The ornate People Challenge Trophy as Midlands Area Champion returned to the famous Leicestershire banding base of Coalville for the first time 2012, as Desford claimed a comprehensive victory over their top section rivals at Bedworth.
Following success at Butlins earlier in the year, MD Michael Fowles inspired a performance of 'Seascapes' worthy of their pre-contest favourites tag to claim a classy victory. Where it now sees them head with the British Open and Albert Hall to come in the autumn is an intriguing question.
Quality and precision
The quality and precision of the ensemble playing brought echoes of their 1988 National triumph on the piece, as a malleable interpretive framework allowed for structured technical security and flowing freedom of expression to be heard.
The opening movement was evocative and exciting, the central Sarabande graceful in its delicacy. By the time they opened a driven but thoughtfully finale they had both hands clamped on the trophy. Despite the concerted efforts of defending champion GUS and Ratby Co-operative that followed it was never in any real danger of being prised free.
Adjudicators Derek Broadbent and Brett Baker will not have had an easier decision to make for some time at this top flight level: Desford won by a comfortable margin.
"The credit goes to the band," Michael Fowles later told 4BR. "We have a stable, experienced line-up of players now, all hungry for success. The set-up suits us both and it's a joy to be able to work in a concentrated manner with such responsive musicians."
He added: "Butlins was a great boost of course, but I could tell the players really wanted to win this one. They put in the work and the commitment as they did for Skegness, and the result spoke for itself. These are exciting times for a very fine band."
Although there was to be no double hat-trick for GUS Band, any disappointment will have been tempered by the encouragement gained in producing a performance under Chris Jeans that spoke of the foundation of musical quality that his young band will now be able to build on.
Little slips and a lack of cohesion were noted, but so too was the warmth of tonality and musicality instilled in a persuasive interpretation by their MD. Returning to London for seventh successive year will have given them great heart — one that could well be pumped with further success at the Grand Shield in May.
Also taking huge encouragement will be Ratby Co-operative, as Mareika Gray's eminently intelligent direction brought a thoroughly deserved podium finish. Safe but considered in its approach, it secured a best ever Area result, further endorsing the solid progress made under their MD. They will be a strong contender for Senior Cup success in Blackpool.
Behind them came a varied and variable selection pack of finishers — both in terms of interpretive approach and execution.
A delighted Foresters Brass took fourth on their return to the top flight; a mark of the hard work put in by John Davis and his charges since their early season run out on the piece at the Brass at the Guild contest, whilst a thoughtfully constructed account from Blidworth Welfare and engaging, if more variable effort from Jaguar Land Rover, filled the remaining top-six places.
After that the overall standard did drop away somewhat.
Thoresby could perhaps count themselves a little unfortunate that their unpretentious account from the number 1 draw couldn't hold its own in the judge's opinion, whilst a somewhat idiosyncratic rendition from Derwent Brass also failed to resonate in the box as much as it did in the Civic Centre auditorium.
Others though found the detailed, complex layers of texture and colour difficult to portray with well defined clarity and would have little compliant with their final placing.
No such problems for Desford however — as an increasingly impressive band continues to make its mark under Michael Fowles' intelligent direction. Further success on this form cannot be discounted.
The adage that 'It's never over until the fat lady sings' maybe a little politically incorrect nowadays, but as an analogy it still held true in an entertaining, if somewhat variable First Section battle.
A steady opening marker from Newstead Brass had repelled a dozen subsequent challenges, only for first, the eventual winner Enderby, and then runner-up Hucknall & Linby to pip them to the Cheltenham qualification line as the last two bands to perform 'Symphony of Marches'.
That would have been a bitter pill to swallow, although others such as the top-six finishers of Jackfield, Shirley and Bedworth Brass may have also needed a glass or two of liquid intoxication to have erased their disappointment of not making it to Cheltenham after giving solidly delivered accounts of Vinter's testing work.
Audience favourites Bilton Silver (Rugby) and Staffordshire were left to rue their popular but not adjudicator appeal.
However, Alan Morrison and John Winterflood were in no doubt about their opinions — the judges clearly defining their decision that there had been a "clear winner".
