There was a wry smile of delight on the face of Fairey’s MD as he celebrated with his band on the stage of the Winter Garden Opera House on Sunday evening.
8 out of 10
“8 out of 10 Cutts prefer Blackpool,” Garry Cutt chuckled as he playfully reminded 4BR of his amazing North West Regional Championship record since recording his first win in 2004. “I really enjoy conducting here — it’s a contest I look forward to each year.”
Only twice since then has he failed to claim victory (with wins also leading Leyland and Foden’s) — and he didn’t even compete in 2011 and 2012. He is now just one behind the legendary Alex Mortimer.
The latest success also saw the ‘Marple Maestro’ lead the Stockport outfit to a 15th Area title, edging ahead of Mortimer’s CWS (Manchester) to now be just three wins behind their great rivals, Foden’s, who will also join them at London.
A little later Garry reflected both on a personal achievement which saw him retain the Roy Newsome Memorial Trophy as the winning conductor, and that of a band whose contest winning resurgence continues to build with impressive momentum.
He knows Fairey could well be on the cusp of gaining yet more major silverware by the time they appear at the Albert Hall.
“Of course I’m very pleased to win here for an eighth time, but more proud of the band,” he said, before adding with typical honesty; ”We knew we made a few frustrating errors today, as did all the bands, but the quality of the music making was just what I wanted.
We are improving all the time, have a great work ethos and a real collective drive to win major honours. This is another step on the way.”
Earlier, adjudicators Alan Morrison and David Hirst stated that they had been ‘a little disappointed with the overall standard’ from the 13 competitors, as seemingly innocuous technical, rather than inherent stylistic musical traps caught band after band out — something they highlighted even with Fairey’s winning performance.
‘…many fine musical touches, some odd places of insecurity’ wrote David Hirst in his remarks, with Alan adding, ‘…a performance that had so much to offer in terms of musicality, flow and direction, although not without some weaker moments in solo lines’.
However, the Yorkshire duo were still sufficiently impressed to give it the edge over a contrasting ‘Torchbearer’ interpretation from Allan Withington as Foden’s secured their return ticket to Kensington Gore — although their fans may have thought they had done enough to gain a 19th Area victory.
Behind the duo some differing post contest emotions; with a delighted Wingates claiming their first podium finish since 2007 off the number 1 draw, under Paul Andrews.
There was also joy for Ashton-under-Lyne and debutants Morecambe, who came fourth and fifth respectively, whilst there was a fair degree of puzzled deflation for Leyland, as their persuasive musical account failed to resonate in the box for a second successive year.
“It has been a riveting afternoon, made possible by a wonderful piece of music,” Alan Morrison told the audience in his summing up of ‘Torchbearer’.
“It’s at the different end of the spectrum to ‘St Magnus’: It’s about how to play music with flow, and to link the often fragmented solo elements. It’s a piece that relies so much on soloists, but overall it had to make musical sense. Everyone had something to offer — but we were a little disappointed with the overall standard.”
There were not many in the large audience who would have disagreed with Alan’s observations; the overall quality of Fairey (with their prize winning ‘Best Percussion’ Section) and Foden’s taking them clear of the rest of the field, although both will also know they were a notch or two below their best on the day.
That an error strewn rendition off the number 1 draw from Wingates, that took time to grow in security and confidence to eventually end third, perhaps told the story of a curiously underwhelming contest.
Neither Ashton (who posted their best ever Area finish) or Morecambe will worry too much about that after delivering well directed renditions under Phil Chalk and Andrew Warriner, although Leyland fans certainly left for home wearing faces as drab as the damp Blackpool weather, after Michael Bach’s subtly shaded interpretation simply didn’t find favour in the box.
Behind them though there could be few complaints from bands who may or may not have found their way into the prizes, after presenting variable accounts that frustratingly lacked solo and ensemble security. A number were very average indeed.
And despite a few noticeable unforced errors themselves, it meant that in the judge’s opinion none of Fairey’s rivals could stop them retaining the North West Area title.
Roberts Bakery deservedly claimed the First Section honours in the cavernous expanse of the Empress Ballroom, with a commanding rendition of 'A London Overture', under MD Simon Stonehouse.
It was the Sandbach band’s third victory at this level since 2008, with the title won in such a substantive manner that by Cheltenham they could well be a short priced favourite to become a national champion too.
Joining them will be another band that has claimed a Winter Garden double, as Freckleton (champions in 2010 and 2013) booked their racecourse stall under Paul Dalton to just edge out Diggle’s fine effort. The remaining top six places went to Haslingden & Helmshore, Bollington Brass and Poulton-Le-Fylde.
“We are all ecstatic,” Roberts Bakery secretary Jacquie Lisby told 4BR. “Simon has been superb in developing the band in the last couple of years and after just missing out last year we can now look forward to Cheltenham with confidence.”
