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Famous Five take on the Contest Organisers

Representatives of five of the leading, and famous bands in the UK have joined forces to initiate a dialogue between themselves and contest organisers to try and seek a radical new approach to the question of brass band contests and how it affects competing bands in the future.

The five bands and their representatives involved in this approach are Derek Rawlinson, Chairman of Brighouse and Rastrick, Tim Walters, Chairman of Fodens, Allan Littlemore, Band Manager of Leyland, Terry Webster, Band Manager of Grimethorpe Colliery UK Coal and Andy Gillooly, Band Manager of Williams Fairey.

Their extensive memorandum was sent to Philip Biggs and Richard Franklin of the All England Masters Championships, Paul and Jacqueline Beer of the Brass in Concert Championships, Norman Jones of the British Federation of Brass Bands, Martin Mortimer of the British Open Championships, Philip Morris of the National Brass Band Championships, Peter Bates of the North West Regional Championships and Peggy Tomlinson of the Yorkshire Regional Brass Band Championships.

The memorandum has been sent on behalf of these bands only, although they believe that the vast majority of bands throughout the country hold the same opinions as themselves.

4BR has been sent the full memorandum and publishes it below to show everyone the contents and the proposals set out by the five bands. We think it will start some sort of debate - 4BR itself has already penned an article "Major Headaches" which will cover what we think is good, bad and in need of change at the major brass band contests, and we hope that after reading what these five bands have to say, you too will enter into the debate.

The memorandum reads as follows:

Over the past few weeks we, the above bands, have been meeting to carry out a comprehensive review of all the matters affecting affairs between us as competing bands and you as contest organisers. You will appreciate that in playing standards we comprise a number of the top ranked bands, while financially we range from being well sponsored to being not sponsored at all. We are very mindful that our respective sponsorship circumstances can so easily and quickly change.

After thorough debate we have concluded that, as far as we are concerned, things cannot continue to go on as they have been. While we only speak for ourselves, we believe that the vast majority of bands will be in accord with our aims and objectives.

We have set out below our collective stance on a number of issues for you to consider separately or jointly, as you choose. However, we would like a written considered response from each Contest Organisation with regard to your intentions for 2003. We would look to receive this by 1st September 2002 at the latest. This will enable us to decide our collective course of action for the 2003 contests and beyond.

Naturally we are available to discuss any or all of the matters raised with you, preferably with all at the same time, so as to ensure common understanding of our position, consistency of message, and avoidance of any one organisation having a priority over the others.

We appreciate that not every point we raise impacts uniformly on each particular contest organisation, but each will want to respond as it thinks appropriate.

Brass Band Contests:
Over the last few weeks we as a group have been discussing the whole question of the brass band contest scene in so far as it affects us.

This discussion has shown up very significant issues and a common purpose. We would like to take this opportunity to share with you our concerns, and our objectives of effecting change, so as to benefit all of the bands.

It is both fair and accurate to say that every single band, in the contests that you promote, ends up financially "out of pocket". This is even true of the winners. One illustration of this is that we bands typically spend over £5,000 to play for less than 15 minutes in the Royal Albert Hall and, at most, can win only £2,000 in prize money. 85% of the bands who are invited to the National Finals are guaranteed to win nothing.

Similar parallels can be drawn for all the other contests.

We are looking for much more prize money in total and a much greater spread of prize paying places.

Ticket Costs:
This seems an appropriate time to point out some of our findings on ticket prices. Again taking the National Championships first, the Loggia tickets have gone from £8.00 in 1987 to £22.00 in 2001; similarly the programme prices have increased over the same period from £1.50 to £3.00. The prize money has remained exactly the same at £2,000, £1,500 and £1,000 for these dame 14 years.

With regard to the British Open the ticket costs, as comparable as we can make them because of the change of venue, have increased from £9.00 in 1990 to £15.00 in 2001 and the programme from £1.00 to £2.50 in the same time. Over the same period the prize money has increased by just 10%; all of that increase going to the winner.

The All England Masters ticket costs have increased from £9.00 in 1995 to £15.00 in 2001, while over he same period prize money has remained unchanged. No doubt programme prices have gone up considerably too, but no figure is shown on the cover.

At Brass in Concert tickets have doubled in cost, from £6.00 to £12.00 over the period 1991 to 2001. In that same period prize money has not increased at all.

Even the Regional Contests, for which we have insufficient ticket price costs, have reduced the prize money from a total of £550.00 in 1980 to £375.00 in 2001, some twenty one years later.

While we are looking for a substantial increase in prize money, we are also looking into ways that opportunities can be taken to reduce our costs of attending contests. A key area here is the question of overnight accommodation where in London, for example, costs of the order of £2,500 per night are incurred.

Again using London as an example, the timing of the 2000 contest meant that, if a Championship band so chose, it could travel to London and back home on the same day.

To us there seems to be two avenues of opportunity for all of these contests; one is a "long range" segmented pre draw and the other, maybe preferable, is a post Noon start with a previous day pre draw.

The experience at the All England Masters has shown the advantage, and security, of a sectored pre draw. Not all the competing bands have to breakfast at an unseemly hour and the drive into the same crowded streets, only to find their early rise has been unnecessary.

Only recently one band to our knowledge, but not in our group, was invited to the British Open in Birmingham. To avoid the cost of an overnight stay the players rose at 4.30am, met at the bandroom at 5.30am, travelled to Birmingham, breakfasted in time for a rehearsal at 8.30am and were then drawn in the last three! Additionally, of course, they unnecessarily incurred about five hours of coach costs. In fact they could not afford to stay for the results otherwise the drivers hours limit would have been broken with the further cost of calling out two other drivers.

