The desire for self-improvement was the over-riding factor in the success of all five title winners at the West of England Regional Championships in Torquay.
It was an ambition led by Championship Section winners Flowers, who pushed themselves hard in claiming a fifth consecutive victory under Paul Holland, with a performance of 'Cambridge Variations' described by judges Richard Marshall and Jappie Dijkstra as 'a fine reading' that was 'on fire!!'.
They later confirmed to 4BR that Flowers 11th Area title has been won in 'clear-cut' fashion despite noting some unforced errors — a result of the MD admirably driving his players towards the limits of their considerable contesting attributes, even though pre-qualified for the Albert Hall.
They will be joined there by Woodfalls, who produced a high-class account under Dr Robert Childs to emphatically book their place, with a delighted Aldbourne securing their first Kensington appearance since 1981 in third.
No comfort zone
"Paul wanted to ensure we didn't perform in a comfort zone,"Flowers Band Manager Lee Downie later told 4BR. "We have learnt not to take anything for granted at the Area contest, and we know that if we are to fulfill our ambition of a major championship win we have to push ourselves forward year after year. I think we showed that today."
"Lee's right about that — and I'm delighted at the way the band responded to me pushing them,"Paul Holland added.
"The mark of a top band is the ability to keep progressing. We have come a long way since I took over, but I'm determined that we reach our full major championship winning potential. The players want that too and are willing to give so much — even when we knew that we had already pre-qualified."
For Woodfalls, qualification was a welcome return to Area form as they pushed Flowers hard with an interpretation of subtle dynamic and tempo shadings, highlighted by the notable contributions of their main soloists.
With a number of different interpretations on show in a contest of somewhat variable standard, the battle of the 'Cambridge thrillers' saw Aldbourne just pip Filton Concert, after both produced high-octane accounts under David Johnson and Tom Davoren.
30 year wait
"We've waited over 30 years for this,"Aldbourne's delighted band representative said as he accepted the trophy for that crucial podium finish with a smile every bit as beaming as any his counterparts from Woodfalls and Flowers could manage a few moments later.
Meanwhile, a brace of considered approaches from Lydbrook and Camborne ended fifth and sixth respectively.
Glyn Williams brought a sense of confident solidity to Lydbrook as they set a substantive marker off the number 1 draw, whilst Camborne's realistic hopes of victory under Ian Porthouse, after the best first third of the piece of the day, dissipated in a series of niggling minor errors.
Behind them the standard fell away, with a well-directed account by Yeovil Town leading home a series of performances that increasingly found the realities of Philip Sparke's work in excess of their hard worked ambitions.
Not so Flowers, despite not being at the very apex of their abilities. It will take something special to deny a sixth win next year if they add further improvements to their all round capabilities.
With bands around the country finding Edward Gregson's 'Essay' difficult to master, judges Jappie Dijkstra and Alan Fernie must have thought they were going to be treated to a series of memorable performances after St Dennis produced an outstanding rendition off the number 1 draw on Sunday afternoon.
It wasn't to be; as a few hours later the Cornish band directed by Darren Hawken claimed the title by a margin that was almost as long as the distance from Torquay to Cheltenham itself — something later confirmed by both judges to 4BR.
Joining them will be Brunel Brass, who produced a well-directed account under John Winterflood to take the second qualification spot ahead of a solidly portrayed rendition from Chalford conducted by Steve Tubb. St Dennis were in a different league on the day though.
"We have really worked hard for this,"Darren Hawken told 4BR on stage as his band celebrated with the Area trophy in their grasp. "We knew we had to because it is such a difficult piece. The players really understood the challenges it posed and played with such confidence as a result. I couldn't have asked for anything more today from them all."
It perhaps said a great deal about the variable standard that a musically engaging, but noticeably inconsistent account from Roche Brass eventually finished fourth, ahead of equally purposeful but blemished renditions from Hyde and St Keverne.
All had their moments when they managed to showcase the treacherous transparency of the score without unforced error, but each also knew that they had been tested to their current contesting limits in the process.
Behind them, bands found the technical and musical challenges an immensely difficult ask — although some performances were not helped by rather bizarre 'solutions' as adjudicator Jappie Dijkstra neatly pointed out; especially to the 'Soliloquy' cornet solo — from handing it over to a soprano cornet or splicing it together in two or even three separate cornet voices.
