On what was to become a weekend of increasingly existential challenges away from the contest stage, NASUWT Riverside produced an imposing performance in Durham to claim the North of England Area title for the third time in four years.
Inspired by Black Dyke Director of Music, Prof Nicholas Childs, they stood in musical isolation from rivals after producing an outstanding performance of Philip Sparke's 'A Tale As Yet Untold'. It was a singular victory of superb communal effort.
It rounded of an event underpinned by a febrile sense of emotional determination at the Gala Theatre.
A statement issued by Brass Bands England before the Championships recommending that member bands did not take part was initially met with disgruntlement by the North of England Regional Committee.
That became undisguised anger when they were made aware of a second announcement on Sunday morning.
Even the joy of the newly crowned champion later the same day was tempered by the non-musical circumstances in which it was achieved, after four bands took the decision to withdraw for understandable reasons — three in the Third Section and one in the Championship Section.
However, before the announcement of the results, Regional Secretary Tony Griffiths gave an impassioned address. He was adamant official government advice had been followed and that those due to attend the event were informed of the advice and what proactive action was being taken. It was met with overwhelming support from the audience.
So was the identity of the new champion.
The musical challenges of Philip Sparke's daunting work were obvious and certainly well-known about before the weekend got underway.
At its close they were even more clearly defined, as NASUWT Riverside secured their fourth Area title success by a comfortable margin. It was a class apart.
The trio of fancied title contenders were drawn together in the seven band field (Harrogate withdrew), with NASUWT imposing the authority of their challenge from the detailed opening bars. Confidence oozed from every corner (they won the prizes for 'Best' soprano, basses and percussion) as the music flowed with controlled momentum.
Classy cadenza contributions and a touching chorale led to a tender close to the central emotional core before the MD allowed his band to romp to the close, the last bar putting a thumping exclusion zone seal that could not be penetrated by the best efforts of their rivals.
After winning the Grand Shield and heading the regional representatives at Brass in Concert last year, NASUWT Riverside is now the dominant force in the North of England. This equally imposing victory reinforced that even further.
"I really enjoy working with the band," Prof Childs (who now has an incredible 36 Area titles to his name) told 4BR. "Their determination and work ethic is matched by their attitude to improve and reach new levels of performance.
I felt that today for certain — they played with such confidence. I believe they can now step up to challenge at the highest level at major events."
The shifting axis of dominance has also seen City of Hull become an increasingly impressive top-flight force. A confident, rather robust approach under Stig Maesrk flowed with muscular intent, enhanced by some fine prize winning euphonium and trombone contributions along the way. They headed back to London for a second successive year as a band also on an upward trajectory.
In the close battle for qualification it was Reg Vardy that missed out on the Albert Hall for the second time in three years, after Russell Gray's intuitively crafted intentions were undermined by minor errors and blemishes, the awards for 'Best' principal cornet and baritone crumbs of comfort for supporters.
Adjudicators Sheona Wade and David Hirst were both specific and generous in their pre-results remarks: David saying that they had heard "seven creditable performances" with the key problem the consistency required throughout the three movements — the middle of which was the "main challenge".
Sheona meanwhile was full of praise for the soloists (with a special mention to the horn players) on what she said were "fiendishly difficult" cadenzas in the central part of a "brilliant piece".
With the top three clearly defined, there was an engaging battle behind them, with Fishburn eventually ending fourth with a well structured account led by Lee Skipsey.
Easington Colliery, Shepherd Group and Westoe found it harder going, their top-flight credentials tested to the full, although each emerged with credit thanks to the informed approach of their MDs.
On a day when isolation became a word of many meanings, thankfully for NASUWT Riverside it only related to the excellence of their title winning performance.
Tom Davoren's 'Legacy' once again proved to be a stern test of musical understanding in what was a closely contested First Section.
Adjudicators Sam Fisher and Sandy Smith were in no doubt of that; Sam saying there had been, "six varied performances, good and bad in their own right." And whilst he commended the readings by the MDs he also felt the performances "lacked consistency" and that "core band sound and production was lacking".
Sandy was as forthright, and whilst he admitted that the piece had received a "mixed reception"
when it was first announced, people had been surprised how it was "difficult to play" due to the unfamiliarity of the internal balances, considered dynamics and textures.
"Whether it was good preparation for the top section is a mute point" he said, before wryly adding, "If you are going to Cheltenham, then good luck".
For the duo, "one performance stood out"- and that came from Ripon City conducted with well engineered attention to detail by MD Mark Sidwell.
It was certainly a considered performance, perhaps not as overtly passionate as their nearest rivals, but one in the circumstances brought out the type of subtle changes in texture pace and balance that the judges were looking for.
The band's third Area title, as they returned to Cheltenham for a second successive year, was aided by the excellent contributions of their 'best' trombone and basses.
