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Report & Results: 2019 Welsh Regional Championships

Tredegar lead the way in Wales as they claim the Championship title, with section awards going to Goodwick, Newport Borough, Taff Vale and Gwaun Cae Gurwen

Taff Vale
  Tredegar lead the way in Wrexham with Goodwick, Newport Borough, Taff Vale and Gwaun Cae Gurwen winning titles.

The return of the Area championships to North Wales for the first time since 2014 saw excellent facilities, keenly fought title battles, a television documentary team and a 'Grand Slam' winning performance make for a memorable weekend at the William Aston Hall in Wrexham.

The rugby also played its part too: Saturday's afternoon's First Section contest delayed to take in the Cardiff clash, whilst the cameras rolled the following day as Tredegar secured the Champion Band of Wales title for the 12th time with a clean sweep of all the trophies on offer.

Had everything

And much like Warren Gatland's team, Ian Porthouse's band claimed the silverware with something to spare; their superb rendition of 'Seascapes' described by adjudicator Roger Webster (joined by David Hirst) in his pre-results analysis as, "...one of the finest performances I've heard for many years. It was the very clear winner. It had everything."

The judge's observations were backed by their written remarks. 'A real showcase and stunning performance' wrote Roger, whilst David referred to it simply as 'magnificent'.

In addition to securing the title for the first time since 2016, and gaining the invitation to represent the nation at the 2020 European Championships in Palanga, soprano player Ian Roberts took the 'Best Instrumentalist' award, with the tuba team taking the 'Best Basses'. Dewi Griffiths became the first recipient of the Ian Williams Award as the 'Best Cornet' — presented in memory of the much missed former Cory player.

"It's always good when things come together like that," Ian Porthouse told 4BR before being bundled off with trophies in hand to be interviewed for a BBC commissioned programme to be aired later this year.

"It's been the usual Tredegar build up to a big event; great commitment from the players, detailed preparation and two sets of camera crews following us!"

He added: "The performance was special. I'm lucky to work with a great bunch of people who want to make the most of their talent. I'm a very proud conductor."

Gasp

And whilst the majority of listeners in the hall acknowledged the deserved merit of Tredegar's success, moments earlier it was their collective gasp of surprise that greeted the announcement of defending champion Cory in third (although they were already pre-qualified) as an inspired Northop claimed their best finish since 1996 to return to London for the first time since 2015 as runner-up.

It was a result however that fully endorsed what Roger had highlighted in his pre-results address. "Second and third were very close," he said, later telling 4BR that it was the loss of cohesion and balance in the third movement that had relegated Cory into third.

"I'm a bit stunned," Northop MD John Doyle told 4BR later. "It all came together so well on stage, so I knew we were in with a good chance of qualification. Coming runner-up has given us a huge boost of confidence ahead of the Spring Festival."

On this form that will not be misplaced.

Earlier, Llwydcoed set the purposeful marker for what turned out to be, as the judge's described, a 'the rest did well' contest within a contest. 2018 qualifier City of Cardiff (Melingriffith) eventually pipped them to fourth thanks to a lyrical account under Garry Cutt, with a hard-working Ebbw Valley sixth ahead of the rebuilding Tongwynlais Temperance.

Never materialised

Meanwhile, the anticipated behemoth Celtic battle for the title never quite materialised, after Tredegar's superbly structured account, full of balanced detail, texture and colour laid down a hugely imposing challenge to their rivals.

In response, the 33 time champion's malleable performance under Philip Harper contained uncharacteristic minor errors whilst the loss of balance in the final movement was such that even Cory's most ardent fans knew hopes of a hat-trick success were going to be dashed.

And so it proved.

Like their rugby counterparts, Tredegar supporters will now look forward to reliving the highlights of their own memorable 'Grand Slam' success on the BBC in the coming months.

It was just as impressive.

First Section:

Relegation after a three year tenure in the top tier of Welsh banding has given the Goodwick Band the opportunity to fully integrate the latest generation of talented young players into their ranks.

And that was certainly heard in securing their ever First Section Welsh title — one that further emphasised the solidity of the progress Matthew Jenkins and his band is now making.

