For the fourth time in five years, the NASUWT Riverside Band lifted the Geneva Instruments Regional Championship trophy in triumph.
If they can continue to perform at the level of excellence shown on a test of such stature as Wilfred Heaton's 'Contest Music', then their band manager Tony Thompson could get used to the feeling of elation for many more years to come.
What would the likes of Manchester City or Liverpool give to lift the more famous original incarnation of the silverware on so many occasions over the next few seasons?
For a fine winner it is not without a foundation of possibility. NASUWT Riverside is now the dominant force of North of England banding, their success here bolstered by their hard earned British Open and Brass in Concert status.
They also have Prof Nicholas Childs at the helm.
This was his third 'Area' win of the 2022 series following title successes in Yorkshire and Scotland. It was also the 39th of his career — a record that will surely be boosted in the years to come after leading the band with a musical vigour that inspired a comfortable, clear-cut victory.
By the time Tony Thompson was lifting the trophy high in the air though the Black Dyke Director of Music was already home. On Sunday evening he was able to enjoy a glass of celebratory champagne and toast a band that gives him a great deal of satisfaction to work with.
"It's a great band with great people," he told 4BR. "Tony Thompson leads by example, and the players are committed to developing into a top section band of the highest quality.
'Contest Music' was perhaps the most severe test of that ambition they have faced so far, and I was delighted by the way they rose to the challenge. This is a band with a great future ahead of it."
In response Tony told 4BR that Prof Childs brought, "...such an air of musical authority and calm. Everything he does improves us."
Although drawn first in the eight-band field (Harrogate had to withdraw due to Covid-19 issues) the marker they posted was comprehensive, aided by a set of outstanding soloists who deservedly took the individual accolades on offer.
For judges Roger Webster and Andrew Duncan it was also one that was not seriously threatened until Easington Colliery as the last band of the day.
In his pre-results summing up Roger commented that the piece had not lost any of its severity.
"What a test it is — and it certainly isn't easy," he said, whilst Andrew pinpointed the challenges faced in the fearsome central section, that he said, "was a killer and caught so many of you out."
Even NASUWT Riverside was not immune. Heaton's traps may seem innocuous, but they are anything but. Like hidden snares they lure the unwary and unprepared. They can certainly prove fatal to qualification chances.
Easington Colliery though negotiated their way through to the Albert Hall for the first time in 36 years aided by Stephen Malcolm's fine direction.
They too are a band fast becoming a force to be reckoned with (building on a win at the Bolsover contest and fourth at the Scottish Open). Here they played with vibrant confidence and individual elan (their 'Best Baritone' leading the way).
The announcement of their second-place finish was greeted with joyful scenes of celebration from the players and warm applause by the audience.
For Reg Vardy, for so long the band to beat at this contest, a 37th Area title seems as far away as their last title success in 2016. Their thoughts now turn to the Grand Shield, after a combination of personal bad luck (their principal cornet couldn't play due to Covid-19) and ensemble uncertainty left them hesitant and fragile.
Not even the fine efforts of MD Russell Gray and substitute top-man Graeme Tindall were enough. Sometimes the contesting Gods do not smile benevolently on you.
Behind them, a defined 'Contest Music' order; City of Hull's errors taking the gloss off their informed account, Ripon City giving it everything and more in a lionhearted performance and Shepherd Group rounding off the top-six with a persuasive rendition that could perhaps count itself a tad unlucky.
Both Westoe and Fishburn will have no complaints.
Neither will supporters of NASUWT Riverside if they carry on playing to this level of title winning excellence.
'Spectrum' has been both a severe and accurate measure of the true First Section credentials of bands around the country.
It was no different here at Durham.
Alan Fernie may have used a touch of well observed dry wit in saying that perhaps the Kapitol Promotions Music Panel could have been "a little kinder" with their choice after almost two years away, but then, what piece can bands at this level hope to play to prepare them for something like 'Contest Music' to follow'?
Felt tip pens
Covid-19 had made things harder. At least four of the six bands were reduced in personnel -cornet, trombone and bass sections in particular. It was like trying to colour in a picture with half a pack of felt tip pens.
No lack of fortitude, determination or sheer ballsyness then on show from six bands that were a credit to themselves and the North East banding spirit.
After two near qualification misses in 2019 and 2020, Kirkbymoorside inspired by a super reading of nuance and textured colouring (aided by their prize winning bass team) by Sarah Woodward produced a number 1 marker that couldn't and wouldn't be beaten, to return to the National Finals for the first time since 2015.
It was the extra moments of control that caught the ear both in the box and the hall, with Alan writing in his remarks that it has been a performance, "...with excellent moments and a lot of care in prep and execution", whilst Nicholas Garman added that it, "...allowed the character of the music to come through."
The announcement of the winners was greeted by a huge outpouring of celebration, with Sarah herself in danger of being flown into the air by her delighted band rep as he swung her round in joy like the opening of the test-piece.
They will be joined in Cheltenham by Houghton Brass, led by one of the region's rising conducting stars, Michael Franey. They also caught the ear with their rendition of colour and character, with their trombones and percussion taking deserved accolade prizes.
