The Yorkshire Area Championship lived up to its reputation as one of the most exciting contests in the banding world, as Carlton Main Frickley Colliery brought a memorable event to a thrilling climax on Sunday evening by claiming their second top section title in three years.
With judges Nigel Boddice MBE & Graham Jones MBE revealing to a packed St George’s Hall that they had been looking for ‘musicality’ in every facet of Peter Graham’s ‘phenomenal test piece’, rather oddly, their victory under Phillip McCann was greeted by the most unmusical cries of celebrations as the result was announced.
It was the final, visceral act of drama on a day when the ‘Torchbearer’ contesting script could have won a BAFTA for the way it eventually panned out.
Crowd favourites Grimethorpe will join their local rivals at the Albert Hall alongside the pre-qualified duo of Black Dyke and Brighouse & Rastrick, with Rothwell Temperance favourites to win the award of perhaps the unluckiest band at this year’s Areas, after their outstanding performance came third and still missed out on a trip to Kensington.
The final top six place in a results table made up of performances of the highest quality came from a delighted Yorkshire Imperial Urquhart Travel, who posted their best finish since 1998.
No wonder the winning Carlton Main MD was still breathless with emotion when he spoke to 4BR.
“It’s a magnificent achievement for tremendous players and supporters,” Phillip McCann said. “I was delighted that the judge’s wanted to reward musicality, as I believe that was at the very core of Peter Graham’s wonderful homage to Eric Ball.
This was music that portrayed a message of faith, belief, emotion, conviction and beauty — the essential elements of his music. I felt we had to capture those elements from the score and make the audience and judges experience it too.
I know we made small mistakes along the way, as did everyone, but it was the bigger picture — the musical picture, that for me was much more important. I’m thrilled the judge’s felt the same.”
Phillip also revealed that he had trawled through his banding mementoes to find a very special piece of personal inspiration.
“It was a hand written note from Eric Ball written in 1967 on a score of ‘Resurgam’, which was given to me during my time at Fairey’s. It simply asks for players to approach the music with the same open mind, the same doubts and convictions as he does every time he conducted it.
It seemed to sum up everything that was required on Peter’s work — capturing the emotion that the music so beautifully brings out.”
With the judge’s sticking to their stated pre and post contest observations, there was additional celebration for Carlton Main to enjoy as principal cornet Kirsty Abbotts took the ‘Best Instrumentalist’ award for her sublime contribution to their victory.
“What a remarkable player. This was music that seemed to be specially written for her,” Phillip said before adding; “To lead the band in Bradford five times, qualify for London on four occasions and win the title twice in the last three years shows what a good band Carlton Main is and what wonderful, committed players and conducting team I’m lucky enough to work with. Now we aim to build on this for the British Open and National Finals.”
Earlier, news had leaked out of a draw that certainly whetted the appetite, with the first three performances provided by Grimethorpe, Brighouse & Rastrick and Black Dyke.
Not surprisingly St George’s Hall was packed to the rafters as the leviathans delivered renditions of the highest quality to leave the audience breathless in appreciation, and supporters arguing over which one was best.
Despite delivering an inspired account off the number one draw under Dr Robert Childs, Grimethorpe had to be content with the runner-up spot, with disappointment at not claiming the title for the first time since 2006 only slightly tempered by euph star Michael Dodd taking the 'Best Soloist' prize and Iain Culross, claiming the 'Best Cornet' award.
Meanwhile, despite their pre-qualification, Black Dyke and defending champion Brighouse & Rastrick, both missed out on a much wanted title, despite performances that were of the very highest rank in terms of ensemble and solo quality.
With the contest understandably taking time to recover from its stupendous start, it wasn’t until Carlton Main, followed by Rothwell Temperance as bands 10 and 11 that expectation levels once again reached fever pitch.
With Phillip McCann’s interpretation finding ultimate reward in the box, there was a great deal of sympathy for Rothwell under David Roberts, as they delivered a compelling musical account to finish third, yet miss out on London.
Adjudicator Graham Jones MBE later told 4BR what made the difference in the box.
“Carlton Main was so musically mature with solo contributions that made it stand out and gave us what we were looking for.”
The former Director of Music of The Coldstream Guards also commented about how effortlessly, Carlton Main performed in the faster sections, whereas others were a little rushed at times. “It was so refined in delivery,” he added.
Graham also informed 4BR that although the duo didn't quite get the 'definitive’ rendition they were perhaps expecting on the day, the top two bands delivered ‘magnificent performances’ that were a margin ahead of rivals, with those placed third and fourth slotting into their order with comfort.
