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Report & Results: 2024 North West Regional Championships

There are victories for Foden's, Wardle Anderson Brass, Skelmersdale, Morecambe and Stalybridge Old in Blackpool.

Winter Gradens
  Foden's retained their grip on the top section trophies

There was no enigma to decipher in explaining Foden's eighth successive North West Regional Championship victory.

A commanding rendition of Philip Sparke's set-work, polished, controlled and stylish gave adjudicators Alan Morrison and Anne Crookston all the identifying elements required for the Sandbach band to triumph under Russell Gray.

Once again, the Scotsman brought an alchemist touch to his winning interpretation, one based on transparency and consistency in balance and pacing whilst still maintaining the ability to shape the music with subtle nuance in each variation.

Super performance

Foden's remain undefeated at the Winter Gardens since 2015, with Russell Gray drawing level with Garry Cutt as the winning conductor for an eighth time. Mark Wilkinson also added to his extensive collection of personal silverware by taking the 'Best Principal Cornet' prize.

"We're thrilled to be North West champions for an eighth time," the band said on their Facebook page as they were photographed with a now familiar accumulation of silverware.

They are also determined to do so again and again in 2024, not just in Blackpool but also Birmingham, London and Gateshead.

"So much to admire here in ensemble and individuality. All so well directed and a performance of developing maturity", Alan Morrison wrote in his remarks, whilst Anne Crookston called it "a super performance — all well under control in the band and a well observed reading."

Few in the Opera House audience swelled in number for their appearance (but which unfortunately left 'en masse' after their played) would have disagreed.

That collective opinion was further endorsed following the detailed pre-results remarks, where the judges spoke of consistency of linking tempi and style in each variation — from the "clarity and rhythmic precision" of the first variation through to the ability to "integrate the ornamentations" in the following horn section and the "control and pacing" of the fugue led finale.

And whilst Alan wryly admonished the "enthusiasm" of some bass trombone players, Anne counterbalanced by adding that they also felt "fine solo work" made the best performances "come alive".

Rejuvenated Fairey

Alan also revealed that it was "very close" between Foden's and runner-up, KNDS Fairey, as a rejuvenated Stockport band gave a very different 'Enigma' interpretation to ponder under MD Phil Chalk.

Bold and impassioned, it was also formed of impressive integral parts, notably the classiest of trombones.

Although unable to end their great rivals time hegemony, this was perhaps as close as they have come since their last Area victory in 2015. They can also look forward with optimism for the major championship challenges later this year.

Pemberton maturity

So too Pemberton Old Wigan DW, (starting at the Senior Cup back here in May) who showed ample evidence of their growing maturity under the direction of Ryan Watkins.

Robust and confident, but also packed with musical character from start to finish, their return to the Royal Albert Hall for the first time since 2019 was well deserved — as was the 'Best Soprano' award for the fine Chris Musgrave.

Two bands with a player alchemy mix that didn't quite turn to qualification gold ended outside the qualification places.

Leyland are currently in a transition period following Danny Brooks' appointment in December and the arrival of a raft of new players. Inconsistencies in execution left their immediate ambitions on hold.

Meanwhile, the usual rumours surrounded the appearance of familiar faces with Oldham (Lees) and John Collins, yet on their occasion they were a little unlucky their mature considerations didn't quite allow their immediate ambitions to be met either. They will try again at the Grand Shield though.

Wingates delight

In contrast there was delight for Wingates as they secured a fine top-six finish thanks to a super take on the score from MD Andrea Price that was followed with stylish intent by her players.

Behind them the judges felt "there was no car crash", and although each of Milnrow, Acceler8, Rainford, Longridge, Manx Concert Brass and Ashton "were challenged at their own level", all had "something to offer".

For Foden's though, their level was the clearest indication that they will be seeking to add yet more titles to their name in 2024.

First Section:

An enigma of a different kind faced the bands on Eric Ball's 'High Peak', as it showed that age has not tamed its challenges to those seeking to plant their qualification flags on its summit.

