A commanding account of Philip Wilby's 'Red Priest' gave Whitburn Band a 22nd Scottish Championship (21st Area) title success.
It was a new coming of age in Perth for a band fielding seven top section debutants and three others making just their second appearance at the event. In addition, the youthful gender balance, with 11 female players in the ranks, added further to the sense of renewal as they now look to secure further success at the forthcoming European Championships and Grand Shield.
Means so much
"It's great to see and hear when I come to band," conductor Prof Nicholas Childs (who added a 41st Area title to his own CV) later told 4BR. "The investment in youth has revitalised the enthusiasm and endeavour to succeed. I've never seen them so eager to impress and claim back a title that means so much to them."
He added: "I was delighted by the way their played as an ensemble and as soloists, which is so important on this piece. Both elements were outstanding. My congratulations to them all — and I hope they enjoyed the celebrations."
The two-point margin of victory was clear according to adjudicators Sandy Smith and John Ward, who gave precised analysis of clarity and transparency. That mirrored what they had sought in the playing from the ten contenders on a score they felt required informed consideration of context in terms of dynamic, pacing and style.
"A performance which drew out every ounce of detail... so well managed by the MD and delivered by the band," Sandy wrote in his remarks. His colleague summed things up in his written assessment by stating: "A fine performance by a fine band — shaped and organised so well."
The ability to 'decipher' the needs in a "terrific challenge" was the key to success according to John in giving examples of what they were looking for. "There were many fine players, bands and conductors today", he said, before adding that the top 3 or 4 gave "lots of pleasure" in the way they shaped, trimmed and managed their accounts.
Sandy also spoke of 'the penny dropping' in terms of dynamics, as well as the success of the best bands to capture 'the sense of humour' that Philip Wilby infuses his work with — notably the 'Swingles' 'fuga' which had to be balanced against the more serious tonal chorale writing.
"The best made it more exciting than excited," he said — "fleetfooted and cohesive."
Those elements defined Whitburn's account (one based on the blueprint of the MDs success with Black Dyke in Yorkshire a week before) as the considered dynamic spectrum and calibrated tempi brought a lightness of touch to the music.
It was aided by some splendid solo playing that added to the feeling of expectation that the Scottish title was heading back to West Lothian as the individual awards for percussion and basses, euphonium, bass, horn, trombone and cornet were revealed.
The addition of the invitation to the 2024 European Championships may be an added future expense, but if by repeating this type of form they have already secured their place back at the British Open, this victory could well be seen as the start of a new and exciting era.
Joining Whitburn at the Royal Albert Hall will be the cooperation band, an ensemble that has already undergone a successful rejuvenation and who can now set their sights on the Autumn majors in Birmingham and London.
The Scottish Open champion was not at its very best — although they did secure individual awards for flugel and baritone. The bold approach under MD Michael Fowles touched on the 'excited rather than exciting' at times with some elements, with little errors just smudging their colourful Vivaldi portrait.
Delight though for Dalmellington as they claimed third place (their best finish since 2014) thanks to a lucid appreciation of the score from Dutch conductor Erik Janssen, aided by fine individual contributions, notably from their principal cornet and 'Best Soprano' award winner.
Although the generous assessment of the playing by the judges was tinged with diplomacy, the quality difference between the podium finishes and the remaining bands was marked.
The top-six places went to hard working accounts from Dalkeith & Monktonhall (their best ever result), Kirkintilloch Kelvin Brass and Kingdom Brass, with Bon Accord, Unison Kinneil, Boness & Carriden and Johnstone falling into a clear order behind.
More work ahead for them, but for Whitburn, 2023 beckons with the prospect of further possibilities of success for a young band renewed in personnel and competitive vigour.
The Scots have always enjoyed battles against formidable foes, and at the end of nine performances of Philip Lawrence's 'A Day in the Life of a Knight', there was little doubt that it had been one heck of a scrap.
It was also a highly enjoyable one though according to judges Sandy Smith and John Ward, who, as in their deliberations in the three sections they covered on the weekend, were clear in their analysis of what they looked for in a "very hard score".
Better and better
With Sandy pleased to admit that the overall standard at this level was, "getting better and better", John emphasised that the top three were "very, very close" and that they had not heard one poor performance.
