Camborne claimed a second top section title in three competitive years as the West of England Area Championships returned to Torquay following its enforced Covid-19 absence.
It was the Cornish band's 22nd victory at the event — an historic span that stretches back to 1948, as under conductor Ian Porthouse they reclaimed the domestic bragging rights in what the judges said was a battle between "three very close bands".
It also meant disappointment for the much fancied Flowers as they sought a first win since 2019, although thanks to their pre-qualified National Final status they will return to the Albert Hall alongside defending champion Aldbourne who finished third.
Few arguments from the rest of the battling field of contenders either, as the trio delivered contrasting accounts (with slightly different seating arrangements) of 'Red Priest' for the consideration of adjudicators Chris Jeans and Morten E Hansen, as well as the immediate response of an enthusiastic audience.
"We were looking for a finely structured performance of texture, balance, warmth, accuracy and virtuosity," Chris said in his pre-results address, before adding his description of just what the top three had given them.
"The winners were stunning, although not without errors with their class and musicality", he said in compactly summing up Camborne, whilst second placed Flowers had provided a performance that was "well-structured and textured with great soloists." Aldbourne in third had given them "bold sounds and confidence".
Few would have disagreed with that immediate analysis, or their later opinions when speaking to 4BR.
There they admitted that although all three provided high quality performances, none had quite given a definitive, clear-cut winning account. "We just felt they didn't quite fully master it on the day — and I think they will all accept that," Morten said. "Little errors and unforced problems arose in each. They were all beatable."
Chris agreed: "All three were very good, but each left the door open in some way. It meant it was a much closer consideration for us, very close in fact, but just a little disappointing that we didn't get a definitive account from what were very well led top section bands."
Philip Wilby's expertly characterised portrait of personality, time, place and atmosphere, with its osmosis of Vivaldic virtuosity, beauty and wit has been a hugely demanding challenge to qualification aspirations this year.
Capturing those elements and moulding them into a cohesive whole is rightly seen as a marker of true Championship Section quality — and it was no different here.
Flowers showed that in providing the contest marker as they sought to claim a 14th Area title. A slight hiccup to start didn't put them off their stride as they combined lean power with cutting precision, although some moments of unease and momentary losses of cohesion were enough to see them cast a glance over their shoulders to rivals to come.
However, any immediate sense of disappointment will surely be assuaged by the time they return to the Autumn contests in Birmingham and London. Under Paul Holland they remain a band with obvious major championship title credentials.
Aldbourne has also signalled that potential at Symphony Hall in 2022, and they will now return both there and to Kensington Gore knowing just what they need to do to make those impressions count once more. Glyn Williams led a structured account that did what was required of it without quite being able to head their main rivals.
Supporters of Camborne would possibly have felt the same after they performed as the last band of the contest weekend.
In the end though the free-flowing musicality engineered by the MD, backed by solid ensemble and solo playing, which although never faultless, wasn't as marked as their rivals. In racing parlance, they won by a short head.
"I think both Paul and Glyn will have felt the same as I did coming off stage," Ian Porthouse later admitted to 4BR.
"It's such a demanding piece that little errors can always creep in. It wasn't quite the very best we had played it, but there was still plenty to showcase the quality and the hard work they have undertaken. I'm delighted for them as I know they will want to keep building on this for the Grand Shield and beyond."
With the qualification places settled, it was a solid if slightly idiosyncratic St Dennis who led the chasing pack under Darren Hawken, whilst there was obvious delight for supporters of Filton Concert Brass, as vibrantly directed by Erik Van de Kolk they ended fifth after what has been an extensive period of rebuilding.
In a close battle for the top-six places it was the solid endeavours of Verwood Concert Brass that just pipped the lighter colourings of Woodfalls, whilst there would have been few complaints at the final placings of Brunel Brass, Andover Town, Michelmersh Silver and Roche Brass.
In contrast to the Championship Section, the judges in the First Section informed the pre-results audience that there was a 'clear winner' on Philip Lawrence's 'A Day in the Life of a Knight'.
And according to John Maines and Chris Jeans it came from Chalford Band — much to the unbridled delight of their players and their supporters. And who could blame them, as they recorded their first ever West of England Area title success in their 138-year history to return to Cheltenham for the first time since 2018.