They will be joined there by York Railway Institute, as David Lancaster used his years of experience to mould a persuasive account to claim a qualification berth for the first time since 2014.
Just missing out though for a second year in a row was Kirbymoorside Town, as Sarah Woodward led an informed account (helped by a fine 'best' percussion section), whilst behind them North Skelton, Houghton and GT Group Peterlee gave performances that mirrored the inconsistencies described by the judges, despite the fine musical intentions of the conductors.
The opening contest of the weekend saw nine bands battle for the two qualification places on offer for mastering the tricky stylistic challenges posed by Kit Turnbull's Napoleonic inspired, 'The Golden Sabre'.
They certainly gave it a good go; plenty of bravura playing sprinkled with passion, pathos, melancholy and triumphalism.
Sheona Wade and Sandy Smith were also impressed by what they had heard and congratulated the contenders on their efforts — with a "clear winner" as well as second and third. Sheona felt that the biggest problem that came across in the box was poor intonation, whilst Sandy highlighted the trouble caused by the dislocated 10/8 rhythms.
The identity of that clear winner was eventually revealed as Cockerton, after they provided a stylish, well paced account under MD Andrew Hunter.
The clear cut nature of their victory was reinforced by them also claiming awards for 'best' euphonium, soprano and basses. It was a team effort led by an excellent MD — one that resulted in an 8th Area title in their 150th year.
Delighted to be joining them in Cheltenham for a first time was Durham Miners Association — whose history can be traced back to just 2009 with the amalgamation of Broughtons and Hetton Silver. Their qualification came from a determined rendition from the number 1 draw that repelled the immediate challenge of a strongly defined account from third placed Felling.
Behind them came performances of character and energy, but also of technical inconsistencies. However, there was still much to enjoy though from NASUWT Concert, Dunston Silver and Ashington Colliery who filled the remaining top-six places as well as the determined renditions from Ferryhill Town and Bearpark & Esh.
With three bands withdrawing from the Third Section on Sunday morning, the contest start was delayed until 11.00am.
The latest Coronavirus news notwithstanding, five bands still took to the stage, their performances full of the type of fortitude, determination and selfless endeavour that marked Ernest Shackleton's epic journey to safety across the icy seas of the Antarctic Ocean.
There was little doubt that one band stood out — although the rest certainly impressed adjudicators Sam Fisher and Sarah Groarke-Booth, who said that the overall standard was "generally good" in taking informed risks with dynamics to try and create the character of what Sam called "a mature piece of music".
And whilst they did highlight problems with intonation (the muted opening section in particular) and with balance through the rather unfamiliar chord structures, the successful bands "did really well". They had no problems however in selecting their winner or qualification runner-up.
Tewit Silver produced a simply outstanding performance — one led with focused enthusiasm by their inspirational MD, Martin Hall.
It was hard to think of a band around the country that could have played it with such attention to detail, precise rhythmic control and balanced ensemble tonality. The main soloists were confident and artistic (with awards going to the principal cornet and percussion), enabling the storyline to be evoked with an atmosphere that sent an icy chill down the spine.
Tewit has now been victorious on its last eight contesting outings — including a National title in 2019 and back to back Area successes. They will head to Cheltenham as one of the favourites to make it a 'double' there. They are one heck of a band.
Another band to watch out for though will be East Riding of Yorkshire as they secured their first National Final appearance since 2014 thanks to a compact performance that was securely delivered. Although it didn't quite have the same level of overall ensemble confidence it was playing of boldness and understanding led by MD Frank Hoyland.
Just behind them came a fine effort from Trimdon Concert, whilst both Jayess Newbiggin and Cleethorpes emerged from their stern challenges with immense credit.
The story of Peter Pan and his friends adventures to 'Neverland' has become a timeless literary classic — one which has been enjoyed by readers both young and old.
And after being performed so well around the country this year, Christopher Bond's super test-piece has had the same effect. The youngest performer here was aged 8, the oldest 89. The age demographic of those listening at the Gala Theatre was much the same.
Its success has been in no small part to the quality of its compositional structure; the three movements telling the tale with a defined sense of character; from the mysterious opening and central section of melancholic longing to the darkly exciting finale aboard the pirate ship of Captain Hook.
All seven bands were well matched; each giving judges Sarah Groarke Booth and Alan Bourne plenty to think about in making their decision.
Both spoke of getting the "fundamentals" right; intonation, precision, balance and tonality. Alan said that he apologised if bands felt his remarks were critical in any way, but they were written to give a constructive foundation for future improvement.
Sarah noted that there was "no outstanding winner" as all the performances had their "inconsistencies". However all had tried to bring the storyline to life — and that what was the key to what she said was "a great score".
