2006 National Championships of Great Britain - The 10 Greatest Winning performances


In the last couple of years there have been some good winning performances, but have they been any better than the top 10 we have picked. Eevn Leyland's winner last year doesn't make it for us. These ten were real stonkers.

We had to think long and hard about our top ten for this, especially in the last couple of years there have been a few impressive performances from winning bands, and as in reality any band that has actually won the title could in theory say they won it with a "great performance".

We'll give our list first and then at the bottom our reasons why some were included when others weren't. All we say is that we considered not just the standard of the actual playing but the circumstances and context of each winning performance, from the band as a unit, the players and the conductor and the outside influences that made the win the more memorable.

Hope you enjoy our selection. If you agree or disagree then drop us a line to say why.

We haven't changed our minds from last year (again!), even though there were some pretty persuasive arguements about the merits of many a winner. The likes of Desford and their hat trick and subsequent fourth victory won many admirers, as did Scottish Co-op or CWS Glasgow as they were with their historic wins, whilst some some great "one offs" such as Brighouse in 1980 on "Carnival" or GUS on "Variations on a Ninth" in 1964 didn't make it either.  

Major Willcocks1. Black Dyke Mills – Le Roi d'Ys 1959
Conducted by Major George Wilcocks

The brass band world's equivalent of the 1966 World Cup Final. Ask any person over the age of 40 what was the greatest ever performance heard in their lives, and they'll tell you Black Dyke 1959. It has become immersed in legend and myth and more than a little romantic licence, but Murphy, Whitham, Slinger and company won the title by three clear points from Carlton Main and Fodens and took the cup and the 200 guineas prize money back to Queensbury for the first time in eight years.

Geoff Whitham became immortalised and the Black Dyke legend was born.

Frank Renton2. Grimethorpe Colliery Band – The New Jerusalem 1992
Conducted by Frank Renton

Never has the brass band world been put under such a spotlight before and never has a brass band been under so much scrutiny. Grimethorpe Colliery was being shut and the media had the whiff of a "fairy tale" story of working class endeavour overcoming Tory inspired economic stupidity. All it needed for it to come true was for Grimey to win the contest – and they didn't disappoint.

Playing off number 17 they produced the performance of their lives to take the title with 99 points and to win by a point from Desford who were on the verge of a fifth consecutive win. Tears, cameras, jubilation and the greatest pyrrhic victory of them all.

Fred Mortimer3. Fodens Motor Works – An Epic Symphony 1938
Conducted by Fred Mortimer

The unique "Double Treble". The 1930's saw Fodens become the greatest brass band of their generation under Fred Mortimer and the myth says that on the journey to London each year they had a draw amongst each other to choose which band would come second to them at the contest!

Drawn 15 out of a field of 20 they produced a performance that had one of the adjudicators state in his written remarks, "I have no more superlatives……". The band was awarded 98 marks and the players got £2 each off the owner of the company. It was more remarkable as 20 of the players had been together for more than 10 years. That they never competed at the Open during the same time just added to the mystic of the band, and the War robbed them perhaps of being invincible for a further five or more years.

Harry Mortimer4. Fairey Aviation – Overture for An Epic Occasion 1945
Conducted by Harry Mortimer

The final proof that the conducting baton had been passed from father to son and that the eldest born was now the dominant figure in the banding world.

Fairey's were a new band that had announced themselves by winning the Open during the War years (although it must be said in less strong fields than had been the custom). They came to the Nationals with Mortimer Senior conducing the Luton Band and Harry with Fairey's and a reputation to uphold.

Fairey's won by 5 points, whilst Fred came nowhere and only twice more did the father compete against the son in London – both without beating him. Fairey's became an immense force, whilst Harry became the new giant of the movement.

William Halliwell5. Irwell Springs – Labour and Love 1913
Conducted by William Halliwell

Strange you may think to put in a performance that today no one could possibly remember, but it's not how the band played, but what the band played that makes 1913 the candidate for inclusion.

Labour and Love was the first original brass band composition used at a contest and as such paved the way for other notable composers of their generation to take brass bands more seriously and to write extended works that have since become the bedrock of the movement's repertoire. If it weren't for Percy Fletcher we wouldn't have had Elgar, Howells, Ireland and many more.

Irwell were a fine band who had won the contest in 1905 and 1908 and were runners up in 1910 and 1912. Under William Halliwell they played number 5 in a field of 22 and beat St. Hilda Colliery and Black Dyke to take the 1000 Guinea Trophy and 40-guinea prize money. Irwell's place in the history books was secure.

Alex Mortimer6. CWS (Manchester) – The Force of Destiny 1962
Conducted by Alex Mortimer

Although they won the contest the following year as well (and by three points), it is this winning performance that is regarded as perhaps their greatest and one of the most memorable to have been heard at the Finals.

