The Middleton Band secured an impressive victory in the Second Section in a cracking contest that saw a host of well-matched bands shine on Jonathan Bates' engaging set-work, 'Ex Terra Lucem'.
None though was a bright as Middleton in the opinion of judges Derek Southcott and Tom Davoren, as MD Kevin Gibbs inspired his band to a clearly defined and long overdue victory, sending them back to the National Finals for the first time since 2013.
In fact the last time they had tasted any contest success was back in 2009 at the Marsden March & Hymn Tune event, although since the appointment of the talented Welshman last year, a near miss at the Rochdale contest and a solid showing at Butlins earlier this year held rich promise — something that was fulfilled in fine fashion against a strong field of rivals.
They will be joined in Cheltenham by a brace of impressive qualifiers, with Bollington Brass and Flixton led by and benefiting from the vast experience of conductors Peter Christian and Ian Brownbill in claiming the podium spots ahead of solidly portrayed accounts from Old Hall Brass, Besses o'th' Barn and Marple.
Played with confidence
Both judges praised the efforts of all the bands on a test-piece that enabled them to play with confidence in the compact acoustic of the Pavilion Theatre — which for the vast majority of the day was packed with supporters and players all eager to hear their favourites and rivals perform.
Little wonder it was also full to the brim for the results, as a number would have been feeling confident of their qualification chances, although it soon became clear what both Tom and Derek had been looking for in giving excellent addresses that touched upon the elements that caused problems as well as those that allowed both ensembles and soloists to shine.
The vast majority brought out the dance-like feel of the opening 'Brigantes' section, whilst contrasting it with ensemble warmth and solo security in the central 'St Elyn's Church'. The final 'From the Ground, Light', which gives rise to the work's Latin title, was invariably delivered with brio and energy, despite some bands losing focus with overblowing.
And whilst the prizes for 'Best Trombones' and 'Best Percussion' were claimed by Bollington and Besses Boys, Bollington's principal cornet Robbie Richardson would have surely won a 'Best Soloist' award if it had been presented, such was the fine impression his playing made on the men in the box.
However, it was Middleton's all round excellence that won the day, with both judges confirming that theirs was the one performance "that stood out" amid some fine efforts.
Those came from the early marker from a confident Besses o'th' Barn, before Bollington raised the bar just before the mid-point comfort break. A little while later it was Middleton who edged it almost out of reach with their compact, cohesive approach of controlled dynamics and tempi that couldn't be matched despite the fine efforts of the late draw challengers of Marple, Flixton and Old Hall Brass.
None though was a bright as Middleton in the opinion of judges Derek Southcott and Tom Davoren, as MD Kevin Gibbs inspired his band to a clearly defined and long overdue victory, sending them back to the National Finals for the first time since 20134BR
Adjudicators: Tom Davoren and Derek Southcott
1. Middleton (Kevin Gibbs)*
2. Bollington Brass (Peter Christian)*
3. Flixton (Ian Brownbill)*
4. Old Hall Brass (John North)
5. Besses o'th'Barn (Trevor Halliwell)
6. Marple (Stephen Curtis)
7. Haydock (Mark Quinn)
8. Greenfield (Tom Haslam)
9. Pemberton Old Wigan DW 'B' (Mike Golding)
10. Blackpool Brass (John Pearson)
11. Eagley (Chris Wormald)
12. Formby (Louise Hough MBE)
13. Hazel Grove (Nigel Beasley)
14. Farnworth & Walkden (Luke Pallister)
15. Besses Boys (James Holt)
16. Whitworth Vale & Healey (Chris Binns)
17. Horwich RMI (Matt Ryan)
18. Valley Brass (Haydock) (David Chadwick)
19. Delph (Phil Goodwin)
20. Darwen Brass (Gordon Clough)
21. Trinity Girls (David Ashworth)
*Qualify for National Final at Cheltenham
Best Trombones: Bollington
Best Percussion: Besses Boys