It was a day for the creation of new Black Dyke legends at the Royal Albert Hall on the weekend, as Prof Nicholas Childs led his band to their 23rd National title success.
In doing so they also secured their place amongst the Queensbury immortals with the seventh ‘Double’ of their 160 year history.
Meanwhile, star flugel player Zoe Hancock created a unique place in the contesting history books by claiming the ‘Best Instrumentalist’ award — becoming the first player to claim the honour at the British Open and National Finals in the same year.
Her main solo interlude was described by one judge as, 'a moment of genuine magic'.
With players racing to the stage in celebration, it almost went unnoticed that the band had also secured their place as English representatives at the 2015 European Championships — the prospect of which, on this exhilarating form, will have Pondasher fans already booking their tickets for Fribourg.
On a long day of raised hopes and dashed expectations, musical drama and theatrical gestures from the other 19 contenders, Black Dyke’s rendition of ‘The Legend of King Arthur’ as the last band to take to the stage (the first time in over 50 years that the last band has won in such a manner), ‘closed the door’ on any of their rival’s title winning aspirations according to the judges.
As at the British Open, the top two ranked bands were some margin ahead of the rest of the field — something later confirmed by the judges when speaking to 4BR.
It was reigning champion Cory that left just enough of a gap for Black Dyke to eventually prise open in regaining the famous silver trophy for the first time since 2009.
It was a barnstorming defence from the number 12 draw under Philip Harper, but still not quite good enough to deny their Yorkshire adversaries.
A few yards behind
A few musical yards behind came former champion Brighouse & Rastrick and last year’s runner-up, Tredegar, as three of the top four bands from 2013 once again secured their pre-qualification places for the 2015 event.
The final top six places went to a very determined Fairey, with Flowers maintaining their remarkable contesting run of form by coming sixth.
However, some eight hours after the first notes of ‘King Arthur’ were heard thundering around a well attended auditorium by Virtuosi GUS, there was no doubting that Black Dyke fully deserved to claim the title
Theirs was a highly evocative rendition of Peter Meechan’s colourful work — notable for the quality of its musical cohesiveness, drama, drive and almost flawless execution.
It was also enhanced considerably by the main featured soloists, led by Zoe Hancock and backed by the likes of Gary Curtin on euphonium and Stephen Sykes on trombone.
“Theirs was a wonderful, stunning winning performance,” Stephen Roberts told 4BR. “It was mature, elegant, powerful and dramatic. The ensemble was so precise and the soloists outstanding.”
Derek Broadbent agreed: “They simply closed the door. The ensemble playing was fabulous and the soloists didn’t put a foot wrong.”
He added: “We heard some very fine performances early on, which certainly held their own as the contest progressed, and a very classy performance from Cory — although it didn’t quite slam that contest door shut.”
Michael Bach added: “They (Black Dyke) made it easy for us — it was almost the perfect winning performance. My congratulations go to the conductor and the players for providing everyone listening with something so special.”
And after 14 years at the helm of the most famous band in the world, there was no doubting it was a special feeling for Black Dyke’s Director of Music Prof Nicholas Childs when he spoke to 4BR.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” Prof Nicholas Childs said. “It’s certainly been a day to remember — especially as it has given the band its first ‘Double’ since 1995.
I’m so pleased for the players and all our supporters that they can enjoy being called ‘Double Champions’ again.”
The MD now joins a very select list of Black Dyke ‘Double’ winning conductors — from John Gladney in 1902 to Geoffrey Brand, Major Peter Parkes and James Watson, who was the last man to lead the band to the achievement in 1995.
The Welshman also drew level with James Watson in his personal haul of six National title wins — with the prospect of more to come with a young band that he still sees has the potential to become even better.
“We are not the finished article yet — and with these players there is more, much more to come,” he added.
“All the credit goes to them. Some were up practicing at 6.30am just in case we got a very early draw — but then remained so focused on the job in hand throughout a long day to give so many genuine moments of magic which created a very special performance that I will remember for a long time.”
