If this is to be the last Butlin's Open Brass Band Festival — temporarily or otherwise — then it was fitting that the most successful band in its 20 year history once more claimed its lucrative Championship Section title.
Flowers has enjoyed something of a 'monopoly' at Skegness since their first win in 2006 — this, their ninth, achieved appropriately enough with a reprise of their expertly conceived musical interpretation of the famous board game.
It set the seal on an imposing victory — one that left nothing to the vagaries of a 'chance' card to help fill their bank balance with a bumper payday of £12,000 in prize money.
Over the years they have won well over £80,000 here: No wonder MD Paul Holland could afford to throw a few fake fivers in the air as they rounded off their set to claim the ornate Warwick Vase, as well as take the silverware for the 'Most Entertaining Performance' and 'Winner of the Set Work'.
That came courtesy of an outstanding rendition of 'Paganini Variations' on Saturday afternoon; packed with colour, contrast and forensically calibrated precision. 24 hours later they did the same with the reprise of their Brass in Concert set — energised and witty, polished in choreography and delivered with high class musical authority.
The quality of their soloists was also marked, with Jamie Smith claiming the Geoff Dove Soloists Challenge Trophy for his wonderful rendition of 'St Paul's from Fleet Street' in their entertainment set.
Unfortunately, a mistake in the results monitoring saw the award given elsewhere, so it wasn't until after the event that is was rectified.
Despite the best efforts of their rivals — notably runner-up Desford Colliery — they were the length of Park Lane ahead come the results.
The only disappointment is that Flowers can't take this form into what would have been the rearranged British Open.
They now have all the major title winning credentials firmly set in place; a huge dynamic range, malleable tonality, high class soloists bubbling with confidence and an MD who commands with a considered appreciation of musical and technical balance.
Thankfully that is a contest that will return in September.
"I'm delighted," Paul Holland told 4BR before a long night of celebrations started. "We played so well on both days.
We're really determined to make a mark this year. 'Paganini' is a great piece to work on — a tour de force to showcase our talents, and we knew we would enjoy bringing our 'Monopoly' set here as the audience really gets behind the entertainment you provide."
He added: "I can't ask for anything more from the players. Brass in Concert was great and we've been eager to get on stage ever since.
We were confident we could do well at the British Open, but we have the Area to look forward to where we want to regain the title and then lots of projects. Butlin's has been good to us and we hope we are able to return again."
Decent run for the money
Desford Colliery, the only other current British Open band, gave Flowers a very decent run for their money.
Notably for many neutrals at the Centre Stage venue, it was a clearly defined, high quality 'Paganini Variations' that owed a much to the cerebral approach of MD Mike Fowles as it did the cool headed execution of his players that impressed in contrasting delivery to the defending champion.
Perhaps the judges Steve Sykes and Stephen Roberts felt it lacked a touch of passion and devilish flair, as they eventually placed it behind GUS Band into third. They could count themselves a little unlucky.
Desford's entertainment set was also somewhat 'traditional' in comparison to Flowers — reliant on the quality of performance rather than any innovative presentation. It was a fascinating comparison though; from the high impact 'Living Power' from Tom Davoren to open all the way to the sumptuous sound of the 'Final Hymn' from Stravinsky's 'Firebird' to close.
Principal cornet Gary Wyatt rather surprisingly was presented with the Geoff Dove Soloist Challenge Shield — not because he wasn't anything other than his usual polished class — but rather that he wasn't really featured as a soloist in any of the items the band played. As stated, this was later announced on Monday morning that this had been a mistake, which has since been corrected.
Jim Fieldhouse on euphonium was though, in a lovely rendition of 'Ar Lan y Mor' — a magical gem that arguably should have got the recognition it deserved. What the exact criteria was for the award of the prize and £300 was a bit of a mystery.
There was little doubt that the top two prize winners were a class apart — and Flowers a healthy margin ahead of Desford at that over the twin disciplines.
GUS Band though will have been pleased with third — their highest placed finish since winning here in 2017.
They remain in reconstruction mode — although the foundations are in place for a potential return to the British Open at the Grand Shield in May if they can eradicate the annoying plethora of unforced errors that tarnished their efforts on both days.
