For the fourth time in five years Black Dyke lifted the People Challenge Cup in triumph as they won the Yorkshire Regional title imbued with air of supreme self-confidence.
It was their 23rd Area success and the eighth under Director of Music, Prof Nicholas Childs. Rivals should beware — a rejuvenated Queensbury band is back to being close to its very best again.
Clear and defined
There was no doubting the quality of the battle to be crowned Yorkshire Champion; their victory on Philip Sparke's, 'A Tale As Yet Untold' emerging from a contest described as "thrilling at the top end of the market" by adjudicator Nigel Boddice MBE, although compatriot Garry Cutt later told 4BR that the winner was "clear and defined."
Behind them Carlton Main Frickley maintained their fine Area record as led by Allan Withington they qualified for the Albert Hall for the second successive year, whilst there was joy for Hepworth as they booked their place in Kensington Gore for the first time since 2011 under Ryan Watkins.
However, defending champion Brighouse & Rastrick's elegantly inspired title defence was somewhat undermined after their rep plucked out Kelly's Eye. Serendipity went AWOL as Prof David King's persuasive interpretation could only manage fourth — their only good fortune, their pre-qualification.
After that it was a somewhat unpredictable 'tale' of contesting intentions and outcomes.
Elland Silver's remarkable rise to the top echelons of Yorkshire banding gained further endorsement as they secured fifth conducted by Danny Brooks, whilst City of Bradford, a band that has also enjoyed a meteoric ascent under inspirational MD Lee Skipsey, took sixth.
Meanwhile, the ensemble vibrancy and solo line hutzpah displayed by Hatfield & Askern Colliery (with horn player Scott Bennett taking the 'Best Instrumentalist' award) and Skelmanthorpe, saw them end seventh and eighth.
In contrast, Rothwell's trademark boldness was pockmarked with expensive errors, whilst Hammonds artisan consistency, considered, but paler in colouring, failed to make the same impression in the box as it did with many in the hall.
The anticipation surrounding Grimethorpe's appearance on stage was soon dissipated with a performance seemingly borne of negotiation rather than imposition — a frustrating melange of individuality than communal purpose, whilst Strata, Crofton and Drighlington displayed layers of determination like slabs of Yorkshire limestone to steer their way through an immense test of their top-flight credentials.
The bone-fide qualifications of the new champion were unquestionable though, as the succinct written remarks from the judges endorsed Black Dyke's title success.
"So much to admire in this" Garry Cutt wrote in picking out the "wow factor!" in the first movement, the "lovely atmosphere" created in the second and the "great drive" in the finale.
Nigel Boddice called it "high class playing from a high class band, so well prepared and executed, all so integrated — perc included. Great listening — so much detail."
"The Yorkshire title is always one we want to say we hold," the winning MD told 4BR as his players celebrated with a well rehearsed chorus of "We've won our trophy back".
He also picked up the Roy Newsome Trophy as the winning conductor, whilst Richard Marshall once again claimed the 'Best Principal Cornet' prize.
"I ask so much of the players and each time they deliver," Prof Childs added. "The changes we've had in personnel have added extra quality in the past year or so, but of course, when you have players like Richard on hand it's a joy. He's a remarkable musician."
The contest may not have been as memorable as some over the years, but it was certainly engrossing; from Brighouse & Rastrick's refined interpretation to open to Carlton Main's lucidly evocative rendition (with a wonderful 'Best Soloist' contribution from euphonium player Toni Howden) to round things off some six hours later.
In between the challenges came and went; the edgy dynamic enforcement of City of Bradford, Elland's vibrancy balanced by a central core of tender eloquence and Hepworth's confident artistry that contrasted with their zealous technical enthusiasm.
Qualities and mistakes
The judges knew what they wanted; Garry Cutt and Nigel Boddice giving precise pre-results remarks that touched on the qualities required, as well as the mistakes that were encapsulated in the process of their decision making.
Those included the "majestic" rather than "direct" tonality required in the first movement, the quality of "some fantastic soloists" and "colour and balance" in the central section, and the defined characteristic of the 6/8 meter which should have treated been like a "dance" in a "fleeting" finale.
To varying degrees of quality Hatfield and Skelmanthorpe, Strata, Crofton and Drighlington gave of their all, leaving the scent of adrenaline in the air as they left the stage; Hammonds, Rothwell and Grimethorpe sniffed disconsolately at their fates.
And whilst it may remain debatable if Yorkshire does have 14 bands of true Championship status (three will be relegated) there is little doubt that in Black Dyke they have a new champion worthy of the accolade against any opposition.