It also meant they just pipped GT Group Peterlee to what would have been their first Cheltenham trip since 2009 after John Roberts used all his experience is drawing together a cohesive account that combined 'Red' tinged ferocity as well as bucolic 'Green' sensitivity.
Behind them David Lancaster (wearing a delightful kaleidoscopic 'Spectrum' inspired tie) with hard grafting York Railway Institute just edged out spirited accounts from North Skelton (who caught many people's ear) and Cockerton Prize Silver.
The Tewit Silver contesting juggernaut now heads to Cheltenham after winning the Second Section title in commanding fashion.
Before a note had been blown, the majority of their rivals would have known that in reality they were playing for the second qualification place that was on offer, such has been the contesting dominance of their rivals since Martin Hall took over the baton in 2018.
This was their 10th victory in their last eleven contest appearances. They will head to south in September as one of the short-priced favourites to add a third consecutive National title to their CV.
Not even the dreaded number 1 draw (the third band to claim victory on the weekend off Kelly's Eye) could dent their confidence, as they produced a little masterclass in aviation musicality.
Great control of dynamics aided the lightweight breezy style of vapour trials and loop the loop solo artistry ('Best Instrumentalist' awards going to their fine sop and euph), clever thinking (Martin placed his young son on repiano, next to the principal cornet for the testing little duet) and ensemble security.
As he told 4BR later. "There's a lovely duet mid-way through the piece and I thought it would better to have them next to each other than in different rows. It adds to Archie's experience too, and I think it showed to all the younger players that they are just as important as any of us older heads!"
Talking of which, there was an aptronymic appearance to savour from Angelo Bearpark with runner-up Bearpark & Esh on solo cornet. The former Black Dyke and JSVB star has lived in Switzerland for many years but answered the call for help and thoroughly enjoyed himself — adding a touch of tonal quality to a well-constructed performance led by Philip Tait.
Just missing out was Felling Brass with their neatly styled account under Jason Smith, whilst the top-six was completed by a high paced Ashington, a well thought out Ferryhill and a flying NASUWT Concert whose jet propelled start from the MD saw him knock over his own stand.
Brio and enjoyment
That seemed to sum up the brio and enjoyment the bands gained from a great test-piece choice, with Roger Webster (joined by Andrew Duncan) expressing his admiration for all the competitors.
"The level we've had today would have raised eyebrows in other areas. It was that good", he said, before adding a pointer for soloists that they should simply "enjoy what you're doing" and "play like nobody's listening. It works for me!"
On this day, Tewit did that best of all, but every band came off stage smiling — and that told you just how good a contest it had been.
The death of Dennis Todd 18 months ago saw the North of England banding movement lose one of its most popular and respected performers and supporters.
How great it was then to see his daughter Emma playing at the Area contest for the first time in well over a decade with Jayess Newbiggin Band, as they claimed the title in splendid fashion under Duncan Beckley.
And how great it was too that Duncan, who later this year will receive the Mortimer Medal for his services to the banding movement was also able to celebrate his 100th contesting victory as a conductor. No wonder everyone celebrated with so much joy.
Duncan told 4BR before he went on stage that he hoped the day would end with him able to doff his cap to the contest pavilion and join a very select band of conductors to have directed a century of winning performances.
"The band has been brilliant with me all week," he said. "What a fantastic bunch they are. I hope this is the one."
It was — courtesy of an authentic 'Beckley' take on the score of 'Facets of Glass', packed full of detail, considered pacing and dynamics, backed by firm gestures and a smile to inspire in the right places.
"So much good work here, well played and directed", was Alan Fernie's assessment in box, with his colleague Mark Wilkinson also praising the soloists (principal cornet Sara James won the 'Best Cornet' award).
It was a thoroughly deserved victory as they now look to raise the funds to head to Cheltenham for the first time since 2017.
Also making a long-awaited return is Ellington Colliery, possibly inspired by conductor Gareth Sykes' shirt that had more vibrant colours than a shop full of Millefiori Murano glassware.
They return south for the first time since 2014, thanks to the neatly styled playing aided by their excellent trombones and prize-winning percussion.
Alan Fernie's witty pre-results "just get stuck in" remarks may have made people laugh, but they also pointed out just what the judges had been looking for on what he called "an excellent test-piece".
That was very true, and it was good to hear the different approaches it inspired from the various conductors; from the bold and brash to the more lyrical and lightweight — the latter certainly in the shape of the fine rendition of third placed East Riding of Yorkshire under debutant MD Fiona Bishop.
Much to enjoy too from the trio of Spennymoor, Swinton & District Excelsior and Knaresborough as of whom gave performances of character and substance.
Although there were only seven competitors in the Fourth Section, it was encouraging to see two new names appear in the programme listing.
One was a returning band after 12 years away from contesting the arena, whilst the other was formed following the demise of the previously successful J36 Brass.
And it was those returnees that ended the day looking forward to a long trip to Cheltenham in September after Flookburgh and North Lakes Brass secured the all-important qualification places.
John Iveson's contesting connection as MD with Flookburgh Band stretches back to 1998, and he also led them to their National Finals appearances in 2007, 2008 and 2009 as well as their last Area appearance in 2010.
