It may be a few years since the famous name of Parc & Dare was seen in the National Finals programme at the Royal Albert Hall, but their well-merited victory in the First Section signalled another solid step towards getting there once more.
Conducted by Cpt Paul Collis-Smith, the former 15 times top-flight Welsh Regional Champion claimed the First Section Area title for the first time since 2005, with a performance of 'The Land of the Long White Cloud', that was described by the judges as being 'so well musically shaped and technically excellent'.
Meanwhile, another band with a rich history will join them there, as Llanrug, led by Fairey's principal cornet Paul Hughes delivered a cultured rendition of Philip Sparke's work to secure their first National Final appearance since 2004. Just behind them came a bold Ebbw Valley in third, with the remaining top-six places in the 10 band field taken by BTM, Tylorstown and Markham & District.
The winning MD, who is also Director of Music for the British Army's professional Prince of Wales Division Brass Band in south Wales, was understandably delighted when he spoke to 4BR, even though he was busy on his Army travels to Kneller Hall when 4BR eventually caught up with him.
"I really enjoyed the opportunity to work with Parc & Dare and I'm so pleased for the band and for their supporters," he said. "I came in with a very specific approach to the score, and it was one the players took fully on board."
He added: "They have a great deal of individual quality in the band, such Andrea Lewis on flugel who was a real contest winner for us on the day, but it was just a question of bringing it all together as an ensemble.
I did take a bit of a gamble with some of the tempos, but I felt going a notch under in the vivace sections brought out the clarity, and letting the music flow in the Largehetto allowed our soloists the chance to shine."
The more considered approaches certainly resonated in the interpretative minds of the judges John Maines and Stan Lippeatt, as they later spoke to the audience of the need to project balance, clarity and precision if the piece was to make cohesive sense.
They were also clear that some over-enthusiastic percussion, harsh dynamics and ambitious tempo choices undermined a number of performances.
It was also a delighted Paul Hughes who spoke to 4BR after leading Llanrug to Cheltenham. "I'm delighted for everyone involved — especially the youngsters," he said.
"They are such grafters — determined and fully committed to the band. We knew we made a couple of little errors but I couldn't have asked for anything more."
In a contest that perhaps didn't quite live up to expectations, given the record of Welsh banding at National level over recent years, the bookie's favourite Ebbw Valley under Gareth Ritter produced a confident, boldly textured marker off the number 1 draw that certainly found favour in the hall if not quite in the box.
However, a fifth consecutive Cheltenham appearance was denied them as Llanrug upped the ante for Messrs Maines and Lippeatt, before a series of hard working but error prone accounts failed to push for a possible Cheltenham starting stall place.
Much to enjoy
There was though much to enjoy from the likes of BTM, with their youthful set up playing with confident brio to finish fourth, with well directed accounts from both Tylorstown and Markham & District undermined by noticeable errors that cost them any podium place ambitions. Behind them, 'The Land of the Long White Cloud' proved to be a severe test of current First Section credentials.
Not so for one of Welsh banding's most evocative names — despite the added sponsors moniker of (Leftfield Environmental) which may cost a few extra bob out of the £200 top prize to engrave on the cup. Come September though, it may also be one that could be etched on the First Section National Trophy as well.
They have a great deal of individual quality in the band, such Andrea Lewis on flugel who was a real contest winner for us on the day, but it was just a question of bringing it all together as an ensembleWinning MD, Cpt Paul Collis-Smith
Test Piece: 'Land of the Long White Cloud' (Philip Sparke)
Adjudicators: Stan Lippeatt and John Maines
1. Parc & Dare (Leftfield Environmental) (Cpt Paul Collis-Smith)*
2. Llanrug (Paul Hughes)*
3. Ebbw Valley (Gareth Ritter)
4. BTM (Jeff Hutcherson)
5. Tylorstown (Gary Davies)
6. Markham & District (Matthew Rowe)
7. Lewis Merthyr (Craig Roberts)
8. Mid Rhondda (Thomas Coaches) (Alan Gibbs)
9. Deiniolen (Lois Eifion)
10. Pontardulais Town (Paul Jenkins)
Best Instrumentalist: Andrea Lewis (flugel) — Parc & Dare
*Top two bands qualify for the National Final in Cheltenham