Co-operative Funeralcare rounded off a fine weekend's contest work by taking a lucrative detour on their way back home to Scotland from their appearance at the British Open in Birmingham with victory at the Dr Martin Wainstone's Cup contest.
The stop off at the Princess Alexander Auditorium at Yarm School near Stockton on Tees saw them claim the £4,000 first prize (plus an extra £250 for 'Best March') for the second time in four years, stopping defending champion Reg Vardy's hopes of a hat-trick of wins in the process.
It has in fact been a very profitable couple of weeks for the Scottish champion, after recently winning the Troon entertainment. Victory here brought their fortnight's winnings top the £6,750 mark under the baton Allan Ramsay.
It came courtesy of a thoroughly convincing programme that included the second outing in under 24 hours of Peter Graham's 'The Triumph of Time', coupled with Alex Ramsey's superb flugel solo 'The Beauty of Blue' plus the classic march, 'Knight Templar'.
Understandably, after being drawn first to play, the band was already well on their home as their representative Duncan McCluskie picked up the trophy from adjudicator Dr Robert Childs (above) — although he was quick to point out that there were sure to be some belated celebrations after such a satisfying weekend of contesting achievement.
"The band was brilliant from first note to last all weekend,"he said when speaking to 4BR. "We were all pleased with the result at Symphony Hall, but we knew we still had to come here and do it all again if we were to win.
The attitude and commitment has been fantastic — led from the front by Allan Ramsay. We can now finally relax and enjoy a well deserved celebratory drink or two!"
Reg Vardy push
Pushing the Scots all the way to finishing line was defending champion Reg Vardy in what was their penultimate contest appearance under their sponsors name before reverting back to the famous Ever Ready identity.
Although they had to be content with the runner-up spot (and a hefty £2,000) as they chased a hat-trick of wins, Russell Gray was certainly pleased with their performance, especially the contribution of solo trombone Andy Enzor, whose beautiful reading of 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square' deservedly took the 'Best Soloist' award.
"He's an exceptional talent: What a player,"he said, whilst also explaining his reasoning behind choosing 'The Triumph of Time' as their own-choice selection, despite not being at the British Open themselves.
"When I heard Co-op was coming, I knew we had to play it to compare the band with one that was a strong Open challenger. You always want to win of course, but I'm pleased for the band as we continue to move and grow in the right direction with London now on the horizon."
Nip and tuck
Although the eventual margin of victory was three points, adjudicator Dr Robert Childs stated in his remarks that it had in fact come down to what he called, '...the little things' that separated the top two, while more basic factors accounted for the remaining bands.
"It was nip and tuck between the top two today,"he told 4BR. "However, more basic things such as over-blowing and tuning cost others. If they hadn't got the question of 'intonation' written in their remarks then they most probably came in the prizes."
He also gave a clear insight into the problems faced by bands with their major own-choice selections, adding: "Do you award marks for an easy piece played well or a hard one which doesn't come off? I've chose the band that played their own-choice well.
The march and solo items also came into it. Some bands could have come higher, but suffered somewhat with inconsistencies throughout the three items."
Third and fourth
That was borne out with the eventual third and fourth placed contenders of Hepworth and EYMS.
Hepworth's reprise of 'Cambridge Variations' never quite saw them match their Yorkshire Area effort in Bradford earlier this year, although a cracking 'Ravenswood' march and the fruity bass trombone solo 'In the Hall of the Mountain King', just gave them the edge over their North of England rivals to claim the £1,000 on offer.
Meanwhile, EYMS gave a welcome early rendition of next year's British Open set work, 'Fraternity', by Thierry Deleruyelle, packed with emotional impact, although their other items sounded rather less secure.
Behind them, Thoresby Colliery's rather inconsistent execution just robbed their chances of pushing their way into the prizes, although it was still good enough to repel the Scottish challenge of Dalmellington who finished sixth, ahead of Easington Colliery and Unite the Union.
The only disappointment of an enjoyable day at a very fine venue was that the hard working organisers are still finding it difficult to attract more top class bands to a contest that offers a very generous prize fund.
Although the British Open was on in Birmingham, it still seems an opportunity lost for many bands (four dropped out including one other who competed at the British Open) to push themselves musically.
Not so, Co-operative Funeralcare, who showed that a combination of growing self-confidence, commitment and the ability to put off post-contest celebrations for another 24 hours can pay off handsomely.
The attitude and commitment has been fantastic — led from the front by Allan Ramsay. We can now finally relax and enjoy a well deserved celebratory drink or two!Co-operative Funeralcare Band representative, Duncan McCluskie
Adjudicator: Dr Robert Childs
March/Hymn/Test Piece = Total
1. Co-operative Funeralcare (Allan Ramsay): (23/21/195) = 239
2. Reg Vardy (Russell Gray): (21/22/193) = 236
3. Hepworth (Mark Peacock): (22/20/186) = 228
4. EYMS (Stig Maersk:) (19/16/190) = 225
5. Thoresby Colliery (David Holling): (20/17/188) = 225
6. Dalmellington (Richard Evans): (18/19/184) = 221
7. Easington Colliery (Chris Bentham): (17/18/182) = 217
8. Unite the Union (John Roberts): (16/15/180) = 211
Best March: Co-operative Funeralcare (Knight Templar)
Best Soloist: Andy Enzor (trombone) Reg Vardy