The sixteen bands who gave of their all in tackling perhaps the hardest of all the Area set-works this year deserved an enormous amount of credit for their efforts on Sunday morning.
As had been heard around the country over the past few weeks, Dean Goffin's iconic composition was pitched at the very top end of the current level of UK-wide Second Section contest competencies, providing bands with immense difficulties in both terms of style and technical execution that for the majority were slightly beyond their capabilities.
It was also the case here — with the same type of fatigued sigh of relief from listeners and performers alike after performances that must have emanated from the lips of Monty's Desert Rats after the battles with Rommel's Afrika Korps in 1942.
Thankfully, two very experienced judges in Steve Sykes and Dr Roger Webster — who have endured plenty of testing contest day battles themselves over the years, were sympathetic to the competitor's plight.
And whilst they later admitted that as a result, the placing the bands in order of merit at the top and bottom end was not the most onerous of tasks, they did so with a great deal of care and attention when comparing and contrasting the pros and cons of performances that were so varied and variable.
For the winners however, it was a day that they will remember for a very long time, after Grimsdyke Brass delivered a thoroughly convincing rendition under the controlled direction of MD Sharon Broughall that not only took the judges to their comfort break as the clear leader, but remained in their mind as a clear leader right to the end.
Behind them came a delighted runner-up in Amersham, who produced a final furlong burst of quality as the last band of the day under MD Paul Fisher to pip the early draw markers from Milton Keynes Brass and Soham Comrades, and book their first National Finals place since 2013.
The remaining top-six places went to hard working performances from Yiewsley & West Drayton and LGB Brass.
For Grimsdyke, who despite the rather 'Northern' sounding name, are in fact from Harrow in Middlesex, a second Cheltenham appearance on four years came courtesy of a realistic approach to the demands of the test piece.
"We really enjoyed working on 'Rhapsody in Brass' despite its difficulties," Band spokesman Stuart Quinlan told 4BR. "It presented numerous challenges to overcome, but they were ones which our wonderful conductor Sharon Broughall took in her stride and gave us the confidence to master.
We were obviously thrilled that the adjudicators were so appreciative of our performance. Their positive remarks of 'bravo' and 'panache' mean spirits will be high for our upcoming summer season of concerts and for that trip to Cheltenham."
Stuart added: "That's also great news as it's only the second time we have qualified since being formed in 1979. Sharon does such a brilliant job that we can now also look forward to our promotion to the First Section. We've been there before, but now we won't be daunted by it."
Job almost done
For Amersham, it was a question of a job done almost perfection, as they deservedly claimed the second qualification spot with a brace of excellent outer movements (aided by their 'Best Trombones). Just a few too many nervous moments and minor problems in the final section cost them the title, according to Roger Webster.
It was good enough though to repel the substantive early markers from Soham Comrades (who took the 'Best Basses' award) and Milton Keynes Brass as the first two bands of the day.
They certainly produced performances of merit under Jayne Murill and Paul Fensom, whilst the mid-point break was book-ended by hard-working renditions from Yiewsley & West Drayton and 2013 Third Section Champion Band of Great Britain, LGB Brass.
Behind them the standard did fall away somewhat, although there were spirited performances from the likes of BAE Systems and Chinnor that caught the ear of listeners in the hall, whilst every band emerged from the severe test of their contesting abilities with credit.
It presented numerous challenges to overcome, but they were ones which our wonderful conductor Sharon Broughall took in her stride and gave us the confidence to master Band spokesman Stuart Quinlan
Test Piece: 'Rhapsody in Brass' (Dean Goffin)
Adjudicators: Steve Sykes and Dr Roger Webster
1. Grimsdyke (Sharon Broughall)*
2. Amersham (Paul Fisher)*
3. Milton Keynes Brass (Paul Fensom)
4. Soham Comrades (Jayne Murrill)
5. Yiewsley & West Drayton (Chris Cole)
6. LGB Brass (Ian Stewart)
7. Wantage Silver 'B' (Danny Dullforce)
8. Waterbeach (Andrew Kershaw)
9. BAE Systems (Melvin White)
10. Tilbury (Ben Jones)
11. Chinnor Silver (David Pegram)
12. Hungerford Town (Tim Crouter)
13. St. Sebastian Wokingham (Nigel Howard)
14. Littleport Brass (Nicholas Garman)
15. Welwyn Garden City (Graham Chambers)
16. Epping Forest (Keith Schroeter)
Best Bass Section: Soham Comrades
Best Trombones: Amersham
*Top two bands qualify bands for National Final at Cheltenham