There could have been no better way for Dave Lea to celebrate his 25th anniversary of conducting the Jaguar Land Rover Band at the Midlands Regional Championships, than to lead them to a long awaited and thoroughly deserved victory.
Despite the absence of defending champion Desford from the 11 contenders, the contest did not suffer a marked dip in quality, with a number of bands producing performances rich in technical and musical security—chief amongst them Butlins champion Virtuosi GUS, who will join their counterparts at the Royal Albert Hall in October.
Playing back to back, the rivals caught the ears of Graham Jones and Richard Marshall in the box to such an extent that there was little surprise when following the announcement of Ratby Co-operative in sixth, followed by Newstead, Sovereign Brass and Thoresby, it was a battle between the duo to see who would lift the ornate regional trophy.
The judges described the winning performance as, ‘rich in overall quality’, ‘confident’ and ‘musically coherent’.
And on his silver jubilee contesting anniversary, Dave Lea and his band finally got their hands on a trophy that until now had eluded their grasp.
"We’ve been close a few times, including second last year, but to have won it on my 25th anniversary appearance makes this victory very special," Dave told 4BR.
He laughed: "This goes back all those years ago when as Rolls Royce Coventry I was asked to take them to the old Midlands contest as a one off. They may think I’m OK as a conductor now!"
Dave also thanked the band for their immense commitment in the lead up to the contest. "I couldn’t have asked for anything more from them. They did me proud in every sense of the word. I’m more delighted for the players than for myself."
Although there was disappointment for Virtuosi GUS fans, there was a sense of relief too that they did not miss out on another Albert Hall appearance on what is their own 80th year celebrations. It now gives the band a chance to lift the famous trophy once more after John Berryman led them there courtesy of a finely shaped musical account.
A confident Thoresby Colliery continued their good 2013 form under Brian Grant by securing the final podium place, but just missing out on what would have been their second London qualification in three years.
Behind them, David Maplestone led a dynamic Sovereign into fourth, whilst the remaining top six places went to purposeful accounts from Newstead Brass and promoted Ratby Co-operative.
There was an impressive victory secured by the Staffordshire Band on Saturday, as Leigh Baker directed a performance of true triumphant quality to claim the First Section title in considerable style.
After Blidworth Welfare under the direction of Martin Heartfield and Foresters Brass 2000 conducted by Peter Collins had upped the contest winning ante with excellent qualification performances full of technical security, style and confidence, it was left to the former top section winners to provide arguably their best Area contest performance since that 2007 victory, to secure the title in commanding fashion.
Judges Alan Morrison and Paul Norley were left in little doubt to the destination of the regional trophy, describing their rendition of ‘Brass Triumphant’ as ‘outstanding’ and ‘full of style’ with ‘great soloists’ and ‘ensemble quality’.
And the winning MD was understandably delighted that after just missing out at the Yorkshire Championships, his desire to bring out the character of each movement paid such dividends in Bedworth.
"It’s a very deceptive work," Leigh told 4BR. "It’s like four musical tableaux—each very different. We worked long and hard on the style required in each movement to bring out the clearly defined character of the music."
Leigh added that despite Alan Morrison telling him that the band was in the judge’s opinion a ‘clear winner’, he was more pleased that Staffordshire had delivered on the contest stage with such musical confidence.
"They really believed in what I wanted to portray, so as a conductor, for players to do that is reward in itself.
They are a great band to work with and I must thank Dave Purkiss for allowing me to take them at the contest. I’m sure they will do very well at the finals."
With Foresters Brass 2000 claiming their second successive national qualification and Blidworth Welfare also providing ample evidence that the Midlands will send a trio of high class contenders to Cheltenham, there was delight for Shirley Band after they secured fourth thanks to a confident account off the number 1 draw under Dave Bishop-Rowe.
In a contest in which all 17 competitors emerged with a great deal of credit, the final top six places went to Hathern and Langley.
Although there are still three regional contests to come, it would take a brave fan of any band to suggest that the Second Section contenders in Wales, London or the North East will provide a more impressive winning performance than Bilton Silver (Rugby).
Under the direction of David Stowell, Bilton captured the dark menace and Machiavellian spirit of Edward Gregson’s, fearsome ‘The Plantagenets’ to a tee, to return to Cheltenham as one of the short priced favourites to go one better than last year and lift their own version of the British crown.
There was little doubt in the minds of judges Colin Hardy and Kevin Wadsworth that they had listened to a winning performance of the highest quality; describing it as ‘outstanding’, ‘full of character’ and ‘excellent music making’ on a day when they diplomatically revealed that the piece had proven to be an immense challenge for their committed rivals.
Bilton’s experienced MD, David Stowell couldn’t have been more pleased with his band’s performance either. "Simply delighted and very proud," he told 4BR.