The culmination of 30 years of personal musical endeavour underpinned Unite the Union's success in winning the Yorkshire First Section title for a seventh time since 1995.
It was also one marked by a special memorial endorsement, as MD John Davis claimed the Graham O'Connor Trophy as the winning conductor in leading the band back to Cheltenham for the first time since 2017. Joining them there will be Knottingley Silver.
John made his Area debut in 1991, and at a local contest soon after his youthful talent was spotted by Graham who made the point of telling the audience that he was a conductor to watch out for. From that point on the two became friends until Graham's death in 2013.
"The win is fantastic," he said. "But the special part is to be presented with Graham's trophy.
That's made this a day to remember. The band was brilliant and did all that was required on such a tricky work; taking care and giving attention to detail, balance and colour. So for those efforts to be recognised by the judges was very satisfying (principal cornet Greg Timmins won the 'Best Soloist' prize).
That was shown in both the pre-results remarks and the written adjudications of Nigel Boddice and Steve Pritchard-Jones.
"There was a need for blend, atmosphere and emotiveness, especially in the middle section," Nigel said. "It should have been a descriptive musical journey — refinement all the way. No need to be over dramatic or heavy duty."
Steve also pinpointed texture and blend: "We looked at the overall consistency of performances — sounds beings organised and balanced. It's a very controlled piece of music."
That was endorsed in the written observations; Nigel summing his up for the winner by simply stating they had produced a "very good display", whilst Steve called it "a performance of merit" with "excellent musical moments".
Tom Davoren's 'Legacy' certainly contained its fair share of moments that required thoughtfulness and appreciation of texture, dynamic and balance, although it was apparent that many MDs had taken note of what had been said about the piece by judges at Blackpool and Swansea.
It was Knottingley's flowing account under Kevin Belcher that eventually caught the judge's ears (aided by their 'Best Euphonium', Elizabeth Wood) to secure their first Cheltenham spot since 2014, whilst just missing out was the much fancied South Yorkshire Police conducted by Leigh Baker (aided by 'Best Soprano' contribution of Claire Jenkins.
Elsewhere, some questionable tempo choices, especially in the third movement put pay to qualification chances, although there was plenty to enjoy from top-six finishers Stannington Brass, Horbury Victoria and Yorkshire Imperial.
Others though found the work something of a struggle, or that their efforts didn't quite resonate in the box as they did with listeners in the hall.
If ever there was a conductor perfectly suited to being a brass band version of the swashbuckling sabre wielding hussar poet Denis Davydov, then it is surely Lee Skipsey of BD1 Brass.
He led his band to the Second Section title with such a flourish that all that was missing for the musical picture to be complete was for the last chord of their performance of 'The Golden Sabre' to be followed by the canon fire of an encore from the '1812 Overture'.
Little wonder the judges, David Hirst and Sarah Groarke-Booth were full of praise in their remarks.
"...the band was on top of the music," David wrote in his summing up, whilst Sarah added that they had produced, "some very fine playing. Lovely detail and ensemble sounds"on an interpretation that was "well thought out".
It was a cracker — one made the more impressive by the quality of the opposition.
A fine rendition from Hebden Bridge claimed a first Cheltenham appearance since 2013, whilst a deliberately paced Hade Edge just missed out followed by excellent top-six finishers Dronfield Genquip, Rockingham and Barnsley Brass.
All drew performances rich in colour and character; from the opening bugle calls to the triumphant Borodino climax. And whilst some struggled with transitional connections between the cameo variations, all developed the musical storyline with stylistic nuance.
None though could quite match the winner — one that David said had been "full of quality", whilst to a murmur of appreciation, he added that the overall standard had been "much better than Wales".
Both judges also remarked on the quality of the soloists, although Sarah did point out that some of the piano playing "was a bit hefty" and that work had to be done to make "wider not direct sounds" at the highest dynamic levels.
Call to arms
No such problems with BD1, as they opened with a call to arms that rallied Lee Skipsey's youthful troops.
The after it was playing of maturity and character led by 'Best Instrumentalist' award winning trombonist Matt Douglas. By the time they got to the close, the band was galloping to Cheltenham faster than Napoleon on Desert Orchid.
"It's a brilliant result," their MD said as he also became the first recipient of the Stuart Fawcett Trophy as the winning conductor.
"It's been a great piece to work on and all players have been drawn into the story it told. We knew we had to get the character out of the music to make it work and I'm thrilled by the way the band did just that. I loved conducting it!"
And with that he joined his triumphant troops for a night of post-battle celebrations...
