An air of poignant sadness hung over the inaugural Miners Welfare Entertainment Contest in Porthcawl on Saturday.
Funded by the South Wales Miners Trust Fund Scheme and run in conjunction with its CISWO parent organisation, the contest took place less than 24 hours after the news that the industry had claimed four lives in the tragic Gleision drift mine accident in the Swansea Valley.
At the end of the contest two verses of the hymn ‘Abide with Me’ were played in tribute to those lost—an acute reminder that the services of the organisation, which last year helped over 600 families in South Wales, will be called on again in the most desperate of circumstances.
In a moving speech, Tyrone O’Sullivan, the former head of Tower Colliery, who presented Lewis Merthyr with the South Wales Miner’s Challenge Cup and the £600 first prize, spoke of his pride that the banding community of South Wales, so readily connected with the mining industry, had once again shown its support on a day of fine music making.
And that fine playing was also highlighted by adjudicator Melvin White, who told the encouragingly large audience that he had no problem in picking what he described was, ‘…a clear winner’.
"I enjoyed the contest today," he said. "It is a great idea and so well run. There was a clear winner who delivered a programme of variety and originality that had musical presence. It was really well performed."
Melvin also revealed he had no problem in awarding second place and the £400 runner prize to Treherbert, conducted by Craig Roberts, although he did reveal that he had a tough decision to make over the bands that came third, fourth and fifth.
two verses of ‘Abide with Me’ were played in tribute to those lost—an acute reminder that the services of the organisation, which last year helped over 600 families in South Wales, will be called on again in the most desperate of circumstances4BR
"Second place was relatively easy," he added. "But on another day the other prize winners could have come in another order. Entertainment value played its part, but it was very close."
For the winning conductor, Gavin Pritchard there was little time to celebrate his band’s victory as his percussion skills were needed to help Brighouse & Rastrick in a concert later in the evening.
On catching up with 4BR early on Sunday morning, it was obvious he had managed to squeeze in a little bit of late night celebration though!
"It’s a huge boost to the band ahead of our appearance at the National Finals next week," Gavin said in a husky voice. "The band worked very hard on the programme, especially as we combined it with our Cheltenham preparations, so the players deserve a great deal of credit for their commitment and performance on the day."
The father and son team at Lewis Merthyr is combining well it seems. "It does seem to work," Gavin laughed. "Dad was away this weekend so it gave me the opportunity—although I’m sure he’s eager to get back in front of the band—starting on Monday night!"
A controlled winning performance came courtesy of an innovative 20-minute set that saw Gavin use his years of experience in Norwegian banding to title winning effect.
The opening Barry Manilow inspired ‘One Voice’ was followed by the witty Prokofiev march, ‘Opus 99’ (played by Gavin during his time with the Sandefjord Band) and the rarely heard Goff Richards concert work, ‘Out in Front’ written many years ago for the Haukas Band.
Flugel soloist Sian Brimble delivered a suave account of ‘For Your Eyes Only’ before the band rounded off with ballet music from ‘Le Cid’.
It gave a clear two point winning margin over rivals Treherert, and saw the players celebrate on stage with the magnificent solid silver Challenge Cup, which they must now insure for £6,000!
Meanwhile, a resurgent Treherbert will also be celebrating after claiming a well-deserved second place.
Their solid performance under the baton of Craig Roberts saw them pick up the Wales TUC Challenge Cup and £400 prize money with a programme that included the up tempo ‘Summon the Heroes’ and end with the crowd pleasing antics of ‘The Lucerne Song’.
The close run battle for the final podium place was decided in favour of RAF St Athan under the direction of Alan Bourne. They set the early marker in a 12-band field off the number 3 draw with an eclectic set that encompassed solidly presented excerpts of cool jazz and Mario Lanza to hymn tunes and the patriotic strains of a triumphant Men of Harlech.
Ynyshir’s inspired take on all things ‘Western’ saw the Rhondda band dressed in cowboy outfits to deliver a highly entertaining set under the command of ‘Deputy’ Dean Evans to claim fourth place and the £200 award for ‘The Most Entertaining Stage Presentation’.
The band’s xylophone soloist Josh Pegg took the ‘Best Instrumentalist’ prize for his sparkling rendition of ‘The Lone Ranger’.
Oakdale Silver opening the day’s contesting and claimed the highest placed Fourth Section award, whilst Ammanford, making a long awaited return to the contesting fold produced a highly encouraging performance under the direction of Glyn R Davies to take the highest placed Third Section prize.
9-year-old Gwen Flowers of Ystradgynalis was presented with the Evan Richards Memorial Shield as the youngest player of the day.
A full retrospective plus images of the event will appear on 4BR shortly.
Adjudicator: Melvin White
1. Lewis Merthyr (Gavin Pritchard)—182
2. Treherbert (Craig Roberts)—180
3. RAF St Athan (Alan Bourne)—178
4. Ynyshir (Dean Evans)—177
5. Blaenavon Town (Andrew Protherough Jones)—176
6. Gwaun Cae Gurwen (Colin Hogg)—175
7. Crosskeys Siolver (Kerry Bowden)—174
8. Ammanford (Glyn R Davies)—173
9. Briton Ferry (Dr Christian Jenkins)—172
10. Ogmore Valley (Alice Jones)—171
11. Oakdale (Adrian Browning)—170
12. Ystradgynlais (Alex Parker)—169
£200: Most Entertaining Band: Ynyshir
£200: Highest Placed Third Section Band not in prizes: Ammanford
£200: Highest Placed Fourth Section Band not in prizes: Oakdale
Best Soloist: Josh Pegg (Ynyshir)
Youngest Player: Gwen Flowers (Ystradgynalis)