A battle between two "world class" bands rounded off an absorbing Welsh Regional Championships in Swansea, as Tredegar retained the Championship Section title ahead of Cory.
Ian Porthouse inspired his players to produce a stunning rendition of 'A Tale As Yet Untold' to claim the accolade for a 13th time and book their place at the Royal Albert Hall in October. They will now represent the nation at the 2021 European Championships in Sweden.
Joining the duo in London for the first time will be Llwydcoed, who topped a decade long rise to the top echelons of Welsh banding by claiming the second qualification place on offer from judges Alan Morrison and David Hirst.
"We've come to expect a superb standard at the very top here," Alan said before the announcement of the results. "And we got it with some world class playing. The general standard is as good as anything in the country, but at the top it was exceptional."
The difference between the two heavyweights who have claimed the title all but once since the year 2000 was alluded to by Alan in his comprehensive remarks about Philip Sparke's, "superbly crafted piece".
In highlighting the need for "accuracy, detail and precision" in the opening section and the ability to engineer "seamless links between lines and fragments" in the finale, he also added that the second movement "...needs musicality and shape. Too much and it becomes musically incorrect. Go over the top and it spoils it."
To those who sat in the clear acoustic of Swansea University's impressive Great Hall to hear a brace of superbly constructed, but musically divergent interpretations, that gave the crucial indication that it was to be Ian Porthouse's supple approach that linked a superb series of cadenzas, rather than Philip Harper's more malleable shaping, that found favour in the box.
Alan's comments were certainly backed up by his written remarks, summing up his observations that Tredegar had produced, "Superb playing throughout from all concerned and a very musical account."
Meanwhile, David Hirst added that they were, "A band in total command of the music with excellent leadership from the MD."
Their tenor horn Ross Dunne deservedly took the 'Best Instrumentalist' accolade for playing that elicited a "wow!!" description from the judges for his cadenza work, whilst Cory's Tom Hutchinson took the 'Best Principal Cornet' trophy. Tredegar's tuba quartet retained the 'Best Basses' award.
"We've been building towards a performance like this for a while now," Ian Porthouse told 4BR.
"The work ethic is incredible and the desire to keep improving pushes me on too. It's a great piece that asks such demanding all-round questions, so to give a performance like that was very satisfying.
The players get a few days to celebrate and then it's back to working on the European pieces for Palanga. At this level to beat the very best you can't waste any time in preparation."
Cory supporters will undoubtedly agree with that sentiment, with Philip Harper and his band perhaps even more determined to once again re-impose their credentials at the Europeans and beyond after failing to regain the one trophy that has eluded them in the past two years.
Here they were beaten after giving a performance that few could fault in terms of execution, but whose approach in the central section didn't capture the fancy of the all important arbiters the box.
Alan Morrison had earlier spoken of a "close kind of results table in different ways". It was an accurate description of what was in reality two contests in one, as a delighted Llwydcoed secured their Albert Hall debut by beating the determined challenges of City of Cardiff, Tongwynlais Temperance, Northop and Ebbw Valley.
Their representative Kevin Johnson, who has been the beating heart of their development over the last decade, was speechless as he accepted third prize and that priceless Albert Hall invite after MD Chris Turner drew a confidently but passionately controlled performance from his charges.
It was also just reward for their inspirational conductor- and could now be capped by making it a double at the Grand Shield in May. In a fine touch of contesting comradeship the band returned after the results to have their pictures taken on stage accompanied by applause from Tredegar players.
Behind the qualifiers, City of Cardiff were perhaps left to rue a finale that just lost its cohesive control as they impressed many to just miss out in fourth, whilst it was good to hear Tongwynlais re-building solidly once more to end fifth.
Disappointment for Northop though, as inconsistencies robbed the north Wales band of the chance to return to London for a second successive year, whilst there was an encouraging top flight debut for Ebbw Valley.
No further encouragement required for the new champion though, as Ian Porthouse and his band look forward to major championship appearances with a desire to build further on an outstanding display of contesting form.
Four years of "patience, hard work, pride and determination" paid off for BTM Band in winning the First Section title: That and a well-structured appreciation of the 'Legacy' score by conductor Jeff Hutcherson.
