If Charles Dickens had ever considered becoming a brass band journalist, he could have summed the Midlands Regional Championships up perfectly: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... it was the epoch of credulity.
Such were the various 'tales' of emotion at Bedworth and Kenilworth.
It was certainly the best of times for GUS Band, as led by Chris Jeans they reclaimed the Championship Area title with a performance of Philip Sparke's daunting set-work that was a model of high quality musical understanding and technical accomplishment.
In contrast it was the worst of times for Kevin Holdgate and the Newhall Band in the Third Section. Awarded first place, presented with the trophy and set for a night of celebration, their joy was cut short with a message relayed through social media that a mix-up had seen the announcement of the wrong results.
Soon after it was mass incredulity, as players, conductors, supporters and the brass band world in general tried to comprehend just how such a breakdown could occur.
The trouble was, this wasn't a tale of a Dickensian French revolution. Given that some angry keyboard tricoteuse were demanding that 'heads should roll', it was a good job it wasn't.
There was no mistaking the sense of joy displayed by GUS Band after a Championship Section on Sunday afternoon that in-itself took almost as long to complete as reading the first half of Dicken's great novel.
Victory, their sixth in the last seven years, and their first led by their delighted MD, came after a compelling battle with their great rival and defending champion Desford.
GUS laid down the marker from the number 1 draw — an imposing account on a set-work that adjudicator Alan Morrison described as "too hard for an Area contest".
In overall terms he was absolutely correct, and as he did the week before when adjudicating the top section in Wales, his detailed summation of what he had heard was emphatic; clear, honest and occasionally damning.
The winners delivered a performance that had 'A Tale As Yet Untold' under commanding control — from the clarity of the delicate opening filigree accompaniment to the uber-confident central cadenzas and the supple, romping finale.
It may have just lacked a pinch of the sheer verve and excitement of Desford's rambunctious account under Michael Fowles that followed soon after, but for the judges (Alan was joined by Steve Sykes) it had the subtle edge of refinement they were looking for.
Victory was fully deserved from a band emerging impressively from a period of rebuilding under a conductor who is also growing in top flight confidence one each appearance.
Desford will have been disappointed not to have retained the title, although they will have also known that the amalgamation of some noticeable slips and smears undermined their title winning aspirations. It was elemental excellence that at times just lacked cohesion.
For the second year in a row Ratby Co-operative claimed a well deserved podium finish, as Mareika Gray's carefully structured approach once again paid dividends.
Although a mark or two behind their qualification rivals they were a clear margin ahead of those who came behind them, as they produced another impressive indicator of their growing top flight competitiveness.
Much to enjoy
Those were led by Jaguar Land Rover in fourth, as Nigel Seaman's experienced nous inspired an engaging coherent account, whilst there was much to enjoy with the intelligent approaches employed by Michael Howley and Jack Capstaff leading Thoresby and Derwent Brass into the top-six.
After that it was very much as Alan Morrison stated, although the performances of Foresters Brass in seventh down to Blidworth Welfare in eleventh all emerged with credit despite the obvious inconsistencies in execution.
None though could match GUS Band as they secured the Midlands Area title (in its two various forms) for a 27th time.
As tonics to good health go, Mareika Gray could well be inspired by that other great Victorian figure, Florence Nightingale.
Asked to take the reins of Newstead Brass as MD Jim Davies continues to recuperate after a serious illness, she provided a 'Legacy' prescription for a speedy recovery that would have delighted Aneurin Bevan himself.
The contest also provided something of a precursor for what was to come in the Championship Section, as adjudicators Alan Morrison and Chris Wormald were presented with varied, if somewhat variable accounts that at times shone as stark a light on the wounds of combatants at Bedworth as anything provided by the Lady with the Lamp at Sebastopol.
Many were self inflicted. A lack of basic discipline and execution, balance and texture, nerves and misplaced ambition robbed the music of its nuanced sense of anxiety, hopefulness and progressive excitement. Alan in particular was disappointed that conductors had not taken onboard the observations of the judges at Blackpool and Swansea or had read the ABBA guidance about Tom Davoren's work.
As a result, the best stood out. The quality of the ensemble cohesion, the attention to dynamic detail and the confident musicality displayed in their contrasting ways by Newstead Brass and Jackfield, led by David Maplestone, offered substantive evidence of high quality musicianship from the middle as well as confident playing around the stands.
Although the different musical approaches were marked, the end results were much the same — the precision of the opening statements made with confidence, the music flowing along a well defined path of understanding.