It's metaphorical journey still requires mastery of high quality contest basics as well as appreciation of the shifting textures and moods of light and shade that the composer brings to the vision, aspiration and ascent required to reach spiritual attainment.

That was something adjudicator Glyn Williams (joined by Steve Sykes) certainly highlighted in his pre-results remarks, and which ensured that bands knew just what the pair had been looking for themselves.

Real maturity

And whilst Glyn highlighted the "fantastic solo playing" found with what he later said was "a clear winner" and runner-up of "real maturity", there was also "a very good top end of the results table" where "four of five bands got to grips with the deeper meaning of the music".

Elsewhere though he said that they felt the need to master basic requirements in balance, intonation, ensemble cohesiveness and dynamic contrast were marked.

Like Foden's there was a refined quality about Wardle Anderson Brass led by Brad McCulloch, who in successfully defending their title also gained promotion to the Championship Section for the first time since 2022.

After coming sixth last year at Cheltenham on this form they will travel with hopes of further success.

Delighted

Brad later told 4BR: "I'm delighted that the title comes with that promotion — the band deserves it, and they are such a brilliant organisation. 'High Peak' was such a rewarding piece to work and I'm so proud of this young band who approached it with such maturity in understanding its unfamiliar challenges."

Joining them at Cheltenham will be a rejuvenated Tyldesley, as the experienced Neil Samuel drew a persuasive account to follow in Wardle's crampon steps, and Blackburn & Darwen whose recent top flight experience was displayed in the solidity of their third place finish.

As may be the case this year, 'High Peak's' unfamiliar rhapsodic challenges could well leave many qualification hopes lost in a mountainous mist of unwariness and misunderstanding, although in Blackpool there was still much to enjoy with the top-six finishers of Boarshurst Silver, Whitworth Vale & Healey and Haydock.

Behind them, others were perhaps less sure of their musical footing.

Second Section:

The North West will send a strong trio to Cheltenham in the Second Section, as the impressive Skelmersdale Prize secured their second Area title in three years ahead of fine challengers Diggle and Besses Boys.

Benjamin Coulson's band also revealed a refinement in their rendition of Philip Sparke's 'Triptych' that found echoes in that of Foden's later in the day — controlled dynamics, transparency in ensemble balances and super solo and section contributions (led by their prize winning trombones).

Flair and style

Adjudicators Alan Widdop and Helen Douthwaite-Teesdale said they had enjoyed "some cracking performances", with the winner and qualifiers in particular showing the ability to play with 'flair and style'.

Elsewhere, Alan's observation that a somewhat mystifying appreciation of relevant tempo markings had cost others dearly: "Why do some like to go at 200 miles per hour?", he said in referencing the markings of the first and third movements.

No such problems with the classy winner, with Alan saying that it was "very enjoyable" with "detail throughout", whilst Helen described it as, "a very exciting and enjoyable… very musical and well crafted".

After winning the Third Section in 2022 Skelmersdale went on to claim the National title in Cheltenham. The odds on doing that again in the Second Section may well have shortened at the bookies after this impressive showing.

Diggle will also return to the Centaur for the second successive year as Sean Conway used all his musical nous to mould a fine consistent rendition to book their place, whilst not even the initial presentation of the wrong trophy could dampen the joy of a delighted Besses Boys and James Holt who will join them for the first time since 2019.

The remaining top-six places in the good quality contest went to Eagley, Lostock Hall Memorial and Delph.

Third Section:

There was a clear 'Corineus' winner in the Third Section as Morecambe and Andrew Porter secured an impressive victory over their rivals in a contest played out in a packed Pavilion Theatre.

It made for an atmosphere reminiscent of contest days of old, as the 16 bands got to grips with Christopher Bond's evocative test-piece.

Class apart

Morecambe were a class apart though as adjudicator Sephanie Binns, confirmed in her pre-results address.

