatory and third in the Orchestral Percussion.

The highlight of the day’s music making was undoubtedly the Grand Finale at the end when the three marching bands, Aughafatten, Lily of the Valley and Pride of the Birches together with East Antrim Seniors formed a Massed Accordion Band with over 60 accordions and put on a great display to the delight of the appreciative audience.

At the Prize Presentation and Gala Dance that night the prizes were presented by Ruth Campbell who has been a Stage manager at the Festival since its inception and there was a Special Merit award presented to Ballymena man Adam Wilkinson in recognition of a lifetime’s service to the accordion movement. On collecting his award Adam received a standing ovation from the delighted audience. All in all it was a splendid day’s competition and music-making with plans already afoot for next year’s competition which shall be on Saturday February 24th 2018.

Special thanks are due to the management and staff of the Belfast Loughshore Hotel Carrickfergus for providing the excellent facilities and their professionalism and helpfulness throughout the day which contributed greatly to the smooth running of the festival, the Souvenir Programme Advertisers for sponsoring the Championships and to the Stage Managers;Ruth Campbell, &, Russell Ramage; Competitions  co-ordinator Mark Johnston, as well as Ian Campbell, Bill McCartney & Gary Brennan who manned the Information Desk.

For further information email: clyde.johnston@hotmail.co.uk

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