X marked the spot on the 'Treasure Island' stage at Sage Gateshead for Philip Harper and Cory Band where all the Brass in Concert silverware they had safely stored for almost two years was dug up and shipped home to the Rhondda once more.
A brilliantly polished 'Celebration of Adventure' set inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's 1883 story of 'buccaneers and buried gold', packed with piratical excitement, clever characterisation, virtuosic soloists and choreographed pantomime fun saw them pack the decks of their 'Hispaniola' band bus with over £5,000 in prize winning booty.
It was further confirmation of their supremacy on the high seas of the entertainment contest format; a deceptively simple formula, expertly mixed with an alchemist's musical touch by the MD (the youthful Jim Hawkins narration provided by his son Morris).
This time the familiar listener-friendly elements were packaged with a tropical twist to include the skill sets of the performers and immediately capture the imagination of the audience. All that was missing was a parrot to appear on the MD's shoulder squawking 'Pieces of Eight'.
As they left Sage Gateshead to set sail to a concert later that night in York, the title was already firmly in their grasp.
It was also thoroughly deserved; the category prizes for 'Best Programme Content'; 'Best Entertainment & Presentation' and 'New Composition/Arrangement' added to by individual awards for 'Best Basses'; 'Best Euphonium' (Glyn Williams) and 'Best Principal Cornet' (Tom Hutchinson).
They remain the standard bearer for excellence and invention at the event — and by a margin. It was a 'feel good factor' post-Covid programme (also neatly referenced) that hit that X spot in every conceivable way.
For an audience desperate not to be reminded of the depressive effects brought by Covid-19, it was also good that Cory's rivals were also inspired to steer away from the 'documentary' anniversary approach that blighted the contest a few years ago.
That said, Foden's offered a carefully calibrated 'Into the Dark' set that placed its emphasis more on musical substance than presentational gloss to come runner-up.
Orchestral drama was provided by Mussorgsky and Berlioz, suave up beat contrast by John Barber (as composer, arranger and soloist) and Jonathan Bates.
The playing under Michael Fowles' baton was a reminder of the National Champion's contest pedigree — making a firm impression on judges Peter Moore and Mark David who placed it first and second respectively to claim the 'Quality of Performance' category award as well as the prize for 'Best Percussion'.
And although the presentation and entertainment levels were a touch prosaic, the sensible approach ensured that what was lost there was minimised. You sensed the Sandbach band headed home quite content with their day's work.
Also delighted was Flowers, who brought a cleverly inspired 'Monopoly' set to life thanks to vibrant new compositions from the pens of Christian Overhead, Paul Saggers, Andy Wareham and Jonathan Bates.
It took you on a trip around the famous games board sometimes directly and sometimes with a hint of a musical 'Chance' card being played.
After a quick 'Go!' start there were neatly observed and choreographed stop offs in Pall Mall, Fleet Street, Mayfair and even a little spell at Her Majesty's pleasure to bring an inventive set to a close.
It brought them their second successive top-three finish with Paul Richards taking the 'Best Soprano' accolade for a second time. They will head to Butlin's in defence of their title in confident mood to claim a great deal more rental income for their polished efforts.
One of the strengths of Brass in Concert remains the sources of inspiration brought to the stage by bands, with two MDs with the most wide-ranging musical outlooks leading Carlton Main and Tredegar into fourth and fifth.
Never afraid to present thought provoking programmes, both Allan Withington and Ian Porthouse tackled subject matters many would have thought as being slightly entertainment taboo for a brass band audience.
However, both 'Anne Frank at the Sage' and 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' with Carlton Main Frickley and Tredegar provided uplifting counter balances to the source material that explored the qualities of the power of love, expression and self determination over the darker forces of evil.
Using a wonderfully articulate dancer to act as a 'ghost' mime to show the audience that despite isolation and desperation Anne Frank was a Dutch teenager determined to enjoy her life and heritage, brought an uplifting joyfulness to the story — Allan Withington's score pulsating with life.
Meanwhile, Paul Saggers' vivid score for the Welsh Champion also cast its net far and wide — from Schubert and the American heavy metal band 'Slipknot' to Eastenders in what was a clever accompaniment to the famous 1920 silent film — the music linked expertly to the various scenes, including that trip to Walford and the Queen Vic pub.
It was arguably the best multi-media presentation on the day, although the judges also had a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde taste for it in their markings. They did claim the awards for the 'Best Horn' (the outstanding Ross Dunne) and 'Best Baritone' (Ben Stratford).
Grimey go east
The final top-six place went to Grimethorpe Colliery, as Dr David Thornton headed east thanks to a Welshman who plays in the Irish Guards.
Not surprisingly, Gareth Trott's 'Eastern Horizons' made for an intoxicating musical mix from Moscow to Cairo via Turkey and Shanghai.
A series of colourful picture postcards, it just meandered slightly in focus (the inclusion of a belly dancer did raise a few eyebrows), but which showcased a talented new writer for the medium.
Sixth place may have disappointed a few diehard Grimey fans given their pedigree at this event, but with Mark Walters taking the 'Best Flugel' award and the band showing great character in overcoming some late Covid issues to make it to the starting line-up, podium success may well be on the cards here in coming years.