With Peter Meechan’s work gaining widespread appeal in the hall, the judges were left to ponder a series of varied and variable interpretations that eventually fell in their wake.
Despite smiling faces as conductors left the auditorium to return to the changing rooms deep in the bowels of the hall, the occasional grimace and shrug of shoulders really told the truth, as unforced errors, lack of dynamic contrast and some over ambitious tempo choices undermined renditions; seeds of Arthurian destruction that were certainly picked up by the three men in the box.
With Dyke and Cory some way ahead in the distance, Brighouse, Tredegar, Fairey and Flowers were left to contemplate just a few too many noticeable minor slips, in their bold interpretations, whilst Foden’s may just have lost out in their pacy pursuit of glory.
Flowers and Tredegar set the early markers with contrasting performances.
The British Open podium finishers weren’t able to quite reach the same heights on this occasion, despite David Childs on magnificent form (he was close to winning the ‘Best Instrumentalist’ award according to the judges), whilst Tredegar’s vivid ensemble approach (which included a flourish of an actual sword), was just tarnished by some noticeable errors.
Fairey also delivered a performance that almost, but not quite fully balanced its strict adherence to clarity of execution with free flowing brio to end fifth.
The trio will have left Kensington pleased with their efforts, whilst in contrast Brighouse were left to ponder a performance that never quite lived up to its fascinating potential to eventually come third. It was a ‘nearly one’.
Behind them, Foden’s just became scrappy as an exciting performance unfolded under Allan Withington, whilst Reg Vardy produced a highly engaging performance to end eighth.
Fans of Grimethorpe left a little deflated after their favourites ended ninth, although there was certainly no sense of disappointment for Wantage, as the debutants came a delighted tenth.
With the judges making it clear that some bands perhaps over estimated their ability to match musical ambition to technical execution, the midfield finishers fell rather predictably into place — headed by a purposeful Woodfalls in eleventh.
Behind them came a group of varied efforts, containing Co-operative Funeralcare, Virtuosi GUS, Burry Port, Whitburn and Friary Guildford — some more happy than others with their outcome, whilst the bottom four places went to Tongwynlais Temperance, Carlton Main Frickley, Desford and EYMS – all of whom failed to be inspired by the tale of regal mythology.
Not so Black Dyke and Prof Nicholas Childs — who created their own legendary status in the annals of the Queensbury band’s famous history.
I’m so pleased for the players and all our supporters that they can enjoy being called ‘Double Champions’ againProf Nicholas Childs
Test Piece: 'The Legend of King Arthur' — Dr Peter Meechan
Adjudicators: Michael Bach, Derek Broadbent, Stephen Roberts
1. Black Dyke (Prof. Nicholas Childs)**
2. Cory (Philip Harper)*
3. Brighouse & Rastrick (Prof. David King)*
4. Tredegar (Ian Porthouse)*
5. Fairey (Garry Cutt)
6. Flowers (Paul Holland)
7. Foden's (Allan Withington)
8. Reg Vardy (Russell Gray)
9. Grimethorpe Colliery (Dr Robert Childs)
10. Wantage Silver (Phillip Bailey)
11. Woodfalls (Ray Farr)
12. Co-operative Funeralcare (Allan Ramsay)
13. Virtuosi GUS (Adam Cooke)
14. Burry Port Town (Michael Thorne)
15. Whitburn (Erik Janssen)
16. Friary Guildford (Chris King)
17. Tongwynlais Temperance (Brett Baker)
18. Carlton Main Frickley Colliery (Phillip McCann)
19. Desford Colliery (Tom Davoren)
20. East Yorkshire Motor Services (Alan Morrison)
Best Instrumentalist: Zoe Hancock (flugel) Black Dyke
Youngest Player: Rhodri Thomas (Burry Port Town)
* Top 4 pre-qualified for 2015 National Final
** Qualify for 2015 European Championship as English representative