They will return to Cheltenham in September confident of once again lifting the National title (they won it in 2015) after producing what adjudicators Roger Webster and Sheona Wade described as "...a very good performance" and one that was "very well directed".

They will be joined by fellow West Walians Burry Port; another band that has also started to build solidly towards a top flight return. Ceri John led them back to the Centaur auditorium for the second successive year aided by the contribution of 'Best Instrumentalist' award-winning guest, Robbert Voss.

Generous

Roger Webster was generous in his praise of the best competitors, as 'Symphony of Marches' once again bared its 55 year old teeth. He described the top three as "exceptional" whilst showing enough overall quality to suggest that they were potentially ready to move up to Championship status.

"A great piece" had made the judges task "very simple" he said; although adding that despite most being able to meet the technical challenges few were able to master the musical ones.

No such problems for the winner. They had provided "power and control" as well as the ability to showcase the softer dynamics of the score; from the bright brilliance of the opening fanfare, to the flowing drama of the central section (aided by some fine soprano playing) and the relevantly paced finale, delivered with brio and wit.

Impressed

Burry Port's approach also impressed in a well constructed account; although Roger revealed that he and Sheona had to go back over their notes to find the edge to place them ahead of a mature rendition from Pontardulais, with the quality of the main solo lines the deciding factor.

They in turn will have been disappointed not to have secured successive Cheltenham appearances after coming runner-up in the Second Section Final last year. Conductor Paul Jenkins was left to take some satisfaction from being able to help Goodwick and his friend Matthew Jenkins to success by playing bass trombone (Matthew reciprocated by playing second euphonium).

Behind the top three the standard declined, although each conductor stayed faithful to Vinter's musical intentions give or take a few degrees of volume and pace — from BTM to Abergavenny. A vibrant account by Deiniolen eventually finished fourth ahead of a purposeful Tylorstown and a more tempered Lewis Merthyr.

None though could match Goodwick, as the latest generation of what is a remarkable production line of talent in an isolated outpost of brass banding in West Wales claimed a well deserved victory.

Second Section:

Newport Borough continued their excellent run of contesting form under Robin Hackett, as they impressively added the Second Section regional title to a burgeoning CV of recent contest successes.

Since coming sixth at the Third Section National Final in 2017 the Gwent band has won five of the eight contests they have entered, securing the National Eisteddfod and Welsh League championship in the process.

Clear winner

They can now add the Area title after providing a performance of 'Rise of the Phoenix' described by adjudicators David Hirst and Sarah Groarke-Booth as "very good" and a "clear winner".

Their outstanding principal cornet Seamus Gallagher took the 'Best Instrumentalist' award, whilst the youthful duo of Matt Roche and Karl Sheen claimed the 'Best Percussion' accolade.

"I'm really happy with the way the band played," Robin told 4BR. "We're developing strongly, but we know we've work to do if we're to make a mark at Cheltenham. There's plenty of young talent coming through, so we've a great foundation to build on."

They were a deserved winner, although David Hirst highlighted the judge's disappointment at the overall standard on show from bands who he said had been "fed on red meat" in terms of dynamics and tonality.

"There were too many performances that were musically inconsistent as well as full of technical inconsistencies," he remarked. "It was a difficult contest to judge."

In her detailed analysis Sarah also referred to the problems encountered, saying that although "there were some good moments in each performances", there were also "many not so good ones too".

The diplomacy shown was noted, as many who heard the eight competitors shared their puzzlement as the difficulties in mastering what has been a well-pitched test piece were stark and at times incomprehensible.

Wales has produced many fine bands at this level over the past few years (including six National champions since 2007), but on this occasion the litany of basic problems, including a huge raft of wrong notes, misplaced entries and players getting lost was startling.

Joining Newport in Cheltenham will be Royal Buckley Town, after Keith Jones brought a sense of determination and drive to an exciting account of verve and character to secure a finals' place for the first time since 2009.

The final podium slot went to another rendition of power and passion, as Penclawdd under the experienced Tony Small very nearly got his band through, whilst the remaining top-six places went to varied accounts from Mid Rhondda, Ammanford Town Silver and Newtown Silver.