That came with Enderby led by their young conductor Ryan Richards who produced the type of consistent, technically accurate, musically coherent account across the three clearly defined movements; a bright opening followed by richly flowing middle section and a perky close.
'A performance with much to commend. I enjoyed listening to this,' John wrote in his remarks, whilst Alan emphasised the point he was to make in his pre-results remarks. '...the ending was just no-nonsense and straight forward. A key element in the whole performance really.'
Understandably the MD was delighted when he spoke to 4BR: "This is another fantastic result. The band did everything we worked on together on stage. I'm so proud, as they fully support the musical ambitions we have together. It will be tough at Cheltenham for sure, but we are making great progress and we will be ready for the challenge."
Joining them in their slipstream was Hucknall & Linby, as the Nottinghamshire outfit, fresh from their promotion from the Second Section provided the judges with a rendition under Paul Whyley that firmly ticked their consistency boxes; the bright opening followed by a dark seam of grave intent and a vibrant close gaining a return trip to Cheltenham.
That meant disappointment for Newstead Brass in third as their confident account was just beaten by a short head, whilst a little further back were solidly portrayed renditions from Jackfield, Shirley and Bedworth, all benefiting substantially from the musical understanding of Vinter's intentions by their experienced MDs.
Thereafter it was a repeat of the rather familiar tale heard around the country, although some rivals were perhaps left wondering if on another occasion their renditions may have appealed more with a different set of judges.
Whereas the adjudicators in the Championship and First Section battles were able to pick out clear winners, a combination of a cracking test-piece and a host of well led bands playing to the top of their form gave Steve Pritchard-Jones and Gary Davies an enjoyable contesting conundrum to sort out.
That said, there we few arguments when their Second Section findings were announced, with Gresley Colliery and Rolls Royce (Derby) securing deserved qualification places.
It proved to be a particularly sweet victory for Gresley who haven't enjoyed the best of good fortune both on and off the contest stage over the last 18 months or so.
"Winning on 'Rise of the Phoenix' seems appropriate, as we've had a run of astonishing bad luck during the last two years," spokesperson Simon Thomas told 4BR. "Our bandroom suffered severe bad weather damage meaning rehearsals were impossible. That had a knock on effect with our contest form, but we stuck together and things started to build once more."
He added: "We enjoyed great help from the local community, band members and friends, and finally the roof was repaired last spring and things have picked up with 2019 already turning into something special. Throughout the whole time the band and MD Craig Stevens has worked so hard and now it's paying off. We've risen back to full strength once again."
The first inkling of the rejuvenation came at Butlins in where they came fourth, but in Bedworth, where Craig inspired a performance rich in character, excitement and colour, it blossomed.
On this form and boosted by their long term investment in youth (they recently held a cracking youth solo event) they will return to Cheltenham for the first time since 2015 very much on the up once again.
Joining them for a second year in a row will be Rolls Royce (Derby), as their experienced MD Graham Cardwell led a fine rendition off the number 2 draw to provide the judges with an excellent example of the consistent template they were looking for.
Just behind came two bands in a high quality first half of the contest that also provided performances of evocative merit, as Butlins Champion Shirland Welfare and Foss Dyke gave the judges plenty of food for thought.
The final top-six places also went to well delivered renditions from Market Rasen and the number 1 draw Ireland Colliery Chesterfield, whilst others also impressed with their determination to bring out the excitement of the writing without recourse to overblowing.
None though could quite match Gresley, who produced their own version of a reborn musical Phoenix to claim a deserved victory.
The decision to hold the Third and Fourth Section contests at Kenilworth School proved to an encouraging one, especially as a supportive audience on both days was treated to some fine playing on a brace of challenging set-works.
The Midlands will certainly send two strong representatives to Cheltenham in the Third Section, as Raunds Temperance and Stamford Brass delivered performances of Holst's 'First Suite in Eb' that would have topped any regional contest this year.
And that was despite the fine efforts from many of their rivals, including the top-six finishers of Towcester Studio, Pleasley Colliery Welfare, Wellington (Telford) and Cleobury Mortimer, the judges Gary Davies and Steve Pritchard-Jones who all brought style and security to well-constructed renditions.