She added: “We felt we had played really well, but to win, and to do it in such a way, is brilliant. We now have some exciting projects with our great sponsors Roberts Bakery to look forward to, so these are exciting times.”
In an excellent, straight-talking address, adjudicator Michael Fowles (who was part of the Kapitol Music Panel) precisely stated just what he and Jim Davies were looking for in the box.
“It's a piece where the composer tells you very clearly what to do," he said. "If you do that and take care of all the fundamentals, you will have a good performance to your name.
However, we were writing the same things time and again — such as unison intonation, with the opening causing lots of problems. Tempos also needed to be carefully considered to ensure clarity. Too often we couldn’t hear that important detail.”
Mike’s accurate road safety analogy of ‘speed kills’ was certainly spot on as a number of performances floundered on their MDs desire to over-employ the accelerator pedal.
No such problems with the winners though — with Simon Stonehouse expertly keeping tempo and dynamic control to ensure they negotiated any potential technical and acoustic pitfalls with impressive ease (aided by their prize winning percussion section).
“I was delighted with the way the band performed,” Simon told 4BR. “It was most definitely a performance lifted by the occasion — technically and musically up to the challenge, especially the soloists.
A challenging aspect was tempo choices in such a boomy acoustic — and our key words for the week were control and clarity. During the last 18 months the band has progressed musically in all aspects, but a great deal us being able to do that goes to former MD Colin Cranson.”
He added: “I was thrilled to pass on the news of the win to him — especially as his name appears on the trophy a couple of times too!”
With the fearsome cadenzas taking their fair share of scalps, it was a solid rendition from Bollington under Peter Christian that set the early marker, although soon after the competitive core of the contest was revealed with Poulton, Freckleton, Diggle, Haslingden & Helmshore and Roberts Bakery following each other on stage.
Freckleton’s measure approach eventually secured them the all important second qualification place, to just pip a persuasive account from Diggle led by Alan Wycherley, with Swiss import Angelo Bearpark on superb form on top man.
Haslingden & Helmshore's fully committed account ended fourth with Bollington Brass and Poulton-Le-Fylde rounding off a top six of solid overall quality.
None though came close to the clear winner of Roberts Bakery.
If there was one result that may have raised the odd eyebrow on Sunday in Blackpool, then it came in the Second Section, where Tyldesley claimed their first Area title success since 1960.
However, under the direction of Robert Taylor they secured their place at Cheltenham with a performance that certainly ticked all the right ‘Maccabeus’ boxes for judges Simone Rebello and Gordon Higginbottom — and came on the back of their recent podium finish on the same piece at the Brass at the Guild contest. It is the band’s first National Finals appearance since 1997.
MD Rob Taylor was still getting over the shock when 4BR caught up with him — although he did reveal that ‘Maccabeus’ was something of a lucky test piece for the band.
“I can’t quite believe it,” he said. “To finally claim the Area title after so many years of trying is amazing, but it’s testament to the hard work and commitment put in by the band. Even my father, who is now 90 had to rack his brains to remember the last time Tyldesley was North West champion!”
Meant to be
Rob added: “I was delighted when the test piece was announced, as we played it a few years ago at contests and won on it a few times, so perhaps this victory was meant to be.
We are a family band — and I have two brothers (John, who played principal cornet and Brian who played bumper up with Fairey) and our dad who still keeps us on our toes, so to get through to Cheltenham and London has given us a great boost to keep going for many more years to come.”
In a contest that certainly showed the strength in depth of Second Section banding in the North West, it was a performance that beat off the strong challenge of Butlins champion Eccles Borough, with Besses Boys just missing out in third.
They produced the early contest marker under James Holt that many listeners felt would take some beating, whilst Eccles rounded off the contest under Mareika Gray with a rendition full of confident ensemble and solo playing.
There seemed to be widespread agreement with the results as they were announced in the hall, with solid accounts from Pemberton Old, Middleton and Silk Brass taking sixth, fifth and fourth positions respectively — all producing renditions of merit on what proved to be a stern test of technique and musicality.
With Simone stating that the judges wanted to hear the character of each variation to come through immediately, and that the role of percussion had been important in doing just that, the announcement of Besses and Eccles in third and second place was greeted with general approval.
However, with the announcement of the much fancied Haydock winning the ‘Best Percussion’ prize it did come as something of a surprise that Tyldesley was announced as 2015 champion, as their performance off the number 12 draw repelled rivals.
That though won't have worried Tyldesley supporters who ended 55 years of waiting for their first taste of Area success.
As an enjoyable precursor to the Championship Section in the Opera House, Boarshurst Silver claimed the Third Section title in emphatic fashion under the direction of James Garlick.