As a result we are looking either for a sectored pre draw in all the contests, except the Regional events, or, more preferably, a previous day sectored pre draw and contest post Noon. We must stress, however, that if the former, we expect this to take place at least four months before the date of the contest. Only this way can we make the selected accommodation if and where we choose.

We have a great concern that we, as a Movement, are failing to develop competent younger adjudicators. To this end we are looking to see an age spread of the three, where used, adjudicators, with no more than one aged above 60 and below 65, no more than two aged over 55 and the third to be under the age of 50.

Our experience of the All England Masters Championship leads us to have a strong preference for separate individual boxes and individual published placings. We do not expect any points to be awarded or announced.

Hat Trick of Wins:
Since specific rules are not published for every contest, we are unclear as to whether the "hat trick" rule applies to any of your contests.

Our position is quite clear. Any attempt to bar any band, if it is successful on three or more consecutive occasions, is not acceptable to us.

In general we have few problems with the Registry and applaud the work done by those involved. Our problem lies with the different methods used by each contest. We have cards sent in for "verification" and them returned. We have them sent in and returned on the day. We have them brought on the day and checked against a pre printed Registry List. The whole thing is so needlessly complicated, confusing for those who look after these things for our bands and give rise to potential errors. For instance we have been made aware of people being refused permission to play, or being told that their band can expect disqualification, if a player whose name has been inadvertently missed off the list, takes the stage. We are aware of two instances of this of late. This is totally unacceptable to us.

We want, instead, a common approach to be used at all contests. This, for now, should be the checking of Registry Cards, brought by the bands on the day, against a pre supplied Registry print out. Such a print out to be with the bands at least ten days before the date of the contest. In the future there should be an even more simple system, using modern technology, to suit both the Registry and the bands.

Number of Entries:
A recent article in the British Bandsman collated the views of a group of banding eminences grise as to how many bands they thought should be in a contest. The answers were as follows:

Marcus Bach: 12 - 14 bands
Jappie Dijkstra: 12
Philip Morris: 16

We agree with these people that there are far too many bands in any one contest and have concluded that the absolute maximum should be 15; proportionately less in an "Entertainment Contest". We expect to see a planned reduction to this number over the years 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Entry Rules:
We have concluded that too often entry rules stress words such as "will", "must", "cannot", etcetera. We fully recognise the need for discipline and order in these affairs, but find this language unacceptable. Often these matters are dealt with by older non playing volunteers associated with the bands. As with the contest registry sheets, they are becoming so frightened by the potential consequences of error that they are no longer persuaded to take on these responsibilities.

Instead we are looking for more appropriately, but firmly, worded requirements, with the consequence of a reminder and a fine if the terms are not met. These fines should have a common and agreed structure, but nevertheless be substantial, so as to discourage slack administration. We are not prepared to see a band disqualified, or a player stood down, for an innocent error of administration of timely entry.

Having lost money in winning a prize at a contest, there often follows the cost of insuring the trophy. In many cases this can be a very significant percentage of the prize itself. There seems to be two clear alternatives. One is for the contest organiser to arrange and pay for insurance, gaining better terms since t will be an on going policy. The alternative is to give the bands the option of having three months hold of the trophy and paying a proportionally lower premium. This would enable the band to hold celebratory events and have an official photograph taken before returning any trophy to the contest organiser.

There is a growing tendency for Contest Organisers to introduce a clause in the invitation to a contest, or even subsequently, to the effect that the bands must sign away any rights hey may think they have as to the recording of their performance. This covers such as any subsequent broadcast, CD, DVD, video or the like. With effect from 1st January 2003, such a clause is totally unacceptable to we bands.

All England Masters:
In the interests of continued friendship in our Movement we would like to state that we have had, and will continue to have, very good relations with all other bands, irrespective of their domicile. We believe we had no choice but to adopt the stance we took over the question of any non-English band being invited to the "Masters", and our position remains unchanged.

From time to time, including recently, we have received an amendment notice to the number of percussionists allowed to take the stage at a contest. Sometimes this notice is after the closing day for registrations. Since the number of percussionists needed by a band depends not only on the musical requirements but on their specialist instruments and preferred layout, we expect to see an amendment to your contests rules whereby each band is free to determine for itself how many percussionists to use.

We are mindful of all he administrative planning and work that goes into any contest, just as a lot of work goes in by the players and the band officials. Nevertheless things are not always totally satisfactory from either point of view. Consequently we believe it is in all out interests for a common questionnaire to be drawn up which every competing band would have the opportunity to return. This we see as being drawn up jointly between us and to cover all the arrangements leading up to and including the contest.

Thereafter we would want to share with each Contest Organiser a review of the submissions so as to take any opportunities for future improvements.

The fact that this memorandum is so long, and covers so many issues, perhaps reflects that fact that dialogue between we bands has been so marked by its absence over the years. We have now started to put that right.

We hope that you will each respond very positively to what we have had to say, so that our contests, the organisers and our bands can go forward together, bringing greater understanding and strength to the Band Movement.

We are looking forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,
Derek Rawlinson, Brighouse and Ratrick Band
Tim Walters, Fodens Band
Terry Webster, Grimethorpe Colliery UK Coal Band
Allan Littlemore, Leyland Band
Andy Gillooly, Williams Fairey

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