11 bands displayed the inherent virtues of Yorkshire grit, fortitude and determination as they tackled Andrew Baker's evocative test-piece on Sunday morning.
'Endurance' has already proved to be as daunting a musical challenge as that which befell Ernest Shackleton on his trek to safety across Antarctic ice and sea, although unlike him, for winners Kippax and their inspirational helmsman Stephen Tighe, this was no pyrrhic success: It was a splendid defence of their title.
Endorsement not only came from the judges David Hirst and Steve Pritchard Jones, but also from composer Andrew Baker. He gave a wonderful speech prior to the results — one which highlighted not only his admiration for all the competitors, but what he had wanted to hear from them in tackling his work.
He talked about style and inspiration — from unconventional tonality to Butterworth and Sibelius, as well as the way in which he hoped conductors would stick to the score after he had "agonised" over accents, and the use of the pausa fermata as a "clutch" to allow a change in tempo pacing.
It was a brilliant cameo of thoughtfulness — and one that fortunately reflected the opinions of the judges, who in turn talked of "consistency" and the ability to showcase the "different styles and transitions" in the music.
Kippax did that and more as their experienced MD evoked the mini-chapters of mystery, enthusiasm, coldness, anxiety, bleakness and vastness with mature appreciation.
Helped by the excellence of the balance and texture of the ensemble and confident soloists (led by prize winning principal cornet Nigel Darbyshire) they claimed victory, their second in a row, in the most commanding manner.
The judge's remarks bore out their appreciation. "Well done MD. A good performance where you captured the music" wrote David Hirst, whilst Steve Pritchard-Jones said it was "a performance of merit with many fine musical aspects."
"Delighted!" was Stephen's singular response as he accepted the trophy as the winning conductor. "It's a super band with super people that makes it a joy to conduct."
Joining Kippax on what should be a journey of less arduous endeavour to get to Cheltenham, will be Lofthouse 2000 who produced a confident, coherent account under Andrew Whitaker to come a deserved runner-up, whilst Garry Hallas ended his conducting tenure with Emley with a fine third place finish.
The remaining top-six places went to Maltby Miners (whose delighted trio took the 'Best Percussion' award), Dinnington (who also had two wonderful percussionists) and Gawthorpe Brass '85'.
A super Fourth Section contest saw eight bands bring a touch of 'Neverland' magic to Saturday morning in Huddersfield.
Christopher Bond's test-piece was a delight — helping not hindering the bands in mastering the basics as well as giving the confidence to add an extra sprinkling of Tinkerbell sparkle thanks to the sympathetic direction of their MDs.
The best came from Linthwaite — a band with a history that stretches back way before J. M Barrie's book featuring the adventures in 'Neverland' was first published in 1904.
In fact, they were already well into middle age and had a British Open title to its name (1874), although in the last few years they have battled between the Fourth and Third Sections, with this victory their first Yorkshire title since 2012.
Led with never ending encouragement by their MD Matthew Pilcher they also won off the number 1 draw from rivals Barnsley Metropolitan, who returned to Cheltenham for a second successive year under MD Alex Francis.
"It's my first contest as a conductor", Matthew admitted to 4BR as he enjoyed holding the Yorkshire Area trophy in his hands. "Six months ago we were struggling with just 12 players, so my thanks go to those who have stayed and those who have joined. All the credit goes to them."
Credit for his efforts though came from the judges; Richard Marshall thanking them for "an enjoyable start to the day!" and Duncan Stubbs highlighting their "good sound and balance" right from the opening bars.
Just missing out on this occasion was an impressive Garforth Brass ahead of Dodworth Colliery (whose euph player Paul Robinson took the 'Best Instrumentalist' prize), Friendly Band (Sowerby Bridge) and Loxley Silver, in a contest that certainly endorsed the judge's opinion that it had been "difficult to separate" performances that required "consistency"and "precision"to "tell a story".
As Richard Marshall said; "We had a great morning, helped by this piece. All credit to the competitors and well done the MDs."
And with the Yorkshire Regional Committee once again offering a warm welcome, superb catering and a contest timetable of Swiss precision, Huddersfield Town Hall was a hive of commitment, dedication and excellence.
Their bands also did them proud too.
