Friary Guildford maintained their excellent start to the 2014 contesting season by claiming the Senior Trophy at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool.
As the final contender of the 20 band field, they produced the type of highly descriptive, atmospheric performance of ‘Les Francs Juges’ under MD Chris King that the adjudicators, Mike Kilroy and David Horsfield had been yearning for all day in the rather chilly, surreal splendour of the Spanish Hall.
The victory means the band can now look forward to their second successive appearance at the National Finals at the Royal Albert later this year boosted by the confidence that they will also be one step closer to the British Open in 2015.
Friary’s boldly delivered performance proved good enough to snatch the title from the grasp of City of Cardiff (Melingriffith), after the Welsh band had earlier delivered a fine rendition under the baton of MD Gareth Ritter, featuring the splendid ’Best Instrumentalist’ contribution of soprano player Kevin Moxon.
Joining the duo in the Senior Cup next year will be Drighlington, after the Yorkshire band provided the solid early marker off the number 2 draw under the direction of the experienced Jim Davies, and a delighted St Dennis, as young MD Darren Hawkin drew a vibrant account from the Cornish band to finish fourth.
Despite its age, the set work certainly tested all the contenders to the full, with the mysterious opening section and following Allegro fatally undermining many bands chances before they really settled.
Just missing out on promotion were the top six finishers of Dalmellington, who once again showed their vibrant form under the baton of Richard Evans, and Oldham (Lees) conducted with real brio by John Collins.
Behind them came performances that certainly varied in quality and consistency, as Frank Wright’s tricky arrangement bared its teeth in performances that lacked overall ensemble security despite the fine efforts of many of the featured soloists — especially the soprano players.
At the other end of the results table, the bottom six of Kidlington Concert, Kirkintilloch Kelvin, Bournemouth Concert, Freckleton, Easington Colliery and Regent Brass will have to wait to see if they will gain an invitation back for 2015.
There was no hiding the sense of stunned delight of Friary Guildford’s winning MD, Chris King and Contest Secretary Alex Stephens when they spoke to 4BR after the announcement of the results.
“We are all a bit shocked,” Chris said with a broad smile beaming across his face.
“When we came off we thought we had perhaps not played as well as we knew we could, but that’s because we are now setting such high standards for ourselves.”
He added: “The success is down to hard work and commitment from the players. We rarely have empty seats, which mean we can make real incremental progress rehearsal by rehearsal.”
However, the inspirational contribution of their MD was not forgotten by Alex who added: “Chris is wonderful. He has done so much for the band in the last few years — from winning the First Section National title in 2010 to getting to the Albert Hall for a second successive year and now winning the Senior Trophy.
She added: “We all think he’s so musical — and pretty amazing!”
Long winded outcome
Rather surprisingly, the reason why Friary Guildford claimed the title wasn’t really made that clear by either judges in their pre-results remarks.
Mike Kilroy’s brave attempt to précis the plot of ‘Les Franc Juges’ lasted a full 9 minutes, although never quite revealing to the audience why the best bands did well and why others did not (some wag later suggesting it was a good job the set work wasn’t Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle’).
He did however make the telling point that the players and MDs needed to understand the plot of the long abandoned Berlioz opera to fully bring the character and atmosphere out of the music.
“It is a work about character, good and evil, which is shown in the themes and the dynamic contrasts,” he said. “If you don’t understand these elements fully then you can’t do this type of wonderful music justice.”
Four well played
In his less forensically comprehensive analysis, David Horsfield did state that there had been ‘...four well played performances’.
“This is magic music for brass bands,” he said.
“It hasn’t got any easier with age and it did show that we may be losing the art of lyrical playing. We couldn’t quite believe some of the dynamics that were being played. There was a lack of quiet dynamic playing and some of the timpani and bass drum playing was overpowering.”
He added: “There were four well played performances, and well done to the soloists. The ‘Best Instrumentalist’ was outstanding.”
In the end though it was Friary Guildford who impressed these particular ‘Secret Judges’ the most, as they now look forward to a 2014 season that holds rich promise of further success.
The success is down to hard work and commitment from the players. We rarely have empty seats, which mean we can make real incremental progress rehearsal by rehearsalFriary Guildford MD, Chris King
Test Piece: Les Francs Juges (Hector Berlioz, arr. Frank Wright)
Adjudicators: David Horsfield & Mike Kilroy
1. Friary Guildford (Chris King)*
2. City of Cardiff (Melingriffith) (Gareth Ritter)*
3. Drighlington (Jim Davies)*
4. St Dennis (Darren Hawken)*
5. Dalmellington (Richard Evans)
6. Oldham (Lees) (John Collins)
7. Lochgelly (Martyn Ramsay)
8. Unison Kinneil (Craig Anderson)
9. Spal Automotive Sovereign Brass (David Maplestone)
10. Rainford (Gareth Brindle)
11. Medway (Melvin White)
12. Longridge (Mark Peacock)
13. Hatfield Colliery (Stan Lippeatt)
14. Jackfield (Elcock Reisen) (John Ward)
15. Kidlington Concert Brass (Duncan Wilson)
16. Kirkintilloch Kelvin Brass (Charles Keenan)
17. Bournemouth Concert Brass (Major David Barringer)
18. Freckleton (Paul Dalton)
19. Easington Colliery (Stuart Gray)
20. Regent Brass (Paul Archibald)
Best Instrumentalist: Kevin Moxon (Soprano) — City of Cardiff (Melingriffith)
*Promoted to Senior Cup