On a poignant day the best came Coalburn Silver led by Gareth Bowman, whilst joining them in Cheltenham will be Bathgate. Just missing out was the "extremely close" Kirkintilloch.
Coalburn's victory was inspired by a musical account rich in quality and style, aided by their excellent award-winning principal cornet Calum Blair. With a dynamic range displaying the type of "layering" that Sandy wanted to hear, and with a lyrical sense of romance where it was required, they had plenty left in reserve to "manage the excitement" John looked for at the close.
A year after the tragic death of player Beth Damer (which was marked by SBBA with consideration) it was an understandably emotional victory.
"It's incredible," Gareth Bowman later told 4BR. "This is the best result in the band's history, and it was a special show. It was also a victory we can dedicate to Beth and her family. They were a central part of our thoughts today."
There was also a great deal to enjoy from the informed approach of Mareika Gray with runner-up, Bathgate. Their detailed appreciation was also enhanced by some terrific individual contributions — notably their super 'Best Horn', Louise McCauley.
Both will head to Cheltenham as bands to watch out for, whilst although audibly disappointed, a revived Kirkintilloch can also look forward to 2023 and beyond with optimism under Hedley Benson.
As John and Sandy said, the overall standard was good, with MDs digging into the complex score to bring internal balance to the multiple dynamic markings, the style implications and the need to "manage" as John said, the excitement levels.
The much-fancied Newtongrange finished fourth, with the remaining top-six places in a contest of encouraging optimism, going to Lochgelly and Dunaskin Doon.
In 2019 Irvine & Dreghorn overcame the near disaster of their bus breaking down on the way to Perth, as well as the dreaded Kelly's Eye draw, to claim a memorable Scottish Championship victory.
Thankfully the wheels didn't come off their transport this year, although they still overcame the dreaded number 1 slot to secure an equally impressive success.
Their bold rendition of Rodney Newton's demanding 'A Pilgrim's Progress', full of warm tonality and a sense of measured pacing under Lewis Bettles' fine direction, secured the long trip south to Cheltenham for the first time since 2019, where they will be joined by fellow qualifiers, Newmilns & Glaston.
Adjudicator John Ward (joined by Sandy Smith) said they were "looking for a few things" in the detailed score, and in particular "those that jump out at you in the box".
These were what he called "dynamic management", "rhythmic elements" and "aligning styles" — each given an example to emphasis his point to why some bands made their mark more than others.
And whilst Sandy recalled why such "a hard piece" and "stamina buster" was picked, he also said that the bands on the day had "proved my faith"and that the Second Section standard here was "in really good nick".
That was met by warm applause — as was the announcement on how impressed the judges were by the "absolutely magnificent" Eb bass players. Little surprise then that the 'Best Instrumentalist' award went to the talented Lauren McCormick of the winners.
Newmilns & Galston and MD Alan Friel also produced a Pilgrim account full of character and appreciation of the composer's wishes to secure their first finals' appearance since 2007. Some lovely little touches in phrasing and lyricism made their point in the box.
Both bands will be significant challengers for further National honours if they are able to build on the form shown here.
Well led performances
Sandy and John were treated to a host of well led performances, with just a few scraps and bumps taking the gloss off well structured accounts from third placed Clackmannan District as well as the likes of Annan Town, Broxburn & Livingston and St David's Brass who filled the top-six places.
The remaining competitors all gave accounts of impressive merit to fully endorse the opinion of the judges that this is a level of banding very much on the up.
Irvine's victory meanwhile was greeted with a highly professional show of restraint from the SBBA President Carrie Boax (who played timps), and a slightly more enthusiastic show of sheer delight from their stage representative to round off a fine contest. You suspect Carrie may have let her hair down a little later in the day...
Charlie Farren hasn't had much to smile about in recent weeks after undergoing extensive dental work that stopped him from taking his usual seat on bass trombone with Whitburn Band.
It hasn't affected his conducting though, and he was able to give his new pearly whites a thorough workout on after he led a super rendition of Stephen Bulla's 'Chorale and Toccata' to steer Selkirk Silver to the Third Section title — their first success at the Scottish Championship since 1937.
It was a long overdue, and thoroughly deserved success, based on an astute reading of the subtle nuances of the score, with well-chosen tempi, layered dynamic balances and a warm tonality to the ensemble sound.
