After a year in which they successfully recovered much of their on and off stage prestige, a rejuvenated Flowers Band started the 2018 contest season by reclaiming the Butlins Mineworkers Championship title and with it the heftiest prize package in global banding.
And although not quite as dominant in victory as they have been in the past at Skegness, their £11,000 payout was still grasped by a brace of impressive performances under MD David Childs that shared many of the familiar hallmarks of their six previous successes.
Withing their grasp
It also saw the West of England band able to celebrate with the Warwick Vase and Butlins Championship Trophies, plus the Geoff Dove 'Best Soloist' award for soprano star Paul Richards in a manner that suggested that other contesting objectives for 2018 are certainly within their grasp: Not even another early draw will dent their confidence when they take to the stage at the West of England Area in March.
"It's a great achievement by the players," David Childs told 4BR. "There's been over 20 changes in personnel in the last year, but the determination shown has been fantastic and this result is reward for their efforts.
There are going to be further challenges ahead, but we now have a much more stable foundation on which to build. I'm delighted and we're all looking forward to the Areas."
Success there could well be the catalyst to reignite other major championship credentials as the MDs vibrant musical approach, especially on their own-choice of 'The Year of the Dragon', certainly imbued them with a level of confidence that will stand them in good stead — although David Childs still hoped for a change of luck when it came to the question of yet another early draw.
"We seem to be getting more than our fair share at the moment!" he laughed, as he recalled a series that has now included number 1 draws at the British Open and Brass in Concert and two number 2 slots here.
However, also backed by a slickly presented reprise of the main chunk of their Gateshead programme (the only change seeing Paul Richards with a sublime rendition of 'Let Freedom Ring' by Jonathan Bates), that will be a minor serendipitous concern for the future.
Victory, backed by two second placed finishes from music judges Ian Porthouse and Paul Holland and a first from the entertainment duo of Kevin Wadsworth and Paul Andrews was sealed with little hint of luck.
Runner-up Desford will also head to the Area boosted by a show of solid purpose under Michael Fowles, especially on their convincing rendition of 'Contest Music' (aided by the 'Best Soloist' contribution of Nikki Longden on flugel), and a 'space' theme entertainment set that recovered quickly from a blast off misfire or two to comfortably secure an overall prize package of £6,000.
Meanwhile, Dr Robert Childs wouldn't have been too disappointed to experience what all fathers go through at some time in their lives — being beaten in competition by their offspring for the first time.
His intelligent choice of Marcus Venables' 'Concerto No 1' with Woodfalls (the only band to play it), backed by an audience friendly entertainment set (that certainly appealed with the judges) saw them end third and pocket £2,500. That Torquay Area contest is now looking to be a very tasty family battle.
Well matched rivals
The London & Southern Counties Area should also be one to look forward to at Stevenage as Friary Guildford pipped Redbridge Brass to the final cash payout in fourth.
The well-matched rivals showed further evidence of their emerging contesting strengths on both disciplines, as MDs Chris King and Jeremy Wise displayed insight and invention in their approaches (the middle movement of Friary's 'Year of the Dragon' and Redbridge's central section of 'Contest Music' seeing both take interpretative risks).
The occasional technical lapses, although noticeable, didn't detract from the musical intentions on both days.
Lapses certainly cost defending champion Virtuosi GUS though; sixth place the result of an energetic but rather scruffy 'Year of the Dragon' test piece choice that couldn't be resolved by the classy playing on their 'Japanese' inspired entertainment set the following day.
The subjective nature of what constitutes brass band 'entertainment' seemed to be summed up with the eventual placing from Paul Andrews and Kevin Wadsworth (sixth) which contrasted markedly to that from Paul Holland and Ian Porthouse in terms of quality of musical execution (first). Good fortune is currently as thin as Tokyo rice paper at GUS.
A hefty slice luck may also be something both Jaguar Land Rover and Haverhill will look to gain come the Areas after performances that were full of good intentions (both giving decent accounts of 'Year of the Dragon'), but lacked consistency over the two disciplines. Neither could have complaint over their final placings.
With Butlins continuing to invest heavily in the Championship Section event at Skegness (over £20,000 is up for grabs), it remains surprising that the prospect of bagging a potential £12,000 first prize still doesn't whet the appetite of some of the higher ranked bands in the UK (or abroad for that matter) — not all of who seem to be that busy in January.
They are missing out; with a highly appreciative audience offering great support to all the competitors and Stan Lippeatt giving ample time and opportunity to impress with next year's choices of 'Benvenuto Cellini', 'Rienzi' or 'Carnival'.
The entertainment 'ethos' also remains less prescriptively governed than at say Brass in Concert (Woodfalls 'tenuously' linked set was a deliberately dry witted bit of playfulness) allowing for engaging musical familiarity.
And whilst the relaxed registration rules may raise an eyebrow or two in terms of what the true purpose of 'borrowing' is for some bands, as Flowers and David Childs showed, there is still no substitute for sheer grit, determination, hard graft and bags of talent if you are to come to Skegness at the start of a contest year and deservedly reclaim a bundle of cash and plenty of silverware.
It's a great achievement by the players. There's been over 20 changes in personnel in the last year, but the determination shown has been fantastic and this result is reward for their effortsFlowers MD, David Childs
Paul Holland & Ian Porthouse (Music on both disciplines)
Paul Andrews and Kevin Wadsworth (Entertainment)
(Set test + Quality of Music Entertainment + Entertainment) = Total
1. Flowers (David Childs): 2 + 2 + 1 = 5
2. Desford Colliery (LCITWF) (Michael Fowles): 1 + 3 + 4 = 8
3. Woodfalls (Dr Robert Childs): 4 + 6 + 2* = 12
4. Friary Guildford (Chris King): 5 + 4 + 3 = 12
5. Redbridge Brass (Jeremy Wise): 3 + 5 + 5* = 13
6. Virtuosi GUS (Adam Cooke): 6 + 1 + 6 = 13
7. Jaguar Land Rover (Dave Lea): 7 + 7 + 8 = 22
8. Haverhill Silver (Paul Filby): 8 + 8 + 7 = 23
*Entertainment placing takes precedence in event of tie
Highest Placed Mining Band: Desford Colliery (LCITWF)
Set Test Winner: Desford Colliery (LCITWF)
Most Entertaining Band: Flowers
Test Piece Soloist: Nikki Longden (Flugel) — Desford
Geoff Dove Soloist Award: Paul Richards (soprano) — Flowers