The sun shone brightly at the seaside for Wingates Band last Saturday – both literally and metaphorically – when the Westhoughton-based ensemble recorded their most prestigious success in a Nationwide contest for seven years.Competing in the 94th Spring Brass Band Festival, held at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens (on April 26th), Wingates featured in a 20-band line-up which included elite English bands from as far away as Northumberland and Devon, as well as representative from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Their objective was The Senior Cup – or, to give it its full title, The Belle Vue 100 Guineas Challenge Cup – which began life in 1931 at Manchester’s famous Belle Vue Gardens, the original home of the Spring Festival.Playing anonymously in traditional British band contest style (with two experienced adjudicators secreted in a ‘black box’ within the contest auditorium), Wingates were drawn to play in 12th position, with this year’s test piece being the ultra-demanding 16-minutes’ epic, English Heritage, by renowned composer George Lloyd.When the time came for the announcement of the results in the Opera House auditorium – in the usual dramatic and tension-filled reverse-order style – one of the two contest adjudicators, John Doyle, addressed the capacity audience, giving an overview of the judges’ impression of the day’s events.
In a eulogy to the winning band (at that point unannounced), Mr Doyle said: ‘Today one band delivered an outstanding rendition of a very difficult piece of music, which was so good that I felt it wrapped me in a blanket of musical loveliness’. The audience erupted on hearing this somewhat colourful narrative.When it transpired that this very special performance had come from Wingates Band, there were screams of delight from the Wingates musicians, grouped in eager anticipation at the rear of the auditorium, and within minutes they were savouring a ‘Grand Prix’ style champagne-shaking celebration in the Piazza outside the Winter Gardens complex.Interviewed by the brass band media after this terrific trophy win – arguably the most significant since the very same trophy was won in 2007 – Wingates’s musical director, Paul Andrews, said: ‘This must rank as one of the most prestigious successes for Wingates in recent years, and with 14 of the band’s musicians under 23 years of age, this augurs extremely well for the future of our famous band.
Although extremely talented as musicians, many of the band’s members have very little experience of the extreme pressures which top-level band contests can bring, and hence this success is doubly-pleasing for us all. I ask a lot of my players, but the key elements of concentration, control and confidence paid off today, and the band deserve every credit for the huge amount of hard work and commitment they have put in whilst rehearsing for this contest.’In addition to the prestigious silver cup, the band was also presented with a beautifully- embroidered commemorative pennant, a winner’s Certificate to add to the plethora of accolades adorning walls of the Wingates Square bandroom, and a most welcome winner’s cheque for 600.Warrington-based Mr Andrews has only been leading Wingates since July last year, but since his arrival he has injected a new level of focus and commitment into the band, which has resulted in terrific teamwork, enthusiasm, and hunger for success on the contest platform, which has been such an important dimension throughout the remarkable Wingates history, with many successes at the highest level resulting in the band enjoying a greatly-cherished national and international reputation.