The eventual winner was Easingwold Town conducted by Alistair Shipman, who will be joined at Cheltenham by Spennymoor Town.
Easingwold was founded in 1901, three years before J.M. Barrie wrote Peter Pan, and had returned to the regional contest for the first time in 33 years. Their first Area title success came from a performance that was settled and colourful, with every player adding to the overall picture (including youngest player Catherine Featherstone).
Meanwhile, Spennymoor (formed somewhat later in 1982) confirmed the solid progress they have been making under Fiona Casewell in the past year or so (they were runner-up at Butlins in January) as they secured their Cheltenham berth for a second time in three years with an admirably delivered account aided by the contribution of principal cornet Beth Johnson.
Behind them came well worked accounts from Backworth Colliery (with 'Best Euphonium' Michael McKenzie on super form) as well as from Billingham Silver, Penrith Town, Craghead Colliery and Marske.
On a weekend when demands changed almost by the hour, Tony Griffiths and his team did a superb job in the most challenging of circumstances.
What the future brings (including the National Finals) is now open to question, but there was little doubt that the overwhelming feeling of those present was that the Regional Committee had taken the right decisions from the right advice.
I felt that today for certain — they played with such confidence. I believe they can now step up to challenge at the highest level at major eventsProf Nicholas Childs
Test Piece: A Tale as Yet Untold (Philip Sparke)
Adjudicators: Sheona Wade & David Hirst
1. NASUWT Riverside (Prof. Nicholas J Childs)*
2. City of Hull (Stig Maersk)*
3. Reg Vardy (Russell Gray)
4. Fishburn (Lee Skipsey)
5. Easington Colliery (Daniel Brooks)
6. Shepherd Group (Richard Wilton)
7. Westoe (Aidan Hodgson)
Withdrawn: Harrogate (Leigh Baker)
Best Soprano: Phil Tait (NASUWT Riverside)
Best Principal Cornet: Reg Vardy
Best Euphonium: Melanie Ornsby (City of Hull)
Best Trombone: City of Hull
Best Baritone Reg Vardy
Best Tubas: NASUWT Riverside
Best Percussion: NASUWT Riverside
*Qualify for National Final
Test Piece: Legacy (Tom Davoren)
Adjudicators: Sandy Smith & Sam Fisher
1. Ripon City (Mark Sidwell)*
2. York Railway Institute (David Lancaster)*
3. Kirkbymoorside Town (Sarah Woodward)
4. North Skelton Band (Stephen Craig)
5. Houghton (Bryan Adams)
6. GT Peterlee (John Roberts)
Best Trombone: Ripon City
Best Basses: Ripon City
Best Percussion: Kirkbymoorside Town
Test Piece: The Golden Sabre — Tales of the Hussar-Poet, Denis Davydov (Kit Turnbull)
Adjudicators: Sandy Smith & Sheona Wade
1. Cockerton (Andrew Hunter)*
2. Durham Miners (Stuart Gray)*
3. Felling (Jason Smith)
4. NASUWT Concert (Andrew Hall)
5. Dunston Silver (Fraser Hodgson)
6. Ashington Colliery (Nigel Stedman)
7. Barton Community (Gary Oglesby)
8. Ferryhill Town (Tom Madsison)
9. Bearpark & Esh Colliery (Philip Tait)
Best Euphonium: Dave Hodgson (Cockerton)
Best Soprano: Beth Marston (Cockerton)
Best Basses: Cockerton
*Qualify for National Final
Test Piece: Endurance (Andrew Baker)
Adjudicators: Sam Fisher & Sarah Groarke-Booth
1. Tewit Silver (Martin Hall)*
2. East Riding of Yorkshire (Frank Hoyland)*
3. Trimdon Concert (William Harrison)
4. Jayess Newbiggin (Helen Douthwaite-Teasdale)
5. Cleethorpes (Brian Harper)
Ellington Colliery (Clare Winter)
Knaresborough (Nicolas Garret)
Swinton & District (Robin Rutter)
Best Percussion: Tewit Silver
Best Cornet: Owen Jones (Tewit Silver)
*Qualify for National Final
Test Piece: Neverland (Christopher Bond)
Adjudicators: Sarah Groarke-Booth & Alan Bourne
1. Easingwold Town (Alistair Shipman)*
2. Spennymoor Town (Fiona Casewell)*
3. Backworth Colliery (Calum Hartwell)
4. Billingham Silver (Vaughan Evans)
5. Penrith Town (Ian Butterworth)
6. Craghead Colliery (Steven Goddard)
7. Marske (James Chisholm)
Best Principal Cornet: Beth Johnson (Spennymoor Town)
Best Euphonium: Michael MacKenzie (Backworth Colliery)
Youngest Player: Catherine Featherstone (Easingwold)
*Qualify for National Final