The Unison Kinneil Band rounded off a year that has seen both triumphs and tribulations with a fine victory at the Band Supplies Scottish Challenge Shield in Perth.
Their bold rendition of Peter Graham's 'Metropolis 1927' under conductor Chris Shanks saw them claim the trophy plus £300 first prize ahead of the twin 'Essence of Time' challenges of 1st Old Boys from Northern Ireland and defending champion Kingdom Brass in third.
In June the band was faced with catastrophe when their headquarters in Bo'ness was gutted by a fire started by vandals, yet a few months later they now end 2019 as both National Champion and Scottish Challenge Shield winner.
The turnaround in fortune was not lost on their players, with Band Secretary Robert Doherty summing up the collective feelings: "It's been quite a year of very different challenges,"he said. "Our own communal band spirit and that of the community who have supported us has been incredible — and this has been the end result.
We will forever be thankful for the support shown and we feel this shows that we are developing a band that has a great future ahead. What a way to round off the year though — National and now Scottish Challenge champion."
Conductor Chris Shanks also believes the future is bright for a band that he hopes has shown the potential to make a mark at the Scottish Championship back in Perth in March.
"That's why we choose to play 'Metropolis 1927',"he said. "It's a piece that I felt would be good preparation for the top section next year as it tested our ambition and ability to improve. I think it showed the impressive character of the band once again."
That character was certainly recognised by adjudicators Brett Baker and Stan Lippeatt, who described their winning performance as "impressive"and "commanding"- one led by solo euphonium player Ian Campbell in claiming the 'Best Instrumentalist' award.
Before the announcement of the results both men praised all 23 competitors, with Brett saying that "90% of the bands gave some fantastic performances of well-chosen works."
With the contest taking place on St Andrew's Day, they were asked to choose repertoire by Scottish composers, with well known works by Peter Graham and Kenneth Downie sitting alongside less familiar pieces by Alan Fernie, Thomas Wilson and Hamish MacCunn.
"Three bands stood out for us today with an exceptional winning performance,"Brett added. "Even lower down there was some excellent playing on show. Bands have to think about sending the audience on a musical journey and the best did that."
Stan Lippeatt was in agreement — although he did temper his opening remark with what he called his "one moan of the day", in that some of the scores presented to the judges to study were of poor quality — some even with pages upside down.
"Despite that we were very surprised at what we heard though,"he added. "The top three didn't make it an easy decision for us and neither did the bands below them. That's why we took our time making sure every position counted."
Old Boys essence
With competitors from Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Germany on show, it was an event with a welcome European flavour, with 1st Old Boys from Belfast giving a fine account of 'Essence of Time' under Stephen Cairns and led by their excellent teenage principal cornet Louise Bell, to eventually come runner-up.
Earlier, defending champion Kingdom Brass had set the contest marker under Paul Drury with their well-structured account of Peter Graham's former European test-piece, although minors blemishes left the door open to rivals.
Behind them, Broxburn & Livingston took fourth and the 'Best Second Section Band' with their purposeful account of Peter Graham's 'Prisms' under Charlie Farren, with Newmilns & Galston in fifth playing 'Music for the Common Man' by Kenneth Downie.
Sixth placed Newmains & District continued to show the solid progress they are making with their rendition of Peter's 'Voyage to World's Unknown' to beat four First Section rivals.
The 'Best Third Section Band' award went to Perthshire Brass with their engaging account of Alan Fernie's evocative 'Landscape & Journey', with the Fourth Section accolade going to Dundee Instrumental's 'Dimensions'.
And whilst others did struggle on occasions it was good, as Stan and Brett observed, that the repertoire chosen was tempered by good contesting sense by the conductors — with performance of note and determination from the youthful Campbeltown Brass and the Jayess Newbiggin, who took to the stage with just 21 players.
There was also a warm welcome given to the youngsters of 3BA Experience Band under conductor Benjamin Markl, who gave an impressive account of 'Shine as the Light' full of warm tonality, precisely observed dynamics and lyrical lead lines to end eighth.
Speaking to 4BR after they had played, Benjamin thanked the Scottish Brass Band Association (SBBA) for their hospitality and welcome, and felt that the journey had been another stepping stone in his band's development.
"We have had a wonderful time and we enjoyed playing here. We wanted to show what we can do as a young band and to listen to how British bands perform. We've enjoyed it very much and hope to come back again."
Despite the somewhat disappointing audience numbers, SBBA will have been encouraged that the contest attracted 23 competitors at the end of a long domestic season and on a bitterly cold St Andrew's Day just 24 hours after the commercial frenzy of 'Black Friday'.
Even more encouraging was the news that SBBA has been invited to apply for a further two years of funding from Creative Scotland to help extend their youth development work.
As the indefatigable SBBA President Carrie Boax told 4BR; "Our thanks go to the bands that performed here today, and to those who competed in the Scottish Open and Scottish Youth Championships.
We have a very strong foundation on which to work on in Scotland, and wonderful sponsors such as Band Supplies, Besson and others who recognise and support it. These are exciting times but we also know we have to work even harder to engage with the public.
That's why we have a great new multi-media team that we are developing exciting ideas with and why we want all our stakeholders to play an active part in our future — starting with our annual general meeting and SBBA Learning Festival in January."
We will forever be thankful for the support shown and we feel this shows that we are developing a band that has a great future ahead. What a way to round off the year though — National and now Scottish Challenge championUnison Kinneil Band
Perth Concert Hall
Adjudicators: Stan Lippeatt & Brett Baker
1. Unison Kinneil (Chris Shanks) — 194
2. 1st Old Boys Silver (Stephen Cairns) — 192
3. Kingdom Brass (Paul Drury) — 191
4. Broxburn & Livingston (Charlie Farren) — 189
5. Newmilns & Galston (Alan Cameron) — 188
6. Newmains & District (Michael Marzella) — 187
7. Granite City Brass (Bruce Wallace) — 186
8. 3BA Experience Band (Benjamin Markl) — 185
9. St Ronan's Silver (Simon Railton) — 184
10. Campbeltown Brass (Stephanie Mitchell) — 183
11. Perthshire Brass (Craig Dennis) — 182
12. Annan Town (Andrew Warriner) — 181
13. Kirkintilloch (Gareth Bowman) — 180
14. Coalburn Silver (Gareth Bowman) — 179
15. Dundee Instrumental (Robert McDonald) — 178
16. Clackmannan District Brass (Ross Brotherston) — 177
17. Buckhaven & Methil Miners (Stephen Craig) — 176
18. Kilmarnock Concert Brass (Scott Walker) — 175
19. Brass Sounds Inverclyde (Wendy McCorkell) — 174
20. Penicuik Silver (Robert W Fraser) — 173
21. Dysart Colliery (Kenneth Letham) — 172
22. Jayess Newbiggin (Helen Douthwaite-Teasdale) — 171
23. Irvine & Dreghorn (Lewis Bettles) — 170
Best Instrumentalist: Ian Campbell (euphonium) — Unison Kinneil
Best First Section Band: Unison Kinneil
Best Second Section Band: Broxburn & Livingston
Best Third Section Band: Perthshire Brass
Best Fourth Section Band: Dundee Instrumental