Soapbox opinions - Number 1: David Ashworth


The start of a new series from 4BR sees different people in the brass band world given the chance to air their opinions about the big questions of the day. We start off with David Ashworth giving his two penny worth.

David AshworthThe Future of our brass band movement?  

After recently reading an interesting article in a Brass Band publication, I thought I would spend a little time taking a look into the ideas what several band personalities have voiced their opinions on, including the comments made in David Reads' new book regarding the necessity of change, or rather his reluctance to change.

It is interesting to make comparisons with previous years with regards to what amount and at what rate the Brass Band Movement was declining. I looked into the Areas, and the unfortunate truth is that there has been a steady decline in competing bands for a number of years. For example, this year, 2004, compared with 2000 shows a decline of almost 10% in some areas. There are probably numerous reasons for this, lack of interest, shortage of players etc. But according to many I have spoken too, I find that it is possibly because of the lack of trust that players and conductors have in the movements, ‘so called' official bodies.

Numerous complaints regarding adjudication, contest organisation and even bands having to attend venues at ridiculous times for draws etc is bringing our movement to its knees. Why can't we have pre drawn contests, we don't have something to hide, or do we?

This article I submit is a proposal, regarding the possibility of forming an ‘Elite Section' within the movement and I must admit it is one that I am in great favour of. However, if it is intended that we progress along this channel, then discussions at all levels, will have to take place. And may I say, it must be in everyone's interest. Whether ‘Elite Section' or 4th section, all must be involved and everyone must be permitted to have their say.

My proposal however, does mean that the bands in the ‘Elite Section' will not have the need to qualify through Areas contests. They will compete each year at the RAH for the title of National Champions of Great Britain.

The format for this contest will be 1 set test piece plus 1 own choice test piece. The marks gained for each piece added together.

For this contest, I suggest that 3 adjudicators shall be sited in 3 separate areas of the RAH, all of whom will give remarks and points per band. This information shall be collected, by contest officials, from the adjudicators' positions and handed to officials on the stage, to be collated in full view of the audience, before the adjudicators are permitted to leave their respected locations and regroup for the announcements of results. The points shall be added together and divided by 3 to give an overall average mark. The 3 adjudicators for the contest, to be selected by, and agreed upon by all competing bands.

I suggest that the top 12 bands shown in the National Rankings collated by and the Brass Band World, will form the ‘Elite Section'.

The Championship Section shall remain, with bands competing as they do now, through Area qualifiers, for a final at the RAH. This Final shall be held on the same day as the ‘Elite Section' Championship. The winners of the ‘Championship Section' of the National Finals, will replace the last band in the ‘Elite Section' the following year at the RAH and the ‘Elite Section' relegated band shall return to the ‘Championship Section' of their respected Area.

But what about the rest?

My suggestion to this is simple;

Instead of 8 Areas, I am proposing that we have 10. My suggestion introduces 2 more areas. One area covering the South of England, lying between the Home Counties and Devon, and another allowing for a reduction in the North West / Midlands bottleneck. Ie. A reduction in the size of the Midlands area, thus removing the Cheshire / Derbyshire overlap. 

My suggested Areas would be;

1. Scotland.
2. North of England. (Covering North Yorks, Cumbria and North Lancashire).
3. Yorkshire, Humberside and North Lincolnshire.
4. North West. (Covering Greater Manchester, Merseyside, North Cheshire, Central and South Lancs and parts of Derbyshire).
5. Wales.
6. Devon and Cornwall.
7. Bristol, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire.
8. Midlands. (Including South Cheshire, Notts, parts of Derbyshire and Leicestershire).
9. South and London. (Stretching from Dorset to the Medway).
10. South East. (Norfolk, Suffolk, Northants, Essex, Herts).

This is not the definite list but a rough guideline.

May I say that this is only a suggestion, but this idea, would allow for the management of Area Committees, to allow for a maximum amount of bands, equally shared throughout the areas.

The idea would allow for the winning bands and runner up in each Area section to automatically be placed into the National Finals, therefore each final would have 20 bands competing.       

The top two bands in all sections of the National Finals would gain promotion. This would be automatic and not have to rely on a points system that now can keep a National Final runner up in the same section for the following year. Relegation should be through a points system and I would also introduce a promotion / relegation points system that includes specifically named Association Contests which would be included in the points system, along with the Areas.

For to long have we had to suffer promotion and relegation decided on the results of one annual contest.

And now on to a subject which is very dear to my heart, the adjudication of Area Contests and National Finals. No doubt this in itself will cause ripples in some camps, but Hell, I believe the movement is bigger than certain parties and if they don't like it, TOUGH. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. 

As an adjudicator, I feel it is time that we all stood up to be counted. I have nothing to hide, and no one else should have.

My proposal regarding this is as follows;

Two adjudicators are to officiate at all of the Areas and ‘Lower Section' National Finals. The adjudication will be ‘OPEN' and the adjudicators will not be within speaking distance, but positioned away from each other with a partition blocking eye contact, each will provide a written adjudication sheet for each band. Points for each band will be awarded by the adjudicator and written onto the adjudication sheet.

A Contest official will then collect the sheets from the adjudicators prior to him or her moving from their adjudication seat, and collation of results shall take place, in full view of the audience. eg. on a table on the stage. 

(One participating bands person shall be selected from the audience to overlook the proceedings).

At this time the points will be added together by the contest officials and divided by two to give an average figure. This final figure collated to achieve the final positioning of all competing bands. 

As soon as the adjudication sheets are on the stage and in full view, the adjudicators shall be escorted, by a contest official, to their seats on the stage, away from the collating table.

I am aware that this seems a strange way of dealing with our judges, but how many times have you heard comments like, ‘They have had their heads together in the box and sorted this' or ‘It's pointless having a box, they know who it is anyway'. I have even heard a story of an adjudicator at Blackpool who has been seen looking over the top of the box to see who is playing. 

This is the ideal way to clear any doubt that anyone has, about the honesty and impartiality of our adjudicators.

To be perfectly honest, I am sick and tired of our ‘movement' being taken for granted, this is our Brass Band Movement, lets stand up and be counted. We don't need people to make big money out of something that we should control ourselves. Don't get me wrong, we do need a management team but why the hell don't we form it and not have to pay for outsiders to direct our destiny.

I will be forwarding this proposal to the National Contest organisers, Boosey and Hawkes, Kapital Promotions and the Federation of Brass Bands.

What do you think?
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