2013 Champions: Leyland
This was a contest victory that Leyland and Michael Bach will remember for a long time to come.
It was also arguably the victory that provoked the realisation that theirs is a partnership that could very well blossom into something very special indeed:
Single victories signify quality; multiple victories signify lasting class.
Twelve months ago they took the North West title in colourful, but almost ephemeral fashion; a swashbuckling band with a swashbuckling attitude.
They literally lived and died by the musical sword of their MD, as subsequent results at the Open and Nationals showed.
This time they held onto their Area crown with an imposing degree of razor edged permanency. The possibilities that were talked about a year ago have become probabilities this time around.
How that future pans out is as ever in the hands of the contesting gods, but you have the feeling that Leyland is now a very big player on the biggest stages of all – starting in a few week's time at the European Championships in Oslo.
Whilst their performance in winning the title at the Winter Gardens was noticeably less intoxicating than a year ago on ‘Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’, it was also clearly more mature and refined on a test piece that required a greater depth of understanding and delivery.
And those are the qualities that win the biggest prizes of all, as Michael Bach moulded ‘Harmony Music’ with a cultured appreciation of relaxed brilliance, aided by soloists who radiated confidence and an ensemble blessed with balanced warmth and malleability.
Foden’s meanwhile already know what it takes to claim multiple major championship titles, and although this was a close run thing this time around, any lingering sense of complacency and entitlement will have been shaken out of them by this result.
They remain a band that habitually performs at a level few can match on the contest stage, although they will now know that Leyland has gained more than foothold on the same plain.
Their battles for lasting supremacy at major contests over the next few months will be fascinating.
The joy of exploring endless possibilities now also resides with Milnrow, after they confirmed the evidence of their development into a true contender at this level of contesting.
They are a band that will surely enjoy more days like this too, especially if they can carry on adding to the obvious virtues of hard graft, confidence and musical intellect that has begun to shine through under the direction of both Marieka and Russell Gray.
Fairey in contrast may well consider this result as a ‘one off’, but would do well not to. Still no North West victory since 2001, they appear to have dropped a notch in form from late last year and have been overtaken by Leyland in the regional bragging rights.
They will have been disappointed not to have made it back to the Albert Hall, but chastened by the thought that they failed to even claim a podium finish with a performance that was marked by its considered approach under the baton of Garry Cutt.
They will now have to wait until Symphony Hall and the British Open for revenge.
With the focus of top section attention somewhat blurred by the ‘registry’ debate, it was unfortunate that it deflected the gaze from the good news stories that came from the fifth placed finish of Rainford and the encouraging signs of solid progress from a revitalised Wingates.
Both bands performed with a level of consistency on ‘Harmony Music’ that would have perhaps seen them challenge for honours in other areas of the country. There are exciting times ahead if they build on this form under their inspirational MDs.
The strength in depth of top level North West banding is such that behind the top six, hard worked solidity was never going to be enough to enable the remaining contenders to force their way into the reckoning.
Ashton under Lyne, Bollington, Co-operative Funeralcare and Blackburn & Darwen still produced performances that will have given them a great deal of optimism for challenges ahead – starting for some at the Spring Festival, although Pemberton and Roberts Bakery will have left for home with rather more subdued contest emotions.
Oslo and the European Championship now beckon on the horizon for Leyland – and a contest that will go some way to define their future aspirations. You suspect on this form they will leave a lasting impression of their quality there too.