The Majors a quick mugs guide - ref art006
Tennis has four of them and so has golf, whilst horse racing has
five. Meanwhile, football has got two maybe three, but rugby has
got a lot they lump together to call a Grand Slam and Triple Crown.
If you havent quite caught on to what Im talking about, then youre
either not interested in the world of sport, or not at all concerned
who wins the titles, the prizes and most of all the kudos that comes
with being able to describe yourself as a winner of a Major. If
in doubt, just ring Colin Montgomerie or Tim Henman and ask them.
For bandsmen and women we have four of our very own The Open,
The National, The European and The Masters and just like the majors
in every other walk of life, to win one in a year can be seen to
be lucky, two fortunate, three an achievement and all four down
right near impossible.
Take Tiger Woods. The greatest golfer of his and possibly any other
generation last year won three of the four majors on offer in the
world of golf - winning all four was even too much for this boy
wonder. Rod Laver was the last to win all four in tennis and that
was in 1969, whilst it must be said that it is technically impossible
for any horse to win more than three of the classics in any one
year. As for Manchester Uniteds treble of 1999 and Englands annual
cock up of winning the Grand Slam in rugby we must leave that discussion
for another day.
So heres our own analysis of the banding worlds Majors starting
with the oldest, The British Open.
Like its namesake in golf, the Open is the oldest and most revered
contest in the business, and because of this it has been seen to
be immune from any form of criticism over the years. This is a pity,
because for most of the 20th century the Open was a contest that
was slowly but surely dying on its feet.
Mention of its name brought elderly bandsmen out in a severe case
of sepia tinted nostalgia. Oh for the magic of Belle Vue, they
would whine. Brilliant bands, crowds of thousands, great test pieces,
the fun fair and change out of a shilling and enough money to buy
a bag of monkey nuts on the way home. This is complete trash. Its
a pity the Germans didnt blow the whole thing up in the War, because
ever since its final thankful death in the early 1980s the place
suffered from the terminal British illness of under investment and
awful amenities all dressed up in a package that reeked of stale
beer and cold urine. When the rest of the arts in the UK were demanding
better facilities for orchestras, theatre and even ballet, we were
condemned to play out our lives on a stage usually reserved for
third-rate boxers and the wrestling seen on Dicky Davies World
of Sport. Even the full results were never revealed.
Thankfully the move from Belle Vue coincided with the renaissance
of the contest, so that today it stands proud as the foremost brass
band competition in the world - not that it still has its problems
mind you. The Free Trade Hall was a convenient home for a number
of years, but really it was only a slight improvement of what went
on before, whilst the one off foray to the Bridgewater Hall was
No. The renaissance of the Open was only completed by its move
away from what many believed was its spiritual home in the North
and into the 21st century in geographical, musical and metaphorical
terms at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham. Today the contest has regained
its glory. OK, the crowds are not in the thousands and you cant
get change out of the best part of ten quid for a round of beer
and a bag of salted nuts, but we finally have a contest that has
a venue that is greater even than the competition itself. If they
can now do something about reducing the number of competing bands,
the absurd selection of the same adjudicators year in year out and
the price of a pint of lager we would be very nearly in heaven.
We have a dilemma about the National Championships. The second oldest
contest has always been seen by many to resemble the Rugby League
Cup Final, in that it takes place in a city that has no real passion
for the game and in a stadium that is fifty years out of date. It
may be the Royal Albert Hall, but like Wembley the place is (until
the redevelopment finally ends) a dump. It may look good from the
outside, but go through the doors and you are met with a concert
hall that is the size of a sumo wrestlers jockstrap, has no warm
up facilities, toilets that would not be out of place in the darkest
parts of Cairo Kasbah and bars that seem to think that charging
£3.00 for a pint of beer is reasonable and damned good value.
The Nationals, like the Open before its move to Birmingham are
in need of a facelift that even Carol Smiley and her gang would
find difficult to make a success. It is not that the contest is
poorly run, but its just that the whole damn thing is held in a
hall that is completely inappropriate and conducive for hosting
anything other than a Spice Girls concert or tennis for the dinosaurs
such as John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg.