"There was one stand out performance," she said, "and the top few gave really good readings", whilst Duncan added that whilst all bands "had something to good to offer", many found problems with "looking after the basics".

No such problems for Morecambe as they added the Third Section title to the Fourth won in 2022 with a fine account described by the judges in their written remarks as, "well crafted with good detail" and with "attention to style" in "a really solid performance".

Clutching an armful of silverware Andrew Porter told 4BR: "Absolutely delighted. It's a great piece to work on and perform and the band really enjoyed its challenges. There is more to come though and we're really looking forward to improving on last year's Cheltenham result."

Joining them will be a delighted Eccleston, making their first appearance since 2018, as their experienced MD John Wood brought clarity and drama to his reading to the score, whilst there was an immediate return to Cheltenham for Golborne, as the 2023 Fourth Section Area winner continued their fine form under Les Webb.

The remaining top-six places in an enjoyable contest went to Dobcross Silver, CWA Brass from Northern Ireland and Rivington & Adlington.

Fourth Section:

Although numerically the Fourth Section entry was at its lowest point since 2019, there was certainly an encouraging strength in depth to the performances on Alan Fernie's enjoyable 'Music for Jock Tamson'.

That was certainly the case with the winner Stalybridge Old, as their secured their first Area title success in 43 years. Since that last win in 1981 the band has enjoyed many ups and down — from a British Open appearance in 1990 to rebuilding from the Fourth Section in 2020.

Now under Nigel Lawless things are on the up again as they returned to the National Final for the first time since 1999 thanks to a quality performance brimming with character and confidence.

Sense of style

Speaking to 4BR after the results, adjudicator John Doyle said that the winner had played the piece "with a solid foundation of basics and a great sense of style" — pinpointing their adherence to tempos and praising the work of their percussionists. They were "really good".

Fellow judge Stan Lippeatt also took the time to praise the quality of soloists and percussionists in all the bands, who both said were "vital" in their contribution. He also said that "the top two bands really stood out".

The second of those was Littleborough who showed that they had built in confidence following their win at the Rochdale contest late last year to secure their first Cheltenham appearance since 2015.

Just missing out were the brace of Isle of Man contenders Onchan Silver and Ramsey Town in third and fourth, with the final top-six spots going to Sale Brass and Dobcross Youth who set the uplifting tone of a fine event off the number 1 draw.

Optimism returns

There was a real buzz about the Winter Gardens throughout a busy contesting day, with the well run event marshalled by an excellent team of North West Area BBA volunteers led by Richard Milton.

With several 'Long Service Awards' also made, some marking 60 years of dedication, there was also a fine sense of inclusion too as the North West kick started the Regional Championship series in fine style.

Iwan Fox

So much to admire here in ensemble and individuality. All so well directed and a performance of developing maturityAlan Morrison on Foden's

Result:


Championship Section:

Opera House
Test piece: Variations on an Enigma (Philip Sparke)
Adjudicators: Anne Crookston and Alan Morrison

1. Foden's (Russell Gray)**
2. KNDS Fairey (Phil Chalk)*
3. Pemberton Old Wigan DW (Ryan Watkins)*
4. Leyland (Daniel Brooks)
5. Oldham (Lees) (John Collins)
6. Wingates (Andrea Price)
7. Milnrow (Lee Skipsey)
8. Acceler8 (Jef Sparkes)
9. Rainford (Sarah Groarke-Booth)
10. Longridge (Mark Peacock)
11. Manx Concert Brass (Ian Clague MBE)
12. Ashton under Lyne (Martyn Evans)

** Pre-qualified for invitation to National Final
* Qualified for invitation to National Final

Best Principal Cornet: Mark Wilkinson (Foden's)
Best Soprano: Chris Musgrave (Pemberton Old Wigan DW)
Youngest Player: Marvin Wong (Wingates) — aged 14

First Section:

