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2023 British Open Championship
Take 5 from 25 years at Symphony Hall

Five memorable winning performances from the 25 years that the British Open Championship has been held at Symphony Hall.

The British Open Championship has now been held at Symphony Hall in Birmingham for the past 25 years.

The first event should of course have been September 1997, but following the death in Paris of Diana Princess of Wales, it was postponed until the following January. Eight months later the 1998 contest took place.


The hall has hosted the Euroepan Championships

The hall itself was officially opened in June 1991 and quickly became regarded as one of the finest in the world – the 2,262-seat auditorium providing a fine viewing and listening experience.  Invariably it has been sold out come the day of the contest ever since. 

Over her last quarter of a century there have been many fantastic winning performances – and quite a few that may not have captured the imagination of the judges as much as they did the audience.

However, here are five winners that were memorable for many different reasons.


Yorkshire Building Society – 1997
Saturday 17th January 1998
Conductor: David King
Whitsun Wakes (Michael Ball)

Even though they had already claimed a brace of European titles, there was still a feeling that YBS was still nothing more than a rebadged Hammonds Sauce with cash to burn.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. 

On their return to the British Open in 1995 they came third and the following year sixth. However, by the time they headed to Symphony Hall on a chilly January 1998 morning, David King had tweaked things almost to musical perfection. 

There were some cracking early performances from rivals – notably Grimethorpe under Peter Parkes. However, what followed took the breath away. First, CWS Glasgow led by Howard gained 197 points from the judges David Read, William Relton and James Williams.

Then, as they headed back with the applause still ringing in their ears, on came YBS and delivered an unbeatable performance of emotional heft and technical brilliance. 

Two bands later William Fairey and James Gourlay raised it a point higher. 

Then, as they headed back with the applause still ringing in their ears, on came YBS and delivered an unbeatable performance of emotional heft and technical brilliance. 

It gained 199 points – and nobody that followed had it in them to deliver perfection.

David King later said that he had “realised a long held ambition.” He was to repeat it again three more times in the next six years.


Buy As You View Cory – 2000
Saturday 9th September
Conductor: Robert Childs
Ceremony (Michael Ball)

The test-piece may no longer trigger an immediate recall response in the mind, but there is no doubt the victory does.

Just three months prior to the event Cory appointed Robert Childs as their Musical Director after a victory at a local Wesh contest.  There were rumours that he wasn’t even the first choice for the job.

After they performed as the 22nd and penultimate band of a long contest day at Symphony Hall, any lingering doubters had also unanimously changed their mind.

After they performed as the 22nd and penultimate band of a long contest day at Symphony Hall, any lingering doubters had unanimously changed their mind.

It was a performance that set a benchmark that was to elevate Cory into the rarified atmosphere of greatness. It has never been lost since - a blueprint for success that melded technical brilliance and forensic detail with complete and utter musical certainty.

Two months later they did the ‘Double’ with the famous Gold Shield returning to Treorchy a further four times under his command.  They were never outside the top-six from that time until their last win together in 2011 either.


Foden's Band
Saturday 13th September - 2008
Conductor: Garry Cutt
Rococo Variations (Edward Gregson)

Garry Cutt has led bands to success at the British Open in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. 

Each victory has been memorable in its own way; Kennedy Swinton (1989) and Marple (1996) with bands considered as ‘outsiders’, whilst his 2004 win with Foden’s on ‘Contest Music’ came in the year of three-way ‘own choice’ experimentation. 

This one though had a much more personal validation. Less than 24 hours before taking to the stage, Garry was informed of the death of his brother Gordon, aged just 52.   

Where he drew the courage and fortitude from the conduct will remain with him for ever more – as will the performance that had such a sense of musical authority and understanding.  

Where he drew the courage and fortitude from to conduct will remain with him for ever more – as will the performance that had such a sense of musical authority and understanding.  The central Heaton inspired ‘Lament’  was drawn from the heart.  

At its close he acknowledged his band in full, leaving the stage with a simple bow of the head.  He had given everything and more.   The post results celebrations were understandably muted and poignant, his mind and thoughts elsewhere amid the hubbub around him on stage.

It was truly remarkable performance from a truly remarkable conductor.


Valaisia Brass Band
Saturday 9th September - 2017
Conductor: Arsene Duc
Fraternity (Thierry Deleruyelle) 

The inclusion of the highest placed European band from the previous year’s European Championship had already given an extra competitive edge to the British Open when it was introduced in 2015.

However, the thought of a foreign band emulating the all-star Newcastle Steel Works Band of 1924 or the National Band of New Zealand in 1953 and actually claiming the title was still seen as an outside bet.

The Brits had be warned though. 

European Champion Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern came eighth in 2015, whilst Brass Band Willebroek was fourth the following year.

Those inside the auditorium were stunned by its precision and sheer bravura artistry, whilst those who opted for a ‘cup of tea’ thinking they were not going to miss anything were left to wonder what on earth had just sent the crowd spilling out onto the main concourse babbling in admiration. 

And whilst Valaisia Brass Band had come third behind Cory and Black Dyke at the 2016 Europeans in Lille, those who heard them there knew they were a band to fear. 

So it proved. A brilliant reprise rendition of ‘Fraternity’  (which was the set-test in Lille) took the roof off Symphony Hall. 

Those inside the auditorium were stunned by its precision and sheer bravura artistry, whilst those who opted for a ‘cup of tea’ thinking they were not going to miss anything (they were drawn amid unfancied contenders) were left to wonder what on earth had just sent the crowd spilling out onto the main concourse babbling in admiration. 

There was no surprise come the result. It was like seeing a brass band version of Hungary beating England 7-3 at Wembley in 1953.  Nobody dares miss them now.


Brighouse & Rastrick
Saturday 10th September – 2022
Conductor: Prof David King
The World Rejoicing (Edward Gregson)

When Brighouse & Rastrick Band won the British Open in 1978, few people would have imagined that it would be another 44 years before they triumphed again.

Their victory at Belle Vue came in an era before Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and when the full results of the contest were still a jealously guarded secret.  

A whole host of great conductors had tried their luck with the West Riding band in the years that followed – Derek Broadbent, James Scott, James Watson, Adrian Leaper, Allan Withington, Ian McElligott, James Gourlay and Alan Morrison before David King arrived in 2009.

It was a performance of mature, mesmerising quality - and one that rolled back the years in more ways than one. 

The curse seemed to remained though, as despite coming tantalisingly close, victory eluded them until he finally led them to a scintillating triumph on ‘The World Rejoicing’.

It was a performance of mature, mesmerising quality - and one that rolled back the years in more ways than one. 

Not only was it the band’s first success in over four decades it was also the Australian’s first Open triumph since 2004. 

You can’t imagine it will be another 44 years before they do it again.

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