Filton Concert Brass, an organisation with an innovative 21st century approach to overcoming the historic 20th century challenges of contesting, produced a performance full of traditional high quality musical virtues to claim the Senior Cup.
In keeping with their ethos though, their evocative rendition of 'Fragile Oasis' still gave the judges 'something extra' under MD Tom Davoren, in what was an entertaining battle in claiming a second successive victory at the Spring Festival, following last year's Senior Trophy success.
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It certainly made the right impression on the two men in the box — with Paul Holland describing it in his written remarks as; '…a terrific performance, expertly directed'.
Meanwhile, John Doyle, (who played in major role in getting the work commissioned from composer Peter Meechan for Leyland Band in 2013), went even further: 'I feel this piece was written for you not Leyland!! Thank you so much for an outstanding and musical show. I have goosebumps.'
After qualifying for their first Albert Hall National Finals appearance earlier this year at Torquay, Filton is now just one step away from the British Open — a remarkable achievement for a band that was only formed in 1976 and has employed a very specific approach to meeting the modern day challenges faced by players who lead busy careers, but who still wish to play at the highest level.
"I don't think there is a Championship level band quite like us," Tom Davoren admitted. "But it's an approach that has served us well for many years. It's one that appreciates individual player's needs without losing sight of what we all want to collectively achieve.
That flexibility of targeting specific objectives works for us. We had two this year — London and the Senior Cup, and it's paid off. The players deserve so much credit. We enjoy our brand of banding and I think there is much, much more to come."
Joining Filton in the Grand Shield in 2018 will be a trio of equally ambitious rivals — led by Friary Guildford, another well run band that continues to make a significant mark at Championship level. The London & Southern Counties Regional champion once again delivered in confident style on a major contest stage under Chris King, as they made an immediate return following last year's relegation.
Meanwhile, East Yorkshire Motor Services continued their good form under MD Stig Maersk, as unlike counterparts Reg Vardy in the Grand Shield, they headed back to the North of England delighted by their third placed finish. And on what was a disappointing day overall for Welsh banding, there was a fine result to celebrate for City of Cardiff (Melingriffith), as they secured the final promotion slot under Nigel Seaman.
Just missing out (with Paul Holland telling the audience that 'the top five' really brought out the energy, pulse and reflective lyricism required in what was a demanding test) came a fine account from Cornish contenders St Dennis, with the final top-six slot going to Ratby Co-operative.
Speaking to 4BR, both judge's were full of praise for the efforts of the 20 competitors, with Paul particularly impressed by what he said was 'some really outstanding euphonium playing' as well as the general standard of all the solo contributions — none more so than Foden's Gary Curtin who shone as the 'Best Instrumentalist' guest player with Co-operative Funeralcare (North West).
However, there were others areas that also caught their ears in the box. "We enjoyed a great day," Paul said before adding. "All the bands offered us something, but it was a straightforward decision. We felt a bit sorry for the band in fifth — it was very, very close to making it through.
The winners certainly gave us something extra and the top five were very good. We looked for balance, an accurate rhythmic pulse, colourful energy and the reflective lyricism."
John added: "The best gave us that, although sometimes the basses did overcook things and the faster sections were not always rhythmically accurate. We also felt there had been a bit of re-writing, especially in the solo cornet parts. I know they were hard, but it was a little bit blatant at times — as was some of the percussion playing. Some of it, as Paul said, was a little over the top."
With East Yorkshire Services providing the duo with an early marker of confidence and detail, it wasn't until after the mid-point break that they were topped on a piece that highlighted the need for a detailed appreciation of balance, texture and colour to go with its more obvious technical flourishes.
Filton certainly produced that with a performance that stuck in the mind: Tom Davoren's vibrant take; with a bold rhythmic structure underpinning the foundation on which a rich ensemble balance of wide dynamic range and top class soloists, from tuba to soprano shone, brought the score to life.
Behind them came Friary Guildford, with a mature account, which although not technically perfect had an authentic stamp of quality running through it from start to finish, whilst City of Cardiff (Melingriffith) showed fine dynamic control in a rendition that resonated in the box with its considered approach to pip St Dennis.
The Cornish band may have made the long trip home a little disappointed at missing out, but their emerging maturity should serve them well for the rest of this season and beyond under their talented MD.
Ratby Co-operative's top-six finish was gained in no small part to Howard Evans' sensible approach as they headed home a batch of midfield finishers that showcased both their strengths and weaknesses. Each — from Goodwick in seventh to Kingdom Brass in thirteenth emerged from a stern test with merit, whilst others such as Oldham (Lees) will feel a little unlucky that their colourful account didn't quite resonate in the box as much as it did in the hall.
Behind them came those that found significantly more problems with 'Fragile Oasis' — although as the judge's pointed out, each brought something of note from the score. However, dropping through the relegation trap-door was Fishburn, Marsden Silver, Derwent Brass and Redbridge.
With so many bands at the Spring Festival relying on 'help', 'Fragile Oasis' proved to be something of a musical metaphor for the 'fragile' state of many competitors. Less than 12 hours before the first contest was due to start, last minute 'signings' were still being processed by the hard working British Open registrar Colin Johnson.
Perhaps then, many could do with finding out how and why Filton has managed so successfully to overcome potential contest troubles that is inventive, flexible and ultimately successful. They are certainly an enlightening contesting band in all sorts of ways.
targeting specific objectives works for us. We had two this year — London and the Senior Cup, and it's paid off. The players deserve so much credit. We enjoy our brand of banding and I think there is much, much more to comeTom Davoren
Test Piece: Fragile Oasis (Dr Peter Meechan)
Adjudicators: John Doyle & Paul Holland
1. Filton Concert Brass (Tom Davoren)*
2. Friary Guildford (Chris King)*
3. East Yorkshire Motor Services (Stig Maersk)*
4. City of Cardiff (Melingriffith) (Nigel Seaman)*
5. St Dennis (Darren Hawken)
6. Ratby Co-operative (Howard Evans)
7. Goodwick Brass (Matthew Jenkins)
8. Co-operative Funeralcare (North West) (Jeff Sparkes)
9. Skelmanthorpe (Jim Davies)
10. Oldham (Lees) (John Collins)
11. Blackburn & Darwen (Neil Samuel)
12. Newtongrange Silver (Andrew Duncan)
13. Kingdom Brass (Paul Drury)
14. Staffordshire (Steven Walsh)
15. Jackfield (Elcock Reisen) (Simon Platford)
16. Yorkshire Imperial Urquhart Travel (Dr David Thornton)
17. Redbridge (Jeremy Wise)**
18. Derwent Brass (Keith Leonard)**
19. Marsden Silver (Alan Widdop)**
20. Fishburn (David Hirst)**
Best Instrumentalist: Gary Curtin (euphonium) — Co-operative Funeralcare (North West)
*Top four bands promoted to Grand Shield
**Bottom four bands relegated to Senior Trophy