The central core was captured with a feeling of hopefulness without being lost in misplaced over-sentimentality, whilst the endings bubbled with a light feel for the energy and purpose of the writing. They took the qualification places on offer for Cheltenham with a classy purpose.
Less clear cut
Behind them it was less clear cut, although there was joy for Kibworth as their young conductor Brendan Caddy drew a passionate account from his players to secure a podium finish, whilst the remaining top-six places were taken by engaging performances from Burbage (Buxton), Bilton Silver (Rugby) and Shirley.
Others, such as Staffordshire, Bedworth and Oddfellows were left to rue inconsistencies that just took the edge of potential top-six finishes, whilst elsewhere few would have had too much cause for complaint as 'Legacy' once again showed that it was a considerable test of contest musicianship.
The Midlands region has quite a history of famous battles — from Bosworth Field to Worcester with stop offs at Edgehill to Naseby in-between.
It was puzzling then that for the most part, the 13 contenders in the Second Section took a fairly neutral approach to Kit Turnbull's evocative blood and guts test-piece, 'The Golden Sabre'.
With so many opportunities to explore the colourful narrative variations leading to such a triumphant conclusion, a piece that demanded a sense of hussar inspired glory and adventure was all too often played as if conductors were adhering to the Swiss Army guide to battlefield health & safety protocols.
It was if some were not too disappointed by the thought of not getting to raise their standard at Cheltenham in September.
Much to offer
It was a pity, as the piece certainly offered much — from the collective solo cornet confidence in the opening bugle call, to tender sorrowfulness in the trombone solo, and a display of triumphalism in the Borodino inspired finale.
Along the way there was something for everyone to contribute, yet all too often the opportunities were missed in nervousness, poor intonation and rhythmic instability.
The best were a close-knit bunch — all led with a tempered sense of adventure (thankfully no conductor opted for sabre-rattling showmanship) that kept the lid on any misconceived hedonistic heroism from their troops.
Two clever, wily MD generals led the way in Craig Stevens with defending champion Gresley Colliery and David W Ashworth with Glossop Old — each controlling the tempos and dynamics to enable the stylish intent of their musical assaults to come through.
Victory for the in-form Grelsey was well deserved as they once again displayed the substance to the progress they have made since the MD took to the helm. They will return to Cheltenham as a band to watch out for with their excellent soloists backed by an ensemble of rich warmth and balance.
So too Glossop Old (for the second time in four years) as their MD (who has more victory medals to pin on his chest than the Duke of Wellington) once again did what he does best — inspiring a band to put the basics solidly in place before adding the touch of qualification sparkle.
Not far behind came City of Coventry, who gave a finely structured account under Jonathan Fearn that gave the judges plenty to immediately ponder (four of the top five bands were drawn close together). They could count themselves a tad unlucky that they didn't get the nod from the box.
Just a little more adventure may have also added a few more Cheltenham points from well constructed accounts from the remaining top-six finishers of Tintwistle, Avonbank (Evesham) and Leicestershire Co-op (Snibston). All emerged though with a great deal of credit for their efforts.
Elsewhere the usual contesting inconsistencies made their mark on performances from the midfield finishers, whilst those towards the bottom few places will have known they had been in a battle that tested their resources to the full.
The brass band history books will record that Stamford Brass were crowned Third Section Midlands Regional Champion, with Raunds Temperance claiming the second qualification place for the Cheltenham final.
However, the entry should come with an asterisk mark.
The unfortunate series of errors that initially saw Newhall Band declared champion and presented with the trophy (Stamford in second) cast a troubling shadow over the contest — one that may take a long time to be forgotten unless remedial action is taken to ensure that the risk of it happening again is minimised.
It is understood that the Midlands Regional Committee (whose Secretary and Chairman received a great deal of unwarranted, ill informed abuse) and the Association of Brass Band Adjudicators will now work together to tighten protocols. The blame game holds no value, acting positively on the unfortunate consequences will though.
The great pity was that it also overshadowed a cracking contest — one which all 16 bands approached Andrew Baker's evocative but very difficult set-work, 'Endurance' with the type of fortitude and determination shown by Ernest Shackleton on his epic trek to safety.
When the results had been corrected it was Stamford Brass led by Julian Bright that claimed the title. The 2018 Fourth Section National Champion produced a performance of musical authority off the early number 3 draw to head to Cheltenham for a third consecutive year.
