The Virtuosi GUS Band continued their fine early season form with an impressive defence of their Midlands Regional Championship title in Bedworth.
As the penultimate band of an enjoyable contesting weekend, a high class rendition of ‘The Torchbearer’ under the direction of MD Adam Cook saw them retain the ornate People Challenge Trophy, and book their place at the Albert Hall for a 23rd time as Area champion.
They will be joined in Kensington by Desford, after they produced an engaging, if slightly less secure account under Tom Davoren to come runner-up.
Three or more
Behind the two pre-contest favourites came a delighted Jaguar Land Rover, although as adjudicator Paul Holland (who was in the box with Alan Morrison) revealed, if points had been awarded, then the two qualifiers would have finished ‘three or more’ ahead of rivals in their final analysis.
“The top two brought uplifting musicality and the quality of sound of true Championship status,” he told 4BR, before adding that both he and Alan were ‘disappointed’ at the absence of basic top flight requirements such as secure tuning, in the bands that finished at the bottom end of the results table.
In his clear cut appraisal Paul also stated that he felt many would also ‘benefit greatly’ if they were to compete in the First, rather than the Championship Section.
With Alan also giving a carefully worded, consistent critique that echoed much of what he highlighted the previous weekend in Blackpool, Paul added: “There were three big demands on bands today; soloists, quality of sound and adhering to the stated requirements of the score.
Nobody quite did all three, but the top two, and the winners in particular, had such fine soloists and such terrific quality of sound.”
So much to admire
Those opinions were echoes of what had been written in their remarks for Virtuosi GUS: ‘Picture painting stuff! So well directed by MD’, Paul Holland wrote, with Alan Morrison adding; ‘So much to admire here with a super team of soloists that brought the music off the page for the first time today. Thank You!’
Thoresby Colliery maintained their recent solid form in ending fourth, with the final top six places in a contest of variable quality going to a consistently delivered account from Ratby Co-operative and a more varied rendition from Newstead Brass.
Open stepping stone
For the winners though, victory could well prove to be an important stepping stone as they seek a return to the British Open at the Grand Shield contest in May — something that is now at the forefront of MD, Adam Cooke’s mind.
“We certainly worked hard for this victory,” he told 4BR. “We’ll enjoy it for a little while before we concentrate all our efforts on regaining our place back at the British Open. To win here was one of our aims for the first half of the year — and so is getting back to Symphony Hall.”
Adam also revealed his delight at the way his band performed on stage.
“I couldn’t have asked for more, especially from our leading soloists. David Daws and James Fountain are world class performers, but it was so encouraging that our young sop player Jack Wilson also made such a positive impression too. Everyone played their part today — I think it was a deserved victory.”
Few listeners at the Civic Hall would have disagreed with his, or the judge’s opinion — with the contest taking time to simmer to the boil as nerves (especially in the opening), sloppy ensemble and insecure solo lines blighted early renditions.
With more than two thirds of the contest completed, it was Jaguar’s musical, but pock marked rendition under Dave Lea that led the way, before they were eventually overtaken by the pre-contest favourites of first, Desford and then Virtuosi GUS.
Now, a resurgent champion will hope to be able to overcome any challengers that may bar their way to a return to the British Open in September.
There was a first ever Area title success for Jackfield Elcock Reisen to celebrate long into the small hours of Saturday night, as Simon Platford led his band to a fully deserved success with a cracking performance of ‘A London Overture’.
It was also a ‘clear winner’ according to the judges John Doyle and Mike Kilroy, both of who gave detailed appraisals of what they had heard in a contest that varied greatly in terms of overall quality.
Joining them at Cheltenham will be Gresley Colliery, directed by Simon Jones, who was the only other ‘exceptional’ band in their opinion, and a delighted third placed Shirley, led by Dave Bishop Rowe. The remaining top six places went to Bilton (Silver), Leicestershire Co-operative and Kibworth.
“This is an extremely transparent score, leaving little to chance” Mike Kilroy said. “It gives a clear indication of what is expected of you as a band”
Mike also highlighted why both he and John felt many bands simply failed to master those clear indicators. “Tempos needed restraint, dynamics needed contrast and tuning needed to be secure,” he added.
“In terms of musicality it also needed poise, space and balance. Only a small number did that at the top end with one or two exceptional.”
