The ten competitors in a keenly fought Third Section contest certainly gave adjudicators Stan Lippeatt and John Maines plenty to think about on Dan Price's enjoyable 'Darkwood' set- work.
In the end though it was one of the most improved lower section bands in Wales that eventually got their hands on the Regional Challenge Shield, as Newport Borough led by Robin Hackett claimed a first Area title since 1989 to return to Cheltenham for a second successive year.
Full of endeavour
They will be joined there by their Gwent rivals Abertillery & District, who gave the judges a head to head comparison after they were drawn next to each other in what was a highly entertaining contest full of enthusiasm, endeavour and no little amount of good quality ensemble and solo playing.
Just missing out was Newtown Silver in third, whilst the remaining top-six places went to Phoenix (Goodwick), Ynyshir and Severn Tunnel.
Formed in 1971, Newport Borough has hit a rich vein of form at the annual Welsh League contest series in recent years under their talented young MD, and came fifth at the Fourth Section National Final in 2016.
Now, with that first taste of Area success to their name for nearly 30 years, they are determined to add to their impressive collection of silverware, as Band Secretary Kirsty Davies told 4BR.
Over the moon
"We are over the moon," she said, as the band and their supporters prepared for a night of celebration. "It's our first year in the Third Section, so to be able to qualify for Cheltenham, and as Area champion is a dream come true.
Robin has done so much to rejuvenate the band, and we've only come out of the top-three in one contest since November 2015. Playing in the Third Section at Welsh League contests has helped us enormously, and the friendship and commitment within the band is brilliant.
We thought we had played well, but so did so many of the other bands on the day. It was a great piece and we hope we get another one like it when we proudly represent Wales at the Finals."
Head to head
The battle for the title eventually came down to a direct comparison between Newport and Abertillery, as another talented young conductor in Josh Ruck brought plenty of evocative character out of the contrasting three movements in a confident performance (aided by their splendid 'Best Instrumentalist' euphonium John Jones) to return the valley's band back to Cheltenham for the second time in three years.
Newport followed, and with the careful appreciation of dynamics and tempo, allied to some fine individual soloists, the title headed to across the M4 to its new home, as the band produced the type of control of volume, pace and warm ensemble sound the judges told the audience they were looking for.
Meanwhile, there was a welcome return to Area form for Newtown Silver from mid-Wales, as MD Steve Edwards used his experience to tailor a considered account, as they made a podium mark on their first season back in the Third Section following relegation.
However, there was to be no return to Cheltenham for 2016 Fourth Section National Champion Phoenix (Goodwick) as their colourful and exciting account didn't find as much favour in the box as it did with many listeners in the hall, whilst both Ynyshir and Severn Tunnel produced well directed renditions that showcased their growing potential in rendition of substantive merit.
Behind them it was a case of niggling little errors, inconsistencies and some ensemble nervousness — especially in the tricky opening section, although the quality of solo playing (especially the euphoniums) was excellent in performances that showed that there is an encouraging depth of quality at this level of Welsh banding.
We thought we had played well, but so did so many of the other bands on the day. It was a great piece and we hope we get another one like it when we proudly represent Wales at the FinalsNewport Borough Band Secretary Kirsty Davies
Test Piece: 'Darkwood' (Dan Price)
Adjudicators: Stan Lippeatt and John Maines
1. Newport Borough (Robin Hackett)*
2. Abertillery & District (Josh Ruck)*
3. Newtown Silver (Steve Edwards)
4. Phoenix (Goodwick) (Luke Jenkins)
5. Ynyshir (Garry Davies)
6. Severn Tunnel (Grant Jameson)
7. Usk (Jeff Jones)
8. Briton Ferry Silver (Jeff Pearce)
9. Crosskeys Silver (Mike Davies)
10. Ogmore Valley Silver (Alice Jones)
Best Instrumentalist: John Jones (Euphonium) — Abertillery & District