Joining them will be Raunds Temperance, as the defending champion produced a descriptive rendition under Jonathan Pippen that secured its spot back at the Centaur Centre.
There was an impressive standard set for judges Brian Rostron and James Holt from the start, with Pleasley Colliery's neatly portrayed account eventually coming third, just ahead of well directed renditions from Audley Brass, Stouport on Severn and Daventry.
There were also a number of engaging efforts that filled the midfield places — all delivered with ensemble and solo confidence inspired by MDs who sought the atmospheric, stylistic drama of score with intelligent appreciation of tempo and dynamics. Even those at the bottom end of the results table performed admirably.
Newhall eventually came tenth — a result that may forever be tempered with thoughts of what might have been.
The response by their MD, Kevin Holdgate to what eventually transpired was deserving of the type of plaudits that eventually greeted Shackleton his return to the UK over 100 years ago. His disappointment was for his players, the majority whom have been enjoying their competitive banding with him for a number of years.
He did not apportion blame, just a healthy dose of respectful retrospective realism. Hopefully, his constructive thoughts and opinions will also be taken on board by those involved.
Nobody will want this particular chapter of history to repeat itself.
Christopher Bond's 'Neverland' has been a real hit with both competitors and listeners alike at this year's series of Area contests.
Written with a keen appreciation of melody and style, as well as the type of challenges that would test but not overwhelm bands, many with gaps in personnel, it had a sense of musical adventure that has been grasped enthusiastically.
That was certainly the case at Kenilworth where each of the 21 bands displayed a solid grasp of the basics as well as the style needed to bring the triptych storyline to life.
Each had soloists who sounded comfortable with their moments in the spotlight (some like the young chap from Dunchurch Band, undoubted stars of the future), whilst the MDs all displayed an intelligent understanding of the score and of their band's resources.
After the troubles of the previous day, even the understandably longer than usual gap before the announcement of the results was greeted with patient good humour. It certainly made for a hard call for judges James Holt and Chris Wormald, although they were very clear about their decision making.
In the end they plumbed for an excellent performance Amington conducted by the experienced Alan Gifford to secure the honours — and all from the number 1 draw at that. As contest markers go that was some effort. It was also well deserved as they claimed their first Area title since 2008 and a Cheltenham return for the first time since 2011.
Joining them will be City of Birmingham (for the second time in three years) as Saphran Ali also created a touch of early draw 'Neverland' magic from his band to come runner-up. The final qualification place went to a delighted Trentham Brass who claimed a berth in the starting stalls for the first time since 2010 under new MD Shaun Farrington.
Just missing out after giving performances that captured the mystery of the opening 'Journey', the sense of longing in the central section and the razor sharp excitement of the 'Pirate' finale was Newark Town, with the remaining top-six places taken by Matlock and Fairfield Buxton.
The midfield finishers all produced strongly characterised efforts with both Melton and Wem Jubilee perhaps a touch unlucky they didn't quite catch the ear of the judges in the box. Right down the list, all the way to Moulton 77 though, the performances were confident and determined.
Despite the problems that arose in the Third Section, Lesley Bentley and her team deserve great credit for the way in which they once again ran a very welcoming and professional contest weekend. The Midlands Regional Committee has a somewhat unwieldy number of bands to pack into two days of contesting, and at the venues at Bedworth and Kenilworth the volunteers do it so well.
It was the best of times and the worst of times indeed — but the positives far outweighed the negatives here once more.