Empress Ballroom
Adjudicators: Steve Sykes and Glyn Williams

1. Wardle Anderson Brass (Brad McCulloch)*
2. Tyldesley (Neil Samuel)*
3. Blackburn & Darwen (Daniel Thomas)*
4. Boarshurst Silver (Jamie Prophet)
5. Whitworth Vale & Healey (Mike Golding)
6. Haydock (Mark Quinn)
7. Eccles Borough (Mareika Gray)
8. Freckleton (Adam Taylor)
9. Flixton (Adie Smith)
10. Roberts Bakery (Mike Jones)
11. Pemberton Old Wigan DW B (Gareth Brindle)
12. Silk Brass (Tony Wyatt)
13. Mossley (Duncan Byers)
14. Valley Brass (Haydock) (David Chadwick)
15. Hazel Grove (Nigel Beasley)
16. Middleton (Jamie Cooper)
17. Bollington Brass (Peter Christian)

* Qualified for invitation to National Final


Second Section:

Opera House
Test piece: Triptych (Philip Sparke)
Adjudicators: Helen Douthwaite-Teasdale and Alan Widdop

1. Skelmersdale (Benjamin Coulson)*
2. Diggle (Sean Conway)*
3. Besses Boys (James Holt)*
4. Eagley (Christopher Wormald)
5. Lostock Hall Memorial (John Atkinson)
6. Delph (Phil Goodwin)
7. Haslingden & Helmshore (Stephan Tighe)
8. Uppermill (James Garlick)
9. Marple (Sarah Groarke Booth)
10. Old Hall Brass (Trevor Halliwell)
11. Poulton-le-Fylde (Brett Baker)
12. Besses o' th' Barn (Simon Cowan)
13. VBS Poynton (Adam Delbridge-Smith)
14. Pilling Jubilee Silver (Joshua Hughes)
15. City of Chester Bluecoat (Ewan Easton)
16. Liverpool (Dave McGlynn)
17. Allerton Brass (Gavin Holden)

* Qualified for invitation to National Final

Best Trombone Section: Skelmersdale


Third Section:

Pavilion Theatre
Test piece: Corineus (Christopher Bond)
Adjudicators: Duncan Beckley and Stephanie Binns

1. Morecambe (Andrew W. Porter)*
2. Eccleston Brass (John Wood)*
3. Golborne Brass (Les Webb)*
4. Dobcross Silver (Jason M. Smith)
5. CWA Brass (Gary Proctor)
6. Rivington & Adlington (Matt Whitfield)
7. Thornton Cleveleys (Steve Tarry)
8. BMP (Europe) Goodshaw (Dean Redfern)
9. Hawk Green (Neil Hewson)
10. Hoover Bolton (Joe Murtagh)
11. Trinity Girls (Anna Hughes-Williams)
12. Clock Face Miners Heritage (William Haw)
13. Blackpool Brass (David W. Ashworth)
14. Rode Hall Silver (Nigel Butler)
15. Greenfield (Sam Olsson)
16. Darwen Brass (Matthew Balson)

* Qualified for invitation to National Final

Withdrawn: Farnworth & Walkden (Neil Robinson)


Fourth Section:

Pavilion Theatre
Test piece: Music for Jock Tamson (Alan Fernie)
Adjudicators: John Doyle and Stan Lippeatt

1. Stalybridge Old (Nigel Lawless)*
2. Littleborough (Ashley Higgins)*
3. Onchan Silver (David Karran)
4. Ramsey Town (Robert Quane)
5. Sale Brass (Jess Tredrea)
6. Dobcross Youth (James Atkins)
7. Brindle (Steve Hartley)
8. Red Admiral Brass (Stuart Barton)
9. St. John's (Mossley) (Martin Gernon)
10. Crewe Brass (Adam Shilton)
11. Douglas Town (Robert Mitchell)
12. Stacksteads (Fred Bowker)
13. Port Sunlight Lyceum (Simon Harthern-Evans)
14. Blackley (Karl Stott)

* Qualified for invitation to National Final

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