2013 Champions: Jaguar Land Rover
There was a knowing smile on the face of Dave Lea as he collected the winner’s trophy from adjudicators Richard Marshall and Graham Jones at Bedworth’s Civic Hall.
It was the smile of a man quietly revelling in the knowledge that his hard working band had at last succeeded in becoming a deserved Midlands Regional Champion: 25 long years of waiting had come to an inspired end.
As surprising as the result may have appeared as it was filtered by twitter and text to all corners of the banding globe, it was in fact a competitive breakthrough that has been on the cards for some time.
Jaguar Land Rover has proved to be one of the most consistent bands around in recent years with Dave Lea slowly building a team of confident players.
Bolstered by a talented array of soloists that also delivered stylish, admirably secure contributions to ‘Harmony Music’, they proved themselves worthy winners.
The contest had suffered from the late withdrawal of reigning champion Desford in a singularly moribund protest over the BBP registry, although the resulted in the remaining rivals, including Thoresby Colliery, Sovereign and Newstead battling impressively for what was seen as a gold plated opportunity to qualify in their absence.
It made for an intriguing twist to an absorbing contest in which two bands emerged head and shoulders above the rest.
They were also drawn together for a second year running, with Virtuosi GUS under John Berryman delivering a bracing, adrenalin fuelled reading that although displaying driving energy and momentum, also fell prone to fleeting ensemble insecurities and occasional moments of wavering intonation.
The cadenzas were stylishly, if not faultlessly delivered, yet there was always a nagging sense that the door to victory was being left open.
It was entered by the band that had denied GUS a place at last year’s National Finals.
For Jaguar Land Rover, playing immediately after the judges comfort break, the opening bars were amongst the most in tune of the day, with only the slightest blemishes being heard during the metronomic progress of the Molto Vivace.
Whilst Virtuoso GUS had given an exquisite account of the Ravel ‘Homage’ with note perfect soloists in the cadenzas, Dave Lea shaped his glowing Ravelian textures with loving care in a refined demonstration of just how his band has grown in musical maturity.
With the pressure released, the ending was one of unbridled drive and accuracy, capping a performance that was imparted with clear enjoyment by the players: 90 minutes later and that enjoyment turned to elation as they celebrated victory in vocal fashion.
Meanwhile, Thoresby Colliery’s podium finish came via a muscular account under a grimly determined Brian Grant. It was highlighted by the subtly nuanced approach to the slow movement, although a tendency to headlong propulsion and over exuberance in the closing sections was clearly noted in the box.
Sovereign’s fourth place was deserved reward for a dynamic account under David Maplestone that fell prone to ragged ensemble at key moments, whilst the same fate befell Newstead Brass, whose performance proved too inconsistent to repeat their giant killing feat of 2006.
On its return to the top section, sixth placed Ratby Cooperative will have been well pleased with its vibrant account under Mike Fowles, whilst Derwent Brass in seventh continued to show its steady upward progress with a rendition that just needed a little extra character to make a more telling mark.
Behind them, Gresley Colliery, Phoenix West Midlands Brass and Jackfield (Elcock Reisen) all delivered uneven, at times wildly flailing accounts that never quite succeeded in taming a test piece that was obviously at the edge of their developing limits, whilst Oddfellows Brass learnt a salutary lesson in the perils of life in banding’s upper echelon.
Whilst Jaguar Land Rover and Virtuosi GUS will make their way to London as contenders occupying slightly different levels of major championship development, on this evidence both are more than capable of raising their challenges to even greater competitive heights.
You feel it won’t be the last time you will see a smile like that on the face of Dave Lea this year – and on this form, maybe as soon as the Grand Shield in Blackpool