Flowers Band continued their stranglehold on the Butlins Mineworkers Championship thanks to a brace of high-class performances that raised the contesting temperature at a chilly Skegness.
It was their fifth victory in six years, completing a hat-trick under the baton of Paul Holland — the first prize of £10,000 also seeing them top the £50,000 mark in winnings at the event since 2011.
For the third consecutive year they topped both sections of the contest thanks to a polished account of the set-work 'Breath of Souls' and an accomplished, tweaked reprise of their recent Brass in Concert programme.
Although pushed by rivals over the two days, there was little doubt to where the magnificent Warwick Vase Trophy was once again destined to reside — especially as far as the adjudicators were concerned.
Beyond the notes
Michael Fowles (joined by John Berryman) wrote in his test-piece remarks that Flowers had produced, '...a performance that got beyond the notes and produced a piece of music rather than a technical exercise ', whilst he added that their Sunday entertainment programme '...contained just about every facet of great band playing'. Fellow judge Brian Rostron signed off simply by saying; '...Loved it. Thank you'.
Mike later told 4BR: "Breath of Souls was a tough test and in this acoustic they couldn't cover things up like the Albert Hall a few years ago. Some performances suffered with a lack of dynamic contrast and heavy accompaniment in solo lines. Only Flowers got beyond the notes to bring more out of the music."
He added: "The entertainment programmes were well played and contrasting, but also fell into a clear order."
Once again, the quality of Flowers ensemble work and solo contributions was marked, with euphonium superstar David Childs becoming the first recipient of the 'Outstanding Soloist' prize for his test-piece contribution, and their leviathan tuba section taking the 'Best Basses' award.
The impressive winning start to 2016 certainly pleased MD Paul Holland, especially as he revealed that he deliberately started preparations from scratch on 'Breath of Souls' to stave off any sense of complacency from his band.
"I wanted to start afresh with a blank canvas, as it gave us all a sense of purpose," he said. "The players responded as I knew they would — working so hard in a short space of time to deliver the goods."
Paul also hopes that 2016 holds the promise of further success: "We have some exciting recording projects and concerts to look forward to, but the one thing that won't change is desire to be successful on the contest stage — and you only do that by hard work."
That insatiable desire to keep improving meant a confident Virtuosi GUS finished runner-up for the second year, despite a quality account of the test-piece and a thoroughly entertaining reprise of their American themed Brass in Concert programme.
Star trombonist, Chris Jeans delivered a sparkling account of 'Radio City' to take the 'Geoff Dove Solo Award', which helped boost their prize money by an extra £1000 to a substantial £6,000 return.
The final podium slot went to Woodfalls, who turned around a lowly fifth place test-piece finish with second place on the Sunday, thanks to Dr Robert Childs cleverly utilising Grimethorpe's 2014 'Lest We Forget' Brass in Concert winning programme.
It also enabled them to finish just ahead of Reg Vardy (who rather incongruously won the Highest Placed Mining Band award) whose own third place finish on the set-work saw them snatch the last cash prize of £1000 from Desford Colliery.
In the battle between two solid bands that will surely come closer to the top podium places at the forthcoming London & SC Area Championship, Friary Guildford ended sixth ahead of Redbridge.
There was certainly a cooler temperature in the Reds venue — one which may have contributed to the 20 contenders being unable to raise the musical meniscus with their renditions of Ian McElligott's engaging 'A Celt in Jerusalem'.
It was certainly something judges Alan Morrison and Steve Sykes remarked upon when speaking to 4BR after the announcement of the results.
"It wasn't the most technically difficult of pieces to play at this level, but disappointingly, a number of bands just didn't put the basics in place," Alan Morrison said, whilst Steve Sykes added; "Intonation and insecurity in the solo playing led to a lack of consistency.
It wasn't a difficult piece and we had two really good bands that produced fine performances — the winners in particular displaying musical maturity."
That proved to be Hebden Bridge under Alan Hobbins — who was still smiling broadly when 4BR caught up with him.
"It's been a tough couple of years getting a full complement of players and finances to compete successfully in such a tough area as Yorkshire. All this and we had to battle through the terrible floods at Christmas, so all credit goes to the players. This win will put a smile on everyone's face and gives us huge confidence to build towards Bradford."
It was fellow Yorkshire rivals Drighlington who ran them closest, as the 2013 champion benefitted from the clear direction of MD John Roberts, whilst the final podium slot went to a delighted Milton Keynes Brass.
There certainly promises to be a battle to savour at the Yorkshire Area after Skelmanthorpe and Knottingley Silver took fourth and fifth place respectively, whilst the final top-six slot went to recently promoted Colchester.
