There was an air of expertly planned construction about Oldham (Lees) victory in the First Section — and not just because the contest was played out in a cocoon of scaffolding that encased the usually ornate surroundings of the Empress Ballroom.
Almost a decade after they last enjoyed an Area victory at the Winter Gardens, John Collins and his in-form band produced a commanding performance of 'Brass Metamorphosis' that according to adjudicators Glyn Williams and Sarah- Groarke-Booth, gave "no doubt" and "stood out" from their rivals.
Adjectives of success
Their written remarks were littered with the adjectives of success — 'excellent' and 'super' being written time and time again to describe the precise ensemble work and especially the individual contributions of the band's solo euphonium Harrison Healey and soprano Alan Hobbins, who Glyn also called "outstanding" and "immense" respectively in his pre-results remarks to the audience.
And although both said their rivals all brought "something positive" out of their performances none could match the way in which John Collins constructed his with a reinforcement of excellent dynamics, well chosen tempi and a clear understanding of James Curnow's compositional intentions.
Long term building
"We've built a very long time for this," John later told 4BR as he reflected on a four year period that stretched from 2014 to earlier this year at the Brass at the Guild Hall contest without a win.
"We enjoyed a great deal of success when we first came up through the sections to the top section, but we knew we had to mature as a band to find our true level and stay there.
That's why being in the First Section has been good for us, and why I'm so thrilled for the players — half of who were with me in the Fourth Section and came through our youth system.
We aim to produce our own and this year we have seven players aged under 17. We have all grown together to enjoy this moment."
The band will now look to carry on their development at the Spring Festival Senior Cup, although the Finals in Cheltenham already in John's mind.
"The Senior Trophy is another step forward to becoming a better band and it's great to return to the Finals. We've come close to winning there in the Fourth, Third and Second Section in the past, so if we can continue to improve who knows come September?"
Joining them there will be Freckleton — another band that has quietly rebuilt their contesting strength over the last two years.
Under the experienced Paul Dalton they returned to Cheltenham for the first time since 2015 after giving the judges a controlled early marker from the number 5 draw in an acoustic that although much better than in recent years due to its own metamorphic renovation work, was still lively to say the least.
In a contest that certainly fluctuated in quality — with both judges talking about a lack of consistency and basics problems with articulation and rhythmic structures, a well-directed account from Wardle Anderson Brass eventually claimed the final podium slot with the final top-six places going to a delighted 2017 Second Section National Champion, Boarshurst Silver, a rejuvenated Haslingden & Helmshore and confident Blackburn & Darwen.
Behind them though the judges certainly felt that "a good piece that sorted the higher bands out from the lower ones" with its testing solo work and diverse tempos, did its job, with Sarah also pointing out that tonal stridency was often apparent in dynamics that were all to often "comfortable".
The top half of the placings she said reflected some "good playing", whilst Glyn pointed out that those lower down the results table were blighted by slow sections that were in his words, "quite poor" and were not helped by soloists who needed "to support their air" and "play with expression".
There were no such problems in any of those departments for Oldham (Lees) — where their excellent soloists were admirably supported by the solid ensemble and aided by their prize winning 'Best Percussion' section.
In fact, the only problems MD John Collins admitted too when speaking to 4BR on Monday morning was getting over a bit of a late night celebratory sore head. It was one contesting headache though that he wouldn't mind having again come Cheltenham.
That's why being in the First Section has been good for us, and why I'm so thrilled for the players — half of who were with me in the Fourth Section and came through our youth systemJohn Collins
Adjudicators: Sarah Groarke-Booth & Glyn Williams
1. Oldham (Lees) (John Collins)*
2. Freckleton (Paul Dalton)*
3. Wardle Anderson Brass (Sean Conway)
4. Boarshurst Silver (James Garlick)
5. Haslingden & Helmshore (Simon Cowen)
6. Blackburn & Darwen (Dr David Thornton)
7. Eccles Borough (Mareika Gray)
8. Roberts Bakery (Paul Lovatt-Cooper)
9. Mossley (Duncan Byers)
10. Silk Brass (Tony Wyatt)
11. Crewe Brass (Matt Pithers)
12. Manx Concert Brass (Ian Clague MBE)
13. Cheshire Constabulary (David Woollam)
14. Diggle (Melvin Tay)
15. Poulton-Le-Fylde (Andrew Warriner)
*Qualify for National Final at Cheltenham
Best Percussion: Oldham (Lees)