An engaging rendition of 'Paganini' came second on the Saturday despite the obvious splashes and moments of unease (although their splendid euphonium George Bruce claimed the 'Outstanding Soloist' award), whilst their curiously packed 'pick & mix' menu of mini Italian amuse-bouche entertainment items somewhat lacked coherent substance.
Quality and inconsistency
The fight for the £1,000 on offer for fourth place brought displays of quality as well as inconsistency from Redbridge, Haverhill and Skelmanthorpe.
In the end Redbridge recovered the lost ground in coming sixth on a somewhat ragged 'Paganini' to showcase their entertainment idiosyncrasies with an engaging set on Sunday afternoon.
Where they were hesitant and fragile on the Saturday, they were bold and confident the following day; the sparkling 'Battle of the Planets' opener and the neat contrasts provided by Prokofiev and Lucy Pankhurst set against Nat King Cole's 'Nature Boy' played suavely by Alan Roberts and the Bach inspired 'Tetrominoes' to close.
Meanwhile, the fully committed effort put into a well delivered 'Paganini' seemed to have drained the stamina from Haverhill by the close of their entertainment set.
Fuelled by the adrenaline of 'Cut to the Chase', they shot out of the blocks on the Sunday only to find lactic acid hitting lips. Principal cornet Tim Pannell give it his all on his fine solo feature, but after that the collective legs started to wobble, finishing with a tired rendition of 'Nightingale Dances'.
However, like Area rivals Redbridge, both are on a distinct upward curve of progress. The battle between them and reigning L&SC Area champion Friary come Stevenage in March should be fascinating.
That left Skelmanthorpe, who were consistent and disciplined under the baton of Martin Heartfield — notably with their 'Freedom' entertainment programme (first used by Flowers at Brass in Concert a few years ago) topped by the 'Activate!' opener.
The Yorkshire band also showed ample evidence that they have established their Championship Section test-piece credentials since promotion in 2019 on 'Paganini', building a solid ensemble foundation that has the potential to flourish in coming years. The difference between sixth and fourth was close.
What the future holds for Butlin's remains to be seen, although it would be a huge blow if it wasn't to return in 2024.
Like 'Monopoly', the economics of the property market means that it has lurched from profit into loss over the last couple of years, and now its assets of chalets and even its hotel are up for grabs. This though isn't a game.
Whether its potential new owner (or current ones if they remain) sees an early season brass band festival as part of its future portfolio offering to investors is also open to question. Can they be persuaded to move it to a slightly later date?
It would be sadly ironic that this impressive Flowers victory signalled the end of an event that has provided a huge financial boost to them and so many other bands at all levels over the past twenty years.
Let's hope the Butlin's Open Brass Band Festival can still play its financial 'Get out of Jail' card before it's too late.
'Paganini' is a great piece to work on — a tour de force to showcase our talents, and we knew we would enjoy bringing our 'Monopoly' set here as the audience really gets behind the entertainment you provideMD, Paul Holland
Adjudicators: Steve Sykes (music) & Stephen Roberts (music); Chris Dean (entertainment)
Set Work (music) + Entertainment (music) + entertainment* = Total
1. Flowers (Paul Holland): 1 + 1 + 1 = 3
2. Desford Colliery (Michael Fowles): 3 + 2 + 2 = 7
3. GUS Band (Chris Jeans): 2 + 3 + 3 = 8
4. Redbridge Brass (Chris Bearman): 6 + 4 + 4 = 14
5. Haverhill Silver (Paul Filby): 4 + 6 + 5 = 15
5. Skelmanthorpe (Martin Heartfield): 5 + 5 + 6 = 16
*In event of a tie the higher placing in entertainment only takes precedence
Butlins Most Entertaining Performance: Flowers
Winner of Set Test Piece: Flowers
Highest Placed Mining Band: Desford Colliery
Geoff Dove Soloist Challenge Shield winner in Entertainment category: Jamie Smith (Cornet) — Flowers
Outstanding Soloist in Set Test Piece: George Bruce (Euphonium) — GUS Band
*Desford principal cornet Gary Wyatt was initially awarded the Geoff Dove Soloist Challenge Shield This was later confirmed as a mistake of the contest organisers and corrected.
The initial news item printed on Monday 10th January has since been amended.