A Scottish Championship battle between heavyweight rivals that was in danger of seeing a period of extended uncompetitive hegemony was reinvigorated by the cooperation band in Perth on the weekend, as Russell Gray inspired a clean sweep victory over defending champion Whitburn.
It was a deserved success for a band that just a few months ago was facing a potentially terminal future with the end of their association with the rather aptly named sponsors Co-operative Funeralcare. Rumours of their possible demise were certainly not exaggerated until determined supporters helped broker support from the Scotmid Co-operative.
Victory on 'Seascapes' will now hopefully signal the first of many dividend returns for the new partnership and start an extended period of rejuvenation for one of the most famous names of Scottish banding — one that in the past 100 years has tasted Championship winning success under five different guises.
Whether or not the cooperation band will represent Scotland at the 2020 European Championship in Palanga remains to be seen. A more pressing ambition will surely be to regain their British Open status at the Grand Shield. On this form they could well be one of the favourites.
Russell Gray's Ray Steadman-Allen's interpretation had already proved successful in leading Foden's to the North West Area title, so it was no surprise that it's lyrical inspiration was echoed here; broad sweeps of sound, warm tonality and time given (especially in the 'Sarabande') to bring a languid sense of exoticism as well as nobility to the stage.
It certainly made its mark in the box with adjudicators Sarah Groarke-Booth and Sheona White as they pinpointed the challenges and pitfalls that befell their nine rivals — from 'strange' tempo choices and balance issues to unforced errors and a lack of textural cohesion.
They were astute observations — ones backed up by their award of all eight individual and section prizes to the winners. The margin of victory may only have been a single point, but it reinforced the opinion (the bands followed each other onto the stage) that in their minds it was significant and unquestionable.
Whitburn left Perth defeated for the first time since 2016, although they did so proudly unbowed. Their performance was full of high class detail and lean, muscular power; although on this occasion they didn't reach the heights they have done under Prof Nicholas Childs in the past.
A tenth successive return to the Albert Hall will have provided only a minor balm to their bitter disappointment.
As has been the case since 2013, the 'Old Firm' was a class part — a determined Newtongrange led by Andrew Duncan claiming a distant podium spot with a purposeful account.
Behind them came a vibrant Dalmellington led by an energetic Erik Janssen, whilst the remaining top-six places were filled by a delighted Dunaskin Doon (posting their best ever result on their return to the top-flight) and a hard working Bo'ness & Carriden.
Scottish banding has a great deal to commend, but much like the rest of the UK, there is an obvious need for structural reform. Too many performances here seemed closer to First Section standard rather than Championship: The difference between the top two and the rest remains an almost unbridgeable gap.
For the cooperation band however, a new era of top flight competitiveness may have dawned. It was a victory that commanded respect as well as excitement. Now comes the challenge of making their new name a much more familiar presence in the prizes further away from home.
'Symphony of Marches' has proved to be a troublesome test for bands in all parts of the country, although it was encouraging to hear three bands in Perth that managed to get to grips with it.
And whilst Sarah Groarke Booth and Richard Evans complimented all ten on their efforts, there were few in the audience that didn't guess that it was eventually going to be a three-way battle for the two qualification places between Kirkintilloch, Unison Kinneil and Kingdom Brass.
Experience at the helm counted for a great deal — David Roberts, Raymond Tennant and Ian Porthouse all having played or conducted the piece on a number of occasions in their careers. It showed.
In the end a reinvigorated Kirkintilloch got back to winning ways following a period when they had really struggled to keep their heads above water. The hard work of a dedicated core of members has now been rewarded, as the former Scottish Champion claimed the title with a performance full of measured control and confidence.
It also had the consistency in tempo choices and dynamics that the judges clearly wished for; David Roberts again showing that the application of musical common sense on this piece pays dividends.
The future looks bright for a proud band. They will be a confident contender for honours at both the Senior Cup and Cheltenham.
Runner-up Unison Kinneil (who had Phillip McCann on the solo cornet bench) also benefited from MD's Raymond Tennant's considered approach — as well as the security of his soloists, including 'Best Horn' Kirsty Scott. It was a neat performance that held the promise of greater things to come.
Disappointment however for a second successive year for Kingdom Brass; although Ian Porthouse will have known that moments of unease tarnished his well laid out plans.
Behind the podium finishers in a contest that saw Richard Evans make the telling point that he felt bands were losing the ability to "do the basic things" such as play correct note values (from the very first note in fact) came performances that never felt at ease both musically or technically with Vinter's clearly marked intentions.
Meanwhile, Sarah's observation on the stylistic approaches employed (especially in the central section) also gave considerable food for thought.
Granite City Brass, Newmilns & Galston (whose excellent sop took the 'Best Instrumentalist' award) and Dalkeith & Monktonhall will therefore have had little cause for complaint on their eventual placings — as did the rest of the contenders who found Vinter's work a demanding test of their First Section credentials.
Prior to the First Section, 11 well matched produced an enjoyable battle on Darrol Barry's 'Rise of the Phoenix' — giving judges Brett Baker and Sheona White much to deliberate upon in the box.