In making reference to the remarks given by Mike Fowles at Blackpool a week earlier, John also added his own sharp observations.
“Unison tuning was an issue today — as was tempo, musicality and concentration. We rewarded those who took well managed risks, but so many bands fell down on not putting those basics in place first. There was a clear winner today, who did all that and more.”
High quality virtues
That was certainly the case with Jackfield, who delivered a performance of high quality virtues off the number 7 draw.
“This victory has been over 30 years in the making,” a delighted Band Secretary Darrin Smith told 4BR. “Even though we have been up to the top section we have never won a famous ‘Blue Banner’ as Area champion — so you can imagine what it means to us.
Simon (Platford) has done a remarkable job with us and so much credit goes to him for this win. The last time we qualified for the Finals was in 2007, but now we want to build on this success at the Senior Trophy in Blackpool.”
Simon himself was understandably delighted when he caught up with 4BR.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything more from the players,” he said. “Even though I had told them that they couldn’t relax for one second on this piece, by the end I started to finally feel pretty happy.
Its perhaps the most complete performance we have given since I have been here since 2008 — but now our aim is to master another Sparke piece with ‘Tallis Variations’ at the Spring Festival.”
Spring in step
There was almost as much joy on the faces of the players of Gresley Colliery as they also booked their Final’s berth for the first time since 2007 with an excellent rendition under Simon Jones, whilst there was a definite spring in the step for Shirley after their early marker from the number 3 draw repelled all other challengers in the 17 band field to qualify for the first time since 2003.
Elsewhere though, despite some brave efforts, the technical challenges of four fearsome cadenzas and a lack of dynamic and tempo control in many performances saw ‘A London Overture’ certainly leave its mark those who came out of the prizes.
The musical aperitif to the Championship Section on Sunday saw a fine winner in Carlton Brass, as under the baton of Paul Watson they claimed their place at the National Final for the first time since 2003 with a commanding performance of ‘Variations on Maccabeus’.
‘Really good playing and direction’, adjudicator Mark Wilkinson stated in his written remarks, with John Berryman adding, ‘Very good generally. Good colour and playing. Well done.’
Those plaudits were also echoed in the judge’s summing up, as John stated that there had been ‘two or three very good performances’ with Mark adding that the duo had been looking for ‘the basics in place and score brought to life’.
Brought to life
That was certainly the case with the winners, whilst close on their heels came fellow qualifiers Rushden Town, whose purposeful performance under Adele Hudson just before the mid-point break held off the determined challenge of third placed Tintwistle led by Sarah Groarke Booth.
In a contest that certainly tested the technical and musical mettle of the 12 competitors, the remaining top six places went to Burbage (Buxton), Ibstock Brick Brass and Shirland Welfare.
Behind them, many MDs opted for ambitious tempos, especially in the final variation’s fugato, and also found difficulty in capturing the quaint delicacy of the tricky waltz.
“We were looking for variations of contrast and character,” John Berryman later confirmed to 4BR.
“The top three bands were very close in that respect, but some tuning issues and unforced errors separated them out. The winners were very good indeed.”
Mark agreed: “Some of the tempos induced a bit of panic in the quicker sections and the ensemble wasn’t cohesive in the slower sections. We were looking for MDs and bands that could shape the musical lines — and some of the tempo choices hampered that.”
No such problems for the winners though. “I came off stage a very happy man,” winning MD Paul Watson told 4BR. “We got off to a great start and then carried on from there. All credit goes to the players who really delivered when it mattered today.
They really enjoyed the music and fully understood what I wanted them to bring out of the score. Now we can look forward to Cheltenham.”
One of the region’s most successful bands added yet another title to their growing list of recent achievements, when Ifton Colliery took the Third Section honours.
Under the direction of Wayne Ruston, the band claimed their second Area title in three years with an excellent rendition of ‘Evolution — Five States of Change’ to book their third successive Cheltenham appearance.
“It was a very good winner,” adjudicator Mark Wilkinson later told 4BR. “There was a lot of high quality playing on show from the best bands on the day, but Ifton had that extra security and musicality in a very well directed performance.”
That was something echoed by John Berryman when he remarked that despite it being a ‘mixed bag’ of performances, no band really struggled and that there had been a great deal to enjoy with the various musical approaches by the MDs.