Cleobury set the tone from the number 1 draw with a musical account blighted by a few basic errors to eventually finish sixth, whilst it was soon followed by Towcester Studio's detailed rendition under Neil Brownless and a stylish effort from Pleasley that just ran out of steam, to finish third and fourth respectively.
After their disappointing return at Butlins much was anticipated from Stamford Brass, and they didn't disappoint. The 2018 Fourth Section National Champion put Skegness behind them as Julian Bright brought a lovely reading to bear on a high quality rendition to deservedly claim a return trip to Cheltenham.
Their lead didn't last long however in the box as Jonathan Pippen led Raunds to eventual victory with a performance inspired by a mature appreciation of style, based on a solid technique and polished individual contributions.
After their win at Butlins and now here, they will surely be one of the favourites come September as they returned to Cheltenham for the first time since 2005.
Such was the encouraging standard that Wellington (Telford)'s fine effort rounded off with a splendid 'March' could only finish fifth, whilst others such as Arrow Valley and Audley Brass just outside the prizes could count themselves unfortunate that they came up against a raft of inspired rivals on the day.
However, each band brought something of merit from what has been a difficult test of contesting character, with a number of fearless soprano players in particular gaining plaudits for their efforts.
Raunds Temperance and Stamford were a few lengths ahead of the rest though, and will head to Cheltenham as two of the more fancied bookies favourites to enjoy further success.
If there were firm signs of potential Midlands success at Cheltenham in the Third Section in the autumn, then the Area will also be heartened by the trio of well led representatives it sends in the Fourth.
There was much to admire about all 20 contenders in fact — not just the worthy winners. And whilst the overall standard did dip further down the results table, all gave performances built on the essential basic elements to be found in the well-crafted score to 'Stantonbury Festival'.
The in-form Ratby Co-operative Mid was excellent value for their success under Gary Perrin; giving a performance that fully endorsed the organisation's commitment to long term sustainability and improvement (they had come third on the piece at the Oxford contest in February).
Where their seniors had just missed out on a place at London their Fourth Section counterparts made sure they got to Cheltenham in considerable style.
The musical flow of the piece was always maintained with admirable focus by the MD his players alike, as they set the imposing marker off the 'lucky' number 13 draw to secure their first ever Area title. They are a very impressive band.
So too Melton and Shipston Town who claimed the other qualification places with performances that had assuredness, confidence and stylistic nuance, despite the odd little moment of unease.
Graham Sutton's rapidly improving Melton returns to the National Final for the first time since 2016 (when they were in the Third Section), whilst the equally experienced Howard Gibbs will lead his band there for the first time since 2013.
It meant that an engaging account from Kirkby Colliery Welfare had to be content with fourth spot, whilst solid efforts from Skegness and Matlock filled the remaining top-six positions.
Much to enjoy
Elsewhere they was much to enjoy as conductors struved to bring the character and the style of the music to the fore, whilst it was great to see so many youngsters filling the ranks and a number of bands overcoming a lack of numbers with some cleverly thought out camouflage work by their MDs.
And whilst a couple of bands may count themselves a little unlucky that their confident approaches didn't quite resonate with the judges John Winterflood and Benjamin Richeton as they did in the hall (City of Birmingham and Wem Jubilee amongst them) all will have enjoyed the experience and the benefits of performing such an engaging test-piece.
After a weekend of keen contesting battles in all sections, the hard working regional committee (who once again put on an excellent event in two different locations) can take a great deal of satisfaction that the Area will send a raft of impressive contenders to both the Albert Hall and the Centaur Centre at Cheltenham.
