Report & Result: 2023 National Championships of Great Britain: Third Section

Porthleven Town find the winning formula on 'The Lost Village of Imber' to claim the National title in Cheltenham and join the bands on a very special Cornish honours board

  Porthleven claim the Third Section national title

Porthleven joined a select group of Cornish brass bands to have won a National title after claiming the most joyful of victories on Sunday afternoon.

Led by conductor Tom Bassett, their controlled rendition of Christopher Bond's 'The Lost Village of Imber' gave the refreshed judges the performance they were looking for after the mid-point comfort break.

It also took the lead from eventual podium finishers Cross Keys and Barton Community Band and repelled further challengers to secure a memorable win.

"Lovely balance and super percussion", wrote Duncan Beckley, whilst Stan Lippeatt described it as "a very, very good performance." Perhaps even more crucially, the composer himself wrote that "everything was so very well controlled".

Cornish champions

Their name now joins those on the Cornish National Championship title winning honours board alongside St Dennis in the First Section (2016), Second Section winners Camborne (1945), St Keverne (2005) and St. Dennis (2006), Third Section winner St Keverne (1976) and St Dennis (2002) and St Breward Silver (2009) in the Fourth.

It is a proud achievement for a band from the small village port near Helston on the southwest tip of the county that can trace its history back to 1875 when the original village fife and drum band became all brass.

Since Tom Bassett took over the reins as MD in 2012 Porthleven has made solid progress — moving up to the Third Section via two Fourth Section National Finals appearances in 2014 and 2015 before really making their mark together just before and after the Covid-19 break.

This win was their fourth in a row since 2022 (including the West of England Regional title earlier this year) and the most significant in their long and proud history.

What can I say?

Reflecting on the victory he stated on the band's Facebook page: "Well what can I say? I am so proud of the band and the progress they have made over the past 10 years. Such a special moment becoming Third Section Champion Band of Great Britain."

He continued: "The band has worked so hard over the past 12 months and I'm delighted that they have achieved the double of both Area and National titles. Here's to the Second Section on next year!"

Speaking about their success on their Facebook page they took the opportunity to thank all those who inspired them to victory — including their MD.

"Well Tom: We think you're amazing and can't thank you enough for your leadership and devotion."

Grateful thanks

They then added: "We're also enormously grateful to everyone who has helped us to get to Cheltenham. Particular thanks go to our generous sponsors Christophers Estate Agents Mitchell's Builders, Harbour Inn, Porthleven and Porthleven Holiday Cottages, and extra thanks to every single person who has donated and supported our fundraising events. Your support has been instrumental in getting us there."

They concluded: "A special thank you to all our wonderful collectors led by the immense Mick and Judith — a crack team of collecting ninjas. We'd be up the creek without a paddle if they weren't so brilliant, tireless and dedicated. Few bands are as lucky."

Best of competitors

The only luck they band required after they had played was that no-one else was inspired enough to beat them, although Christopher Bond's test-piece certainly brought the best out of all the 20 competitors.

It's cleverly conceived structuring enabled bands to add atmosphere and drama to the basic technical requirements that underpinned the narrative storyline of the abandoned Wiltshire village.

And although some may have been wary of not doing 'what it said on the score' in a bid to try and give the composer just what they hoped was a musical photostat of his written intentions, he himself revealed in his pre-results speech that he rather enjoyed the leeway that some, if not all provided in terms of tempo and style.

Weird experience

"It was a weird experience for me being in the box to enjoy the performances but to also judge them," he admitted. "The tempos were at times interesting, but I'm not a stickler and like to be flexible. Some were a little way of the mark though."

He added: "The middle movement ('The Church of St Giles') was particularly challenging and there was a need to appreciate the percussion effects (he earlier apologised for the difficulty of the glock part). There was some really excellent solo playing, especially euphoniums. All 20 did a great job."

He concluded his witty, insightful analysis by saying that there had been "two stand out performances that had a lot of control and excellent MDs."

Controlled best

The best of them was Porthleven, as Tom Bassett drew a controlled musical narrative storyline throughout their performance.

They opened with a compact 'On Imber Downe' that joyfully fused brass and percussion to fine effect — the sound of the village bells and blacksmith's anvil adding to the folk tune dance, before the atmosphere of the abandoned St Giles Church was captured with a sense of loss and mystery.

Even the arrival of the explosive American army was delivered with an effective control that heralded a warm, and gloriously uplifting finale.

Welsh pipped

It also enabled them to pip Welsh rivals Cross Keys, who earlier (off the number 4 draw) provided a confident performance that had a folksy swagger followed by a mysterious abandoned Church interlude and truly explosive final section that was both rousing and then triumphant.

They may have been disappointed to have just missed out on the top prize, but it was further evidence of their progress under conductor Sion Rhys Jones, who as solo euphonium with Tredegar would have been delighted that his own euph star Catherine Showell claimed the 'Best Instrumentalist' award.

Uplifting Barton

The final podium spot was claimed by Barton Community who followed Cross Keys onstage to deliver a performance full of folk-dance vibrancy, the chilly mystery of the abandoned church and the militaristic anger of the finale from which emerged a lovely, uplifting close.

There was also a great deal to enjoy with the top-six finishers of Long Eaton Silver Prize, Liverpool Brass and Selkirk Silver — all led with understanding and experienced nous by conductors Sharon Stansfield, David McGlynn and Charlie Farren.

Little moments of fragility and some loss of intonation, ensemble cohesion and dynamic balance may have cost. All three though had fine soloists and brought the defined character of each movement off the score.

Forensic differences

Picking out the differences that separated the host of midfield finishers took some forensic examination by the judges — with the likes of Verwood Town (who ended seventh) down to Jayess Newbiggin (in fifteenth) offering so much in the credit columns that could have seen them end higher on another day.

The final few perhaps struggled somewhat, but again brought character and colour from their performances.

Porthleven though will remember this day for many years to come — their names forever embossed into both the Cornish banding and National Championship record books.

Iwan Fox

Well what can I say? I am so proud of the band and the progress they have made over the past 10 years. Such a special moment becoming Third Section Champion Band of Great BritainPorthleven MD, Tom Bassett


Third Section:

Test piece: The Lost Village of Imber (Christopher Bond)
Adjudicators: Duncan Beckley, Christopher Bond, Stanley Malcolm Lippeatt

1. Porthleven Town (Tom Bassett)
2. Cross Keys Silver (Sion Rhys Jones)
3. Barton Community Band (Garry Oglesby)
4. Long Eaton Silver Prize (Sharon Stansfield)
5. Liverpool Brass Band (David McGlynn)
6. Selkirk Silver (Charlie Farren)
7. Verwood Town Band (Kevin Smith)
8. Clifton & Lightcliffe (John Clay)
9. Hungerford Town (Tim Crouter)
10. Wroughton Silver (Neil Webb)
11. Morecambe (Andrew Porter)
12. Simon Langton Brass (Andy Collins)
13. Shotts St Patrick' s (Andrew Shaw)
14. Hawk Green (Neil Hewson)
15. Jayess Newbiggin Brass (Andrew Griffiths)
16. Fairlop Brass (Kevin Jordan)
17. Stourport on Severn (Oliver Wilson)
18. Huddersfield & Ripponden (John Roberts)
19. Cleobury Mortimer Concert Brass (Matthew Ludford-King)
20. Newtown Silver (Steve Edwards)

Best Instrumentalist: Catherine Showell (euphonium) — Cross Keys Silver

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