Although there was a marked gap in the points margin between the top-six and the rest of the ten band field, the variety on show still catered for all tastes.
That was certainly borne out with the work that Morgan Griffiths is doing at Hammonds.
Although a little dated in inspiration compared to rivals, the emphasis on performance quality will surely hold them in good stead at the major events to come — starting with the British Open in January.
Boosted by the likes of Kirsty Abbotts on cornet and a raft of recent experienced ensemble players, theirs was a solid showing of more 'traditional' entertainment styles and genres, but one that could pay its dividends elsewhere.
For Friary — the 'Chapter 2' sequel to their fun packed 'Princess' set of 2019 was another lightweight meringue of a pantomime show (winning the 'Audience Prize' once more).
And whilst the musical gag-fest has perhaps had its day here now, audiences will surely queue up time and again to hear their trombone heroine Isobel Daws perform.
She claimed both the 'Best Instrumentalist' and 'Best Trombone' awards for a remarkable display of virtuosity on 'Blue Bells of Scotland'. It was a true highlight of the day. Her future surely lies in Mahler and Bruckner now though not Cannon and Ball.
With an invitation given to the recent Siddis Brass winner Manger Musikklag to take part in the event in 2022, NASUWT Riverside or Redbridge may have to wait and see if they are to return next year.
Understandably given their limited Brass in Concert experience, their sets lacked the musical variety of rivals, although there was still much to enjoy with the 'Heroic' theme of Riverside and the tech inspired wizardy of Redbridge.
What they failed to sparkle with in ensemble invention they made up for in solo excellence though, with Riverside's soprano star Philip Tait's sizzling Daniel Craig turn as 007 in 'Live and Let Die' and the cultured sounds of Alan Roberts on flugel with Redbridge on 'The Last Spring'.
Before the doors opened early on Saturday morning (the separate Youth Brass in Concert Championship started at 9.30am) there was a degree of apprehension to go with the obvious sense of excitement that the premiere brass band contest in the world was returning.
It was a very long day, but boosted by an excellent response from what has become a loyal audience and with an equally encouraging response to the on-line broadcast provided by the Wobplay.com recording platform, it was also a successful one too.
Much of that was due to the excellent organisation (although the results ceremony was a touch chaotic) that combined a light but clear approach to all Covid protocols for performers and audience alike, as well as helpful interaction with the bands prior to the event.
They in turn responded with engaging programmes inspired by eclectic sources. And whilst the event must be careful that a form of musical Disneyfication doesn't take unstoppable root at the expense of more considered substance, the level of entertainment on show has unquestionably become much more polished and professional.
And once again in that respect Cory and Philip Harper lead the way. And they have all the Brass in Concert Treasure Island cash and silverware packed up and hidden safely in a X marked spot in their bandroom to prove it once more.
It was further confirmation of their supremacy on the high seas of the entertainment contest format; a deceptively simple formula, expertly mixed with an alchemist's musical touch by the MD4BR
Mark David & Peter Moore (Quality of Performance)
Andrew Duncan (Programme Content)
Jayne Murrill & Chris Jeans (Entertainment & Presentation)
Dr David Childs (Soloist and Individual Awards)
Music/Music/Content/Entertainment = Total
David/Moore/Duncan/Murrill/Jeans = Total
1. Cory (Philip Harper): 60/51/40/20/20 = 191
2. Foden's (Michael Fowles): 57/60/32/16/18 = 183
3. Flowers (Paul Holland): 54/54/28/17/16 = 169
4. Carlton Main Frickley Colliery (Allan Withington): 51/42/38/18/19 = 168
5. Tredegar (Ian Porthouse): 42/57/34/14/17 = 164
6. Grimethorpe Colliery (Dr David Thornton): 45/48/36/15/15 = 159
7. Hammonds (Morgan Griffiths): 48/45/22/11/12 = 138*
8. Friary (Chris King): 39/36/30/19/14 = 138
9. NASUWT Riverside (Prof Nicholas J Childs): 36/39/24/12/13 = 124
10. Redbridge (Chris Bearman): 33/33/26/13/11 = 116
* Denotes Quality of Performance points take precedence in order of tied placings
Quality of Performance: Foden's
Best Programme Content: Cory
Best Entertainment & Presentation: Cory
Winning MD: Philip Harper
Audience Entertainment Prize: Friary
New Composition/Arrangement Award : Beyond the Sea (Philip Harper) — Cory
Best Soloist: Isobel Daws (trombone) — Friary
Don Lusher Trombone Award: Isobel Daws (Friary)
Harry Mortimer Best Principal Cornet Award: Tom Hutchinson (Cory)
The Fesa Trophy for Best Flugel Award: Mark Walters (Grimethorpe Colliery)
The Gateshead MBC Trophy for Best Soprano Award: Paul Richards (Flowers)
The Louis and Colin Johnson Trophy for Best Percussion Section: Foden's
Best Euphonium: Glyn Williams (Cory)
Best Baritone: Ben Stratford (Tredegar)
Best Horn: Ross Dunne (Tredegar)
John Fletcher Best Basses Award: Cory
Youngest Player: Haydn Osbourne of Hammonds (aged 17)