Unite the Union (City of Sheffield) took their second major title in just over six weeks as David Hirst led the Butlins champion to success on 'A London Overture'.
In a contest of variable overall quality, it was Strata Brass led by Derek Renshaw that eventually gained the nod from Nigel Boddice and Graham O Jones to join them in Cheltenham.
Hatfield Colliery, who set the initial marker off the number 1 draw under Stan Lippeatt eventually finished third (with cornet player Mick Kennedy winning the ‘Best Soloist’ award), with the remaining top six places going to Hade Edge, Hebden Bridge and Cornerstone Brass.
Bared its teeth
Philip Sparke’s set work certainly bared its teeth, with Nigel Boddice giving an expertly defined and witty guide to what he and Graham had heard in the box.
For instance, his rhetorical question, ‘...did the bands all play the opening together?' was met by a lone voice in the audience replying, ‘we did' — allowing the Scotsman to quickly retort, 'dream on mate', before talking further about issues such as clarity of detail and ensemble balance.
For them, a combination of nerves, sloppy ensemble work and technical frailties undermined performances that again showed that the current gap between the ambition and the reality of First Section banding is huge — even in Yorkshire.
And whilst some bands may query their final placing in the results table, it was the opinion of the judge’s that counted — not supporters or the associate press horde.
As Graham Jones later told 4BR. “Too many bands made too many basic mistakes, especially with tempo and dynamic choices. Philip Sparke’s scores are very clearly written in their intentions.”
No such problems though for the eventual winners, with MD David Hirst telling 4BR that his band had worked hard to bring out as much of the inner detail of the score to compliment the more obvious showcase cadenzas that caused havoc throughout the contest.
“I’m absolutely delighted with the result, especially as what Nigel said echoed what we had worked on in our preparation.
Having said that though, it was still a very hard test and we did walk off stage thinking we had left the door open. However, I think it shows just how far the band has progressed over the last year or so, with scope for more to come.”
That will begin soon for Unite as they will turn their attention to the Grand Shield and 'Arabian Nights' in Blackpool.
Sunday’s enjoyable top section aperitif of ‘Variations on Maccabeus’ saw Chapeltown Silver directed by Andrew Dennis claim their first Area title since 2010, with Old Silkstone under Sam Fisher joining them in Cheltenham.
Judges Simone Rebello and Kevin Wadsworth (‘beauty and the beast’ as he said tongue in cheek) certainly made sure the audience knew what they had been looking for from the 11 well matched contenders — all of who brought something out of the score.
Style and character
“It’s a fantastic piece of music with so much style and character,” Simone said, before citing rhythmic accuracy, stylistic nuance and adherence to detail as some of the essential elements they looked for.
With the two qualifiers providing that, it meant a well worked rendition from Skelmathorpe Prospect 'B' under Philip Garlick narrowly missed out on a finals berth after setting a fine marker off the number 3 draw.
The remaining top six places went to well directed accounts from Knottingley Silver, Kippax and Frickley/South Elmsall, whilst in a contest that brought the best out of all the competitors, those further down the prize list emerged with merit from a taxing test of musicality and technique.
Chapeltown's MD, Andrew Dennis was still on ‘cloud nine’ when he spoke to 4BR — and still enjoying a victory achieved with the superb assistance of his wife.
“We really did perform well, and all the credit goes to the players,” he said. “It was a great piece to work on and I was pleased that the judge’s wanted to find the detail and the character of the music, as that’s what I set out to achieve.
We competed at NEMBBA a couple of weeks ago and came third, and the result seemed to galvanise us to make sure we improved on that performance.”
That was certainly helped by the ‘Best Soloist’ contribution of Andrew’s wife Linda on solo cornet.
“She was superb, and helped so much by our regular top man putting illness and work commitments to one side to make it a team effort,” he added.
“The rest of the band really stepped up to the mark and with us just taking a little more time over the quicker sections and searching for the music in slower ones, it all came together so well.”
However, the victory does come with a little caveat as Andrew added wryly. “I can’t take all the credit for the win though — even in my own house! The band is made up of such a good bunch of people who continue to work hard. Now we have plans for a CD and a Patron's Concert, so we've got plenty to focus on ahead of Cheltenham.”
The opening contest of the weekend saw one the Area’s most famous banding names claim victory silverware for the first time since 2008, as Robert Westacott led Slaithwaite to the title on 'Evolution — Five States of Change'.