Alex Mortimer had forged his reputation with the band by winning the Open in 1960 and during the next few years CWS (Manchester) under his baton were one of the finest bands in the land. Drawn last but one on the stage and conducting from a wheelchair he inspired his band to produce a performance that secured victory and a place in the annals of mythic history making.

His band had players such as Derek Garside, Lyndon Baglin and Brian Evans in its ranks and their picture hangs with pride at the famous "Navigation Inn".

Peter Parkes7. Black Dyke Mills – Connotations 1977
Conducted by Major Peter Parkes

Not only was this a performance that secured Dyke their "Hat trick" of National wins, but it was a performance that left no one in doubt that they were perhaps the finest band of their generation and that percussion was finally an integral part of the brass band set up.

Connotations saw Dyke win by the massive margin of 5 clear points from Grimethorpe and the rest of the field (they won the previous two contests by three points) and saw them win "The Double Double" of Open and Nationals as well. They were nigh on unbeatable with a band of brilliant players and Peter Parkes in his pomp. The test piece was final confirmation that the inclusion of integral percussion was no longer a novelty item but a major new development which has since been utilised to the full. Many have thanked or cursed Edward Gregson ever since.

Arthur Kenney8. Cory – Fantasy for Brass Band 1974
Conducted by Major Arthur Kenney

Why not the hat trick years of 1982 – 1984 or the Millennium victory of 2000? Because 1974 announced that The Cory Band had finally arrived as a major title winning force in the banding scene, and that all their subsequent successes that culminated in the hat trick a decade later stemmed from this first victory.

The years prior to the win had seen the South Wales band achieve victories at the Mineworkers Finals and Granada Band of the Year as well as close shaves at winning the Nationals and Open, but they never quite could win a "Major". With their own Major Kenney at the helm they became the first winners to take the title out of England with a two-point victory from Grimethorpe and Elgar Howarth.

For the next ten years the band was a major force and with the pocket genius back at the helm they achieved the hat trick as the band and conductor reached their zenith. After this it was another 18 years before they reached the same heights again.

Peter Parkes9. Williams Fairey – The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea 1993
Conducted by Peter Parkes

Perhaps the last really truly crushing victory over the opposition at the National Finals. 1993 saw Fairey's take the title and with it secure the "Double" as for the second time in just about a month they played the rest of the banding world off the stage.

The Open victory was commanding enough, but this one was simply awesome and came from a band and a conductor that perhaps reached their peak together. The three-point victory over Tredegar and the rest of the 21 bands was never in doubt and they went on the secure the European title as well later the next year. At this time in 1993 they were a veritable street ahead of any other band in the land.

It also marked the last occasion that Peter Parkes had his hands on a National title and perhaps signalled the end of one of the most successful periods of conducting success at major championships there has ever been.

Geoffrey Brand10. Black Dyke Mills – A Kensington Concerto 1972
Conducted by Geoffrey Brand

The victory that signalled the end of one great era and the beginning of a new one for Black Dyke and the banding movement as a whole.

Black Dyke won with a band that was mature and brilliant and reflected accurately the way in which brass bands had become enclosed and parochial in nature and musical outlook at the and of the 1960's and early 1970's. This was banding without music students from the colleges, female players, percussion features and avant garde composers. Dyke took the title by a clear three-point margin over GUS and gave Geoffrey Brand his second National's success.

Dyke's victory was the last of a post war age that had encompassed little change – a brilliantly traditional victory by a brilliantly traditional band. Within a few years everything had changed – students, women, percussion, band loyalty. By the time they won again in 1975, the new Black Dyke era had begun.  

That's our Top 10 – What do you think?

As we stated at the beginning, it's not just about the playing of the band on the stage that makes for us a great winning performance, but the context in which it was done. That's why we have included Irwell Springs and Grimethorpe – they were occasions when the importance of the event as a whole and its consequences far outstripped the actual playing performance.

We had to give it to Dyke and 1959 as our top winner as it has now taken on almost mythical qualities, whilst the CWS (Manchester) victory isn't too far behind in the romantic legend stakes.

Dyke in 1972 and 1977 encapsulated perhaps the end and beginning of two banding eras, whilst Fairey in 1993 was the last time a band for us has really spanked everyone else into defeat. Cory in 1974 was the beginning of a ten year ascent that culminated in a hat trick and subsequent rapid decline and final rebirth, whilst Fodens in 1938 can perhaps be seen in the same context. By the time Fairey's won in 1945, the son had beaten the father and was now the dominant force of the greatest dynasty brass banding has ever known.

No Desford, Munn and Felton's or Brighouse for us as we felt that even though they were winning performances, they didn't quite stir us in the way the others did – but if you think we were wrong, them drop us a line and let us know what you think. Could 2005 provide us with a performance to equal or better any of the ones here?


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