Writing on their Facebook page they stated: "With possibly the best result of the band's history we go to National Finals in September as West of England First Section Champions. Huge congratulations to Steve our conductor, the committee, and every hard-working player in our organisation. We couldn't be more proud to be Chalford; a sub paying, village band on the outskirts of Stroud."
As the last band to perform before the mid-contest break, they delivered a cracker that certainly had all the 'subtleties' John and Chris were looking for; adherence to dynamics and markings (especially the 'tension' John spoke of in tenuto notation), muted intonation and balance.
As Chris pointed out in speaking to the audience: "The winners showed confidence, artistry and musical fluency. They had superb soloists. It really was outstanding."
Full of confidence
Heading to Cheltenham for the first time since 2015 will be A.W. Parker (Drybrook) who provided the vibrant marker under Joshua Ruck that Chris said was "full of confidence and super soloists".
Thanks to the healthy entry list of 18 competitors, third placed Sherborne Town will also join them there for the first time since 2009, after delivering a performance of "controlled excitement throughout" under MD Dave Sheard.
These were the "two or three good performances" that stood out for the judges, as Philip Lawrence's work with its unusual demands based on its episodic, filmatic writing style became an increasingly difficult minefield of narrative motifs, effects and creative thinking for bands to conquer.
Those who tackled it's 'Hollywood' presumptions captured its playful tongue in cheek essence — the qualifiers in particular.
Behind them it was a work that according to the judges "tested most of the bands, with too many finding it hard going." Any presumptive Championship Section credentials were given a serious reality check.
Decent offerings though from the remaining top-six finishers of Helston Town, Lydbrook and Hyde, whilst a couple of others may have counted themselves a touch unlucky that their approach didn't quite resonate in the box as it did in the hall.
The one musical surprise of the weekend came in the Second Section where rather unexpectedly the majority of the 14 contenders never really got to grips with Rodney Newton's 'A Pilgrims' Progress'.
Over the years the region has sent a spirited procession of high quality bands to the celestial city in search of National titles — including the Saints of Keverne and Dennis as well as Brunel Brass who have all triumphed. In 2019 Sidmouth claimed a podium finish whilst last year Helston Town was fifth.
This year it will be the turn of champions Soundhouse Brass, Otterbourne Brass and Denmead Brass — each deserving of the honour, but perhaps knowing that they had to really battle they way through on a work that as adjudicator John Maines stated in his pre-results remarks, "was very challenging".
John gave a light touch, generous assessment of what he heard, especially after a tannoy announcement asked for the owner of a specific car to leave immediately to remove it. "I won't be a minute" he quipped, before adding that he hoped the laughter continued after he had spoken about the performances.
The detailed analysis that followed pinpointed the areas both he and Christopher Bond had to consider; from specific national markings and articulation needs, to intonation, balance and texture.
"This is not an easy stage on which to play," he said with considered understatement, "and this is a very challenging piece. Some played it better than others. All the bands played it and there were some good performances." It was a delicately phrased precis of their findings.
It was Soundhouse Brass from Plymouth however that gave the performance with the elements they were looking for just before the mid-point comfort break; a solidly conceived account led with informed appreciation by MD Lee Clayson to head to Cheltenham for the first time since 2015.
They later stated through their Facebook page that they were "extremely pleased to be Second Section Champions and are looking forward to the finals in September!"
Earlier it was Otterbourne Brass who gave the qualification marker, immediately followed by Denmead Brass — both renditions benefitting from the intelligent command of resources and musical insight of conductors James Smith and Estelle Flood.
A purposeful St Keverne followed straight after to end fifth with the final top-six place going to New Forest Brass, although after that it was a question of consistency as bands found increasing difficulties mastering the technical and musical challenges of Rodney Newton's intricate score.
In contrast to the Second Section struggles, Third Section bands provided a contest of engaging musical quality on Stephen Bulla's 'Chorale and Toccata'.
It was good to hear the consideration given by MDs to tempo, tonal textures and style, with adjudicator Christopher Bond (joined by Tom Hutchinson) bang on the mark when he said that it had been "a real pleasure" to listen to.