A huge field of 24 competitors entertained a capacity audience at the Royal Arthur Suite, as Paul Lovatt-Cooper's engaging 'Fire in the Blood' proved a hit with players and listeners alike.
In the end it was Besses Boys directed by James Holt who edged out Soham Comrades in a close battle for the £2,000 first prize, as adjudicator Leigh Baker later told 4BR.
Best from rest
"Most bands did well in the first, fast section, but few mastered the rhythmic or stamina challenges of the latter presto movement," he said. "Both Brian (Rostron) and myself felt it was the cross rhythms and the need for syncopated precision that separated the best from the rest."
Leigh also confirmed that the top four bands stood out — although none produced a definitive performance. He added that he felt more bands would have benefitted from doing a little more research into the melodies and their inspiration.
Naturally, MD James Holt of Besses Boys was delighted — not just with the result, but with the amount of late/early season hard work his band had put in to achieve it.
"Saturday was tremendous and a great result on a very testing piece of music. So much hard work went into this — but it's only the start of what we are working towards with Brass at the Guild and the North West Area contests on the horizon."
Soham Comrades will also be another band looking towards the Area after Jayne Murrill continued to inspire their contesting progress in coming runner-up for a third contest in a row, whilst Rushden Town and Hucknall & Linby will also be well pleased with their early season form.
The final top six places in a contest which showed that some bands could well face tricky times ahead on the stern Area test piece went to Stannington Brass and Darwen Brass.
There were smiles all round for Crofton Silver and MD Dean Jones after they'd secured the Third Section title — their first Mineworkers wine since the old CISWO Contest in Blackpool 1999 — and off the number 1 draw to boot.
Adjudicators Barry Thompson and Peter Roberts oversaw the 15 competitors, with Barry telling 4BR that only the top two really got to grips with Paul Lovatt-Cooper's colourful 'Platform to the Heavens'.
"It proved to be a good choice, but in truth only the top two really got near it," he said candidly.
"We heard a lot of tentative readings with the unison opening proving problematic. A number of bands rushed their cadenza passages instead of taking their time to give greater opportunity to shine."
For Dean Jones and his young, rapidly improving band, it was another major step in the right contesting direction following their victory late last year at the Leicester Open.
"It is a band with lots of potential," he said. "They have a great attitude, a desire to work hard and take what I tell them on board. We enjoy playing PLC's music and I thought 'Platform to the Heavens' was a great choice.
We can now concentrate on the Yorkshire Area boosted by the confidence this win has given everyone. If we can make it a hat-trick in Bradford it would be an amazing achievement."
With the judges expressing their opinion that only two bands managed to master the set-work, it was the improving Greenfield that also captured the attention in the box to finish ahead of Waterbeach Brass, Dronfield, Amington and Eagley.
Bruce Fraser's enjoyable portrait of life on the ocean waves produced an intriguing musical aperitif to the Championship Section test -piece discipline on Saturday morning.
Judges Kevin Holdgate and Mike Kilroy later revealed that the challenge of producing a musical as well as technically consistent performance on 'The Seafarers' was the key to success; the transparency of the writing with its breezy opening leading to exposed central section and exciting 'Treasure Island' finale.
No long wait
They didn't have to wait long to get it either, as defending champion Sale Brass gave the duo what they wanted off the number 1 draw — although many in the audience differed in opinion over the destination of the chest of prize winning gold.
However, theirs was the only opinion that mattered, with Mike telling 4BR: "It was a tough piece to master but the winning MD (Alan Seymour) clearly had a good understanding of the piece and brought out the detail and subtle dynamics."
The difference on the day for the judges was the approach of winners — as Mike admitted they found too many bands trying to emphasising the technical aspects and not its well defined musicality.
"One band for instance didn't play the first two movements well and lacked a sense of style — only bringing the piece to life in the finale," he said. "Too many bands did the same. It was a piece of colour and stylistic adventure."
The result saw Sale claim the £2000 first prize ahead of Stalybridge Old, with Crystal Palace and Banovallum Brass just behind. The final top six places went to Thurcroft Welfare and Ynyshir.
After the initial celebrations had died down, Sale's contest secretary Neil Venables told 4BR that a great deal of credit for the win went to MD, Alan Seymour who has worked the band hard since giving the piece a 'run-out' at the Rochdale contest last October.
"We can see that was so well worth it now," he said. "Alan has come in and done a great job, and to win here for a second year in a row really does give us confidence ahead of the Area contest in Blackpool."
Youth & Ensemble Sections:
Sunday also saw great contesting action in the Reds venue, as the youth bands and ensembles produced playing every bit as entertaining as that on show with the top flight contenders at Centre Stage.