In what was a closely fought battle between potential Cheltenham qualifiers, an impressively directed, stylish account eventually finished just ahead of an equally well led performance by Duncan Beckley with Horbury Victoria.
It meant that Barnsley Metropolitan’s fine number 1 marker just missed out on this occasion, despite the ‘Best Soloist’ contribution of soprano player Mike Cotton, with solid renditions from Worsbrough Brass, Dodworth Colliery and Crofton Silver filling the remaining top six places.
Adjudicators, Leigh Baker (with Dr Robert Childs) later told 4BR that the top three bands were clear from the rest of the field, but that it was a very close call between the top two to take the overall honours.
“It was certainly a piece that some found more challenging than others,” he said. “However the best were very good and it was close at the top, with third just a touch behind.”
With those top bands bringing out the differing characteristics of Philip Sparke’s expertly crafted score, it was no surprise the judge’s gave a great deal of time and thought to their final placings.
Unsurprisingly, Slaithwaite's MD, Rob Westacott was delighted that he was able to record his first Area success with a band that can boast historic winning conductors such as Alex Mortimer and Roy Newsome to their name.
“I was very pleased at how the performance had gone and I’m delighted that we will be heading to Cheltenham as champions. Slaithwaite has such a wonderful history, so to add a little to that myself makes me feel very honoured.”
He added: “My thanks go to everyone for all their hard work and to all the friends that helped me with sectional rehearsals due to my playing commitments with City of Bradford. The work was made easier though by having such a great piece to prepare.”
There was unconfined delight at the conclusion of a thrilling Fourth Section contest, as the newly formed BD1 Brass (part of the City of Bradford organisation) stormed to a richly deserved victory under the direction of inspirational MD Lee Skipsey.
And although the band did contain a number of adult players, it was the host of remarkable youngsters that laid the foundation for their debut contesting success.
They will now head to Cheltenham as a contender to watch out for, alongside impressive qualifiers, Oughtibridge led by Gavin Somerset. A solid performance from Lofthouse 2000 ended third, with the remaining top six places going to Gawthorpe Brass ‘85’, Rockingham and Loxley Silver.
Naturally, Lee Skipsey was thrilled to bits with his band’s success. “What an amazing experience,” he told 4BR.
“Every single player did what I wanted of them on stage. They worked their socks off in the past few weeks under the direction of Chris Lewis — so to be able to direct them to victory is testament to his fantastic work and the players amazing talent and dedication.”
Central to the success was the ‘Best Soloist’ contribution of 12 year old principal cornet Daniel Clough, who certainly raised the eyebrows of an audience who know a top cornet player or two in these parts when they hear one.
In a contest that saw all 11 contenders bring something of musical merit to the stage, judges Sandy Smith and David Thornton were full of praise for their efforts, although David did point out that one of the telling factors was the difficult ‘Winter in the Dales’ movement.
“We have had a fantastic morning listening to a fine test piece,” David told 4BR. “That second movement though did cause a number of problems — although not with the winners.”
Also impressing greatly was Oughtibridge, whose controlled performance from the number 1 draw set a high marker for rivals to beat, and deservedly repelled some well worked renditions from rivals.
In addition to the official adjudicators, four aspiring young judges sat in the open to give their deliberations under the watchful eyes of ABBA's John Roberts and David Hirst — who later expressed their delight at their well informed opinions — especially as they all got the winner’s right!
With Peggy Tomlinson and her team once again organising a top class contest weekend, which also included the first ever recorded wedding proposal on the Yorkshire Area stage as John Midgeley went down on bended knee to Emma Shaw of Wetherby & District Silver — who thankfully said yes much to the delight of the audience.
It rather summed up an event that will last long in the memory banks.