Tom added that two performances "stood out", with a keen battle for the sought after third qualification spot. And whilst consistency issues played their part in trying to capture the different stylistic needs of the two cojoined elements ("some managed one but not the other" Chris said), it was the age old 'basics' of balance, tuning and sound quality "that the top bands did best" according to Tom, that decided the final result.
The best came with the early marker provided by a super Porthleven Town conducted by Tom Bassett — who perhaps showed he was also the band's 'greatest asset' with his lucid appreciation of the rather academically inspired score.
Over the last decade Tom has led the Cornish band to three National Finals — with this also being a third contest victory in a row after a double at the recent SWBBA Contest in November.
The win not only sees a very confident band head back to Cheltenham for the first time since 2015, but also gain promotion to the Second Section in 2023. They could well be a dark horse for further success.
So too fellow qualifiers Verwood Town, impressively led by Kevin Smith (who conducted the top section senior band the following day) who qualified for the finals for the very first time, and Wroughton Silver who last qualified in 2019. They will make up a strong representative contingent come September.
Just missing out in the battle for that third spot was a confident Nailsworth Silver as they continued their solid development under Anri Adachi, whilst the remaining top-six places went to Cheltenham Silver and Swindon Brass in a contest that in echoing Christopher Bond, was a pleasure to listen to.
Although it was great to see the regional contest return to Torquay, changes to the Riviera Centre (the bar becoming a gym) and the sports hall replacing it, meant that the Fourth Section was held at the Assembly Rooms, about a 15 minute walk away.
The hard working WEBBA organisers know it isn't an ideal situation, but at present needs must, and despite a lack of catering facilities and the rather chilly temperature inside the hall to start, it did offer a better acoustic than the usual sports hall venue.
Speaking to 4BR after the results (which took place back at the Riviera Centre) the experienced judges Morten E Hansen and Dr Howard Evans were full of praise for the competitors in tacking the unfamiliar surroundings — especially the band who opened proceedings on Darrol Barry's 'Hungerford Town' and went on to claim the title, Saltash Town.
"That was a special little performance," Morten said. "It had everything in the right place and sounded so at ease. Nothing really came close to it, despite some fine efforts. It was very impressive off a number 1 draw."
Howard agreed. "It was super — and so well led by the MD. The basics were all in place and added to that each of the movements had a defined character. We sat back and were so impressed."
Their remarks also endorsed their written findings, with Morten summing up his adjudication by saying that it had been "a good solid performance", whilst Howard wrote that the "dramatic moments were expressive" and that they displayed "a good band sound."
A Saltash spokesperson later told 4BR: "It's a wonderful result for everyone — especially as we could have performed with more players than the current rules allow and there were more players on stage than in the hall when we played.
We appreciated the problems that having two halls bring, but Fourth Section bands and all their players need to feel included."
Question of basics
It was a question of the basics that separated the bands out below them — although both judges praised the overall standard on show. "That really is the case at this level, but there was a great deal to commend with so many performances," added Howard. "Bravo to all the bands. It was good to hear."
That was certainly the case with fellow first time qualifiers Brunel Brass Academy, packed with youngsters under Daniel Hall, as well as St Stythians who will make their first Cheltenham appearance since 1991.
The remaining top-six places in a contest that eventually saw supporters fill the seats the longer the day progressed so that extra ones were required, went to Shanklin Town Brass (IOW), Pillowell Silver and St Breward Silver.
Despite the need to hold the Championships in two venues, there was still a great deal of appreciation on show for the efforts of the hard working regional committee led by Sue Oldfield.
And with an encouraging number of listeners taking the opportunity to enjoy a drink around tables in the sports hall before coming in to listen to bands there was a friendly, vibrant feel to the contest weekend too.
