The famous name of the Fairey Band will now be engraved on the North West Area Trophy for a fourteenth time following their outstanding victory at the Winter Gardens on Sunday evening.
The resurgent Stockport band’s stunning performance beat off the determined challenge of rivals Foden's to see them clasp the cup for the first time since 2001, and give MD Garry Cutt his seventh victory at the contest since 2004.
No extra spot
With no extra qualification spot for London on offer for the first time since 2006, the atmosphere in the Opera House auditorium was electrifying as the results were announced, with gasps of shock as hat-trick chasing Leyland was revealed in sixth.
With the excited supporters of Blackburn & Darwen celebrating their fifth place, and Milnrow's highly persuasive account only managing fourth, a thrilled Co-operative Funeralcare North West certainly showed their emotions as they claimed their best ever finish in third.
The denouement was met with a resounding outpouring of joy following Foden’s announcement as runner-up, as for the first time in thirteen years the name of Fairey was once again accompanied by the epithet, North West Area Champion.
Garry Cutt could not contain his delight when speaking to 4BR on Monday morning, although he rather played down his own remarkable personal record at the contest.
He has now won the title with Leyland, Foden’s and Fairey, and was the first recipient of the Roy Newsome Memorial Trophy presented by his widow Muriel, following his latest success.
"Fairey’s performance ranks as one of the most musically satisfying in my career," he said.
"St Magnus is a huge work that requires thoughtful use of dynamics, textures and tempos, and asks so much of the players to make it work successfully. All of mine did that perfectly on stage."
Garry also revealed that the ground work for the success had been building since their appearance at the RNCM Festival of Brass in January.
"The influence of the new band members has been a huge boost — and all have shown remarkable commitment and dedication. Four of them clock up 250 miles round trip for every rehearsal!"
He added: "This has just enhanced a terrific work ethic and team spirit that I’ve not witnessed in banding for a long time.
To win the title a seventh time is very nice personally, but to win it a first time with a band full of players such as this, and to be presented with the Roy Newsome Trophy as a result, is much more special."
Welshman Jim Davies was joined in the adjudicator’s box by Barry Thompson, and with tongue firmly in his cheek, he admitted his disappointment with the result — although he quickly pointed out that he was referring to the title battle at Twickenham rather than the playing in Blackpool.
There were ‘two outstanding performances and a lot of very good performances' he said, before adding that both judges felt a number of bands suffered by trying to play too quickly at times.
Head and shoulders
In conversation with 4BR, Jim revealed that Fairey and Foden's were in his opinion, 'head and shoulders' above the rest of the field, whilst also stating that intonation issues had been a factor in separating the top two bands.
For Fairey, the only intonation problems they encountered following an outstanding victory was with the quality of their close harmony celebratory signing from the nearest Winter Gardens bar.
Ashton-under-Lyne directed by Phil Chalk celebrated their return to the National Finals for the first time since 2005 following victory in the First Section.
In the view of adjudicators Simon Kerwin & Richard Marshall, the Tameside band’s interpretation of 'Cry of the Mountain' was, 'a clear winner' — a view shared by the majority of the audience who enjoyed a highly competitive contest in the Pavilion Theatre on Sunday afternoon.
Joining them in Cheltenham will be Oldham (Lees), who managed to squeeze past a brace of fine performances from Roberts Bakery and Vernon Building Society Poynton to secure the second qualification spot, with the remaining top six places going to the consistent duo of Morecambe and Longridge.
The judges certainly knew what they were looking for, as the Black Dyke principal cornet player revealed in a detailed appraisal of their joint thoughts to 4BR.
"We thought the piece was an excellent choice for this level," Richard said. "It tested all the basics such as intonation, but also required a great deal of musicality."
He thought that the clarity of Ashton's performance was a key factor in claiming the Lancastrians victory, whilst he also revealed that it had been ‘very close’ between the three bands that eventually battled for the second qualification place.
It was no surprise then that Ashton MD, Philip Chalk, who is back for another spell at the helm with a band that has always been close to his heart, was delighted with the victory. He also felt the set work was one that was under estimated at a conductor’s peril.
"It was a piece that required all the contest fundamentals to be in place to do it justice," he said.
"Balance intonation, graded dynamics and quality of sound — all that and then more. I'm glad it found approval in the box and I can only congratulate the band for its hard work in recent weeks."
There was a mixture of relief and celebration in the air following Mossley’s victory in the Second Section.
The multiple Butlins champion finally came up trumps at the Area Championship, as conducted by MD Duncan Byers they were declared ‘a clear winner’ on ‘Chaucer’s Tunes’ according to judges Alan Morrison and Allan Holdworth.
When 4BR caught up with Alan (who also judged the same section at the Scottish Championship in Perth 24 hours previously), the ABBA chairperson gave further insight into their thoughts.