I was delighted that the judge’s wanted to reward musicality, as I believe that was at the very core of Peter Graham’s wonderful homage to Eric BallPhillip McCann
Test Piece: 'The Torchbearer' — Peter Graham
Sunday 8th March
Adjudicators: Nigel Boddice MBE & Dr. Graham O.Jones MBE
1. Carlton Main Frickley Colliery (Phillip McCann)*
2. Grimethorpe Colliery (Dr. Robert Childs)*
3. Rothwell Temperance (David Roberts)
4. Black Dyke (Prof. Nicholas J Childs)**
5. Brighouse & Rastrick (Prof. David King)**
6. Yorkshire Imperial Urquhart Travel (Stig Maersk)
7. Hepworth (Mark Peacock)
8. City of Bradford (Lee Skipsey)
9. Hammonds Saltaire (Morgan Griffiths)
10. Marsden Silver (Glyn Williams)
11. Drighlington (Jim Davies)
12. Skelmanthorpe (Martin Hall)
13. South Yorkshire Police (Leigh Baker)
*Carlton Main Frickley and Grimethorpe Colliery qualify for National Final
** Black Dyke and Brighouse & Rastrick pre-qualified for National Final
Best Soloist: Michael Dodd (euphonium) — Grimethorpe Colliery Band
Best Instrumentalist: Kirsty Abbotts (cornet) — Carlton Main Frickley Colliery
Best Cornet: Ian Culross — Grimethorpe Colliery Band
Test Piece: 'A London Overture' — Philip Sparke
Saturday 7th March
Adjudicators: Nigel Boddice MBE & Dr. Graham O.Jones MBE
1. Unite the Union (City of Sheffield) (David Hirst)*
2. Strata Brass (Derek Renshaw)*
3. Hatfield (Stanley Lippeatt)
4. Hade Edge (Jonathan Beatty)
5. Hebden Bridge (Trevor Halliwell)
6. Cornerstone Brass (Damian Wileman)
7. Elland Silver (Daniel Brooks)
8. Stannington (Kevin Wadsworth)
9. Lindley (Jessica Tredea)
10. Wakefield Metropolitan (Stephen Tighe)
11. Clifton & Lightcliffe (John Clay)
12. Meltham & Meltham Mills (Norman Law)
Soloist: Mick Kennedy (cornet) — Hatfield
Youngest Player: Wakefield Metropolitan
* Top 2 bands qualify for National Final
Test Piece: 'Variations on Maccabeus' — Kevin Norbury
Sunday 8th March
Adjudicators: Simone Rebello & Kevin Wadsworth
1. Chapeltown (Andrew Dennis)*
2. Old Silkstone (Sam Fisher)*
3. Skelmanthorpe Prospect (Philip Garlick)
4. Knottingley Silver (Kevin Belcher)
5. Kippax (Colin Hardy)
6. Frickley/South Elmsall (Wayne Bostwick)
7. Dinnington (Jonathan Beatty)
8. Barnsley Brass (William Rushworth)
9. Emley (Garry Hallas)
10. Dronfield Genquip (Simon Kerwin)
11. Wetherby & District Silver (Kieran Anderson)
* Top 2 bands qualify for National Final
Best Soloist: Linda Dennis (cornet) — Chapeltown
Youngest Player: Dinnington Colliery
Test Piece:'Evolution, Five States of Change' — Philip Sparke
Saturday 7th March
Adjudicators: Leigh Baker & Dr. Robert Childs
1. Slaithwaite (Robert Westacott)
2. Horbury Victoria (Duncan Beckley)
3. Barnsley Metropolitan (Alex Francis)
4. Worsbrough Brass (John Roberts)
5. Dodworth Colliery M.W. (Eliot J Darwin)
6. Crofton Silver (Dean Jones)
7. Stanley Newmarket Colliery (Steven Bailey)
8. Garforth (Michael Cox)
9. Armthorpe Elmfield (Haydn Griffiths MBE)
10. Maltby Miners (Terry Clifford)
11. Clifton & Lightcliffe ‘B’ (John Clay)
Best Soloist: Mike Cotton (soprano) — Barnsley Metropolitan
Youngest Player: Clifton & Lightcliffe 'B'
*Top 2 bands qualify for National Final
Test Piece: 'An English Pastorale'- Dean Jones
Sunday 8th March
Adjudicators: Sandy Smith & David Thornton
1. BD1 Brass (Lee Skipsey)*
2. Oughtibridge (Gavin Somerset)*
3. Lofthouse 2000 (Andrew Whittaker)
4. Gawthorpe Brass ‘85’ (John Edward)
5. Rockingham (Rob Straw)
6. Loxley Silver (Lee Dunkley)
7. Deepcar (John Hopkinson)
8. Huddersfield & Ripponden (Helen Williams)
9. Tingley (Geoffrey Fowler)
10. Thurcroft Welfare (Matthew Wright)
11. Friendly Band (Sowerby Bridge) (Neil Robinson)
*Top 2 bands qualify for National Final
Best Soloist: Daniel Clough (cornet) -BD1
Best Percussion Section: Oughtibridge
Youngest Player: BD1