Thanks to Chris Thomas & Wilson Taylor
The winners delivered a performance that had 'A Tale As Yet Untold' under commanding control — from the clarity of the delicate opening filigree accompaniment to the uber-confident central cadenzas and the supple, romping finale4BR
Test Piece: A Tale as Yet Untold (Philip Sparke)
Sunday 8th March
Adjudicators: Steve Sykes & Alan Morrison
1. GUS (Chris Jeans)*
2. Desford Colliery (Michael Fowles)*
3. Ratby Co-operative (Mareika Gray)
4. Jaguar Land Rover (Nigel Seaman)
5. Thoresby Colliery (Michael Howley)
6. Derwent Brass (Jack Capstaff)
7. Foresters Brass (Gareth Brindle)
8. Enderby (Ryan Richards)
9. Langley (Cliff Parker)
10. Hucknall & Linby M.C.(Paul Whyley)
11. Blidworth Welfare (Simon Gresswell)
*Qualify for National Final
Test Piece: Legacy (Tom Davoren)
Saturday 7th March
Adjudicators: Alan Morrison and Christopher Wormald
1. Newstead Brass (Mareika Gray)*
2. Jackfield (David Maplestone)*
3. Kibworth (Brendan Caddy)
4. Burbage (Buxton) (Steve Critchlow)
5. Bilton Silver (Rugby) (David Stowell)
6. Shirley (Tom Stoneman)
7. Carlton Brass (Geoff Wood)
8. SPAL Sovereign Brass (Neil Samuel)
9. Harborough (Brad Turnbull)
10. Staffordshire (Craig Williams)
11. Bedworth Brass (Wayne Ruston)
12. Oddfellows Brass (David Holling)
13. Hathern (Colonel Stephen Barnwell)
14. Shirebrook Miners Welfare (Jim Henson)
15. Foss Dyke (Ian Scott)
16. Rolls Royce (Derby) (Graham Cardwell)
*Qualify for National Final
Test Piece: The Golden Sabre — Tales of the Hussar-Poet, Denis Davydov (Kit Turnbull)
Sunday 8th March
Adjudicators: Brian Rostron and Mark Wilkinson
1. Gresley Colliery (Craig Stevens)*
2. Glossop Old (David Ashworth)*
3. City of Coventry (Jonathan Fearn)
4. Tintwistle (Andrew Mallon)
5. Avonbank (Evesham) (Colin Herbert)
6. Leicestershire Co-op (Snibston) (Luke Pallister)
7. Market Rasen (David Dernley)
8. Ibstock Brick Brass (Dave Lea)
9. Wellington (Telford) (Stephen Rhodes)
10. Shirland Welfare (Lynden Cooper)
11. Wigston (Rob Boulter)
12. Cleobury Mortimer Concert (Colin Hogg)
13. Ireland Colliery Chesterfield (Lindon Bolt)
*Qualify for National Final
Statement from the Midlands Regional Committee:
Due to an error on the adjudicator summary sheets the Third Section results from the Midlands Regional Championships have been given out incorrectly.
Whilst we apologise for this confusion the stewards have corrected the summary sheet.
Unfortunately the error was not noticed until after the results were announced and bands had left with their remarks and their incorrect positions.
Regional Secretary Lesley Bentley
Regional Chairman: John Slater
Test Piece: Endurance — narrative variations for brass band (Andrew Baker)
Kenilworth School, Kenilworth
Saturday 7th March
Adjudicators: James Holt and Brian Rostron
1. Stamford Brass (Julian Bright)*
2. Raunds Temperance (Jonathan Pippen)*
3. Pleasley Colliery Welfare (Geof Benson)
4. Audley Brass (Tom Hancock)
5. Stourport on Severn (Oliver Wilson)
6. Daventry (Bob Stradling)
7. Towcester Studio (Peter Wain)
8. Long Eaton Silver Prize (Sharon Stansfield)
9. Cubbington Silver (Mark Phillips)
10. Newhall (Kevin Holdgate)
11. Shipston Town (Howard Gibbs)
12. Bakewell Silver (Ryan Stacey)
13. Corby Silver (Cathy Fountain)
14. Ratby Co-operative Mid (Gary Perrin)
15. Syston (Colin Jones)
16. Arrow Valley (Ashley Buxton)
*Qualify for National Final
Test Piece: Neverland (Christopher Bond)
Kenilworth School, Kenilworth
Sunday 8th March
Adjudicators: James Holt and Christopher Wormald
1. Amington (Alan Gifford)*
2. City of Birmingham (Saphran Ali)*
3. Trentham Brass (Shaun Farrington)*
4. Newark Town (Gary Wyatt)
5. Matlock (Chris Banks)
6. Fairfield (Buxton) (Charles Kitchen)
7. Bretforton Silver (John Wood)
8. Wem Jubilee (Cathy Rutherford)
9. Croft Silver (Ian Needham)
10. Melton (Graham Sutton)
11. Dunchurch (Paul Whitmore)
12. Ilkeston (Geoff Hawley)
13. Thrapston Town (Nathan Waterman)
14. University of Warwick (Simon Hogg)
15. Coventry Festival (Allan Wheelhouse)
16. Skegness Silver (Steve Walker)
17. Malvern Hills District (Chris License)
18. Kirkby Colliery Welfare (Neville Buxton)
19. Bilton Silver Evolution (Jack Fisher)
20. Brackley & District (Shaun Humphries)
21. Moulton 77 (Kevin Spencer)
Withdrawn: Whitwell Brass (Adrian Wood)
*Qualify for National Final