There was also plenty of nail biting excitement too, as Youth Brass 2000 under an indefatigable Chris Jeans regained the title lost to Wardle Academy Youth last year in a contest that featured super playing from all four contenders.
Slick and professional
The winner's programme was slick and professionally presented, with the band entering to 'Valero' without the MD in sight.
Back at the helm, fine renditions of 'Ellacombe -The Day of the Resurrection' by William Himes, 'Monteverdi's Three Miniatures' by Adam Taylor featuring principal cornet Adam Hebditch and horn player Siobhan Bates, showed contrast and style.
Excitement came with the all revving 'Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra' from the film 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade' — spotlighting some great percussion work (flugel player Harry Lear also won the 'Best Soloist' award), before they closed with 'Marcho Brioso' by Philip Sparke and PLC's 'Road to Run' — with the MD once more making a quick stage left exit to leave the spotlight firmly on his talented performers.
Adjudicator Mark Walters later commented on the winners excellent dynamic contrasts and well balanced tonal colours, whilst the winning MD added that he was immensely proud of the achievement of players that have an insatiable appetite for hard work and success.
"Proud doesn't say enough," Chris Jeans said. "The youngsters are simply brilliant and the support given by family, friends and the backroom helpers make this a real team victory."
In a contest rich in quality as well as sparkling entertainment, reigning champion Wardle Academy Youth under Lee Rigg (who also gave a super Friday evening concert) was second, with Enderby Youth and Gresley Youth just behind.
In the Junior Ensemble, Wardle Academy Junior Band under Sean Conway retained their title in splendid fashion to once again show that there is a seemingly inexhaustible supply of musical talent ready to make its mark in the school set-up.
Spokesperson Jane Conway later informed 4BR that the trip to Skegness was yet another amazing experience for the youngsters and will give them great confidence ahead of the Action Research Youth Entertainment contest in Blackpool in a few weeks time.
Judging the Junior and Youth contests was Mark Walters, who later told 4BR that he had thoroughly enjoyed himself — especially after hearing so much 'mature' musical playing.
There was also splendid performances from Shirland Training (Lynden Cooper) and Wigston Enterprise (Matthew Davis) with the talented Gabrielle Moaks (cornet) of Shirland Training taking the 'Best Soloist' prize.
Vibrancy and fun
With plenty of great entertainment on show throughout the weekend from the likes of the Jager Maestro Oompah Band, to the closing Grimethorpe Reunion Band, Butlins once again opened a busy contesting year with a sense of vibrancy and plenty of fun.
Excellent organisation from Brain Eggleshaw and his team ensured everything ran smoothly, whilst there were deserved presentations made to James Shepherd and Geoff Kirkby.
We have some exciting recording projects and concerts to look forward to, but the one thing that won't change is desire to be successful on the contest stage — and you only do that by hard workFlowers MD, Paul Holland
(Set test + Own Choice) = Total
Test Piece: Breath of Souls (Paul Lovatt-Cooper)
John Berryman and Michael Fowles (Set Work)
Michael Fowles and Brian Rostron (Entertainment)
1. Flowers (Paul Holland): 1/1 = 2
2. Virtuosi GUS (Adam Cooke): 2/3 = 5
3. Woodfalls (Dr Robert Childs): 5/2 = 7
4. Reg Vardy (Russell Gray): 3/5 = 8
5. Desford Colliery (LITWF) (Tom Davoren): 4/4 = 8
6. Friary Guildford (Chris King): 6/6 = 12
7. Redbridge Brass (Alan Duguid): 7/7 = 14
Set Work placing takes precedence in event of tie.