It was the Cornish band's 22nd victory at the event — an historic span that stretches back to 19484BR
Test piece: Red Priest (Philip Wilby)
Adjudicators: Morten E Hansen & Chris Jeans
1. Camborne (Ian Porthouse)*
2. Flowers (Paul Holland)**
3. Aldbourne (Glyn Williams)*
4. St Dennis (Darren R Hawken)
5. Filton Concert Brass (Erik Van De Kolk)
6. Verwood Concert Brass (Kevin Smith)
7. Woodfalls (Stephen Sykes)
8. Brunel Brass (Daniel Hall)
9. Andover Town (Scott Stewart)
10. Michelmersh Silver (Melvin White)
11. Roche Brass (Keith Maxwell)
*Qualify for National Final
***Pre-qualified for National Final
Test piece: A Day in the Life of a Knight (Philip Lawrence)
Adjudicators: Chris Jeans & John Maines
1. Chalford (Steve Tubb)*
2. A W Parker (Drybrook) (Joshua Ruck)*
3. Sherborne Town (Dave Shead)*
4. Helston Town (John Berryman)
5. Lydbrook (Gareth Ritter)
6. Hyde (Nigel Seaman)
7. City of Bristol Brass (Craig Roberts)
8. Glastonbury Brass (Kevin Smith)
9. SW Comms (Chris Spreadbury)
10. Lanner & District Silver (David Johnson)
11. Bournemouth Concert Brass (Matthew Brown)
12. Weston Brass (Ian Holmes)
13. Hatherleigh Silver (Matt Green)
14. Sidmouth Town (Adrian Harvey)
15. St Austell Town (Adam Glynn)
16. Wotton-Under-Edge & District (David Lawrence)
17. Camborne Brass (Alan Pope BEM)
18. Forest of Dean Brass (Martyn Patterson)
*Qualify for National Final
Test piece: Pilgrim's Progress (Rodney Newton)
Adjudicators: Christopher Bond & John Maines
1. Soundhouse Brass (Lee Clayson)*
2. Otterbourne Brass (James Smith)*
3. Denmead Brass (Estelle Flood)*
4. Ocean Brass (Andy Wareham)
5. St Keverne (Karl Long)
6. New Forest Brass (Ian Luxford)
7. Mount Charles (Jeremy Taylor)
8. Shrewton Silver (Mike Dunford)
9. Bream Silver (Hugh Bamford)
10. Gosport Solent Brass (Phillip Littlemore)
11. Cinderford (Steve Kane)
12. Poole Borough (Lloyd Bartlett)
13. Downton (Paul Williams)
14. Redruth Town (David Nicholson)
*Qualify for National Final
Phoenix Brass Crewkerne
Test piece: Chorale and Toccata (Stephen Bulla)
Adjudicators: Christopher Bond & Tom Hutchinson
1. Porthleven Town (Tom Bassett)*
2. Verwood Town (Kevin Smith)*
3. Wroughton Silver (Neil Webb)*
4. Nailsworth Silver (Anri Adachi)
5. Cheltenham Silver (Adrian Jowett)
6. Swindon Brass (John Heritage)
7. Bratton Silver (Kyle Blake)
8. Lydney Town (Thomas Dunne)
9. Bideford Town (Mark Durham)
10. South Molton Town (David Boorer)
11. Pendennis Brass (Ben Elliott)
12. City of Bath Brass (Nigel Howard)
13. Exeter Railway (Gareth Davies)
14. Pendeen Silver (Leonard Adams)
15. Tewkesbury Town (Tommy Tynan)
16. Midsomer Norton & Radstock Silver (Gareth Key)
*Qualify for National Final
Test piece: Hungerford Town (Darrol Barry)
Adjudicators: Dr Howard Evans & Morten E Hansen
1. Saltash Town (Neil Ellis)*
2. Brunel Brass Academy (Daniel Hall)*
3. St Stythians (James Burns)*
4. Shanklin Town Brass (IoW) (Malcolm Lewis)
5. Pillowell Silver (Ian Whitburn)
6. St Breward Silver (Tom Howard)
7. Wincanton Silver (James White)
8. Weymouth Concert Brass (Keith Espin)
9. Bugle Silver (Mark Phillips)
10. Chalford Academy (Steve Tubb)
11. Shaftesbury Town Silver (Martin Hill)
12. Test Valley Brass (Edward March)
13. Cheltenham Silver Academy (Colin Forster)
14. Illogan Sparnon Silver (Shaun Marsden)
*Qualify for National Final
Withdrawn: Indian Queens