Northop Silver lived up to their motto of 'Onwards and Upwards!' in claiming a fine Senior Cup victory, adding further silverware substance to their growing contesting reputation.
Joining them in the Grand Shield next year, and also just one step away from a first appearance at the British Open, will be a trio of other upwardly mobile bands in Wantage Silver, Llwydcoed and Ratby Cooperative.
Each gave the judges Thomas Wyss and Mark Wilkinson the type of dynamically controlled, consistently paced performances of Paul Huber's 'Symphonic Music' that struck a qualification chord in the box perched high in the lively Empress Ballroom acoustic.
The North Walian's second success at the event (they won in 2012) comes on the back of their runner-up finish at the recent Welsh Regional Championships. They can now look ahead to a brace of 'National' appearances — first at their nation's Eisteddfod in Conway in August and then at the Albert Hall, brimming with the type of enthused confidence that has been restored to their competitive veins by MD John Doyle.
The appointment of the former Black Dyke and Leyland star in January 2018 has certainly been the catalyst for their latest revival, although following the victory he was keen to focus all the praise on his players.
"There was plenty of work to do when I first came to the band, but the attitude and the commitment from everyone has been superb," he said. "They knew what was required and have backed me 100%. I think it was more about self belief than anything — the talent around the stands is clear."
John also felt that the National Final qualification in Wrexham in March also played its part. "That performance showed what we could do together, and this test piece showed we've built on that. I've adjudicated here at the North West Area and knew we had to temper the dynamics and the tempos to gain the clarity in the Empress Ballroom that would be heard in the box.
The ensemble control was excellent and I was chuffed by the way the band played, so I was confident we would be in with a good shout. The players and everyone who've kept Northop going deserve it."
John's contest approach was echoed in the findings of the judges; Thomas Wyss outlining telling detail in his pre-results address to the audience — saying that a "challenging work" had required maintenance of pace as well as volume.
"The top and bottom six were clear," he said. "Nobody really played pianissimo and some of louder dynamics were quite aggressive. We felt that the tempo choices were not always consistently held and the faster elements did struggle, but the best bands gave us the quality and the clarity."
Mark further emphasised the points made when he later told 4BR that although they felt the overall standard had been good, the clear differences between those who qualified and those that didn't was their ability to control the structural elements of a work of academic rigour.
"It was a great piece to study as well as adjudicate," he said. "The elements for success were there in black and white — from tempo and dynamic markings to note lengths and style.
The overall standard was good, but the top four fell easily enough into place and the winners had that extra touch of quality in terms of care and attention to those details and especially to the acoustic of the hall."
Mid contest fulcrum
The best came from Northop; imbued with a collective confidence that took control of the contest immediately before the mid-point break, as John Doyle's intelligent appreciation of those structural elements was backed by the cohesive execution of his players.
Straight after the break it was two bands also bubbling with confidence that secured their Grand Shield qualifications; the in-form Ratby Cooperative (who just missed out on an Albert Hall qualification at the Midlands Area in March) producing the type of well-tempered account under MD Dave Purkiss that also resonated with the experienced adjudication duo.
Immediately after David Hirst used all his years of contesting knowhow and experience to provide a template of lean muscularity to draw Llwydcoed into third spot — assisted by the classiest of soprano cornet toppings by regular MD Chris Turner, who deservedly claimed the 'Best Instrumentalist' award.
With Roche Brass and Newtongrange also providing balance, refinement and flow (despite occasionally moments of unease) to eventually finish fifth and sixth, it was left to another fast rising top-flight contesting force in Wantage (2018 Senior Cup winners and podium finishers at the Scottish Open), as the penultimate band of the day, to surge into the podium places with a lean, sinuous rendition under Paul Holland.
Paul Huber's 'Symphonic Music' certainly provided a compact test of style and substance for the 21 bands to master — with the judge's revealing that they felt that too many meandered with the strict tempo markings to lose the consistent tension in the agitated sections and lyrical flow in the linking elements.
Both Tom and Mark were clear and consistent in their approach — and whilst there was plenty of agitated passion displayed by all the bands that appealed to the other listeners in the Empress Ballroom (4BR included), they specifically rewarded those who controlled speed and volume, allowing the clarity and detail to come through in the somewhat boomy acoustic.
Little to choose
In such a well matched field, there was little to choose between the eventual midfield finishers, as differing levels of tempo instability and especially dynamic harshness instead of animated intensity took the gloss finish off vibrantly portrayed readings.
And few complaints (but undoubtedly disappointment) either from the bottom five of Aveley & Newham, Hatfield & Askern Colliery, Yorkshire Imperial Urquhart Travel, Jackfield and Lydbrook who fell through the relegation trap door to the Senior Trophy (as there were 21 bands taking part) given the judge's accordant approach.
2019 is turning into a memorable year for Northop Silver — and on this form their onwards and upwards trajectory still has some way to go.
They knew what was required and have backed me 100%. I think it was more about self belief than anything — the talent around the stands is clearNorthop MD, John Doyle
The Senior Cup:
Test Piece: Symphonic Music for Brass Band (Paul Huber)
Adjudicators: Mark Wilkinson & Thomas Wyss
1. Northop Silver (John Doyle)*
2. Wantage Silver (Paul Holland)*
3. Llwydcoed (David Hirst)*
4. Ratby Co-operative (David Purkiss)*
5. Roche Brass (David Johnson)
6. Newtongrange Silver (Andrew Duncan)
7. Kingdom Brass (Ian Porthouse)
8. Derwent Brass (Jack Capstaff)
9. City of Cardiff (Melingriffith) (Christopher Bond)
10. Ashton-under-Lyne (Philip Chalk)
11. TCTC Group (Jef Sparkes)
12. Dalmellington (Nigel Boddice MBE)
13. Blackburn & Darwen (Daniel Thomas)
14. Kirkintilloch (Leigh Baker)
15. Goodwick Brass (Matthew Jenkins)
16. Elland Silver (Daniel Brooks)
17. Aveley & Newham (Alan Duguid)**
18. Hatfield & Askern Colliery (Stan Lippeatt)**
19. Yorkshire Imperial Urquhart Travel (Garry Hallas)**
20. Jackfield (David Maplestone)**
21. Lydbrook (Glyn Williams)**
Best Instrumentalist: Chris Turner (soprano) — Llwydcoed
*Promoted to the Grand Shield
** Relegated to the Senior Trophy