Report & Result: 2023 National Championships of Great Britain: Fourth Section

A fantastic performance full of quality and control — and maybe a pinch of contesting Karma helps Newhall claim the Fourth Section National title.

  The Fourth Section title has been won by Newhall Band

There was perhaps a touch of long-awaited contesting Karma about Newhall's fine Fourth Section victory.

In 2020 they were announced as Midlands Area Third Section Champion, only for the result to be declared void due to a series of unfortunate contest administration errors. Little wonder conductor Kevin Holdgate just double-checked things before his band's celebrations began at Cheltenham on Saturday afternoon.

Thankfully the robust contest control system had also done just that before compere David Hayward announced Newhall as the 2023 Champion Band of Great Britain. Thankfully there was no need for any lasting caution.

Richly deserved

It was richly deserved; a title-winning 'Saddleworth Festival Overture' that judges Gary Davies, Martin Heartfield and Sheona White said in their written remarks was "full of quality and control", "flowed with lots of rhythmic passages" and had "so much to enjoy and admire".

And in what was a contest that Martin Heartfield said in his pre-results speech, contained "many, many good performances", with "something in each to really enjoy", it was those ingrained contest qualities from Newhall, closely followed by Brunel Brass Academy that "stood out".

A fine account by Oughtibridge was third, with the remaining top-six places going to Ramsey Town followed by North Lakes Brass and Tadley Concert Brass.

Fantastic performances

"There were two fantastic performances — something special," Martin said. "They made the music shine."

In a concise appraisal of the different "layers" of contest performance management required to bring Goff Richards's score to life, he also spoke of the need to first master the 'basics' of balance, intonation and ensemble cohesion.

Further enhancement came he said with detailing, pacing and dynamic contrast, before finally adding the 'polish' to "make something special"- which included plenty of fine solo cornet and bass trombone playing.

Push forward

In the judge's opinion both Newhall and Brunel displayed that admirably, whilst Martin added that everyone should "read the remarks to help you push forward".

On the overall evidence of the performances from the 20 well led competitors, all are in a good position to do just that.

Newhall certainly are after producing an Anglo/Australian account of controlled songbook musicality; the richly balanced ensemble sounds enhanced by subtle changes of pace, style and fine solo lines — led by the outstanding Sheila Winter on cornet.

"Everyone associated with Newhall Band deserves this," MD Kevin Holdgate later told 4BR.

"The hard work and commitment shown since we dropped into the Fourth Section has been superb. It has been a long time coming and it's their just reward.

I've been able to work with great players all determined to succeed. We have well-attended rehearsals, and that makes my job so much easier. This is the result and I hope there are more days like this to come."


The respectful way Kevin dealt with that Area disappointment in 2020 won him many admirers, as well as firing his determination to make a mark at the National Finals this year.

This victory will now add to that list and boost very realistic ambitions to maintain the progress made under this baton.

And whilst his fine choice of red and black contest jacket ("I got the material from the seats of one of the old corporation buses", he said with a laugh) brought back memories of his wonderful days playing with the James Shepherd Versatile Brass, he was even more delighted to be able to speak with Sue Richards, Goff Richards's widow, who offered her congratulations on the victory.

"I used to love playing Goff's arrangements and really admired his brilliant compositional skills. He was a lovely man, so to be able to speak with Sue made this victory even more special."

He added: "There is more hard work for the band to do to build on this, but that can wait a day or so! They can all enjoy themselves."

Brunel celebrations

Celebrations too for Brunel Brass Academy as their youth-infused spirit and energy under MD Daniel Hall claimed an equally well-deserved runner-up finish.

It also provided ample evidence of their own impressive development, and whilst their super principal cornet claimed the 'Best Instrumentalist' prize, it was the fearless confidence of their many youngsters who also played with such maturity that was even more heartening to hear.

Whilst the top two bands did stand out in the opinion of the judges, there was also a great deal to enjoy with the impressive account by Oughtibridge in third — with a lovely warmth to their ensemble sound and neat appreciation of stylistic and pacing transitions.

Well led

Just behind them came well led accounts from Ramsay Town (again with the younger players leading the way), the more mature early marker of substance from North Lakes, and the neatly packaged character of Tadley Concert (built on a fine tonal foundation of a trio of tubas).

The intelligently chosen set-work also enabled the other competitors to bring energy and character to the music, with each able to add to the basic component level ingredients that Martin Heartfield spoke off.

A fine number 1 marker from Golborne eventually ended seventh, just ahead of Highland Brass (who made a 497 mile trip to Cheltenham and back again), Thrapston Town and Royal Oakeley to round off the top ten, whilst everyone from Billingham down to Penicuik Silver brought substance and style out of the score.

It was also good to see the encouragement given by the MDs to their players, and the way in which the test-piece allowed that scope for them to add to the levels Martin Heartfield spoke of with the intelligent use of resources.

Kapitol tweaks

However, if as Martin said, that his remarks were made to help push things forward, perhaps Kapitol could also look to the future by embracing a few tweaks that may further enhance the contest experience at this level.

Young Henry Thomas, aged 10 of Saltash Town was presented with the Youngest Player Award, on a day when he was joined on stage by least six other young friends.

Saltash has been investing in youth to such an extent that they cleverly used the rules to field six percussionists "as required"- allowing their youngsters (who as brass players would be excluded) to be part of their performance.

It begged the question to why in post-Covid 2023, the rules can't simply be relaxed.

They could surely allow performer numbers to be more flexible (the stage at Cheltenham certainly has to the room) with open adjudication enabling judges (whose musical integrity will surely not be compromised in any way) to further add to their comments with extra encouragement for those taking part.

Much like Newhall, perhaps a form of contesting Karma will eventually led to a positive outcome to that unfairness too.

Iwan Fox

I've been able to work with great players all determined to succeed. We have well-attended rehearsals, and that makes my job so much easier. This is the result and I hope there are more days like this to comeKevin Holdgate


Fourth Section:

Test piece: A Saddleworth Festival Overture (Goff Richards)
Adjudicators: Gary Davies, Martin Heartfield and Sheona White

1. Newhall (Kevin Holdgate)
2. Brunel Brass Academy (Daniel Hall)
3. Oughtibridge (John Hopkinson)
4. Ramsey Town (Robert Quane)
5. North Lakes (Gareth Sykes)
6. Tadley Concert Brass (Paul Chapman)
7. Golborne Brass (Les Webb)
8. Highland Brass (Mark Bell)
9. Thrapston Town (Nathan Waterman)
10. Royal Oakeley (Paul Wilson)
11. Billingham Silver (Vaughan Evans)
12. Rivington & Adlington (Matt Whitfield)
13. Watford (Ian Graves)
14. Wem Jubilee (Cathy Rutherford)
15. St Stythians (James Burns)
16. Thurcroft Welfare (Matthew Wright)
17. Putney & Wimbledon (Dr Sam Topp)
18. Saltash Town (Neil Ellis)
19. City of Cardiff (Melingriffith M2) (John Murray)
20. Penicuik Silver (Douglas Anderson)

Youngest Player: Henry Thomas (Saltash Town) — aged 10
Best Soloist: Cornet (Brunel Brass)

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