Joining Ifton will be a brace of strong contenders in fellow qualifiers Foss Dyke, who produced a high class marker off the number 1 draw under Simon Oates, and Hucknall & Linby, directed by Paul Whyley, in a contest where the main prizes were decided well before the comfort break at band number 9.
The remaining top six places went to Rolls Royce (Derby), Trentham Brass and Newhall.
More to come
Despite the victory, Band Chairman Kris Davies told 4BR that he believes the best is still yet to come from a band that is still yet to take the stage with full set of players.
“Strange as it may seem, but we haven’t yet filled all our vacancies. It’s a question of making sure we have the right person for the job as we are building for the future here with committed players. Our baritone player played timps on the weekend!”
He added: “Wayne is doing such a fantastic job — bringing out the music from every piece we play, improving us as musicians with each performance. It’s great to be part of banding like that — and this I think showed that.
To be honest, we came off stage thinking we could have done more, but I think that shows what we want to try and achieve at Ifton now under Wayne’s superb direction.”
It was a tale of victory grabbed from the jaws of potential disaster for Cubbington Silver, as they claimed a third Area title since 2007 on what turned out to be quite amazing 20th anniversary appearance.
Not only did the band win off the number 1 draw against 16 other rivals under MD Mark Phillips, but they also did it minus two cornet players who got themselves lost on the way to the contest!
“All our best laid plans very nearly ended in disaster,” Band Secretary Jane Edmonds told 4BR. “Due to road works we practiced a dry run of our convoy of cars before the contest, but on the day our two cornet players took a wrong turn and got stuck in traffic.”
With the band drawn number 1, disaster loomed, and despite sympathetic help from the organisers, the players only made it to the hall after the band had started playing.
“Our thanks got to the stewards who were very understanding, but we had just started to play the test piece when they arrived in the hall. Luckily we had re-jigged a few cornet parts and the extra adrenaline seemed to inspire us.”
“It was a very good performance,” adjudicator John Doyle later told 4BR. “It set a very high marker and nobody could quite get near it, despite some fine efforts from the other prize winners.”
The best of those was from Pleasley Colliery as the penultimate band of the day under Geoff Benson, whilst the third qualification place went to a delighted Porthywaen Silver conducted by Douggie Graham.
The remaining top six places in a contest that certainly showed that the competitors were fully tested in terms of style and technique by ‘An English Pastorale’ went to WEM Jubilee, Skegness Silver and Audley Brass.
Behind them the quality varied much more, with bands finding difficulty in capturing the cleverly defined musical characteristics of the five movements — from the majesty of the opening to the fleet footed lightness of the close.
As for Cubbington however, it all proved to be a great way to end what could have been a disastrous contesting day, with adjudicators even writing in their remarks — 'a performance which made me smile from start to finish.'
“Now we can launch our new CD as Area champion,” Jane added with a smile of her own. “It’s certainly been a 20th anniversary to remember so far!”
With its warm welcome and fine facilities, Regional Secretary Lesley Bentley and Chairman John Slater will have been delighted by the response and support from the competing bands and the audience of listeners over two days of excellently run contesting.
With just three withdrawals and the added attractions of the Crufts dog show and the Yorkshire Regional Championship to contend, with the Area Championship certainly showed itself to be a contest with a vibrant future.