"The Yorkshire title is always one we want to say we hold," the winning MD told 4BR as his players celebrated with a well rehearsed chorus of "We've won our trophy back"4BR
Test Piece: A Tale as Yet Untold (Philip Sparke)
Adjudicators: Nigel Boddice MBE and Garry Cutt
1. Black Dyke (Prof Nicholas Childs)*
2. Carlton Main Frickley Colliery (Allan Withington)**
3. Hepworth (Ryan Watkins)**
4. Brighouse & Rastrick (Prof David King)*
5. Elland Silver (Daniel Brooks)
6. City of Bradford (Lee Skipsey)
7. Hatfield & Askern Colliery (Stanley Lippeatt)
8. Skelmanthorpe (Martin Heartfield)
9. Rothwell Temperance (David Roberts)
10. Hammonds (Morgan Griffiths)
11. Grimethorpe Colliery (Dr. David Thornton)
12. Strata (Jonathan Bates)
13. Crofton Silver (Dean Jones)
14. Drighlington (Neil Robinson)
Withdrawn: Old Silkstone
*Black Dyke and Brighouse & Rastrick pre-qualified for the National Final
**Qualify for the National Final
Best Principal Cornet: Richard Marshall (Black Dyke)
Best Soloist: Toni Howden (Euphonium) â€” Carlton Main Frickley
Best Instrumentalist: Scott Bennett (Horn) â€” Hatfield & Askern Colliery
Youngest Player: Rhys Stokes (Strata Brass) aged 11
Test Piece: Legacy (Tom Davoren)
Adjudicators: Nigel Boddice MBE and Steve Pritchard-Jones
1. Unite the Union (John Davis)*
2. Knottingley Silver (Kevin Belcher)*
3. South Yorkshire Police (Leigh Baker)
4. Stannington Brass (Derek Renshaw)
5. Horbury Victoria (Duncan Beckley)
6. Yorkshire Imperial Band (Garry Hallas)
7. Marsden Silver (Andrew Lofthouse)
8. Wakefield Metropolitan (Martin Hall)
9. Lindley (Mike Golding)
10. Chapeltown Silver (Sam Fisher)
*Qualify for National Final
Best Soprano: Claire Jenkins (South Yorkshire Police)
Best Euphonium: Elizabeth Wood (Knottingley Silver)
Best Solo Cornet: Greg Timmins (Unite the Union)
Test Piece: The Golden Sabre — Tales of the Hussar-Poet, Denis Davydov (Kit Turnbull)
Adjudicators: David Hirst and Sarah Groarke-Booth
1. BD1 Brass (Lee Skipsey)*
2. Hebden Bridge (David Hamilton)*
3. Hade Edge (Jamie Smith)
4. Dronfield Genquip (Damian Wileman)
5. Rockingham (Adam Whittle)
6. Barnsley Brass (William Rushworth)
7. Meltham & Meltham Mills (Tom Haslam)
8. Slaithwaite (Matthew Hindle)
9. Wetherby & District Silver (Derek Warley)
*Qualify for National Final
Best Instrumentalist: Matt Douglas (trombone) — BD1
Youngest Player: Solomon Woodcock (Hade Egde ) — aged 11
Sunday 8th March
Test Piece: Endurance â€” narrative variations for brass band (Andrew Baker)
Adjudicators: David Hirst and Steve Pritchard-Jones
1. Kippax (Stephen Tighe)*
2. Lofthouse 2000 (Andrew Whitaker)*
3. Emley Brass (Garry Hallas)
4. Maltby Miners Welfare (Terry Clifford)
5. Dinnington Colliery (Jonathan Beatty)
6. Gawthorpe Brass '85 (John Edward)
7. Clifton & Lightcliffe (John Clay)
8. Huddersfield & Ripponden (Adam Bell)
9. Oughtibridge (Gavin Somerset)
10. Deepcar Brass (Cathryn O'Shea)
11. Armthorpe Elmfield (Raymond Kilcoyne)
*Qualify for National Final
Best Instrumentalist: Nigel Darbyshire (cornet) — Kippax
Best Percussion: Maltby Miners
Youngest Player: Rhiannon Catley aged 11 of Maltby Miners
Test Piece: Neverland (Christopher Bond)
Adjudicators: Richard Marshall and Duncan Stubbs
1. Linthwaite (Matthew Pilcher)*
2. Barnsley Metropolitan (Alex Francis)*
3. Garforth Brass (John Thompson)
4. Dodworth Colliery MW (Eliot J Darwin)
5. Friendly Band (Sowerby Bridge) (James Beecham)
6. Loxley Silver (Richard Windle)
7. Clifton & Lightcliffe B (Michael Silson)
8. Thurcroft Welfare (Matthew Wright)
*Qualify for National Final
Best Instrumentalist: Paul Robinson (euphonium) — Dodworth Colliery MW
Best Percussion: Garforth Brass
Youngest Player: Edward Hall (Thurcroft Welfare) — aged 10