Warm sunshine and excellent facilities welcomed contesting back to the historic brass band town of Methyr Tydfil on the weekend, for the first leg of the 2014 Welsh League series.
Based at the new leisure centre and surrounded by cafes, restaurants and shops, there was plenty to enjoy both in and out of the sports hall arena for players and supporters alike.
35 bands made the journey to try and evoke memories of the great Cyfarthfa Band, whose instruments can still be found on display at the infamous Ironmaster’s mansion overlooking the town, with the equally demanding adjudicators Mike Kilroy and Ian Porthouse sat in judgment throughout an enjoyable day.
Edge of victory
Reigning Welsh League champion Burry Port certainly evoked memories of the contesting form of the great Cyfarthfa Band as they reprised the recent Grand Shield set work, ‘On Alderley Edge’ to secure the Championship Section RTB Trophy and £200 first prize under the baton of Nigel Seaman.
There was also a clean sweep of the individual awards on offer, with the ‘Best Instrumentalist’ prize claimed by baritone star Ceri John and the H.H. Hearn Trophy as ‘Best Horn’ going to Keith Curtis, who set the band on its way to a three point margin of victory with a commanding off stage opening.
It was a ‘clear winner’ according to the two men in the box, with second placed City of Cardiff (Melingriffith) directed by Gareth Ritter, not quite delivering a repeat of their excellent performance at Blackpool on ‘Les Franc Juges’. Third place went to Tylorstown’s well worked rendition of ‘English Heritage’, conducted by Gary Davies.
With both judges commending the quality of the solo playing on show in both the Championship and First Section, they felt the difference between the top flight bands was the ability to maintain control — ‘excite the audience but not be over excited yourselves’, as Ian Porthouse pointed out.
Mike Kilroy was equally impressed by the quality displayed by Goodwick, as Mathew Jenkins led the Cheltenham qualifiers to First Section victory with a colourful reprise of the Area set-work, ‘Cry of the Mountain’.
The ‘clear victory’ enabled the youthful West Walians to take home the Mark Constance Memorial Trophy and £200 first prize, with soprano player Kevin Shanklin adding the Jack Challenger Trophy for his fine individual contribution.
Runner-up, Parc & Dare certainly showed they had built on their recent Second Section Cheltenham qualification, by producing a fine rendition of ‘Connotations’ under the direction of Andrew Jones — led by the outstanding principal cornet contribution of ‘Best Soloist’ Andrea Lewis.
Third place in a contest that Mike felt had shown that some bands were perhaps more concerned with the technical rather than the musical aspects of their own choice works, went to a hard working performance of ‘English Heritage’ from Lewis Merthyr, conducted by Gavin Pritchard.
Earlier in the day there was a much closer battle in the Second Section as Ammanford, conducted by Glyn Davies, carried on their excellent 2014 form by repelling the strong challenge of eight rivals from the number 1 draw, to take the Hayden Evans Memorial Trophy and £200 first prize.
Their solidly portrayed account of Philip Sparke’s ‘Diversions’, aided by the excellent ‘Best Instrumentalist’ contribution of Steve Jones on horn, was good enough in the opinion of Ian Porthouse to pip strong performances of ‘Kaleidoscope’ from City of Cardiff (Melingriffith) 2, and a bold ‘Olympus’ from Ynyshir.
Ian felt that although it was a well matched contest with plenty of excellent solo playing on show, there were noticeable problems in some performances with intonation, especially in muted sections.
Ebbw Valley once again showed its impressive contesting credentials with a commanding four point margin of victory in the Third Section.
Under the direction of Gareth Ritter, their classy performance of ‘Purcell Variations’ saw the Welsh area champion claim yet more silverware as they headed back across the Heads of the Valleys road with the Myers & Harrison Trophy in their possession.
With the £200 prize money and principal cornet Nanette Jones taking the ‘Best Instrumentalist’ award, it was a performance that fully lived up to Ian Porthouse’s opinion that it has been ‘outstanding in just about every way’.
Abertilley & District continued with their encouraging form as they claimed the runner-up spot with their solid performance of ‘Laudate Dominum’, aided by their ‘Best Euphonium’ prize winner Jamie Jones, with Ogmore Valley in third with their colourfully portrayed rendition of ‘Three Saints’.
Unfortunately only three bands competed in the Fourth Section, where adjudicator Gary Davies had a trio of solid performances to compare and contrast.