Their eventual decision rewarded one of the nation's upwardly mobile ensembles, as Newmains & District under Michael Marzella claimed a merited victory ahead of fellow Cheltenham qualifiers Coalburn Silver.
Newmains has continued to build solidly ever since they reappeared on the contest scene in 2015 — a National title and now a second Scottish Championship success testament to their evident stage confidence.
Neat, balanced and energetic, they set an impressive marker that wasn't in much danger of being beaten despite some fine efforts from rivals.
The best came from Coalburn Silver with a vivid, boldly descriptive 'Phoenix' drawn by Gareth Bowman and aided by their excellent cornet player Euan Roberts who took the 'Best Instrumentalist' award.
Brett Baker later revealed that he had written the words 'frantic' and 'tuning' a fair bit in his remarks throughout the contest, and that especially applied to the final section fugue, which seemed to trip up bands as the James Bond inspired adrenaline pumped through the veins.
The two-point gap to Lochgelly in third highlighted the judge's findings; after they gave a vibrant account under Paul McKelvie that just lost its focus, whilst there was much to enjoy from more variable accounts from top-six finishers Clackmannan & District, Jedforest Instrumental and Broxburn & Livingston.
Whether the two qualifiers can really make a mark in Cheltenham we will have to wait and see, but on this evidence they won't be short of confidence.
The opening contest of the weekend wasn't without its drama for the organisers and the eventual winners, even before a note had been blown.
With a pre-draw to enable bands to prepare for their time slot, SBBA was confident that nothing could go wrong — although as fate would have it Irvine & Dreghorn's coach broke down on route to Perth.
As they were due to play first, it meant a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare if, despite their best efforts, they failed to make it to the stage.
Thankfully they arrived and ready to play at 9.05am, and perhaps not having much thinking time was a help rather than a hindrance as they produced a cracking performance of Holst's 'First Suite in Eb' under Lewis Bettles that repelled their rivals.
It also meant that SBBA President and the band's percussionist Carrie Boax wasn't put in the unenviable position of having to consider disqualifying her own band. You can be assured their coach to Cheltenham will be given a service before it departs.
Joining them will be Perthshire Brass, who had time on their side (they were drawn ninth of the ten bands) and also revealed control, balance and flow in their performance — the very elements Brett and Leigh Baker were looking for in the box.
Both were full of praise for the efforts of all the high-wire sop players, whilst they took time to highlight the more basic issues of tuning and ensemble cohesion that formed the core part of their decision making process.
It meant that Renfrew Burgh had to settle for third place in what was MD Mark Good's final appearance with the band. It was a good one too, with his excellent soprano player George Mullin taking the 'Best Instrumentalist' award.
Behind them came more variable efforts from Whitburn Heartlands, Langholm Town and Buckhaven & Methil, whilst the remaining contenders found the deceptive challenges of the score just that and more.
The Fourth Section saw twelve contenders enjoy performing Ray Steadman-Allen's 'Stantonbury Festival' — something that was reflected in what proved to be a high standard contest, despite nearly every one of them being short on numbers.
No praise high enough then for the likes of Callander Brass who took to the stage with just 21 players — six which were on cornet, Stranraer, with the ranks full with the bubbling enthusiasm of youth, and all the others.
SBBA promotes an inclusive ethos (something which is seen with their non-competitive 4b Section) that is paying off: Other Areas should follow suit.
Leigh Baker certainly loved his time in the box with his 'dad', Richard Evans as he called him; reminding bands to enjoy the contest experience rather than be daunted by it. His points were cogent, funny and very well made.
That said Mr Evans did make a plea for conductors and players to go and look at the definition of 'agogic' — so the serious intent to educate was also there too.
Barrhead Burgh and Newlands Concert Brass certainly gave the duo just what they were looking for, as MD's Alaistair Gibson and Simon Railton imbued their players with confidence and no little amount of musical style to claim their places at Cheltenham.
Just behind them came 10 enthusiastic rivals — all led by conductors who smiled and cajoled their players throughout their performances. It was a joy to experience.
In the end it was Kilmarnock Concert Brass that came third, just ahead of Peebles Burgh, Dundee Instrumental and Penicuik Silver.
Prior to the Fourth Section results, Anne Crookston sat in the open to enjoy two ensembles in the non-competitive 4b Section. She will now visit them at dates to be arranged to continue their development.
Throughout the weekend, presentations were made to various stalwarts for their dedicated service. Michael Robertson, Donald Reid and John Boax were rightly recognised, whilst Angus Lowden and Angus McKay of Dundee Instrumental Band were honoured in recognition of a remarkable 142 years of joint service to their band.
Meanwhile, SBBA took to Facebook to broadcast the results ceremonies live and also encouraged listeners to tweet their predictions of the contest so that they appeared on the multimedia screen before the results ceremony.