Third Section:

Unfortunately a contest that took less than an hour to complete on Saturday morning did not turn out to be one where quality was in greater abundance than quantity.

It was also one that left judges Brian Rostron and Sheona Wade disappointed (something mirrored by all the adjudicators on the Saturday when they spoke to 4BR) after they felt all five bands struggled in varying degrees to deliver consistent accounts of Holst's 'First Suite in Eb'.

Unbeaten

The eventual winner was defending champion Taff Vale Brass; securing victory with a performance that even conductor Gareth Ritter would have admitted wasn't them at their commanding domestic best (the band has remained unbeaten in Wales since their formation).

Confident and coherently set out it was by no means perfect, although the warm tonality and flowing musicality shone through to claim victory and a return to Cheltenham.

Whilst they were the "very clear winner" according to Sheona and Brian, the battle for the second qualification place was a much closer matter, with the judges having to balance obvious inconsistencies and basic errors amid poor intonation.

In a repeat of last year's result, it was former Fourth Section National Champion Usk who came through to claim a comfortable runner-up finish and a Cheltenham return under James Jones, with hard working accounts from Briton Ferry, RAF St Athan and Ynyshir behind.

The judges later told 4BR that each had their moments where the musical intentions were matched by technical execution in frustratingly inconsistent efforts, with some fine solo playing on show from the soprano players in particular.

The experienced Nigel Stallard of RAF St Athan took the 'Best Instrumentalist' award, whilst there was a first glimpse of a real talent in the making in 13 year old Oliver Davies of Ynyshir.

Fourth Section:

Where the judges expressed a degree of disappointment with the overall standard in the previous day's contests, both Sheona Wade and Sarah Groarke-Booth admitted they were anything but after a great qualification battle in the Fourth Section.

"It was a super contest," Sarah said before the results. "It was very impressive and a standard to be proud of. There were some lovely sounding bands that brought character to the music."

And whilst her detailed remarks highlighted the need for ensemble cohesion and for soloists to confidently support their sound, she did make the point of praising the percussion sections and the glock players in particular.

They were not wrong; all nine bands giving performances of 'Stantonbury Festival' that were both technically secure and musically engaging, with the winners Gwaen Cae Gurwen coming in for additional praise after the duo found out that they had claimed their first title since 1967 with just 21 players.

Famous names

One of the most famous names in Welsh banding, with a history that includes top-six finishes at the British Open in the 1920s and being the first Area top section champion in 1945, the've been rejuvenated in the past year under the direction of former Cory euph star Robert Burnett.

After also securing a Welsh League contest win in November they will now head to Cheltenham for the first time since 2007 after giving an admirably compact rendition that maintained both dynamic and balance relevance. Their two solo cornet players (out of just six) were particularly impressive, as was their solo euphonium, Daffyd Lewis who claimed the 'Best Instrumentalist' award.

"I'm really enjoying building this great band back up," Robert said. "The commitment is superb — as all 21 of them showed today and on such a great piece. I'm especially pleased for Daffyd as he's a fine euph player who's the heartbeat of the band.

I didn't know it was such a long time since they last won a Welsh title, so it's a magnificent achievement for everyone, especially off the number 1 draw. I'm proud of them all."

Rejuvenated

Joining them is another rejuvenated band, as Beaumaris, who last competed at the contest in 2013 in the Championship Section made an emotional return in securing an impressive runner-up finish under conductor Scott Lloyd.

With a sprinkling of their former top flight players amid youngsters and banding returnees they produced a fine account that had many people tipping them for the title itself. And although that wasn't to be, they will head to Cheltenham as a band to fear.

The contest also showed that there are encouraging signs of revitalisation in the North Wales area in particular.

A delighted Menai Bridge came third and Buckley fourth, whilst last year's South Walian qualifier Cwmtawe had to be content with fifth just ahead of another North Wales rival in former National Champion, Northop.

With many Welsh community bands currently struggling to compete (10 were missing from the grading tables), the decision to hold the Championships in Wrexham was seen by some as an expense few from South Wales could afford.

