The first contest of the 2016 Welsh League season took place in Merthyr Tydfil on the weekend, where bands from both sides of the River Severn delivered own-choice selections to try and catch the ears of judges Alun F Williams, Glyn Williams and Steve Sykes.
With the British Open Spring Festival in Blackpool just a week away, two leading Grand Shield contenders in Tongwynlais Temperance and Burry Port decided to concentrate their final preparations in the rehearsal room rather than the contest stage.
However, Senior Cup bound Llwydcoed (above) took the opportunity to showcase their preparation work on 'Music for Battle Creek' in taking the Championship Section honours.
Llywdcoed win battle
Under the baton of Chris Turner, and aided by 'Best Instrumentalist' and 'Best Horn' contributions from Darren Morris and Evan Key, the defending Welsh League champion gave a highly encouraging account of a work described as 'fiendishly difficult' by Steve Sykes.
With a further week to go before they take to the stage at the Winter Gardens they will be well-pleased with their current state of progress, as they beat off the confident 'James Cook' challenge of Senior Trophy entrants, Tylorstown.
They will also be pleased with their present navigation on Gilbert Vinter's classic work before they head to the bright lights of the Golden Mile.
Third place in a contest Glyn Williams felt still needed bands to display 'more passion and musicality' to really capture 'the style, grace and musicality' of the works, went to an appropriately colourful account of 'Spectrum' from Markham & District, with a spirited take on 'Connotations' by Pontardulais in fourth.
Parc & Dare triumphant
On what proved to be a contest days of surprises Parc & Dare, conducted by Adrian Morton took the Mark Constance Memorial Trophy in the First Section ahead of rivals Lewis Merthyr and Cheltenham qualifiers Ebbw Valley in third.
The top three bands had displayed 'many different qualities' according to Glyn Williams. He also added that the winners were 'superb' and had displayed 'so many changes of mood with ease' in their performance of Gilbert Vinter's 'Triumphant Rhapsody' — aided by outstanding contributions from 'Best Soprano' Paul Eddy and 'Best Instrumentalist' Andrea Lewis on principal cornet.
It gave the famous Rhondda band a merited victory over rivals who certainly displayed enough of the 'basic errors' that Glyn spoke of in their renditions of 'Brass Metamorphosis' and 'Trittico' respectively to scupper their chances of victory.
Penclawdd's mermaid magic
In the Second Section, Penclawdd conducted by Tony Small BEM registered their first win in the Welsh League series since 2010, with a reprise rendition of the Area set-work, 'The Mermaid of Zennor'.
The band headed back to west Wales to celebrate with the Hayden Evans Trophy to fill as well as the 'Best Instrumentalist' award won by their euphonium player Alun Evans.
It rounded off a memorable family week for the MD as he added his own silverware to that won by his son Gareth in winning the 'Best Instrumentalist' award at the European Championships with Black Dyke in Lille.
National graded Third Section Abertillery & District finished two points behind thanks to their solid performance of 'St Austell Suite', with recently crowned Second Section Welsh Regional Champion Thomas Coaches Mid Rhondda not quite firing on all cylinders in third with 'Purcell Variations'.
Steve Sykes felt that a number of bands had 'bitten off more than they could chew' with some of their choices, and that with intonation troubles an issue, it was the 'more straightforward choices that were the most satisfying and best chosen' in the box.
Usk Fantasy win
2014 Fourth Section National Champions Usk showed that they have certainly got to grips with the step up to the Third Section.
They produced a cracking account of 'Fantasy for Brass Band' to claim the Myers & Harrison Trophy with a commanding three-point winning margin over Newport Borough with Ogmore Silver in third.
It was also something of a family triumph as MD Jeff Jones took the Ivor Barnett Memorial Shield as the winning conductor, whilst his son Jamie took both the 'Best Euphonium' and 'Best Instrumentalist' awards.
In a contest that enjoyed vibrant renditions from all seven competitors, Cheltenham qualifiers Newport gave a well worked reprise of their Area work 'The Journal of Phileas Fogg' with Ogmore providing a neatly structured 'Haslemere Suite'.
Oakdale's Silver lining
On a day when there were some long-awaited triumphs for stalwart competitors, there was a first Welsh League success since 2011 for Oakdale Silver to celebrate as they claimed the Toby Trophy in the Fourth Section.