It showed once again that SBBA is embracing its exciting future whilst ensuring that it has not lost its vital connection to those who have given so much to it in the past and present.
it was no surprise that it's lyrical inspiration was echoed here; broad sweeps of sound, warm tonality and time given (especially in the 'Sarabande') to bring a languid sense of exoticism as well as nobility to the stage4BR
Test Piece: Seascapes (Ray Steadman-Allen)
Adjudicators: Sheona Wade & Sarah Groarke-Booth
1. The cooperation band (Russell Gray) — 191**
2. Whitburn (Prof Nicholas Childs) — 190*
3. Newtongrange Silver (Andrew Duncan) — 188
4. Dalmellington Band (Erik Janssen) — 187
5. Dunaskin Doon (Gareth Brindle) — 186
6. Bo'ness & Carriden (Lee Skipsey) — 185
7. Kirkintilloch Kelvin Brass (Charles Keenan) — 184
8. Bon Accord Silver (Stephen Malcolm) — 183
9. Bathgate (Paul Lovatt-Cooper) — 182
10. Johnstone Band (Lynda Nicholson) — 181
**Qualify to represent Scotland at the 2020 European Championship in Palanga and National Final
*Qualify for National Final
Best Soprano Cornet: Gordon Lyle (the co-operation Band)
Best Cornet: Jim Heyes (the co-operation Band)
Best Horn/Flugel: Lindsay Roxburgh (the co-operation Band)
Baritone/Euphonium: Scott Findlater (the co-operation Band)
Best Trombone: Chris Mansfield (the co-operation Band)
Best Bass Section: the co-operation Band
Best Bass:Lauren Foden (the co-operation Band)
Best Percussion Section: the co-operation Band
Test Piece: Symphony of Marches (Gilbert Vinter)
Adjudicators: Sarah Groarke Booth & Richard Evans
1. Kirkintilloch Band (David Roberts) — 191*
2. Unison Kinneil (Raymond Tennant) — 190*
3. Kingdom Brass (Ian Porthouse) — 188
4. Granite City Brass (Bruce Wallace) — 185
5. Newmilns & Galston (Alan Cameron) — 184
6. Dalkeith & Monktonhall (James Chamberlain) — 183
7. Campbeltown Brass (Paul Kiernan) — 182
8. Tullis Russell (Ray Munday) — 181
9. Arbroath Instrumental (Robert McDonald) — 180
10. Annan Town (Paul Drury) — 179
Best Instrumentalist: Soprano (Newmilns & Galston)
Best Horn: Kirsty Scott (Unison Kinneil)
*Top two qualify for National Final
Test Piece: Rise of the Phoenix (Darrol Barry)
Adjudicators: Sheona Wade & Brett Baker
1. Newmains & District (Michael Marzella) — 188*
2. Coalburn Silver (Gareth Bowman) — 187*
3. Lochgelly Band (Paul McKelvie OBE) — 185
4. Clackmannan & District (Ross Brotherston) — 184
5.Jedforest Instrumental (Phil Rosier) — 183
6. Broxburn & Livingson (John Boax) — 182
7. St.David's Brass (John A Dickson) — 181
8. Selkirk Silver (Charlie Farren) — 180
9. St.Ronan's Silver (Kenneth Letham) — 179
10. Shotts St Patrick's (Andy Shaw) — 178
11. Croy Silver (Kenneth Blackwood) — 177
Best Instrumentalist: Euan Roberts (cornet) — Coalburn Silver
*Top two bands qualify for National Final
Test Piece: First Suite in Eb (Gustav Holst arr. Sydney Herbert)
Adjudicators: Brett Baker & Leigh Baker
1. Irvine & Dreghorn (Lewis Bettles) — 186*
2. Perthshire Brass (George D Annan) — 184*
3. Renfrew Burgh (Mark Good) — 182
4. Whitburn Heartlands (Ian Fleming) — 180
5. Langholm Town (Chris Shanks) — 179
6. Buckhaven & Methil Band (Andy Shaw) — 175
7. Highland Brass (Mark Bell) — 174
8. Dysart Colliery Band (Kenneth Letham) — 173
9. Dunfermline Town (Michael Marzella) — 171
10. Brass Sounds Inverclyde (Robert Dibden) — 170
Best Instrumentalist: George Mullin (soprano) — Renfrew Burgh
*Top two bands qualify for National Final
Test Piece: Stantonbury Festival (Ray Steadman-Allen)
Adjudicators: Leigh Baker & Richard Evans
1. Barrhead Burgh (Alistair Gibson) — 182*
2. Newland Concert Brass (Simon Railton) — 180*
3. Kilmarnock Concert Brass (Scott Walker) — 178
4. Peebles Burgh (Peter Holmes) — 176
5. Dundee Instrumental (Robert McDonald) — 175
6. Penicuik Silver (Robert W Fraser) — 173
7. MacTaggart Scott (George Cameron) — 172
8. Stranraer Brass (Angela Miller) — 171
9. Bon Accord Silver 'B' (Jennifer Cook) — 170
10. Hawick Saxhorn (Stuart Black) — 169
11. Forfar Instrumental (Terence Jackson) — 168
12. Callander Brass (Ian Milligan) — 167
Youngest Bb Player: Owen Campbell (Dundee Instrumental)
Instrumentalist: Flugel (Barrhead Burgh)