Despite the competing bands having to negotiate a tricky journey to get into Preston Guild Hall on the weekend, it was City of Bradford that left for home with a clear road ahead if they are to realise their future ambitions of reaching the British Open and National Finals.
Their top section victory courtesy of a vibrant performance of the Area set-work 'Odyssey' not only saw them claim the Stanley Winter Trophy, £400 and prizes for 'Best Soloist' and 'Best Basses', but more importantly secured their place at the British Open Spring Festival in May.
With a London National Final appearance already under their belt in 2017, they are now just three steps away from a potential place at Symphony Hall.
"That was the real bonus today," MD Lee Skipsey told 4BR. "We are still working hard on 'Odyssey' looking towards the Yorkshire Area, but we wanted to secure our place at the Spring Festival and get that step closer to the British Open.
That meant a great deal and it saw us achieve our first ambition of the year. The next is to get back to the Albert Hall."
Work in progress
Adjudicator Paul Andrew had no doubt about the winner, describing their rendition in his written remarks as 'a musical journey which was good to listen to', whilst later stating that he was aware that for the majority of the seven competitors (only Hammonds played a different work) it was very much a 'work in progress', with the winners giving him a level of consistency that spoke of overall, rather than 'pockets' of 'good preparation'.
City of Bradford also had an outstanding principal cornet in David Karran who deservedly won the 'Best Soloist' award, whilst the tuba team also gained reward for their efforts. Meanwhile, soprano Dale Garner revealed that halfway through the piece his shank key broke on his brand new instrument broke, leaving him holding the tubing with his right hand and playing the valves with his left!
Behind them, a solid Thoresby Colliery will have been boosted ahead of the Midlands Area in Bedworth as they ended runner-up, whilst a slightly misfiring pre-contest favourite, Milnrow will be keen to put their third place finish down to some early season rustiness.
In the First Section Oldham (Lees) continued their good 2018 form with a solid victory playing the Area set-work, 'Brass Metamorphosis'. Led by a determined John Collins, they claimed the Carol Baker Trophy and £400 first prize as well as the award for 'Best Soprano' to secure their first contest win since winning this event in 2014.
One again, adjudicator Paul Andrews gave a detailed analysis of what he had heard from the six contenders who all choose the Area test-piece, acknowledging that whilst they were still only 'halfway through' their detailed preparation, he was still surprised how well many had played a tricky work, although the winner was in his words, '…the band that had a lot of control, poise and quality about their playing.'
Boarshurst Silver eventually ended runner-up thanks in part to their prize winning tuba team, with welcome Scottish visitors Johnstone in third, with flugel player Jane Clark taking the 'Best Soloist' award.
Consistency was the key to Slaithwaite's victory in the Second Section, with adjudicator Thomas Wyss pointing out that it would also be the key to success for the bands (six out of the seven) that will tackle 'Ex Terra Lucem' in a few weeks time at the Areas.
Although he felt all were understandably still some way off their competition best, he was encouraged by the overall standard, although he pinpointed the need for work to be done on the basics of good band playing before contest winning frills could be applied.
No such problems for Slaithwaite as the Yorkshire band under Ryan Watkins took the James Ogden Trophy and £400 first prize (as well as the 'Best Basses' trophy) ahead of Hazel Grove, whose horn player was the first recipient of the Barbara Littler Trophy, and BD1, with 12 year old Phoebe Mallinson winning the 'Best Soloist' award.
There was plenty of keen competition to be heard in the Third Section where Eccleston Brass led by John Wood retained the Allan Mason Trophy with a fine account of the Area set-work, 'Napoleon on the Alps'. Runner-up was Allerton Brass with City of Chester in third.
With a number of bands clearly showing that they had both enjoyed and worked hard on Philip Harper's colourful work, the individual awards were also evenly distributed to Skelmersdale ('Best Soloist'), Golborne ('Best Percussion'), City of Chester ('Best Horn'), Eccleston ('Best Trombone') and Allerton ('Best Basses').
Rodney Newton's 'World Tour' brought plenty of enthusiastic playing in the Fourth Section, where Lostock Hall Memorial certainly laid down a marker for the forthcoming North-West Area with a fine win under MD, Joshua Hughes.
He later told 4BR that he was 'delighted' by the victory — their first contest success 2009, as it coincides with the band's 70th anniversary and also saw principal cornet Nicola Gates take the 'Best Soloist' award, the tuba team claim the 'Best Basses' accolade and 11 year old Matthew Hurst presented with the Lancashire Contest Scholarship as the youngest player on the day.
Just behind the winners came fine shows from Blackley with Rode Hall Silver in third, aided by 'Best Euphonium', Si Crowley.