Directed by the experienced Kerry Bowden and aided by the fine 'Best Instrumentalist' contribution of cornet player Jan Wells on 'A Malvern Suite', they pipped recently crowned Welsh Area champion Phoenix Brass from west Wales who reprised 'The Journal of Phileas Fogg' and Cwmtawe & District Youth's 'Dark Side of the Moon'.
Five tremendous youth ensembles also gave adjudicator Alun F Williams and the audience at the Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Village plenty of cracking music making to enjoy earlier in the day, with deserved Gold Awards going to Melingriffith Youth (M3) and Rhondda Fach Youth for their 15 minute sets.
Milford Haven Town Juniors and Upper Rhondda Juniors took Silver, with BTM Beginners claiming a Bronze.
The pick of some super young players was Dewi Kinsey on flugel horn for Upper Rhondda Juniors who took the 'Best Instrumentalist' award, with the great team from Melingriffith Youth (M3) taking the 'Best Percussion' trophy. The youngest player on the day was Noah Davies of Rhondda Fach.
At the other end of the age scale, 40 Year Life Member Awards were presented to Tracy Philips, Stephen Bard and Russell Morris of Abertillery & District and to Graham and Jef Sheppard of Thomas Coaches Mid Rhondda.
it was the Senior Cup bound Llwydcoed that took the opportunity to showcase their preparation work on 'Music for Battle Creek' in taking the Championship Section honours4BR
Adjudicators: Glyn Williams & Steve Sykes
1. Llywdcoed (Chris Turner) — 189
2. Tylorstown (Gary Davies) — 187
3. Markham & District (Matt Rowe) — 186
4. Pontardulais Town (Paul Jenkins) — 184
Best Instrumentalist: Darren Morris (euphonium) — Llwydcoed
Best Horn: Evan Key (Llwydcoed)
Adjudicator: Glyn Williams
1. Parc & Dare (Adrian Morton) — 194
2. Lewis Merthyr (Craig Roberts) — 193
3. Ebbw Valley (Gareth Ritter) — 192
4. City of Cardiff Melingriffith 2 (Jack Capstaff) — 190
5. Ammanford (Glyn Rhys Davies) — 188
6. AW Parker (Drybrook) (Josh Ruck) — 187
7. Abergavenny Borough (Alun F Williams) — 185
Best Instrumentalist: Andrea Lewis (principal cornet) — Parc & Dare
Best Soprano: Paul Eddy (Parc & Dare)
Adjudicator: Steve Sykes
1. Penclawdd (Tony Small) — 187
2. Abertillery & District (Josh Ruck) — 185
3. Thomas Coaches Mid Rhondda (Alan F Gibbs) — 184
4. Briton Ferry (Jeff Pearce) — 183
5. RAF St Athan (Craig Roberts) — 182
6. Ynyshir (Gary Davies) — 181
7. Swindon Pegasus (David Mace) — 180
8. Crosskeys Silver (Benjamin Atkinson) — 178
9. Crwbin (Lynne Turner) — 176
Best Instrumentalist: Alyn Evans (euphonium) — Penclawdd
Adjudicator: Glyn Williams
1. Usk (Jeff Jones) — 190
2. Newport Borough (Robin Hackett) — 187
3. Ogmore Silver (Alice Jones) — 185
4. Upper Rhondda (Jayne Thomas) — 184
5. Cinderford (Chris Howley) — 183
6. Severn Tunnel (Grant Jameson) — 186
7. Gwaun Cae Gurwen (Jeff Hutcherson) — 180
Winning Conductor: Jeff Jones (Usk)
Best Instrumentalist: Jamie Jones (euphonium) — Usk
Best Euphonium: James Jones (Usk)
Adjudicator: Glyn Williams
1. Oakdale Silver (Kerry Bowden) — 184
2. Phoenix Brass (Luke Jenkins) — 183
3. Cwmtawe & District Youth (Wayne Pedrick) — 181
4. Vale of Glamorgan (Dave Short) — 179
Best Instrumentalist: Jan Wells (cornet) — Oakdale Silver
Adjudicator: Alun F Williams
Melingriffith Youth (M3) (Carol Flannery Davies)
Rhondda Fach Youth (Angela Westacott)
Milford Haven Town Juniors (Bron Parratt)
Upper Rhondda Juniors (Wyndham Williams)
BTM Beginners (Kirsty Jones)
Best Percussion: Melingriffith Youth (M3)
Best Instrumentalist: Dewi Kinsey (flugel) — Upper Rhondda Juiors
Youngest Player: Noah Davies (Rhondda Fach Youth)