"They worked so hard for this contest and were determined to get back to Cheltenham after coming so close to winning last year. I asked them to tell a musical story full of colour and character—and they did just that. I can’t thank them enough."
David also revealed that he didn’t really have any idea to how their rendition stacked up against rivals, let alone bands from other areas.
"I quite like to be left in isolation with performances, as it allows me to concentrate on my band and not worry about anyone else.
I’m sure others have played just as well, but I don’t think we could have played any better: It was an outstanding performance from my personal perspective."
The contest itself did take some time to capture the imagination, with the early markers provided by sixth placed Avonbank Evesham from the number 1 draw and Ibstock Brick Brass who played number 3 to end fifth.
With bands struggling to overcome the difficult technical and musical demands of the set work, the contest seemed to be heading for a form of ‘last man standing’, before bold back to back accounts from Bakewell Silver and Daventry Brass conducted by Bob Stradling saw them end fourth and third respectively.
Then came Bilton’s superb performance, before Wigston delivered a coherently structured, confidently played account under Garry Sleath to secure their Cheltenham berth on a day when the Midlands title was captured by the most worthy of winners.
The rise to fame and possible banding fortune shows no signs of stopping for Hucknall & Linby, as they continued in their rich vein of contesting form to win the Third Section in considerable style.
Under the direction of Paul Whyley they produced a snapshot of ‘Hollywood’ in the heart of the Midlands that wouldn’t have been out of place on Rodeo Drive, to claim the title and book their place at Cheltenham.
They will be joined there once again by Ireland Colliery (Chesterfield) directed by Ian Knapton, after they secured a second successive trip following their promotion from the Fourth Section.
There was also qualification delight for Shipston Town, who produced a vibrant account off the number 1 draw under Howard Gibbs to set a high class marker for the rest of the 18 band field to beat.
Just four and half years since their new formation, Hucknall & Linby are now very much on the up according to their MD.
Paul Whyley told 4BR: "We are enjoying a great time at the moment with wins last year at Leicester and Bolsover followed by our second place at Butlins earlier this season. Now this win really gives us another massive boost. The fund raising starts straight away!"
Paul also told 4BR that he had taken the time to go to Yorkshire to hear what Kevin Wadsworth had said as a judge there—and came back determined to put his band in the most relaxed of contesting moods.
"I went to Bradford and took plenty of notes," he said. "The secret I felt was to be as laid back as possible, and bring out the musical colour. The players bought into what I wanted and played so stylishly for me with real control of the dynamics.
They did exactly what I wanted them to do on the tin."
The judges (Kevin was joined by Colin Hardy) agreed, with Paul especially delighted that both men congratulated the band on their stylish musical approach. "That was the icing on the cake," he added proudly.
There were plenty of well worked performances for the adjudicators to enjoy in fact, with each of the contenders bringing something of note from the enjoyable Goff Richards score, with the top six placed being filled by Stamford Brass, Arrow Valley Brass and last year’s Fourth Section champion, Burbage (Buxton).
Ifton Colliery showed just what it takes to win a contest off the number 1 draw, as under debutant conductor Richard Evans, they claimed the Fourth Section title with an outstanding performance of ‘A Devon Fantasy’ that couldn’t be topped despite a whole of host of fine efforts following them on stage from 16 rival bands.
It gave Ifton a wonderful victory—and one that spokesperson and brother of the MD, Alastair Evans told 4BR has provided them with a huge boost of confidence.
"With our regular MD Stephen Curtis having to conduct at the North West Area on the same day, Richard (the former soprano player with the British Army Band and Desford) agreed to take us in his first ever contest."
Alastair laughed as he added: "I think he may want to retire now with an unbeaten 100% record. I think everyone enjoyed the experience of working under him, and the result gives us a huge boost as we look forward to Cheltenham later in the year."
In a contest full of well managed performances of Eric Ball’s delightful set test, Ifton’s high quality rendition described by the judges in their written remarks as: ‘A musical performance, very well directed and full of style’, repelled the challenges from fellow qualifiers Market Rasen Redev and Moulton ’77.
Conducted by Alan Needham, Market Rasen put behind them their recent Butlins disappointment to secure a fine second place, whilst Moulton rounded off the contest with a persuasive musical account under the baton of Roger Stephens.
Elsewhere the final top six places went to a vibrant University of Warwick in fourth, followed by top six finishers Cleobury Mortimer Concert Brass and Pleasley Colliery Welfare.