In the end he opted for the rejuvenated Usk Brass under the baton of Jeff Jones, to claim the Toby Trophy and £200 first prize, just ahead of Newport Borough and Vale of Glamorgan, with Usk’s principal cornet Katy Beckett taking the ‘Best Instrumentalist’ Award.
The contest day also saw plenty of encouraging signs of further grass roots development in the Youth Section, with Mike Kilroy telling 4BR that he had thoroughly enjoyed the five excellent 15 minute programme sets from the competing bands.
There were Gold Awards given to City of Cardiff (Melingriffith) 3 directed by Carol Flanery-Davies and Blaenavon Town Juniors led by Evan Smith, with a Silver Award to Abergavenny Borough Youth and Bronze Awards to both BTM Learners and Milford Haven Junior Town Band, who made the long haul trip from West Wales to compete for the first time.
‘There was plenty of great playing on show — and some of the soloists and percussion playing was superb’, Mike later told 4BR.
At the other end of the age range, the event also saw presentations to three outstanding servants of the South Wales banding movement, with Paul Stephens of Cross Keys, and Mal Pickin and Huw Williams of Parc & Dare gaining well deserved Life Membership of the Association.
There was also something of a first in Welsh contest history, as Markham & District MD Gareth Pritchard expertly overcame the loss of trombone music just before his band went on stage, by using an i-Pad to follow on the conductors rostrum.
Although there were a couple of minor problems on a well run day, Merthyr Tydfil presented a fine venue for the contest, although the Association would be grateful if bands would offer to provide volunteer support to help with the running of future events.
Reigning Welsh League champion Burry Port certainly evoked memories of the contesting form of the great Cyfarthfa Band as they reprised the recent Grand Shield set work4BR
Adjudicators: Mike Kilroy & Ian Porthouse
1. Burry Port (Nigel Seaman) — 192
2. City of Cardiff (Melingriffith) (Gareth Ritter) — 189
3. Tylorstown (Gary Davies) — 188
4. Markham & District (Gareth Pritchard) — 186
5. Llwydcoed (Chris Turner) — 185
6. Abergavenny Borough (Craig Roberts) — 184
Best Instrumentalist: Ceri John (baritone) — Burry Port
Best Horn: Keith Curtis — Burry Port
Adjudicator: Mike Kilroy
1. Goodwick (Matthew Jenkins) — 186
2. Parc & Dare (Andrew Jones) — 184
3. Lewis Merthyr (Gavin Pritchard) — 181
4. Blaenavon Town (James Jones) — 180
5. RAF St Athan (Alan Bourne) — 179
Best Instrumentalist: Andrea Lewis (cornet) — Parc & Dare
Best Soprano: Kevin Shanklin (Goodwick)
Adjudicator: Ian Porthouse
1. Ammanford (Glyn Davies) — 188
2. City of Cardiff (Melingriffith) 2 (Robin Hacket) — 187
3. Ynyshir (Gary Davies) — 186
4. Rogerstone (Jeff Hutcherson) — 185
5. Mid Rhondda (Alan Gibbs) — 184
6. Briton Ferry (Jeffrey Pearce) — 183
7. Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen (Malcolm Reed) — 182
8. Crwbin (Geraint Thomas) — 181
9. Cross Keys (Keri Bowden) — 180
Best Instrumentalist: Steve Jones (horn) – Ammanford
Adjudicator: Ian Porthouse
1. Ebbw Valley (Gareth Ritter) — 190
2. Abertilley & District (Huw Cole) — 186
3. Ogmore Valley (Alice Jones) — 184
4. Oakdale (Adrian Browning) — 183
5. Severn Tunnel (Chris Bond) — 182
6. Upper Rhondda (Nigel Seaman) — 181
7. Ystradgynlais (Alex Parker) — 180
Best Instrumentalist: Nanette Jones (cornet) — Ebbw Valley
Best Euphonium: Jamie Jones — Abertillery & District
Adjudicator: Gary Davies
1. Usk Brass (Jeff Jones) — 177
2. Newport Borough (Robin Hackett) — 176
3. Vale of Glamorgan (Dave Short) — 174
Best Instrumentalist: Katy Beckett (cornet) — Usk Brass
Adjudicator: Mike Kilroy
Gold Awards: Blaenavon Town Junior (Evan Smith) & City of Cardiff (Melingriffith) Youth 3 (Carol Flanery-Davies)
Silver Award: Abergavenny Borough Youth (Lana Tingay)
Bronze Awards: BTM Learners (Mark Hutcherson) & Milford Haven Junior Town Band (Bron Parratt)