British Open Youth
Sunday afternoon also saw plenty of super playing from the six bands competing at the British Open Youth at the Guild contest, with adjudicator Helen Varley later telling 4BR that she and fellow adjudicator John Doyle felt the over standard was excellent with the winner Youth Brass 2000, 'stunning'.
"It really was," she said. "There was so much good playing on show from everyone but Youth Brass 2000 was stunning, with amazing balance. We enjoyed every performance though and it was great to see the enjoyment for the music making. We could have asked them all to play again!"
It was the band's sixth win in a row at the event and further underlined their dominance as the UKs leading youth bands under MD Chris Jeans, as they finished ahead of excellent shows from Oldham Music Centre and Poynton Youth.
Despite the road and building works surrounding Preston Guild Hall, the contest organisers, Lancashire Contests were still delighted at how the day went, thanks to the continued generosity and support of principal sponsor Brian Halliwell and his company R. Banks & Son, as well as the traders and bands who once again turned up in numbers for the traditional North West season opener.
We are still working hard on 'Odyssey'...but we wanted to secure our place at the Spring Festival and get that step closer to the British OpenCity of Bradford MD, Lee Skipsey.
Adjudicator: Paul Andrews
1. City of Bradford (Lee Skipsey)
2. Thoresby Colliery (Ian McElligott)
3. Milnrow (Christopher Binns)
4. Longridge (Mark Peacock)
5. Hammonds Saltaire (Morgan Griffiths)
6. Hatfield (Stan Lippeatt)
7. Newstead Brass (Jim Davies)
British Open Spring Festival Qualification: City of Bradford
Best Soloist: David Karran (principal cornet) — City of Bradford
Best Basses: City of Bradford
Best Euphonium: Giacomo Marcocig (Longridge)
Adjudicator: Paul Andrews
1. Oldham (Lees) (John Collins)
2. Boarshurst Silver (James Garlick)
3. Johnstone (Martyn Ramsay)
4. Lindley (Rob Westacott)
5. Blackburn & Darwen (Tariq Ahmed)
6. Haslingden & Helmshore (Simon Cowen)
Best Soloist: Jane Clark (flugel) — Johnstone
Best Soprano: Oldham (Lees)
Best Basses: Boarshurst Silver
Adjudicator: Thomas Wyss
1. Slaithwaite (Ryan Watkins)
2. Hazel Grove (Nigel Beasley)
3. BD1 (Lee Skipsey)
4. Blackpool Brass (John Pearson)
5. Haydock (Mark Quinn)
6. Bakewell Silver (Jim Henson)
Best Soloist: Phoebe Mallinson (flugel) — BD1
Best Basses: Slaithwaite
Best Tenor Horn: Hazel Grove
Adjudicator: Chris King
1. Eccleston Brass (John Wood)
2. Allerton Brass (Adam Taylor)
3. City of Chester (Ewan Easton)
4. Audley Brass (Tom Hancock)
5. Skelmersdale (James Hall)
6. Greenalls (Philip Boardman)
7. Golborne Brass (Matthew Shaw)
8. Littleborough (Adrian Woodhead)
9. Pilling Jubilee Silver (Steve Hartley)
10. Thornton Cleveleys (Stephen Craig)
11. Huddersfield & Ripponden (Adam Bell)
12. Dobcross Silver (Grenville Moore)
13. Oughtibridge Brass (Gavin Somerset)
Best Soloist: Principal cornet (Skelmersdale)
Best Percussion: Golborne Brass
Best Horn: City of Chester
Best Trombone: Eccleston Brass
Best Basses: Allerton Brass
Adjudicator: John Doyle
1. Lostock Hall Memorial (Joshua Hughes)
2. Blackley (Adrian Smith)
3. Rode Hall Silver (Nigel Butler)
4. Stacksteads (Fred Bowker)
5. Brindle (Keith Richmond)
6. BMP Europe Goodshaw (Alan Seymour)
Best Soloist: Nicola Gates (principal cornet) — Lostock Hall Memorial
Best Euphonium: Si Crowley (Rode Hall Silver)
Best Basses: Lostock Hall Memorial
Youngest Player: Matthew Hurst (aged 11)
The British Open Youth at the Guild:
Adjudicators: John Doyle & Helen Varley
1. Youth Brass 2000 (Chris Jeans)
2. Oldham Music Centre (Jonathan Leesdale)
3. Poynton Youth (Mike Eccles)
4. Enderby Youth Band (Trevor Hounsome)
5. Macclesfield Youth Brass (Louise Renshaw)
6. St Helens Youth Brass (James Hall)
Best Soloist: Oldham Music Centre
Youngest Player: Youth Brass 2000
Best Tenor Horn: Oldham Music Centre