Even in a large 19 band field there was no denying the clear cut manner of their victory — something the adjudicators reinforced with their pre-results remarks.
Joining them in Cheltenham will be Old Hall Brass and Blackpool Brass, both of who were equally delighted by their qualification success on a day when rivals clearly knew they were playing for podium finishes after Boarshurst had laid down their imposing marker off the number 4 draw.
Patience and control
In his excellent address, adjudicator Mike Kilroy gave a detailed analysis of what he and Brian Rostron were looking for — and what one band in particular, gave them.
“Patience and control were needed.” Mike said. “It is a piece about five states of change — but also five states of contesting mind.
Those who were able to show awareness, understanding, concentration, listening and musicianship linked to ensemble, dynamics, tuning, balance and style did well. One band in particular did all the things we were looking for.”
There was little doubt that band was Boarshurst, although there were a couple of raised eyebrows with the announcement of Old Hall Brass in second place — although John North’s persuasive interpretation certainly left on impression on the musical mind.
A confident rendition from Blackpool Brass directed by John Pearson eventually held off rivals to claim the third qualification place, with an early doors account from Littleborough ending fourth (much to the delight of their supporters).
Golborne couldn’t quite make up lost ground after a nervous start as the last band of the day to end fifth, with one of the most famous names of all, Besses o’ th’Barn taking huge encouragement after their recent problems in gaining a deserved top six finish under Liverpool Philharmonic trombone star Simon Cowen.
For the winning MD though it was a victory based on what he feels is a quite amazing level of banding commitment.
“I’ve played with many top bands in my playing career, but the commitment and dedication Boarshurst show every week is fantastic,” James Garlick told 4BR.
“I live just two minutes around the corner, and it’s a real pleasure to work with so many great people and with a band with such a proud history.
We have a celebratory 165th anniversary concert coming up — and even when I gave them a day off last weekend they still turned up to play through some concert music without me!”
He added: “I couldn’t have asked for anything more on the day — although I was still nervous when the results were being announced. It’s a win the players fully deserve.”
Formby's 'outstanding' performance of 'An English Pastorale' was more than enough to convince judges Ian Brownbill and Sarah Groarke-Booth to award the Liverpool band the Fourth Section Area title for the first time since 2007.
They will now make the long trip down the M5 motorway in September alongside fellow qualifier Skelmersdale Prize, keen to also add a second national title to their CV (they went on to win that year) after MD Louise Hough inspired them to a fully deserved victory.
Having spent around thirty minutes in the box at the conclusion of an enjoyable contest, Sarah Groarke-Booth delivered a fine assessment of what she and Ian were looking for in sorting out the 13 band field — and in making sure they were in complete agreement about each position in the final results table.
Sarah revealed they felt they had judged 'a mixed bag’ in terms of quality. “The piece was always going to be a challenge in terms of the basics of intonation, balance and rhythmic cohesion,” she said. “But what caught bands out was the second and third movements.”
The best bands were in her words, ‘able to build a coherent performance together’ — something which Formby certainly did.
“We had no problem picking the winners,” Sarah added. “They were outstanding and so consistent. The next couple in the prizes were just a bit further behind in terms of consistency but were still very good.”
The confirmation of the clear cut victory was perhaps a greater reason for celebration for Formby than the win itself, as Contest Secretary Mary Higham told 4BR.
“That was amazing. To hear and then read what the judges thought of our performance was a real thrill — we just kept repeating it to ourselves afterwards!”
The return to the National Finals for the first time since that 2007 win has also come as a huge boost to a band that only recently moved to is new home near Sefton Park in south Liverpool.
“We are a band that places great emphasis on education and the teaching of youngsters,” Mary added.
“As a result we have a significant turnover of players, but with our new home, five debutant young players and a number of older players returning to us after studying at university, the future for the band is looking great.
We are as high as kites to be able to win through to the finals again after such a long wait!”
With just 13 bands this year (due to a much needed reorganisation of section numbers) it meant that Skelmersdale Prize under David Chapman gained the qualification nod over the youngsters of Manx Youth from the Isle of Man under Ian Clague MBE, with both bands capturing the contrasting elements of the score with real vibrancy.
Meanwhile, one of the great banding names (in fact the oldest in the brass band world) enjoyed a further resurgence as Stalybridge Old under David Ashworth ended fourth, with last year's Fourth Section National finalists, Valley Brass (Haydock) having to be content with fifth on this occasion, just ahead of a delighted Rode Hall Silver.
On a day when there was a welcome boost in listener numbers to the Area contest (programmes were sold out), Regional Secretary Peter Bates thanked the hard work of his indefatigable helpers as well as taking time to present well deserved long standing service awards.