We’ve been close a few times, including second last year, but to have won it on my 25th anniversary appearance makes this victory very specialJaguar Land Rover MD, Dave Lea
Test Piece: 'Harmony Music' — Philip Sparke
Sunday 10th March
Adjudicators: Graham Jones and Richard Marshall
1. Jaguar Land Rover (Dave Lea)*
2. Virtuosi GUS (John Berryman)*
3. Thoresby Colliery (Brian Grant)
4. Sovereign Brass (David Maplestone)
5. Newstead Brass (Duncan Beckley)
6. Ratby Co-operative (Michael Fowles)
7. Derwent Brass (Keith Leonard)
8. Gresley Colliery (Simon Jones)
9. Phoenix Brass West Midlands (Trevor Jones)
10. Jackfield (Elcock Reisen) (Simon Platford)
11. Oddfellows Brass (Robert Boulter)
* Top 2 bands qualify for Finals
Test Piece:'Brass Triumphant' — Gareth Wood
Saturday 9th March
Adjudicators: Alan Morrison and Paul Norley
1. Staffordshire (Leigh Baker), 14*
2. Foresters Brass 2000 (Peter Collins), 8*
3. Blidworth Welfare (Martin Heartfield), 1*
4. Shirley (Dave Bishop-Rowe), 1
5. Hathern (David Newman), 7
6. Langley (Cliff Parker), 12
7. Leicestershire Co-operative (Graham Jacklin), 5
8. Enderby (Huw Thomas), 11
9. Kibworth (Iain Rayner), 15
10. Carlton Brass (Simon Gresswell), 10
11. City of Coventry (Stephen Cooper), 17
12. Shirebrook MW Unison (Mark Wilcockson), 3
13. Bedworth Brass (Jason Glynn), 16
14. Harborough (Chris Groom), 4
15. Raunds Temperance (Robin Norman), 2
16. Tintwistle (Sarah Groarke-Booth), 13
17. Brackley and District (Adrian Raven), 9
*Top 3 Qualify for National Finals
Test Piece: 'The Plantagenets' — Edward Gregson
Sunday 10th March
Adjudicators: Colin Hardy and Kevin Wadsworth
1. Bilton Silver (Rugby) (David Stowell), 8*
2. Wigston (Garry Sleath), 9*
3. Daventry Brass (Bob Stradling), 7
4. Bakewell Silver (Mark Wilcockson), 6
5. Ibstock Brick Brass (Huw Thomas), 3
6. Avonbank (Evesham) (Warren Belshaw), 1
7. Long Eaton Silver Prize (Sharon Stansfield), 10
8. Matlock (Andrew Dennis), 11
9. Towcester Studio (Kevin Steward), 4
10. Amington (Wesley Kendrick), 12
11. Shirland Welfare (Marie Smith), 5
12. Wellington (Telford) (Steve Pritchard Jones), 2
*Top 2 qualify for National Finals
Test Piece: 'Hollywood' — Goff Richards
Saturday 9th March
Adjudicators: Colin Hardy and Kevin Wadsworth
1. Hucknall and Linby MC Brass (Paul Whyley), 7*
2. Ireland Colliery (Chesterfield) (Ian Knapton), 17*
3. Shipston Town (Howard Gibbs), 1*
4. Stamford Brass (Robert Prew), 12
5. Arrow Valley Brass (Paul White), 13
6. Burbage (Buxton) (Steve Critchlow), 14
7. Rolls Royce (Derby) (Graham Cardell), 2
8. Rushden Town (John Hudson), 15
9. Porthywaen Silver (Mark Parry), 5
10. City of Birmingham (Warren Belshaw), 6
11. Foss Dyke (Ewan Robson), 8
12. Rushden Windmill (Stephen Bell), 3
13. Trentham Brass (Mike Caveney), 16
14. Newhall (Kevin Holdgate), 4
15. Stourport-on-Severn (Mike West), 10
16. Fairfield (Buxton) (Charles Kitchen), 9
17. West Mercia Police (Kevin Steward), 11
18. WEM Jubilee (Stephen Gittins), 18
*Top 3 qualify for National Finals
Test Piece: 'A Devon Fantasy' — Eric Ball
Sunday 10th March
Adjudicators: Paul Norley and Alan Morrison
1. Ifton Colliery (Richard Evans), 1*
2. Market Rasen Resdev (Alan Needham), 13*
3. Moulton ’77 (Roger Stevens), 17*
4. University of Warwick (Simon Hogg), 17
5. Cleobury Mortimer Concert Brass (Saphran Ali), 14
6. Pleasley Colliery Welfare (Keith Buxton), 2
7. Melton (Graham Sutton), 12
8. Ilkeston Brass (Dave Jones), 15
9. Cubbington (Alexander Webb), 4
10. Croft Silver (Ian Needham), 5
11. Audley Brass (Ian Turner), 6
12. Sherwood Forest Brass (Christine Lippeatt), 8
13. Ratby Co-operative Mid (Geoff Newman), 3
14. Syston (Dennis Powell), 10
15. Black Country Brass (Alwyn Manley), 7
16. Corby Silver (Keith Espin), 9
17. Malvern Hills District (Chris License), 11
*Top 3 qualify for National Finals
Harworth Brass (Claire Cowan) — Withdrawn
Bestwood Welfare (Brian Draper) — Withdrawn
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