With just one appearance at the 2015 South Cumbria Music Festival in between, the band has maintained its determination to return when the time was right.
This year it was, and what a return it proved to be as he led them in a wonderfully joyful performance of 'Argos' that was bathed in Greek musical sunshine and helped in all things musically Hellenic by their prize-winning principal cornet, euphonium and youngest player Mikey Anderson.
Just behind them came North Lakes Brass, based near Keswick. With just 20 players including percussion, what they lacked in number they made up in quality as Ian Wildgoose led a compact rendition that utilised his resources with care and appreciation.
Nick Garman and Mark Wilkinson certainly enjoyed their short period of time in the box with each band delivering performances of note that captured both the lyrical and pop-beat nature of the music to a tee, with super contributions from every percussion team.
Backworth soon settled after some early nerves to eventually finish third, whilst the considered approach of Penrith just pipped the colourful exertions of defending champion Easingwold, the bold brightness of Craghead Colliery and enjoyable account from Billingham Silver.
Although the lingering effects of Covid-19 were still felt at the event with one band having to withdraw and a number being reduced in personnel the excellent efforts of the Regional Committee which saw protocols put in place, ensured that the contest was run smoothly with consideration for people's comfort and consideration.
The tributes to those lost to the North East banding movement though was a poignant reminder that it was a small price to pay.
It's a great band with great people. Tony Thompson leads by example, and the players are committed to developing into a top section band of the highest qualityProf Nicholas Childs.
Test piece: Contest Music (Wilfred Heaton)
Adjudicators: Roger Webster and Andrew Duncan
1. NASUWT Riverside (Prof Nicholas Childs)*
2. Easington Colliery (Stephen Malcolm)*
3. Reg Vardy (Russell Gray)
4. City of Hull (Stig Maersk)
5. Ripon City (Mark Sidwell)
6. Shepherd Group Brass (Richard Wilton)
7. Westoe Brass (Aidan Hodgson)
8. Fishburn (Lewis Wilkinson)
Best Soprano: Philip Tait (NASUWT Riverside)
Best Cornet: Tina Mortimer (NASUWT Riverside)
Best Baritone: Stuart Cockerill (Easington Colliery)
Best Euphonium: Jamie Beaston (NASUWT Riverside)
Best Trombone: Mal Gill (NASUWT Riverside)
Best Basses: Shepherd Group
Best Percussion: Easington Colliery
*Invite to National Final
Withdrawn: Harrogate (Andrew Baker)
Test piece: Spectrum (Gilbert Vinter)
Adjudicators: Alan Fernie and Nicholas Garman
1. Kirkbymoorside Town (Sarah Woodward)*
2. Houghton Brass (Michael Franey)*
3. GT Group Peterlee (John Roberts)
4. York Railway Institute Band (David Lancaster)
5. North Skelton (Tim Oldroyd)
6. Cockerton Prize Silver (John Pearson)
*Invite to National Final
Best Trombone: Houghton Brass
Best Basses: Kirkbymoorside Town
Best Percussion: Houghton Brass
Test piece: The Aeronauts (Goff Richards)
Adjudicators: Roger Webster and Andrew Duncan
1. Tewit Silver (Martin Hall)*
2. Bearpark & Esh Colliery (Phillip Tait)*
3. Felling Band (Jason Smith)
4. Ashington Colliery (Nigel Steadman)
5. Ferryhill Town (Tom Maddison)
6. NASUWT Concert Andrew Hunter)
7. Dunston Silver (Fraser Hodgson)
8. Durham Miners Association Brass (Stuart Gray)
9. Barton Community Band (Gary Oglesby)
10. Trimdon Brass (William Harrison)
*Invite to National Final
Best Euphonium: Robin Morgan (Tewit Silver)
Best Soprano: Ben Fearnley (Tewit Silver)
Best Basses: Tewit Silver
Test Piece: Facets of Glass (Gordon Langford)
Adjudicators: Mark Wilkinson and Alan Fernie
1. Jayess Newbiggin Band (Duncan Beckley)*
2. Ellington Colliery Band (Gareth Sykes)*
3. East Riding of Yorkshire Band (Fiona Bishop)
4. Spennymoor Town (Fiona Caswell)
5. Swinton & District Excelsior (Peter Woodrow)
6. Knaresborough Silver (N. Garrett)
Best Percussion: Ellington Colliery
Best Cornet: Jayess Newbiggin Brass Band
*Invite to National Final
Test piece: Argos (Stephan Hodel)
Adjudicators: Nicholas Garman and Mark Wilkinson
1. Flookburgh Silver Band (John Iveson)*
2. North Lakes Brass (Ian Wildgoose)*
3. Backworth Colliery Band (Calum Hartwell)
4. Penrith Town Band (Ian Butterworth)
5. Easingwold Town Band (Alistair Shipman)
6. Craghead Colliery Band (Stephen Goddard)
7. Billingham Silver Band (Vaughan Evans)
*Invite to National Final
Best Principal Cornet: Derek Horne (Flookburgh)
Best Euphonium: James Rawlinson (Flookburgh)
Youngest Player: Mikey Anderson (Flookburgh)