Once again the piece exposed competitors to unfamiliar musical elements employed by Tom Davoren's clever use of texture, colour and dynamic balance to create a triptych story-line — something that Alan Morrison (joined by Jonathan Pippen) pinpointed in his analytical pre-results remarks.
Special kind of challenge
"This is a special kind of challenge," he said in highlighting the need for dynamic control in the first movement, an appreciation of "basic fundamentals of good brass band playing"
in the second, and "dynamic control and precision in the ensemble" in the finale.
It was an exemplary precis that once again highlighted the strengths and weaknesses in the appreciation as well as execution of the composer's intentions from the seven conductors and their bands.
In the end it was BTM's performance that according to Alan had "...so much to commend here with well controlled dynamic levels that allowed that music to come through effectively", and which Jonathan Pippen added was "well balanced", that won the day — and gave them their first Regional title success since 1993.
Worth waiting for
No wonder their thrilled MD told 4BR it was a victory "worth waiting for!"
Jeff Hutcherson has enjoyed a lifelong association with BTM since his days as a young flugel player, and is now spearheading their renaissance with an emphasis on home grown talent developed through the organisation's ranks.
"Four years of patience, hard work, pride and determination," he added. "They are such a great bunch and BTM through and through. I can't describe how proud I am of them all."
There was also delight for Tylorstown, as Garry Davies led them back to the National Final for the first time since their 2013 Cheltenham victory, as the battle for the qualification saw the judges having to choose between accounts of misplaced vibrancy and raw excitement against those displaying dynamic control and tempered musicality, but more inconsistent execution.
That resulted in the flow and tonal warmth of Tylorstown's approach eventually finding favour ahead of the more strident, confident verve of Deiniolen (led by their 'Best Instrumentalist' award winning principal cornet Dylan Williams).
Inconsistent renditions from Lewis Merthyr, Parc & Dare caught the ears of many listeners but not the judges, whilst Pontardulais never quite sounded at ease. Newly promoted Newport Borough made an encouraging debut on a test-piece that gave an accurate reflection of the true level of the nation's First Section banding.
Few though would disagree that it is good news that BTM is back to winning ways.
Wales will send two impressive contenders to Cheltenham to try and add to the total of seven Second Section titles already won there since the turn of the Millennium.
Leading the way will be Taff Vale, as they made it a hat-trick of regional victories with a commanding display of swashbuckling excellence on Kit Turnbull's colourful set-work.
After winning the Third Section in 2018 and 2019, they added their latest Area trophy to their collection in the most impressive manner under MD Gareth Ritter, providing the judges Nick Garman and David Hirst with a textbook piece of poetic musical storytelling packed full of drama, pathos and sabre edged precision.
"A really well managed and musical performance," wrote David, whilst Nick summed up his adjudication by saying that it displayed "such good storytelling".
Given that 'The Golden Sabre' was essentially a timeline story of the journey to Napoleon's triumph at the Battle of Borodino in 1812, that was the key to success — with Taff Vale's prize-winning percussion adding colour and effect and the MD topping it with stylistic nuance to enhance the confidently portrayed fundamental basics all around the stands.
Earlier Nick Garman told the audience that one band "had captured the story built on good basics", whilst David, although "a little disappointed" that certain elements of the piece such as the early 'Calmato' were not overcome successfully, felt the best bands had played the "rhythmic and quiet elements well".
"We keep working hard to improve," the winning conductor told 4BR. "We are ambitious but we also know just how hard it is at this level with these pieces. This piece challenged us, but I think it's done us good — and now we have Cheltenham to look forward to."
Joining them will be Abertillery Town, who secured a second National Final appearance in four years as conductor Alun F Williams used his years of experience to draw an evocative account (aided by 'Best Instrumentalist' John Jones on euphonium) from his troops.
There were also a number of engaging interpretations on show from the leading bands, with a solidly portrayed account from Markham & District just missing out in third, with the remaining top-six places going to well led renditions from Ammanford, Abergavenny Borough and Mid Rhondda (Thomas Coaches).
