Formed in 1853, Whitworth Vale & Healey Band has waited a long time to become a National Champion.
Over the years they had come fifth (1964, 1982, 1983), fourth (1998, 2011, 2012) and runner-up (1992) in their numerous attempts in the Fourth and Third Sections.
Hanging around until well after 10.45pm on Sunday night to find out if they had finally claimed the title wasn't too much an extra bother then — especially not when compere David Hayward finally announced the identity of the 2023 Second Section National Champion Band of Great Britain.
You could have heard the cheer halfway up the M6 motorway to their home just outside Rochdale. When they did get home the trophy was proudly displayed in the bar of the Band Club.
Theirs was an outstanding victory inspired by MD, Mike Golding in a contest packed with a host of fine title seeking renditions of Philip Sparke's intricately absorbing 'Lakeland Variations'.
Podium prize-winners Alder Valley and Newmilns & Galston, as well as the top-six finishers of Soundhouse Brass, Tewit Silver and Knottingley Silver could not have performed much better in their title bids, with others also counting themselves a little unfortunate not to get a mention off the stage.
"There were 19 very commendable performances," adjudicator Alan Bourne said in his pre-results remarks. He was bang on the money.
Wary of the lateness of the day, he gave a general analysis to ensure that the bands were informed in broad terms of just what he and his colleagues (Anne Crookston and Mark Wilkinson) were looking for. The detail he said came in their written remarks.
"There are copious notes from us to use to add to your development after today," he added as he touched upon issues of dynamic layering, rhythmic precision and grouping, as well and accompaniment concerns, using the example of the all too often swamped cornet solo in the work's fourth variation.
It was clear and to the point — with those written adjudications further emphasising what he had covered. It certainly was with the winner.
"A well-directed performance — lots of very good playing. Bravo soloists", wrote Mark Wilkinson in his overall summing up, whilst Anne Crookston wrote that it was a performance that had "shape and intent" and Alan Bourne called it "a very comprehensive performance from all today".
Each also noted the standout contribution of their euphonium 'Best Instrumentalist' Ian Peters, a hugely experienced performer who now added this National title to the one he won with the Fairey Band at the Royal Albert Hall in 1993.
In a post contest interview on Facebook given to the 'Brassing Around' coverage of the contest, the new champion revealed that their celebrations "went late into the next morning" at their Cheltenham hotel, and that they had been "happy that we had done exactly what Mike Golding had asked."
Whitworth Vale & Healey now has just enough time to recover from their celebratory sore heads before preparing for the upcoming Bolsover Entertainment Contest (which they won last year in the Third Section). Then the future focus will be on the 'High Peak' challenge of the 2024 First Section Area test-piece.
Confidence and style
They should travel to Bolsover and even Blackpool in a buoyant mood after they captured the variant characteristics of Philip Sparke's clever work with confidence and style — right from the opening timpani motif.
Thereafter Mike Golding drew lighter colourings and a sense of lyricism from the detailed scoring, with the dynamics considered and controlled.
Not once did it lose that focus with the final fugel section built, like their wait to be crowned champions, with patience and fortitude before its triumphant conclusion.
It also offered a fascinating contrast to Alder Valley who played with a forthright confidence just before them following the mid-point break.
A super tuba team provided a rock-solid foundation with excellent soloists adding to the sense of boldness engineered by MD David Hatton that had so much to commend in its execution.
Just behind came the very impressive Scots of Newmilns & Galston, with conductor Alan Freil inspiring a performance of musical certainty and technical clarity that ended with perhaps the best fugue and reprise ending of the entire contest.
Immediate contrast was also to come with fourth placed Soundhouse, much like Whitworth Vale in their dynamic approach and lightness of touch, in an understanding approach to the intricacies of the score by MD Lee Clayson.
The final top-six places went to the early markers of Tewit Silver and Knottingley Silver who also played next to each other.
Tewit could perhaps count themselves unlucky that they couldn't quite repel the later challengers in what was a wonderfully vibrant account led by Martin Hall. Knottingley also gave notice of their lasting quality with a more tempered approach of clarity and balance.
Well led accounts
As Alan Bourne indicated, there were several fine performances on the day, with the well led accounts from Irvine & Dreghorn all the way down to Denmead Brass bringing character and style to each of the five 'Lakeside' variations. There was no weak performance that found the score beyond their technical or musical reach.
And whilst a couple of bands such as Valley Brass (Haydock) and Foss Dyke may look back a little quizzically to why their accounts didn't register in the box as perhaps a much as they did in the hall, there was very little chose between a whole host of competitors in a very closely matched contest.
That though is no longer something Whitworth Vale & Healey needs to be frustrated about anymore. All those past close National calls have now be consigned to history.
Theirs was an outstanding victory inspired by MD, Mike Golding in a contest packed with a host of fine title seeking renditions of Philip Sparke's intricately absorbing 'Lakeland Variations'4BR
Test piece: Lakeland Variations (Philip Sparke)
Adjudicators: Alan Bourne, Anne Crookston, Mark Wilkinson
1. Whitworth Vale & Healey (Mike Golding)
2. Alder Valley Brass (David Hatton)
3. Newmilns & Galston (Alan Friel)
4. Soundhouse Brass (Lee Clayson)
5. Tewit Silver (Martin Hall)
6. Knottingley Silver (Kevin Belcher)
7. Irvine & Dreghorn (Stephanie Kennedy)
8. Newport Borough (Robin Hackett)
9. Diggle (Sean Conway)
10. Durham Miners' Association (Stuart Gray)
11. Meltham & Meltham Mills (Tom Haslam)
12. Chiltern Hills (Gordon Davies)
13. Chinnor Silver (Oliver Hallstead-Brooks)
14. Otterbourne (James Smith)
15. Valley Brass (Haydock) (David Chadwick)
16. Rolls-Royce (Derby) (Graham Cardwell)
17. Abergavenny Borough (Lana Tingay)
18. Foss Dyke (Gareth Westwood)
19. Denmead Brass (Estelle Flood)
Best Instrumentalist: Ian Peters (euphonium) — Whitworth Vale & Healey