However, the excellent facilities and slick organisation ensured that those who did make it were not disappointed, whilst the contribution of one of Welsh banding's stalwart administrators (and still playing) Pedr Roberts was fittingly marked with a Roll of Honour presentation in what was a memorable last event as Regional Chairman.

Iwan Fox

The judge's observations were backed by their written remarks. 'A real showcase and stunning performance' wrote Roger, whilst David referred to it simply as 'magnificent'4BR

Result:

Championship Section:

Test Piece: Seascapes (Ray Steadman-Allen)
Adjudicators: David Hirst & Roger Webster

1. Tredegar (Ian Porthouse)***
2. Northop Silver (John Doyle)*
3. Cory (Philip Harper)**
4. City of Cardiff (Melingriffith) M1 (Garry Cutt)
5. Llwydcoed (Christopher Turner)
6. Ebbw Valley (Gareth Ritter)
7. Tongwynlais Temperance (Gareth Hann)

* Cory pre-qualified for the National Final
** Northop qualify for National Final
*** Tredegar qualify for National Final and gain invitation to represent Wales at the 2020 European Championship.

Best Instrumentalist: Ian Roberts (soprano) — Tredegar
Best Cornet: Dewi Griffiths (Tredegar)
Best Basses: Tredegar


First Section:

Test Piece: Symphony of Marches (Gilbert Vinter)
Adjudicators: Sheona Wade & Roger Webster

1. Goodwick (Matthew Jenkins)*
2. Burry Port Town (Ceri John)*
3. Pontardulais Town (Paul Jenkins)
4. Deiniolen (Lois Eifion)
5. Tylorstown (Gary Davies)
6. Lewis Merthyr (Craig Roberts)
7. BTM (Nigel Seaman)
8. Markham & District (Matt Rowe)
9. Llanrug (Brian Connolly)
10. Ifton Colliery (Scott Lloyd)
11. Abergavenny Borough (Sean O'Neill)

*Top two bands qualify for National Final

Best Instrumentalist: Robbert Vos (euphonium) — Burry Port


Second Section:

Saturday 16th March
Test Piece: Rise of the Phoenix (Darrol Barry)
Adjudicators: Sarah Groarke-Booth & David Hirst

1. Newport Borough (Robin Hackett)*
2. Royal Buckley Town (Keith Jones)*
3. Penclawdd (Tony Small)
4. Mid Rhondda (Alan Gibbs)
5. Ammanford Town Silver (Glyn Davies)
6. Newtown Silver (Steve Edwards)
7. Abertillery Town (Joshua Ruck)
8. Seindorf Arian Crwbin (Andrew Jones)

*Top two bands qualify for National Final

Best Instrumentalist: Seamus Gallagher (cornet) — Newport Borough
Best Percussion: Newport Borough


Third Section:

Test Piece: First Suite in Eb (Gustav Holst arr. Sydney Herbert)
Adjudicators: Sheona Wade & Brian Rostron

1. Taff Vale (Gareth Ritter)*
2. Usk (James Jones)*
3. Briton Ferry Silver (Jeff Pearce)
4. RAF St Athan Voluntary (Alan Bourne)
5. Ynyshir (Gary Davies)

Best Instrumentalist: Nigel Stallard (soprano) RAF St Athan

*Top two bands qualify for National Final

Fourth Section:

Test Piece: Stantonbury Festival (Ray Steadman-Allen)
Adjudicators: Sarah Groarke-Booth & Sheona Wade

1. Gwaen Cae Gurwen (Robert Burnett)*
2. Seindorf Beaumaris (Scott Lloyd)*
3. Menai Bridge Porthaethwy (Chris Williams)
4. Buckley (Steve Pugh-Jones)
5. Cwmtawe (Wayne Pedrick)
6. Northop (Aled Williams)
7. Crosskeys Silver (Sion Rhys Jones)
8. Holywell (Chris Barnes)
9. Seindorf Arian yr Oakeley (Aled Williams)

*Top two bands qualify for National Final

Best Instrumentalist: Daffyd Lewis (euphonium) — Gwaun Cae Gurwen

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