Chris Thomas, Wilson Taylor and Michael Cox
I could tell the players really wanted to win this one. They put in the work and the commitment as they did for Skegness, and the result spoke for itself. These are exciting times for a very fine bandMichael Fowles
Test Piece: Seascapes (Ray Steadman-Allen)
Adjudicators: Brett Baker & Derek Broadbent
1. Desford Colliery (Michael Fowles)*
2. GUS (Chris Jeans)*
3. Ratby Co-operative (Mareika Gray)
4. Foresters Brass (John Davis)
5. Blidworth Welfare (Simon Oates)
6. Jaguar Landrover (Nigel Seaman)
7. Spal Sovereign Brass (Trevor Jones)
8. Langley (Cliff Parker)
9. Derwent Brass (Jack Capstaff)
10. Thoresby Colliery (Ian McElligott)
11. Rushden Town (Adele Hudson)
12. Hathern (John Hudson)
*Top two bands qualify for National Final
Test Piece: Symphony of Marches (Gilbert Vinter)
Adjudicators: Alan Morrison & John Winterflood
1. Enderby (Ryan Richards)*
2. Hucknall & Linby MC (Paul Whyley)*
3. Newstead Brass (Jim Davies)
4. Jackfield (David Maplestone)
5. Shirley (David Hirst)
6. Bedworth Brass (Wayne Ruston)
7. Kibworth (John Hudson)
8. Oddfellows Brass (Dave Hollings)
9. Harborough (Brad Turnbull)
10. Burbage (Buxton) (Steve Critchlow)
11. Staffordshire (Craig Williams)
12. Bilton Silver (Rugby) (David Stowell)
13. Shirebrook MW Unison (Jim Henson)
14. Carlton Brass (Gary Wyatt)
15. Leicestershire Co-op (Brendan Caddy)
*Top two bands qualify for National Final
Withdrawn: Glossop Old (Luke Palister)
Test Piece: Rise of the Phoenix (Darrol Barry)
Adjudicators: Gary Davies & Steve Pritchard-Jones
1. Gresley Colliery (Craig Stevens)*
2. Rolls Royce (Derby) (Graham Cardwell)*
3. Shirland Welfare (Lynden Cooper)
4. Foss Dyke (Mike Howley)
5. Market Rasen (David Dernley)
6. Ireland Colliery Chesterfield (Lindon Bolt)
7. Ibstock Brick Brass (Simon Willis)
8. Wigston (Chris Small)
9. Tintwistle (Andrew Mallon)
10. City of Coventry (Stephen Cooper)
11. Avonbank Evesham (Dave Lea)
12. Bakewell Silver (Andy Davey)
13. Stourport on Severn (Oliver Wilson)
*Top two bands qualify for National Final
Test Piece: First Suite in Eb (Gustav Holst)
Adjudicators: Gary Davies and Steve Pritchard-Jones
1. Raunds Temperance (Jonathan Pippen)*
2. Stamford Brass (Julian Bright)*
3. Towcester Studio (Neil Brownless)
4. Pleasley Colliery Welfare (Geof Benson)
5. Wellington Telford (Stephen Rhodes)
6. Cleobury Mortimer (Colin Hogg)
7. Arrow Valley (Andy Culshaw)
8. Audley Brass (Tom Hancock)
9. Cubbington (Mark Phillips)
10. Long Eaton (Sharon Stansfield)
11. Corby Silver (Catherine Fountain)
12. Daventry (Bob Stradling)
13. Amington (Alan Gifford)
14. Newhall (Kevin Holdgate)
15. Syston (Gary Smallwood)
16. Trentham Brass (Mike Cavaney)
*Top two bands qualify for National Final
Test Piece: Stantonbury Festival (Ray Steadman-Allen)
Adjudicators: Benjamin Richeton and John Winterflood
1. Ratby Co-operative Mid (Gary Perrin)*
2. Melton (Graham Sutton)*
3. Shipston Town (Howard Gibbs)*
4. Kirkby Colliery Welfare (Neville Buxton)
5. Skegness (Steve Walker)
6. Matlock (Chris Banks)
7. Whitwell Brass (Ryan Stacey)
8. Coventry Festival (Allan Wheelhouse)
9. Moulton 77 (Colin Jones)
10. Croft Silver (Ian Needham)
11. University of Warwick (Simon Hogg)
12. Sherwood Forest Brass (Christine Lippeatt)
13. Malvern Hills District (Chris License)
14. Fairfield (Buxton) (Charles Kitchen)
15. Brackley & District (Mark Probert)
16. City of Birmingham (Ben Hewlett-Davies)
17. Wem Jubilee (David Thomas)
18. Dunchurch (Paul Whitmore)
19. Bilton Silver (Evolution) (Jack Fisher)
20. Newark Town (Brian Newland)
*Top three bands qualify for National Final
Withdrawn: Bestwood Welfare Black Diamonds (tba)