Also ending a long National wait (qualifying for the first time since 2005) was runner-up Shott's St Patricks, with their MD Andrew Shaw providing the impressive early marker with a performance built on warm textures, good intonation and secure ensemble (with a prize winning percussion team) and solo playing.
"It was a pleasure to listen to some fantastic playing," adjudicator Brett Baker (joined by David Ashworth) said in his pre-results remarks. "I thought the standard was much higher than it was in Yorkshire" he added, before giving a "shout-out" to the 'intelligent' percussion sections who he felt played very sensitively.
Four strong performances
He revealed that the duo felt that there were "four strong performances" with all the bands mastering the technical aspects of the work. In the end though it came down "to the usual things" — tuning, ensemble, clarity and balance, and those mastered them did very well.
David neatly added that he "totally agreed what he just said", although he did make the more serious point about picking tempos that bands could play.
Just missed out
The two 'strong' contenders that just missed out on this occasion were Brass Sounds Inverclyde and Perthshire Brass — both delivering well structured, informed renditions that gave the judges a great deal of food for thought.
The remaining top-six places went to Croy Silver and Langholm Town, whilst each of Stranraer Brass, Arbroath & Carnoustie and Whitburn Heartlands delivered accounts of considerable merit on a demanding composition.
With obvious concerns being aired about the numerical strength of the foundation level of competitive banding in the UK after the return from Covid-19, it was great to see 11 competitors take to the stage on Sunday morning for the Fourth Section.
It was also good to note that the playing of Darrol Barry's character work, 'Hungerford Town' was also pretty healthy too — with a host of well-directed performances for Brett Baker and David Ashworth to enjoy in the box.
Before the announcement of the results Brett said that they had enjoyed "a really high standard of playing", although he added that there were, "a couple of things to think about" with the louder dynamic playing in the acoustic of the hall, the length of note values and tempos.
He also congratulated the soloists who he said, "were great", before rounding things off by saying that there were "two bands that absolutely deserved to qualify".
Those were newly crowned champion, Highland Brass and Penicuik Silver — both delivering performances that had all the basic requirements firmly in place with an extra layer or two of stylistic nuance, ensemble security and solo playing confidence.
Highland's second Scottish Championship success in their short history will see them return to Cheltenham for the first time since 2018, whilst Penicuik Silver's trip is their first since 1982.
Although the qualifiers were clear, there will be a great deal of optimism in a host of other bandrooms on a return to post-contest rehearsals, with Peebles Burgh, Bon Accord B, Buckhaven & Methil Miners (with a classy 'Best Instrumentalist' winner in euphonium plater Bryan Hynd) and Kirkton Brass Bathgate delivering super shows full of bold endeavour.
Excellence, enthusiasm and eagerness from the other contenders too — with a special mention to Duncan Thow of Dundee Instrumental, the latest in a long line of talented tuba players emerging from all parts of Scottish banding.
Once again, the Scottish Championships led by SBBA President Carrie Boax and her team provided a wonderfully inclusive atmosphere for performers and public alike — with the inclusion of the non-competitive Section 4b a delight with its mixture of players of all ages and experience made to feel an integral part of the event.
Their performances can be viewed on the SBBA Youtube Channel
SBBA also maintains a well calculated appreciation of the old and new, with the traditional presentation of awards and commemorative medals balanced against excellent use of multi-media resources, photography social media.
The contributions of the rarely seen 'backstage' stalwarts is also appreciated (with a lovely presentation to catering gem Helen Gray) and a heartfelt reminder of Coalburn's Beth Damer, who was lost to the Scottish banding family here last year.