The opening battle of the weekend saw eight well-matched explorers tackle the Antarctic musical challenges posed by Andrew Baker's evocative test-piece.
Given that there was an icy chill that blew in off Swansea Bay, and that 'Endurance' has already proven to be a tough ask of ambitions, it was perhaps no surprise that the majority of the contenders had to rely on their own musical fortitude to successfully negotiate a safe passage to its final chord.
All delivered admirable efforts, although the winner, Seindorf Beaumaris was in a class of its own.
Led by Norwegian based Englishman Clive Zwanswiniski, theirs was a "clear winner"
according to adjudicator Jonathan Pippen, with fellow judge Glyn Williams saying that they were the one band that "did all the basics well and made sense of the music."
Their written remarks were equally effusive. "So much to commend," wrote Glyn, whilst Jonathan added that, "...the music made so much sense and well directed by the MD".
They were not wrong as the north Walians evoked the air of mystery to open (featuring a super 'Best Instrumentalist' contribution of baritone player Katherine Gaunt) leading into playing of rich tonality that in turn combined excitement, anxiety and ultimate triumph.
"It's been a real pleasure to work with the band," Clive said as he joined in the celebrations.
Gwyn Evans (their former MD) recommended me and I came over this week to find that Bari Gwilliam (sop player and bandmaster) had done a fantastic job in getting them ready.
I had an easy ride — so all the credit goes to Bari and the band for the hard work that has paid off."
Joining Beaumaris in Cheltenham will be Usk, as the former Fourth Section National champion produced a colourful and exciting account under Jamie Jones to repel the challenge of third placed Briton Ferry.
With the judges remarking that the clear hall acoustic meant that they heard "absolutely everything", inconsistencies and some nervousness cost points as the remaining top-six places went to Gwaun Cae Gurwen, Melingriffith 2 and RAF St Athan.
There were both uplifting signs of encouragement heard, as well as worrying indications of long term decline on view, in the Fourth Section on Sunday morning.
Victory for a delighted Cwmtawe Band, packed with youngsters and led with unbridled enthusiasm by MD Wayne Pedrick, as well as the qualification of Crosskeys Silver following the terrible damage caused to their bandroom by the recent floods in the south Wales valleys, gladdened the heart.
However, in contrast, the fragility of the grass roots was clear to see as the likes of Ogmore Valley Silver proudly took to the stage with just 16 players, whilst others were also short on numbers.
And whilst it was good to see Newbridge Celynen return after a decade away there was no denying the rather precarious display of health and well being of what compere and Welsh Regional Council Chairman Julian Jones quite rightly said was the future of Welsh banding.
What action can be agreed upon to encourage more bands to compete next year may well depend on the potential setting up of a new unified Welsh banding body, but for the time being, the future for both Cwmtawe and Crosskeys will be a trip to Cheltenham in September.
"This is just fantastic," winning MD Wayne Pedrick said as his young band started their celebrations after their vibrant account of 'Neverland' caught the ears of judges Nick Garman and Jonathan Pippen. "It's a bit of a dream come true — a first Welsh title. It's brilliant."
They in turn gave realistic appraisals of what they heard on the day — emphasising that their remarks were written in the context of being able to be used to further progress and development, as well as being a snapshot of a one off performance.
"I like this!... a very tidy and enjoyable performance," wrote Jonathan about Cwmtawe's vibrant approach, whilst Nick added that their performance contained, "some really good playing".
Close behind the winner came Crosskeys led by Cory euphonium player Sion Rhys Jones, with their malleable middle movement perhaps losing the essential pulse to the music the judges stated they were looking for.
A super effort from Seindorf Arian yer Oakeley eventually took third, just ahead of fellow north Walians Buckley Brass, whose excellent solo cornet player Heather Jones claimed the 'Best Instrumentalist' award.
All the remaining bands left with heads held high and with plenty of musical credit in the bank (with Northop Brass perhaps wondering what they got so wrong) as Christopher Bond's lovely test-piece, full of melody and well pitched challenges gave them all the chance to make the most of their limited resources (with a special mention to the percussion players).