"This is a standard Championship work from history,"Jappie said from the stage. "In the First Section it becomes tricky. Most coped well, but performances needed better dynamics and a compact, less forced sound."
Alan Fernie added: "This was a big ask. Intonation was poor when it should have been good here. It was a really interesting afternoon. 'Essay' causes so many problems. It's a piece that still bites — big time."
Nobody in the hall who listened to a host of troubled renditions littered with basic errors, wrong notes (especially in the trombones as spotlighted by Alan in his remarks), wrong and missed entries, as well as contest days nerves, could have disagreed.
Only St Dennis gained a deserved A+ mark to head to Cheltenham as one of the favourites for the National title itself. The rest will need extra revision notes.
The mythical Cornish love-story of 'The Mermaid of Zennor' certainly brought the best out of the 16 well matched contenders in an entertaining contest on Sunday morning — with City of Bristol heading to Cheltenham as a high-class Area champion.
Directed by Bryn James, they delivered a performance of seafaring character, pathos and drama, aided by excellent soloists and a mature ensemble solidity that brought Philip Harper's colourful score to life; from the sound of the lilting waves in the opening, through a tender church interlude to a majestic chase to the sea to close.
"That was something that Bryn kept telling us we needed to do,"Band Manager Pete Boyles told 4BR. "He said we had to tell the story with the music — and the judge's remarks certainly said we did that. We knew we played well, as he came off stage beaming. To win was a real bonus."
Pete added: "We've been rebuilding over the last few years, so to get back to the Final with Bryn, who conducted us the last time we were there in 2003, makes it special. Now we have a great year to look forward to with a return to Whit Friday and our first trip to the Bugle contest."
Joining them at Cheltenham will be Sidmouth Town, who continued their upward contesting trajectory by securing a deserved second place under the neatly managed direction of Adrian Harvey. Just missing out on this occasion was a South West Communications directed by David Shead who produced a fine account (with just three tubas) to end third.
In a contest that saw a number of well-directed interpretations boosted by fine euphonium and cornet leads, the remaining top-six places went to Soundhouse Brass, Bodmin Town and Bream Silver who laid down the early marker from the number 1 draw.
Bodmin may count themselves a little unlucky not have come higher after John Maines used all his experience to produce a highly engaging performance from his band.
There was also disappointment for Camborne Junior Contesting who delivered perhaps the most vibrant rendition of the day — that although exciting the audience, failed to find favour with Philip Littlemore and Richard Marshall in the box.
"It's a very good piece and we had a very good winner,"Richard later told 4BR. "The bands fell into a clear order for us — especially those who controlled the tricky tempo changes. The best bands did that in the first and third movements but then showed that they could play with tenderness in the middle section."
He added: "Some performances were spoilt by over-blowing and were a bit too excitable. If the tempo was maintained in the third movement it was OK, but if not, the problems arose."
With every band bringing something of note and merit from the score, a special mention must go to Bugle Silver.
Despite finishing last, their performance, minus percussion was a great credit to the player's fortitude (they were just 20 strong) and the attitude of their inspirational young MD, Steve Osborne.
Calmer seas lie ahead for them.
There was a rather poignant feel to the celebrations of Phoenix Brass (Crewkerne) after they won the Third Section title on Saturday afternoon — with immediate thoughts focussed one of their founder members who died earlier this year.
Roger Newton was one of the players who helped start the band in an old potting shed in 1996, and was just 64 when he passed away in January. He also played on their last appearance at the Finals in 1999.
"We are a close band, and Roger's death hit us hard,"Band Chairman, Chris Murphy told 4BR. "This win is in his memory — and we even had an empty seat on the stage for him draped with his band waistcoat. He was with us in spirit — and we are sure he will be enjoying our celebrations."
It was also a point that MD David Boorer told 4BR was a driving force for a band that has developed a musical ethos that Roger fully endorsed. "We focus on fun and good music making,"he said.
"The band enjoy what they do, and work hard on developing their playing during our rehearsals, so fully deserve this victory."
Victory came with a performance of 'A Cambrian Suite' that gave the adjudicators Jappie Dijkstra and Richard Marshall everything they were looking for. "It is a very tricky piece, with all those elements that the composer so clearly marks needing to be brought out. The standard was good today with a very good winner and with the rest not too far behind."
