Just a week or so before another Anglo-Welsh clash of rivals takes place in Cardiff, an enjoyable day of cross-border musical battle in Porthcawl ended with a clear-cut victory for Bristol based visitors Filton Concert Brass.
Under the direction of Tom Davoren the defending champion once again claimed the impressive CISWO Challenge Trophy and £1,000 first prize — this time in "totally convincing" fashion according to adjudicator Philip Harper in his written remarks.
It was also the third time in the last four years that Filton had made their way across the River Severn to secure victory — ending three points clear of their nearest rivals City of Cardiff (M1), with fellow top section Welsh Area contenders Llwydcoed in third.
A delighted Thundersley was fourth, claiming the qualification place on offer for the Spring Festival, whilst the top-six was completed by the impressive First Section Midlanders of Jackfield just ahead of former champion Tongwynlais Temperance.
Taking to the stage as the penultimate contender on a day that attracted a large and supportive audience to a warm Pavilion Theatre, Filton laid out their challenge from the off with 'The Matchless King' by Joel Collier.
It was followed by euphonium soloist Anthony Smith's fine account of the 'Finale' from Tom Davoren's 'Rituals', whilst ensemble contrast came with the touching beauty of 'Quem Pastores' by Geoffrey Nobes and Queen's witty 'Bring Back that Leroy Brown'.
Their victory, which also saw them claim an additional £300 as 'The Most Entertaining Band' from adjudicator Sarah Hayward, and the 'Best Horns' prize, came with a dramatic rendition of 'Danse Macabre Variations' by Benjamin Tubb.
In his clear pre-results summary, Philip Harper left no-one in doubt to his choice of winner: They had been a "long, long way" ahead of their rivals he said.
The margin of victory therefore didn't come as a surprise to those who had enjoyed a full day of varied entertainment programming from the 14 competitors, with Philip adding that there were '10 bands' that were closely matched behind Filton, with three others slightly adrift at the bottom.
Tom Davoren's confident ensemble certainly gave the Cory MD the 'three factors' he was looking for; with ample evidence of a 'good regime' of solid banding basics, blend and ensemble clarity, a well-defined 'musical journey' that had context and variety, all linked to the 'ability to deliver it on stage' with their polished presentation and playing.
It may also have included the MD's trendy shirt, which even brought a tongue in cheek observation on Mr Harper's adjudication sheet (from a man not shy of wearing a colourful creation or two himself), although as Tom later told 4BR — he was determined to make an impression from the moment the band took to the stage.
"That shirt cost a bomb!" he said with a laugh. "You've got to capture the attention of the audience from the start and I knew the band's playing would do that for me.
We have a focus at the moment based on the important contests to come at Torquay and Blackpool, but this was also very much part of our plans.
I'm delighted at the way the band performed. It's a great start to the year, but we know have to build on it in the next few months."
Another band enjoying a great start to 2019 was City of Cardiff (M1) who provided an impressive early marker under Christopher Bond with a set that utilised his own compositions and arrangements — including the dramatic 'Anfonaf Angel' to open, followed by the old Tom Jones classic 'It's not Unusual'.
His flugel solo 'Lady of the Lake' and the Stephen Roberts arrangement 'Puttin' on the Ritz' led into the hywl of Matthew Hall's 'Legends of Cyfarthfa' as they took home the hefty Tower Colliery Trophy and £500 prize — as well as giving themselves a huge boost of collective confidence ahead of the Welsh Area contest in Wrexham.
Meanwhile, the hard working Llwydcoed will also have taken heart from their podium finish under Chris Turner, as a set that encompassed a touch of 'Nordic Polska' to the mythical adventures of 'Visions of Kolkhis' eventually ended a solid third.
Spring Festival battle
Behind them there was much to play for (with seven bands in contention for potential Spring Festival qualification) as Melvin White used all his years of experience with Thundersley to help grab the trip to Blackpool in May with a set that featured his own beautiful arrangement of Malcolm Arnold's 'Sarabande' as well as the 'Best Soloist' talents of James McLeod on euphonium on Andrew Stevenson's 'Metropolis'.
First Section Jackfield will also have been boosted ahead of their 'Symphony of Marches' challenge in Bedworth in a few weeks time, as they ended fourth, bagging £300 as the 'Best First Section Band' as well as taking the 'Best Percussion' award aided by a super xylophonist in Olly James.
Merit and substance
There was also much to enjoy with a hard working Tongwynlais Temperance in sixth as they continue to rebuild under Gareth Hann, whilst Philip Harper made the point that all 14 bands had given performances of merit and variety.
That was shown with Burry Port's Adrian Williams giving a superb rendition of 'Memory' to claim the 4BR 'Best Soprano' prize, whilst Tim Pannell took the 'Best Cornet' award for his all-round display of excellence with Haverhill Silver. 12 year old Dylan Rowlands was presented with the Rosemary Deere Shield as the youngest player.
On a highly encouraging day for the hard-working contest organisers, the Welsh Open attracted a large and knowledgeable audience to enjoy a well run and presented event — aided by David Hayward's excellent compere skills and a couple of sensible breaks in the proceeding to give the audience a chance to enjoy the brisk seaside air.
It ended with a deserved victory for Filton Concert Brass — although ardent Welsh supporters will be hoping for a slightly different outcome at the Principality Stadium next weekend.
I'm delighted at the way the band performed. It's a great start to the year, but we know have to build on it in the next few monthsFilton Concert MD, Tom Davoren
Adjudicator: Philip Harper
1. Filton Concert (Tom Davoren) — 193
2. City of Cardiff (M1) (Christopher Bond) — 190
3. Llwydcoed (Christopher Turner) — 189
4. Thundersley (Melvin White) — 188
5. Jackfield (David Maplestone) — 187
6. Tongwynlais Temperance (Gareth Hann) — 186
7. Enderby (Ryan Richards) — 185
8. Haverhill Silver (Paul Filby) — 184
9. Burry Port Town (Ceri John) — 182
10. Pontardulais Town (Paul Jenkins) — 181
11. Tylorstown (Gary Davies) — 180
12. AW Parker Drybrook (Joshua Ruck) — 178
13. BTM (Jeff Hutcherson) — 177
14. Abergavenny Borough (Sean O'Neil) — 176
Spring Festival Qualification: Thundersley
Most Entertaining Band: Filton Concert Brass
Best First Section Band (not in main prizes): Jackfield
Best Soloist: James McLeod (euphonium) — Thundersley
Best Cornet: Tim Pannell (Haverhill Silver)
Best Soprano: Adrian Williams (Burry Port)
Best Horns: Filton Concert
Best Percussion: Jackfield
Youngest Player: Dylan Rowlands (Burry Port) — aged 12