We’ll enjoy it for a little while before we concentrate all our efforts on regaining our place back at the British OpenVirtuosi GUS MD, Adam Cooke
Test Piece: 'The Torchbearer' — Peter Graham
Sunday 8th March
Adjudicators: Alan Morrison & Paul Holland
1. Virtuosi GUS (Adam Cooke)*
2. Desford Colliery (LCIWTF) (Tom Davoren)*
3. Jaguar Land Rover (Dave Lea)
4. Thoresby Colliery (Brian Grant)
5. Ratby Co-operative (Michael Fowles)
6. Newstead Brass (Duncan Beckley)
7. Derwent Brass (Keith Leonard)
8. Staffordshire (David Purkiss)
9. Spal Sovereign Brass (David Maplestone)
10. Foresters Brass 2000 (Peter Collins)
11. Hathern (David Newman)
12. Blidworth Welfare (Martin Heartfield)
*Top 2 bands qualify for National Finals in London
Test Piece: Test Piece: 'A London Overture' — Philip Sparke
Saturday 7th March
Adjudicators: John Doyle & Mike Kilroy
1. Jackfield Elcock Reisen (Simon Platford)*
2. Gresley Colliery (Simon Jones)*
3. Shirley Band (David Bishop Rowe)*
4. Bilton Silver (Rugby) (David Stowell)
5. Leicestershire Co-operative (Graham Jacklin)
6. Kibworth (Rob Boulter)
7. Shirebrook MW Unison (Mark Wilcockson)
8. Harborough (Chris Groom)
9. Langley (Cliff Parker)
10. Oddfellows Brass (Rob Boulter)
11. Bedworth Brass (A. Green)
12. Enderby (Simon Jones)
13. Wigston (Garry Sleath)
14. Daventry Brass (Bob Stradling)
15. Ireland Colliery (Chesterfield) (Ian Knapton)
16. Bakewell Silver (Roland Spencer)
17. City of Coventry Brass (Stephen Cooper)
* Top 3 bands qualify for National Finals
Withdrawn: Phoenix West Midlands Brass (Craig Stevens)
Test Piece: 'Variations on Maccabeus' — Kevin Norbury
Sunday 8th March
Adjudicators: John Berryman & Mark Wilkinson
1. Carlton Brass (Paul Watson)*
2. Rushden Town (Adele Hudson)*
3. Tintwistle (Sarah Groarke-Booth)
4. Burbage (Buxton) (Steve Critchlow)
5. Ibstock Brick Brass (Simon Willis)
6. Shirland Welfare (Lynden Cooper)
7. Raunds Temperance (Robin Newman)
8. Long Eaton Silver Prize (Sharon Stansfield)
9. Brackley & District (Alexander Webb)
10. Avonbank (Evesham) (Warren Belshaw)
11. Amington (Bob Stradling)
12. Shipston Town (Mark Allen)
* Top 2 bands qualify for the National Finals in Cheltenham
Test Piece: Test Piece:'Evolution, Five States of Change' — Philip Sparke
Saturday 7th March
Nicholas Chamberlaine Technology College
Adjudicators: John Berryman & Mark Wilkinson
1. Ifton Colliery (Wayne Ruston)*
2. Foss Dyke (Simon Oates)*
3. Hucknall & Linby MC Brass (Paul Whyley)*
4. Rolls Royce (Derby) (Graham Cardwell)
5. Trentham Brass (Mike Caveney)
6. Newhall (Kevin Holdgate)
7. City of Birmingham (Iain Masson)
8. Arrow Valley (Andy Culshaw)
9. Matlock (Geoff Hawley)
10. Towcester Studio (Neil Brownless)
11. Resdev Market Rasen (David Dernley)
12. Wellington (Telford) (Fiona Rolfe)
13. Stamford Brass (Robert Prew)
14. University of Warwick (Simon Hogg)
15. Cleobury Mortimer Concert Brass (Craig Stevens)
16. Fairfield (Buxton) (Charles Kitchen)
17. Melton (Graham Sutton)
18. Moulton 77 (Roger Stevens)
* Top 3 bands qualify for National Final
Test Piece: Test Piece: 'An English Pastorale'- Dean Jones
Sunday 8th March
Nicholas Chamberlaine Technology College
Adjudicators: Mike Kilroy & John Doyle
1. Cubbington Silver (Mark Phillips)*
2. Pleasley Colliery Welfare (Geoff Benson)*
3. Porthywaen Silver (Douggie Graham)*
4. WEM Jubilee (Roger Thorne)
5. Skegness Silver (Steve Walker)
6. Audley Brass (Tom Hancock)
7. Whitwell Brass (Robert Woffinden)
8. Stourport-on-Severn (Oliver Wilson)
9. Burbage Silver (Christopher Small)
10. Corby Silver (Cathy Fountain)
11.Ratby Co-operative Mid (Geoff Newman)
12. Malvern Hills District (Chris License)
13. Croft Silver (Ian Needham)
14. Bestwood Welfare Black Diamonds (David Cutting)
15. Kirkby Colliery Welfare (Neville Buxton)
16. Ilkeston Brass (Dave Jones)
17. Syston (Dennis Powell)
*Top 3 bands qualify for National Finals.
Black Country Brass