Highest Placed Mining Band: Reg Vardy
Most Entertaining Band: Virtuosi GUS
Geoff Dove Soloist Award: Chris Jeans (trombone) — Virtuosi GUS
Outstanding Soloist: Set Test: David Childs (euphonium) Flowers
Best Basses: Flowers
Butlins Excellence Award: James Shepherd
Test Piece: A Celt in Jerusalem (Ian McElligott)
Adjudicators: Alan Morrison and Steve Sykes
1. Hebden Bridge (Alan Hobbins)
2. Drighlington Band (John Roberts)
3. Milton Keynes Brass (Craig Patterson)
4. Skelmanthorpe (Jim Davies)
5. Knottingley Silver (Kevin Belcher)
6. Colchester (David Maddocks)
7. Becontree Brass (Nigel Taken)
8. Foresters Brass 2000 (Jack Capstaff)
9. Cornerstone Brass (Damien Wileman)
10. Kibworth (David Holling)
11. Gresley Colliery Band (David Purkiss)
12. Fulham Brass (John Ward)
13. Shirebrook Miners Welfare (Mark Wilcockson)
14. Jackfield (Elcock Reisen) (Simon Platford)
15. Enderby (Simon Gresswell)
16. Langley (Cliff Parker)
17. City of Cambridge (Peter Bassano)
18. Ireland Colliery (Chesterfield) (Richard Windle)
19. Harborough (Chris Groom)
20. Whitworth Vale & Healey (John Binns)
Withdrew: Bedford Town (Steve Phillips)
Highest Placed Mining Band: Gresley Colliery
Venue: Royal Arthur Suite
Test Piece: Fire in the Blood (Paul Lovatt-Cooper)
Adjudicators: Leigh Baker and Brian Rostron
1. Besses Boys (James Holt)
2. Soham Comrades (Jayne Murrill)
3. Rushden Town (Adele Hudson)
4. Hucknall & Linby M C (Paul Whyley)
5. Stannington Brass (Derek Renshaw)
6. Darwen Brass (Steve Hartley)
7. Ibstock Brick Brass (Simon Willis)
8. Old Silkstone (Sam Fisher)
9. Foss Dyke (Simon Oates)
10. Haydock (Mark Quinn)
11. Pemberton Old Wigan DW 'B' (Mike Golding)
12. Ellington Colliery (Jonathan Fenwick)
13. Boarshurst Silver (James Garlick)
14. Hoover (Bolton) (Craig Mann)
15. Middleton (Martyn Evans)
16. City of Coventry Brass (Stephen Cooper)
17. Cawston (David Stowell)
18. Dunston Silver (Aidan Hodgson)
19. Norfolk Wherry Brass (Kevin Mann)
20. Kippax (Jack Smith)
21. Old Hall Brass (John North)
22. Golborne (Trevor Halliwell)
23. Shirland Welfare (Lynden Cooper)
24. Tilbury (Andrew Austin)
Highest Placed Mining Band: Hucknall & Linby M C
Venue: Crazy Horse
Test Piece: Platform to the Heavens (Paul Lovatt-Cooper)
Adjudicators: Peter Roberts and Barry Thompson
1. Crofton Silver (Dean Jones)
2. Greenfield (Tom Haslam)
3. Waterbeach Brass (Andrew Kershaw)
4. Dronfield Genquip (Simon Kerwin)
5. Amington (Malcolm Read)
6. Eagley (Matt Ryan)
7. Besses o'th' Barn (Simon Cowen)
8. Littleborough Public (Adrian Woodhead)
9. Pleaseley Colliery Welfare (Geof Benson)
10. Skelmersdale Prize (Iain Culross)
11. Stamford Brass (Robert Prew)
12. East Coast Brass (Paul Speed)
13. KP Cleethorpes (Steven Askew)
14. Great Yarmouth Brass (Colin Swaep)
15. Maltby Miners Welfare (Terry Clifford)
Highest Placed Mining Band: Crofton Silver
Venue: Centre Stage
Test Piece: The Seafarers (Bruce Fraser)
Adjudicators: Kevin Holdgate and Mike Kilroy
1. Sale Brass (Alan Seymour)
2. Stalybridge Old (David W Ashworth)
3. Crystal Palace (Michael Gray)
4. Banovallum Brass (Horncastle) (Steve Ingham)
5. Thurcroft Welfare (Matthew Wright)
6. Ynyshir Band (Gary Davies)
7. Brighton & Hove City Brass (Matthew Hackett)
8. Sherwood Forest Brass (Christine Lippeatt)
9. Royston Town (Steve Earley)
10. Kirkby Colliery Welfare (Neville Buxton)
11. Whitwell Brass (Robert Woffinden)
Highest Placed Mining Band: Thurcroft Welfare
Butlins Bandsperson of the Year: Geoff Kirkby
Programme of Music not to exceed 20 minutes but must include a march and a hymn tune
Adjudicator: Mark Walters
1. Youth Brass 2000 (Chris Jeans)
2. Wardle Academy Youth (Leigh Rigg)
3. Enderby Youth (Trevor Hounsome)
4. Gresley Colliery Youth (Duncan Jackson)
Best Soloist: Harry Lear (flugel) — Youth Brass 2000
Programme of Music not to exceed 10 minutes but must include a hymn tune
Adjudicator: Mark Walters
1. Wardle Academy Junior Band (Sean Conway)
2. Shirland Training (Lynden Cooper)
3. Wigston Enterprise (Matthew Davis)
Best Soloist: Gabrielle Moaks (cornet) Shirland Training