"It was a very competitive battle and congratulations go to all of the competitors on what is a good test for this level," he said.
"Whilst a lot of bands got hold of the technical aspects, it was rhythmic issues that proved to be the difficult obstacle to overcome. Both Allan and I also thought that many bass sections were just too loud."
For the bands that were successful, Alan added that balance of sound, expression and phrasing in the slower sections stood out, with the winners delivering a reading of ‘control, consistency and plenty of nous from the MD.’
Making the journey to Cheltenham for the second year in a row will be Marple under MD Les Webb, as they came runner-up on their first appearance following promotion from the Third Section.
A solid Manx Concert Brass was third, as they made the welcome trip over from the Isle of Man, with the remaining top six places in a high quality contest going to Hazel Grove, Silk Brass and Eccles Borough.
Having achieved two firsts and a fifth over the past three years, Mossley now know they will be back in the First Section in 2015, although after coming off stage, the MD did wonder if it could have been a different story.
"Whilst I'm naturally delighted with the win, I did come off a touch disappointed that our best performance had been left in the band room," Duncan told 4BR.
However, as Alan gave his detailed assessment of the piece from the stage, Duncan also admitted that he finally felt it may be his band’s day at last.
"Alan highlighted everything that I've been telling the band for the past month, so if it wasn’t to be after that then I think I would have wondered if we were ever going to win here!"
The cavernous surroundings of the Empress Ballroom played host to the 17 bands in a competitive Third Section, with Philip Wilby's 'Partita for Band' (Postcards from Home), proving a taxing hurdle to overcome to get to Cheltenham.
That later became just 16, as Douglas Town were disqualified for a registration infringement, making their trip from the Isle of Man a disappointing experience.
No such disappointment for Darwen Brass though, as they led a trio of quality qualifiers that will see them joined by City of Chester and Old Hall Brass. Darwen also took the Percussion Award — the first time the section had played competitively together as a unit.
The remaining top six places went to the fancied pre contest favourites Boarshurst Silver, Blackpool Brass and Golborne.
The result means Darwen will return to Cheltenham for the second time in three years, and it's something the band is looking forward to as MD, Steve Hartley revealed: "It's great to be going back again. We came fifth last time in the Fourth Section, so we know what to expect."
He added: "I thought the piece was a tough test, and having drawn last we came off stage knowing we had played well with the rest being in the lap of the gods."
Good overall standard
Adjudicator Stephen Brodie, who was joined by John Roberts, later told 4BR that the duo had enjoyed a good overall standard of playing.
"It was high, but we had a very clear winner. A number of bands didn't master the acoustic too well though — especially the percussion sections which went OTT at times."
He also noted that ambitious tempo choices were also unsuitable for the boomy acoustic, although he praised the cornet players in the third movement for what he called, ‘their nerves of steel’.
Stacksteads was certainly in contesting dreamland after the band from central Lancashire took the spoils in the Fourth Section.
They only returned to contesting last year after a 20 year absence, and now find themselves heading to the National Finals alongside Valley Brass (Haydock).
Gordon Higginbottom and Brian Rostron oversaw the competitive 16 band field before the renowned tenor horn player gave a straightforward assessment of a piece inspired by a country where he'd previously lived.
"Not all of the bands got into Spanish mode," he said before the results, adding that, "...wrong notes at bar 65 and other small errors certainly made a difference."
Put into words
There was certainly no problem with atmosphere or wrong notes for the eventual winners, with MD, Fred Bowker still in a state of shock when 4BR spoke to him on Monday morning.
"It's actually difficult to put into words that we are going to Cheltenham," he said, still sounding a touch bewildered.
"I've not been with the band too long, and we are primarily a concert band with over thirty players.
I set out three objectives to achieve last year — play at the Areas, Whit Friday and a contest like Hardraw Scar, so to qualify this year changes all that for the better!"
Valley Brass (Haydock) won't forget their qualifying success for a while either, with six players on stage for the first time from their youth band and senior learner group, which was something spokesperson Amanda Chadwick (wife of MD, David) was naturally delighted about.
With band also taking the percussion award, her words, ‘simply brilliant’ summed things up perfectly.
In a contest full of vibrancy and atmosphere, Skelmersdale Prize just missed out on a trip to Cheltenham, with the remaining top six places going to well constructed accounts from Greenfield, Pilling Jubilee Silver and Sale Brass.
For hard working Regional Secretary, Peter Bates, the day ended with the earliest finish he could remember for a long time — a great relief after problems on the motorway network had threatened to cause delays.
In a light-hearted but pointed speech, Peter also issued a rallying cry to the banding folk of the North West to help run the event in the years ahead. The point was not lost on those who had just enjoyed a memorable day of North West contesting.