We are improving all the time, have a great work ethos and a real collective drive to win major honours. This is another step on the wayFairey MD, Garry Cutt
Test Piece: 'The Torchbearer' — Peter Graham
Adjudicators: David Hirst & Alan Morrison
1. Fairey (Garry Cutt)*
2. Foden’s (Allan Withington)*
3. Wingates (Paul Andrews)
4. Ashton-Under-Lyne (Phil Chalk)
5. Morecambe (Andrew Warriner)
6. Leyland (Michael Bach)
7. Blackburn & Darwen (Huw Thomas)
8. Oldham (Lees) (John Collins)
9. Milnrow (Mark Bentham)
10. Co-operative Funeralcare North West (Jef Sparkes)
11. Pemberton Old Wigan DW (Stig Maersk)
12. Rainford (Gareth Brindle)
13. Vernon Building Society Poynton (Neil Samuel)
Percussion Prize: Fairey
*Top two bands qualify for National Final at Royal Albert Hall
Test Piece: 'A London Overture' — Philip Sparke
Adjudicators: Jim Davies & Michael Fowles
1. Roberts Bakery (Simon Stonehouse)*
2. Freckleton (Paul Dalton)*
3. Diggle (Alan Wycherley)
4. Haslingden & Helmshore (David Holland)
5. Bollington Brass (Peter Christian)
6. Poulton-Le-Fylde (Dave Collins)
7. Longridge (Mark Peacock)
8. Whitworth Vale & Healey (John Binns)
9. Hazel Grove (Nigel Beasley)
10. Mossley (Duncan Byers)
11. Marple (Sarah Groarke-Booth)
12. Crewe Brass (Jamie Meredith)
13. Hoover Bolton (Craig Mann)
Percussion: Roberts Bakery
*Top two bands qualify bands for National Finals in Cheltenham
Test Piece: 'Variations on Maccabeus' — Kevin Norbury
Adjudicators: Gordon Higginbottom & Simone Rebello
1. Tyldesley (Robert Taylor)*
2. Eccles Borough (Mareika Gray)*
3. Besses Boys (James Holt)
4. Silk Brass (Tony Wyatt)
5. Middleton (Martyn Evans)
6. Pemberton Old Wigan DW “B” (Peter Ashley)
7. Manx Concert Brass (Derek Broadbent)
8. Haydock (Mark Quinn)
9. Farnworth & Walkden (Peter Ashley)
10. Delph (Philip Goodwin)
11. Uppermill (Alan Widdop)
12. Darwen Brass (Steve Hartley)
13. Flixton (Jason M. Smith)
14. Cheshire Constabulary (David Woollam)
15. City of Chester (Phil Mottershead)
16. Dobcross Silver (Tim Sidwell)
Percussion Prize: Haydock
*Top two bands qualify for National Finals in Cheltenham
Test Piece:'Evolution, Five States of Change' — Philip Sparke
Adjudicators: Mike Kilroy & Brian Rostron
1. Boarshurst Silver (James Garlick)*
2. Old Hall Brass (John North)*
3. Blackpool Brass (John Pearson)*
4. Littleborough (Adrian Woodhead)
5. Golborne (Matt Whitfield)
6. Besses o' th' Barn (Simon Cowen)
7. Greenalls (Phil Boardman)
8. Trinity Girls (Jonathan Davies)
9. Pilling Jubilee Silver (Len Charnock)
10. Hawk Green (Marple) (Neil Hewson)
11. Greenfield (Tom Haslam)
12. Rivington & Adlington (Malcolm Wilson)
13. Douglas Town (Robert Mitchell)
14. Eagley (Matthew Ryan)
15. Coppull & Standish (Matt Stringer)
16. Parr (St Helens) (John Ludden)
17. Stacksteads (Fred Bowker)
18. Lostock Hall Memorial (Brian Harper)
19. BMP Europe Goodshaw (Mike Cotter)
*Top 3 bands qualify for the National Finals in Cheltenham
Test Piece: 'An English Pastorale'- Dean Jones
Commence after results of First Section
Adjudicators: Ian Brownbill & Sarah Groarke-Booth
1. Formby (Louise Hough)*
2. Skelmersdale Prize (David Chapman)*
3. Manx Youth (Ian Clague MBE)
4. Stalybridge Old (David Ashworth)
5. Valley Brass (Haydock) (David Chadwick)
6. Rode Hall Silver (Adrian Howgate)
7.Tarleton Brass (Gillian Bould)
8. Brindle (Keith Richmond)
9. Sale Brass (Joshua Hughes)
10. Thornton Cleveleys (Stephen Simpson)
11. Blackley (Daniel Price)
12. Cadishead Public (Craig McFarland)
13. Denton Brass (Matt Bailey)
14. Mereside Brass (Mike Phenton)
*Top two bands qualify for National Final in Cheltenham