The investment in youth has revitalised the enthusiasm and endeavour to succeed. I've never seen them so eager to impress and claim back a title that means so much to themProf Nicholas Childs
Test piece: Red Priest (Philip Wilby)
Adjudicators: Sandy Smith & John Ward
1. Whitburn (Prof Nicholas Childs): 194**
2. the cooperation band (Michael Fowles): 192*
3. Dalmellington (Erik Janssen): 191
4. Dalkeith & Monktonhall (James Chamberlain): 189
5. Kirkintilloch Kelvin Brass (Thomas Wyss): 188
6. Kingdom Brass (Corsin Tuor): 187
7. Bon-Accord Silver (Adam Cooke): 186
8. Unison Kinneil (Raymond Tennant): 185
9. Bo'ness & Carriden (Garry Cutt): 183
10. Johnstone (Colin McKenzie): 182
* Qualify for National Final
**Qualify for National Final and receive invitation to represent Scotland at 2024 European Championships
Best Cornet: Chris Bradley (Whitburn)
Best Trombone: Paul Kieran (Whitburn)
Best Soprano: Katie Ankers (Dalmellington )
Best Flugel: Stephanie Kennedy (co-operation band)
Best Horn: Andrew McMillan (Whitburn)
Best Baritone: Carole Ednie (co-operation band)
Best Euphonium: Chris Shanks (Whitburn)
Best Bass: Graham Fraser (Whitburn)
Best Bass Section: Whitburn
Best Percussion: Whitburn
Test piece: A Day in the Life of a Knight (Philip Lawrence)
Adjudicators: Sandy Smith & John Ward
1. Coalburn Silver (Gareth Bowman): 190*
2. Bathgate (Mareika Gray): 189*
3. Kirkintilloch Band (Hedley Benson): 188
4. Newtongrange Silver (Anne Crookston): 186
5. Lochgelly (Chris Shanks): 185
6. Dunaskin Doon (Paul Drury): 184
7. Granite City Brass (Bruce Wallace): 183
8. Tullis Russell Mills (George Cameron): 182
9. Newmains & District (Michael Marzella): 181
Best Horn: Louise McCauley (Bathgate)
Instrumentalist: Calum Blair (Solo Cornet) Coalburn
*Qualify for National Final
Test piece: A Pilgrim's Progress (Rodney Newton)
Adjudicators: Sandy Smith & John Ward
1. Irvine & Dreghorn Brass (Lewis Bettles): 188*
2. Newmilns & Galston (Alan Friel): 187*
3. Clackmannan District (Paul Drury): 185
4. Annan Town (Lewis Wilkinson): 184
5. Broxburn & Livingston (Bryan Allen): 183
6. St. David's Brass (John A Dickson): 182
7. Renfrew Burgh (Mark Good): 181
8. Kilmarnock Concert Brass (Scott Walker): 179
9. St. Ronan's Silver (David McLeod): 178
10. Jedforest Instrumental (Philip Rosier): 177
11. Dysart Colliery Silver (Lynda Nicholson): 176
Best Instrumentalist: Lauren McCormick (Eb tuba) — Irvine & Dreghorn Brass
*Qualify for National Final
Test piece: Chorale and Toccata (Stephen Bulla)
Adjudicators Brett Baker & David Ashworth
1. Selkirk Silver (Charlie Farren): 187*
2. Shotts St. Patrick's Brass (Andy Shaw): 186*
3. Brass Sounds Inverclyde (Joshua Parkhill): 185
4. Perthshire Brass (Willie McMullan): 184
5. Croy Silver (Kenneth Blackwood): 182
6. Langholm Town (Chris Bradley): 181
7. Stranraer Brass (Angela Miller): 180
8. Arbroath & Carnoustie (Audrey Bird): 178
9. Whitburn Heartlands (Paul Kiernan): 177
*Qualify for National Final
Best Instrumentalist: Percussion (Shott's St Patrick's Brass)
Test piece: Hungerford Town (Darrol Barry)
Adjudicators: Brett Baker & David Ashworth
1. Highland Brass (Mark Bell): 181*
2. Penicuik Silver (Douglas Anderson): 180*
3. Peebles Burgh (David Robb): 176
4. Bon-Accord B (Jennifer Cook): 174
5. Buckhaven & Methil Miners (Steven Craig): 172
6. Kirkton Brass Bathgate (Simon Railton): 171
7. Hawick Saxhorn (Stuart Black): 170
8. MacTaggart Scott (Peter Holmes): 168
9. Dundee Instrumental (Bob McDonald): 167
10. Dunfermline City Brass (Andy Shaw): 166
11. Coalburn Intermediate (David Fehilly): 164
*Qualify for National Final
Best Instrumentalist: Bryan Hynd (euphonium) — Buckhaven & Methil Miners
Youngest Bb Bass: Duncan Thow (Dundee Instrumental)