The best of those rivals was Weston Brass conducted by Bryn James (who enjoyed a highly successful weekend), with the third qualification place going to the early marker of substance from Midsomer Norton & Radstock Silver, who continue to make great progress under the direction of Joanne Sykes after winning the Fourth Section in 2012.
There were also fine performances from the remaining top-six finishers of Gillingham Imperial, Cinderford and Wilton & District in a contest that saw a host of bands and MDs emerge with credit for their efforts on an imposing set-work.
21 bands were certainly inspired by the travels of Phileas Fogg in what turned out to be a high-quality Fourth Section battle on Saturday morning.
There was excellent audience support in the Auditorium hall throughout; with those drawn towards the end of the contest playing to standing room only, as the keenly fought event reached its climax.
In the end it was Hatherleigh Silver directed by Matt Green who took the honours — claiming their first Area win since 2011 to return to Cheltenham for the third time since 2010.
Joining them there will be Cheltenham Town, who produced a colourful marker from the early number 4 draw (that certainly matched the MDs cuffs and collar of his shirt to fine effect), with Lydney Town taking the final qualification place as the last band of the day.
Just missing out
Just missing out on this occasion were the excellent top-six finishers of Indian Queens (whose MD Mark Arnold wore a waistcoat that seared the retinas), Verwood Town off the number 1 draw and Pendeen Silver.
With so many bands enjoying their musical travelogue, it proved to be a difficult task for adjudicators Alan Fernie and Philip Littlemore in the box — although they later revealed their own musical performance was blighted by a rather tepid sounding whistle!
Alan gave a wonderful pre-results speech enjoyed by all — especially as he made his points in manner that encouraged the good, the indifferent and the sometimes downright odd, with a warm, but keenly observant wit.
"We only disagreed for about 10 seconds,"he said. "The winning bands played splendidly — and overall the standard was excellent. We also knew there were going to be intonation problems — but this is the Fourth Section! What we were looking for were good basics and a sense of style in each of the movements."
He then added to much amusement as he stamped his foot: "Some basses do need to take some ballroom dancing lessons though: That was a waltz with a very strong down beat at times!
Some bands also had problems with their Cossacks — who would have caught them in any chase — but the 'Can-Cans' were great. We wanted to give a French shriek with some of them — they were so good."
Alan also pinpointed the high-quality cornet playing on show — especially in the Spanish Bullfight call — with one player in particular standing out. "Who was the solo cornet with band number 9?"he enquired — at which point a smiling gent from Redruth Town raised his hand.
"We congratulate you sir — it was brilliant. However 'ad-lib' we think means with the style rather than the notes!"- referring to his superbly improvised cadenza.
With all the competitors emerging with merit — right down to those finishing at the bottom end of the results table, the West of England can take great heart in the quality of the bands on the first step of the competitive ladder, with Hatherleigh, Cheltenham and Lydney Town sure to be strong contenders at Cheltenham in September.
As always there was a warm welcome offered to the competitors, supporters, traders and press at the event, which was once again run with splendid efficiency by Sue Oldfield and her team of volunteers.
With new the new format working well (running 4 minutes ahead of schedule), new prizes and an excellent programme all that was missing was the familiar figure of former Regional Secretary Brian Elliott, who due to ill health was at home recuperating. He would have been delighted at how the whole weekend went.