The adjudicators box is positioned too far away, bands have no
warm up area, audiences are small and getting smaller and the acoustics
.. Ask anyone about the great performances of the last
twenty years and they will reel off a list that will include Grimethorpe
winning on the back of their pit closure and Dyke on Le Roi Dys;
trouble is, unless you were no more than ten yards from the stage,
all you got to hear was a rumble of sound not unlike a slowed down
techno beat in the back of a seventeen year olds Vauxhall Nova.
However, when you go to work on the Monday following the Finals
and the young female secretary you have always hoped to impress
asks what you did on the weekend, you can reply that you played
the Royal Albert Hall -you know the place that Eric Clapton, and
Last Night of the Proms comes from. Just dont tell her the changing
rooms were crap, the hall was half full and a vodka and red bull
chaser cost a fiver.
Thats the dilemma The Nationals sound a great contest, but in
reality its become a bit of lottery.
Whoever had the idea for the European Brass Band Championships in
1978, must have been treated as being a genius at the time. Less
than ten years before, the ill fated World Championships had come
to an ignominious end when everyone realised that they were as much
of a world championship as the Americans World Series in baseball.
As there was little kudos in being better than our friends in New
Zealand or Australia (we were beating them at everything at the
time anyway) some bright spark told Boosey and Hawkes that since
we hadnt beaten the Germans since 1945, wed better give them another
pasting pretty damn pronto.
The Brits had invented the brass band, so why not call our own
bands Champions of Europe especially as we could then put two
fingers up to our friends across the channel by showing them that
Johnny Foreigner was no match for the best of Yorkshire. (Yep, Black
Dyke became the Real Madrid of the competition in the early years).
The whole thing took off, with band as far a field as Wales and
Lancashire proclaiming themselves Kings of the Common Market all
until the Europeans decided to take the whole thing seriously.
First it was Eikanger from Norway, and to show it wasnt a fluke
they repeated the trick a second time on the bounce the following
year. Now the whole thing came of age. No longer the preserve of
English bands, the contest became a real test of who was the best.
Europe triumphed again when Willebrock won on Francis Drakes Plymouth
Ho, and ever since it has been one of the closest ran contests of
the year. Even the odd result when Y.B.S. were mysteriously Blitzed
cant take away from a contest that now is rightly a Major in
ever way. The chap at Booseys should be given the freedom of Brussels.
Just like its golfing brother, the All England Masters is the youngest
of the majors, and for many people it is the blueprint for the way
in which any successful contest should be run. At first the ethos
seemed to be what the bands want the bands get , a sentiment
that should have guaranteed success, but because of this, the promise
of a competition that would radically shape the development of contesting
into the 21st century has been diluted, as the bands themselves
have been reluctant to accept progressive change.
Getting the bands to decide on the test piece and the adjudicators
is a great idea in theory, but bandsmen are a conservative lot a
heart, so the initiatives brought by Franklin and Biggs have for
the most part not been a success. It certainly is not their fault,
but that of the bands, as they themselves resort to stale and unambitious
choices in both areas in the hope that by playing safe they wont
be putting themselves at too much of a risk of failure. Thats why
given the chance to experiment and jump into the hot water two footed
a-la Princess Margaret, they try just a big toe first and then pour
cold water on the idea. Thus, the contest itself breaks into three
parts; those who know they can win, those who think they can win,
and those who wish they can win.
Therefore it is not quite a great contest yet, but a few tweaks
here and there should secure its place as a worthy fourth Major.
First of all the contest should be opened out to involve all top
bands from Wales and Scotland and secondly, the number of competing
bands should be reduced so increasing quality over quantity. By
doing this they will get rid of the temptation of lesser bands to
choose safe options for test pieces and judges in the vain hope
that this will give them a more level playing field, and will enhance
the overall standing of the contest.
It may have to be renamed the British Masters - but that surely
wont be a bad thing in the long run.