This has just enhanced a terrific work ethic and team spirit that I’ve not witnessed in banding for a long timeGarry Cutt
Test Piece: 'St Magnus' — Kenneth Downie
Adjudicators: Jim Davies & Barry Thompson
1. Fairey (Garry Cutt)*
2. Foden’s (Allan Withington)*
3. Co-operative Funeralcare North West (Jef Sparkes)
4. Milnrow (Mareika Gray)
5. Blackburn & Darwen (Huw Thomas)
6. Leyland (Michael Bach)
7. Pemberton Old Wigan DW (Stig Maersk)
8. Rainford (Gareth Brindle)
9. Wingates (Paul Andrews)
10. Wardle Anderson Brass (Steven Walsh)
Withdrew: Bollington Brass (Peter Christian)
Withdrew: Freckleton (Paul Dalton)
Percussion Award: Fairey
* Top 2 bands qualify for National Final
Test Piece: 'Cry of the Mountain' — Howard Lorriman
Adjudicators: Simon Kerwin & Richard Marshall
1. Ashton-Under-Lyne (Phil Chalk)*
2. Oldham (Lees) (John Collins)*
3. Roberts Bakery (Simon Stonehouse)
4. Vernon Building Society Poynton (Neil Samuel)
5. Morecambe (Andrew Warriner)
6. Longridge (Mark Peacock)
7. Poulton-Le-Fylde (John Wood)
8. Haslingden & Helmshore (David Holland)
9. Whitworth Vale & Healey (John Binns)
10. Crewe Brass (Jamie Meredith)
11. Haydock (Mark Quinn)
12. Diggle (Johnathan Evans)
13. Uppermill (Alan Widdop)
14. Hoover Bolton (Trevor Halliwell)
15. Flixton (Stephen Curtis)
Percussion Award: Ashton-under-Lyne
*Top 2 bands qualify for National Final
Test Piece: 'Chaucer's Tunes' — Dr Michael Ball
Adjudicators: Allan Holdworth & Alan Morrison
1. Mossley (Duncan Byers)*
2. Marple (Les Webb)*
3. Manx Concert Brass (Ian Clague MBE)
4. Hazel Grove (Nigel Beasley)
5. Silk Brass (David Holling)
6. Eccles Borough (Andrew White)
7. Eccleston Brass (Daniel Brooks)
8. Pemberton Old Wigan DW 'B' (Peter Ashley)
9. Delph (Philip Goodwin)
10. Cheshire Constabulary (David Woollam)
11. Middleton (Martyn Evans)
12. Tyldesley (Robert Taylor)
13. Farnworth & Walkden (Peter Ashley)
14. Dobcross Silver (Tim Sidwell)
15. Besses Boys (James Holt)
16. Besses o’th’Barn (Alan Wycherley)
Percussion Award: Mossley
*Top 2 bands qualify for National Final
Test Piece: 'Partita for Band'(Postcards from Home)- Prof Philip Wilby
Adjudicators: Stephen Brodie & John Roberts
1. Darwen Brass (Steve Hartley)*
2. City of Chester (Malcolm Peach)*
3. Old Hall Brass (John North)*
4. Boarshurst Silver (David Ashworth)
5. Backpool Brass (Tariq Ahmed)
6. Golborne (Matt Whitfield)
7. Coppull & Stanish (Matt Stringer)
8. Littleborough (Adrian Woodhead)
9. Lostock Hall Memorial (Brian Harper)
10. Ramsey Town (Robert Quane)
11. BMP Europe Goodshaw (Mike Cotter)
12. Parr (St. Helens) (John Ludden)
13. Eagley (Matthew Ryan)
14. Trinity Girls (Jonathan Davies)
15. Greenalls (Phil Boardman)
16. Hawk Green (Marple) (Neil Hewson)
Withdrawn: Nelson Brass (Roy Waite)
Disqualified: Douglas Town (Robert Mitchell)
Percussion Award: Darwen Brass
*Top 3 bands qualify for National Final
Test Piece: 'Three Spanish Impressions for Brass Band' — Alan Fernie
Adjudicators: Gordon Higginbottom & Brian Rostron
1. Stacksteads (Fred Bowker)*
2. Valley Brass (Haydock) (David Chadwick)*
3. Skelmersdale Prize (David Chapman)
4. Greenfield (Tom Haslam)
5. Pilling Jubilee Silver (Len Charnock)
6. Sale Brass (Grenville Moore)
7. Blackley (Daniel Price)
8. Mereside Brass (Mike Phenton)
9. Formby (Louise Hough)
10. Cadishead Public (Craig McFarland)
11. Rode Hall Silver (Nigel Butler)
12. Tarleton Brass (Gillian Bould)
13. Dobcross Youth (Jon Parkes)
14. Hesketh Bank Silver (Alastair Burrows)
15. Whaley Bridge (Matt Shaw)
16. Denton Brass (Marcus Jones)
Percussion Award: Valley Brass (Haydock)
*Top 2 bands qualify for National Final