The impregnable Virtuosi GUS hegemony at the Midlands Regional Championship continued for a fifth consecutive year in Bedworth, as led by MD Adam Cooke they delivered an impressive defence of their title to secure the Midlands Area title for a record 22nd time (plus a further 4 in the now defunct South Midlands) .
Despite some inconsistent performances at major championship events over the past year, this was the Kettering band back to their best; adjudicator Steven Mead describing their winning rendition of 'Odyssey' as having an extra level of "refinement, quality and class" as they claimed the honours ahead of fellow Albert Hall qualifiers Desford Colliery with Thoresby Colliery in third.
Good to hear
"That was good to hear," MD Adam Cooke, who has conducted all five successes later told 4BR.
"We haven't had a lot of luck at major contests of late, but Bedworth has been happy hunting ground, and the band has been working so hard. Our new signings such as Andy Rigby on baritone and Matthew White have fitted in so well and add to our superb team, 13 of whom have now played on all those five wins.
We are building with confidence for the year ahead, we have a great work ethic and spirit, so all our focus is now on the Grand Shield in Blackpool. It would be a great 2018 if we can return to the British Open."
Equally as impressive was the way in which Virtuosi GUS went about their contest business off the early number 2 draw; the MD leading with authority to draw detail and depth from the imposing ensemble, as well as inspiring his talented team of main soloists to deliver with confident artistry — none more so than principal cornet Thomas Fountain and solo euphonium Matthew White in the lyrical central section.
Allied to a finale that built in drama and momentum it laid a marker of high class quality that was not to be beaten, despite a ferociously determined effort from Desford as the tenth of the twelve competitors to take to the deadened stage acoustic of the Civic Hall.
Fresh from their encouraging performance at Butlins in January, Michael Fowles led a well-drilled, measured performance that although not entirely error free, grew in musical intensity and exhilarating technique.
A rousing close gave it the feel for many in the hall of a potential winner, but crucially with judges Steven Mead and Dr Graham Jones in the confines of the box it fell just a whisker short.
"It was close between the top two" Steven later admitted, although he also confirmed that the extra sheen of certainty and creativity enabled Virtuosi GUS to triumph once more.
No other band really came close to the "clear" Kensington qualifiers according to the judges, although Thoresby Colliery once again showed their growing maturity as a top-flight contender with a finely structured account under Ian McElligott — one highlighted by warm ensemble tonality, detail, classy soloists and a rousing finale.
The remaining top-six places eventually went to Ratby Co-operative who gave a solid marker off the number 1 draw under Mareika Gray that spoke of detailed preparation, with an enjoyable if slightly inconsistent Blidworth Welfare in fifth.
Spal Sovereign Brass was initially announced in sixth, but it was later confirmed that they had been disqualified for a player registration irregularity. Accordingly, their place went to Derwent Brass, as MD Keith Leonard marked his final contest performance with a third consecutive top-six finish.
Behind these the standard was much more variable — the bottom end of the results table in particular filled with performances that never sounded at ease with a tricky but not overtly fearsome score, and begging the question (likes others) if the Area really does have a dozen true Championship Section bands.
No such problems for Virtuosi GUS though, as they once again showed their qualities as a high class top-flight band.
The only question that now arises for them is whether or not they can perform at this outstanding level at the Grand Shield in Blackpool and book an autumn double of British Open and Albert Hall appearances.
We are building with confidence for the year ahead, we have a great work ethic and spirit, so all our focus is now on the Grand Shield in Blackpool. It would be a great 2018 if we can return to the British OpenAdam Cooke
Test Piece: Odyssey (Kevin Norbury)
Adjudicators: Dr Graham Jones MBE and Steven Mead
1. Virtuosi GUS (Adam Cooke)*
2. Desford Colliey (Michael Fowles) *
3. Thoresby Colliery (Ian McElligott)
4. Ratby Co-operative (Mareika Gray)
5. Blidworth Welfare (Simon Oates)
6. Derwent Brass (Keith Leonard)
7. Jaguar Land Rover (Dave Lea)
8. Langley (Cliff Parker)
9. Newstead Brass (Jim Davies)
10. Jackfield (Simon Platford)
11. Hathern (David Newman)
*Qualify for National Final at Royal Albert Hall
Spal Sovereign Brass (Trevor Jones) were originally placed in sixth place before being disqualified after the contest. All bands from sixth downwards were subsequently moved up a place