However, it was perhaps a sign of the understanding from the audience of how important the success of developing a strong grass roots foundation to Welsh banding is, that the applause for 10 year old 'Youngest Player' Becca Hogg of Northop was almost as loud as that heard on the announcement of the winner.
Plaudits too for the Welsh Regional Council whose decision to bring the contest to a new venue proved a considerable success — and one which can also be built upon next year when the event will be held on the weekend of the 6th/7th March.
The work ethic is incredible and the desire to keep improving pushes me on too. It's a great piece that asks such demanding all-round questions, so to give a performance like that was very satisfyingIan Porthouse
Test Piece: A Tale as Yet Untold (Philip Sparke)
Adjudicators: David Hirst and Alan Morrison
1. Tredegar (Ian Porthouse)***
2. Cory (Philip Harper)*
3. Llwydcoed (Christopher Turner)**
4. City of Cardiff (Melingriffith) M1 (Christopher Bond)
5. Tongwynlais Temperance (Carl Saunders)
6. Northop Silver (John Doyle)
7. Ebbw Valley (Nigel Seaman)
***Qualify for National Final and to represent Wales at the 2021 European Championships
**Qualify for National Final
*Pre-qualified for National Final
Best Instrumentalist: Ross Dunne (horn) — Tredegar
Best Basses: Tredegar
Best Principal Cornet: Tom Hutchinson (Cory)
Test Piece: Legacy (Tom Davoren)
Adjudicators: Alan Morrison and Jonathan Pippen
1. BTM (Jeff Hutcherson)*
2. Tylorstown (Gary Davies)*
3. Deiniolen (Lois Eifion)
4. Lewis Merthyr (Craig Roberts)
5. Parc & Dare (Lewis Wilkinson)
6. Pontardulais Town (Paul Jenkins)
7. Newport Borough (Robin Hackett)
*Qualify for National Final
Best Instrumentalist: Dylan Williams (cornet) — Deiniolen
Test Piece: The Golden Sabre — Tales of the Hussar-Poet, Denis Davydov (Kit Turnbull)
Adjudicators: Nicholas Garmen and David Hirst
1. Taff Vale (Gareth Ritter)*
2. Abertillery Town (Alun F Williams)*
3. Markham & District (Jayne Thomas)
4. Ammanford Town Silver (Glyn Davies)
5. Abergavenny Borough (Lana Tingay)
6. Mid Rhondda (Thomas Coaches) (Alan Gibbs)
7. Royal Buckley Town (Keith Jones)
8. Seindorf Arian Crwbin (Andrew Jones)
9. Penclawdd (Tony Small)
10. Newtown Silver (Steve Edwards)
*Qualify for National Final
Best Instrumentalist: John Jones (euphonium) — Abertillery Town
Best Percussion: Taff Vale
Test Piece: Endurance (Andrew Baker)
Adjudicators: Jonathan Pippen and Glyn Williams
1. Seindorf Beaumaris (Clive Zwanswiniski)*
2. Usk (James Jones)*
3. Briton Ferry Silver (Jeff Pearce)
4. Gwaun Cae Gurwen (Robert Burnett)
5. Mellingriffith 2 (Martyn Ford)
6. RAF St Athan Voluntary (Alan Bourne)
7. Ynyshir (Dean Evans)
8. Severn Tunnel (Dan Dennis)
*Qualify for National Final
Best Instrumentalist: Katherine Gaunt (baritone) — Seindorf Beaumaris
Test Piece: Neverland (Christopher Bond)
Adjudicators: Nicholas Garmen and Jonathan Pippen
1. Cwmtawe (Wayne Pedrick)*
2. Crosskeys Silver (Sion Rhys Jones)*
3. Seindorf Arian yr Oakeley (Paul Wilson MBE)
4. Buckley Brass (Steve Pugh-Jones)
5. Oakdale Silver (Kerry Bowden)
6. Northop (Aled Williams)
7. Ogmore Valley Silver (Danny Stone)
8. Newbridge Celynen (Geraint Barnes)
*Qualify for National Final
Best Instrumentalist: Heather Jones (cornet) — Buckley Brass
Youngest Player: Becca Hogg (Northop) — aged 10