A bit like a well trained racehorse making a last furlong surge to the winning post, Cheltenham Silver claimed their National Finals place as the last band to play in the Third Section — pipping fellow qualifiers Corsham and Midsomer Norton & Radstock to the title in the process by an intonation led nose.
The band which rehearses less than six miles from the famous Cheltenham Racecourse can now look forward to their second successive appearance on stage at The Centaur, thanks to a winning rendition of Dan Price's 'Darkwood' test-piece that for judges Les Neish and Sam Hairsine combined the triptych elements of dark mischief, hymnal lyricism and joyful optimism to a tee — as well as crucially, being in tune.
"That was the difference," Les Neish later told 4BR, reiterating his pre-results thoughts to the audience.
"Very few bands came away unscathed with intonation problems — except one. There were a wide variety of performances with the best showing the musical shape and rhythmic control required of the cleverly constructed music.
It wasn't an easy decision for us to make, but the winners didn't have those intonation issues that just cost the others."
That was also something Sam also highlighted. "Our comments will hopefully be a guide to the competitors for the future. We were a little disappointed that there were so many basic errors at times and intonation was variable.
Generally though there were a lot of very spirited performances that showed a great deal of potential. The top bands and the winners in particular, had that little extra control of things."
It was the opening bars in fact that both Les and Sam thought found many out — with the first two quaver pick-up causing anxieties. "It looks simple, but it was anything but," Les added. "Getting that opening section right set the best bands up with confidence."
The early contest marker came from Cinderford off the number 2 draw to eventually finish a highly creditable fifth, whilst soon after, a brace of well-managed accounts from Midsomer Norton & Radstock Silver followed by Corsham, upped the qualification pace — one that very nearly held off all other rivals until Cheltenham's last furlong gallop.
Midsomer's second successive National Finals appearance came courtesy of a rendition full of neat ensemble balance and style under Joanne Sykes, whilst Colin Hogg expertly managed his resources (which included a heroic one man band percussionist) to produce a lightly shaded account to claim a second successive second place finish on the piece and return to Cheltenham for the first time since 2014.
Bath Spa put in a spirited performance that caught the ears of the men in the box off the late number 17 draw to just miss out on qualification in fourth, whilst a confident Gillingham Imperial found favour with many in the hall with their vibrant show (led by MD James Bennett in equally vibrant white shirt and red braces) to end sixth.
Enjoyable top ten
Just behind in a contest that brought some splendidly enthusiastic, if uneven accounts from a number of competitors came from South Molton Town and Lydney Town, with Porthleven and Bratton Silver making up the highly enjoyable top ten.
However, just when the punters in Torquay thought the contest was done and dusted, up came Cheltenham to sneak in on the rails with a winning rendition under MD Nigel Galliott that for the judges had the almost perfect impish malevolence of the opening contrasting with the broad lyrical warmth of the central section and the joyful romp through village life to close.
Gold Cup winner
And with little time to recover after the heroics before the results were announced, little wonder a breathless MD could only tell 4BR on stage as he held the trophy in his hands: "That's fantastic. Wow! I can't thank the players enough!"
And with that he bounded off the stage like a Gold Cup winner to join them in their well deserved celebrations.
It wasn't an easy decision for us to make, but the winners didn't have those intonation issues that just cost the othersAdjudicator, Les Neish.
Test Piece: 'Darkwood' (Dan Price)
Adjudicators: Sam Hairsine and Les Neish
1. Cheltenham Silver (Nigel Galliott)*
2. Corsham (Colin Hogg)*
3. Midsomer Norton & Radstock Silver (Joanne Sykes)*
4. Bath Spa (Martin Perry)
5. Cinderford (Chris Howley)
6. Gillingham Imperial Silver (James Bennett)
7. South Molton Town (Gil Taylor)
8. Lydney Town (Kevin Ford)
9. Porthleven Town (Tom Bassett)
10. Bratton Silver (Simon Carr)
11. Swindon Pegasus (Nathan Jones)
12. Wilton & District (Derek Broadbent)
13. St Stythians (James Burns)
14. Spinnaker Brass (Ted Howard)
15. Tewkesbury Town (Nigel Morgan)
16. Bugle Silver (Steve Osborne)
17. Swindon Brass (Francis Cowley)
18. Weymouth Concert Brass (Kevin Goodwin)
*Top three bands qualify for National Final at Cheltenham