The mark of a top band is the ability to keep progressing. We have come a long way since I took over, but I'm determined that we reach our full major championship winning potentialFlowers MD, Paul Holland
Test Piece: Cambridge Variations (Philip Sparke)
Adjudicators: Jacob Dijkstra and Richard Marshall
1. Flowers (Paul Holland)**
2. Woodfalls (Dr Robert Childs)*
3. Aldbourne (David Johnson)*
4. Filton Concert Brass (Tom Davoren)
5. Lydbrook (Glyn Williams)
6. Camborne Town (Ian Porthouse)
7. Yeovil Town (Ian Holmes)
8. Lanner & District Silver (Leonard Adams)
9. Verwood Concert Brass (Kevin Smith)
10. Mount Charles (Nigel Seaman)
11. St Austell Town (Steve Sykes)
12. Bournemouth Concert Brass (Matthew Brown)
13. Alder Valley Brass (Roger Burke)
*Qualify for National Final
**Pre-qualified for National Final
Test Piece: Essay (Edward Gregson)
Adjudicators: Jappie Dijkstra and Alan Fernie
1. St Dennis (Darren Hawken)*
2. Brunel Brass (John Winterflood)*
3. Chalford (Steve Tubb)
4. Roche Brass (Garry Cutt)
5. Hyde (Jonathan Lush-Camps)
6. St Keverne (Gareth Churcher)
7. Sherborne Town (Steve Rogers)
8. Michelmarsh Silver (Major David Barringer)
9 Forest of Dean (Roger Phelps)
10. Otterbourne Brass (Melvin White)
11. A W Parker (Drybrook) (Josh Ruck)
12. Wooton-under-Edge & District (Ian Dickinson)
13. Pendennis Brass Falmouth (John Woodrow)
14. St Pinnock (Jane Whitehead)
15. Helston Town (David Johnson)
*Top two bands qualify for National Final
Test Piece: Mermaid of Zennor (Philip Harper)
Adjudicators: Philip Littlemore and Richard Marshall
1. City of Bristol Brass (Bryn James)*
2. Sidmouth Town (Adrian Harvey)*
3. S W Communications (David Shead)
4. Soundhouse Brass (Lee Clayson)
5. Bodmin Town (John Maines)
6. Bream Silver (Philip Turner)
7. Andover Town (Steve Large)
8. Denmead Brass (Estelle Flood)
9. Camborne Junior Contesting (Alan Pope)
10. Swindon Pegasus (David Mace)
11. Ocean Brass (Edward March)
12. Poole Borough (Dr Chris Davis)
13. New Forest Brass (Ian Luxford)
14. Shrewton Silver (Michael Dunford)
15. Downton (Paul Williams)
16. Bugle Silver (Steve Osborne)
*Top two bands qualify for National Final
Test Piece: A Cambrian Suite (Michael Ball)
Adjudicators: Jappie Dijkstra and Richard Marshall
1. Phoenix Brass (Crewkerne) (David Boorer)*
2. Weston Brass (Bryn James)*
3. Midsomer Norton & Radstock Silver (Joanne Sykes)*
4. Gillingham Imperial Silver (Jim Bennett)
5. Cinderford (David Hayward)
6. Wilton & District (Colin Herbert)
7. St Stythians (James Burns)
8. Swindon Brass (Francis Cowley)
9. Porthleven Town (Tom Bassett)
10. Bratton Silver (Simon Carr)
11. Corsham (Colin Hogg)
12. Bath Spa (Martin Perry)
13. South Molton Town (Gil Taylor)
14. Spinnaker Brass (Ted Howard)
15. Weymouth Concert Brass (Kevin Goodwin)
16. Tewkesbury Town (Nigel Morgan)
17. Chalford Academy (Steve Tubb)
18. Heyl Town (Shaun Marsden)
*Top three bands qualify for National Final
Test Piece: The Journal of Phileas Fogg (Peter Graham)
Adjudicators: Alan Fernie and Phillip Littlemore
1. Hatherleigh Silver (Matt Green)*
2. Cheltenham Silver (Nigel Galliott)*
3. Lydney Town (Kevin Ford)*
4. Indian Queens (Mark Arnold)
5. Verwood Town (Emma Button)
6. Pendeen Silver (Darren Jenkin)
7. Nailsworth Silver (Paul McLaughlin)
8. Bideford Town (Mark Durham)
9. Saltash Town (Bob Julian)
10. Pillowell Silver (Ian Whitburn)
11. Totnes (Phil Cleave)
12. Okehampton Excelsior Silver (Richard Beardon)
13. Launceston Town (Colin Gay)
14. Test Valley Brass (Matt Pithers)
15. Gosport Silver Brass (Colin Garner)
16. Shanklin Town (IoW) (Malcolm Lewis)
17. Shaftesbury Town Silver (Martin Hill)
18. Tiverton Town (Colin Dance)
19. Redruth Town (Sara Munns)
20. Newquay (Ben Martin)
21. Lostwithiel Town (Norman Pendray)
*Top three bands qualify for National Final