2010 English National Championship - Postcard from Preston


The English National has been a bit of a Carry On this year - although there are hopes that the contest won't go down the Khasi...

Sign of the changing times?

Without making this postcard seem like a script for a new version of a ‘Carry On’ film – size isn’t everything, its what you do with it that counts.


And despite the British Federation of Brass Bands doing a passable impression at times of Sid James and cast in the famous scene from ‘Carry On Up the Khyber’ - sat at the dinner table in best bib and tucker and stiff upper lips as all around them mayhem rages as they come under attack by the Khasi and his Burpers - it’s the English Nationals officer class who may have the last laugh.

By some strange force of contesting osmosis, the English National Championship may well have stumbled upon it’s unique selling point – quality rather than quantity.

Grappling scene

No wonder Robert Morgan MBE and his hard working team wore the type of smiles usually seen on the face of Sid James after an unexpected grappling scene with Barbara Windsor rather than Hattie Jacques.

The best things always come in small packages.

Accident rather than design
It may well be through accident rather than design, but talking to leading figures in the BFBB, the desire to retain the English National is a contest that offers something unique and worthwhile is clear.

As is the acceptance that it has taken until now for them to realise that something must be radically done to the format of the contest for it to survive in the coming years.


BFBB Chairman Robert Morgan MBE, may well have told 4BR that he was encouraged by what he saw and heard at the Guild Hall on the weekend, but he also indicated that an agenda for change was on the cards too.

A decision whether or not the contest will take place in 2011 will officially be made after the September meeting of the BFBB.

Quality future?

With the hall already booked at preferential rates for 2011 and 2012 though, it seems that if there can be radical change in the format and entry criteria, with that all important emphasis on quality rather than quantity, it looks certain to go ahead.

A contest that can still boast bands of the quality of Black Dyke, Foden’s, Rothwell Temperance, Leyland, Fairey and Reg Vardy, who are all comfortably in the top 20 ranked bands in the world, must have something going for it – although not in its current format.

Top 10

Talking to leading movers and shakers the most radical approach being considered could see the contest reduced to the six area winners, plus the four top ranked bands in the World of Brass Rankings  (those currently used by 4BR and British Bandsman as well as the contest but not already an area winner)

If any of these 10 bands dropped out, they would not be replaced by a lower ranked substitute.

The strict applied emphasis on quality rather than quantity, would also see the contest adopt the current ‘European format’ to find a champion band.

Natural State
American visitors this year from Arkansas

Sid James

A contest that would have a set work and own choice (perhaps with its own criteria to stop bands going overboard with ‘one off’ specials), would certainly give value for money (and at £15 a ticket at Preston that current value wasn’t as cheap as a Sid James dirty laugh)

Up the prize money, by getting the BFBB to search long and hard for rafts of sponsorship rather than single benefactors, and talk to the bands – starting from now.

Find out what they think and what they want from the day – the BFBB may well be pleasantly surprised.

Never a better time

Thankfully the Europeans of 2012, 2013 and 2014 are a bit closer to home than Austria and Switzerland and may therefore by cheaper for the representative band to attend, so there has perhaps never been a better time for change than now.

It may well take a year or two to succeed, with some bands still taking the ‘other priority’ option, but if the contest can also find itself a much more centralised English ‘home’ – say at the Royal Northern College of Music (which can cater well enough for a healthy crowd of around 400 listeners – more than enough) the English National may well flourish.

Hot pot

The RNCM can also cater for an event with a wider scope of interest too – the chance to hear ensembles and masterclasses, for the BFBB to hold a conference or meet potential sponsors without having to ply them full of stodgy Lancashire hot-pot.  

It’s a venue that certainly has more going for it that the rather down at heel and way too large, Preston Guild Hall.

The contest on the weekend bore that out as clearly as a Kenneth Williams double entendre.

Jo Cook
Concert filler from Joseph Cook and Black Dyke

200 listeners

When was the last time Black Dyke played to a hall that had less than 200 listeners in it at a major contest, and when was the last time a contest started and ended with a short time filler concert?

£15 was a lot of money to pay for the entertainment on show, even if the overall standard of the competing bands was much better than many expected on John Pickard’s wonderful work.

Being able to head for home at a reasonable time was a bonus, but there isn’t a great deal that Preston has to offer to keep you in town is there now?

Restless natives

Sid James may have been able to keep the restless natives at bay with a well placed bit of British pluck and a shocking gander of full frontal endowment in ‘Carry on up the Khyber’, but it may be harder for Robert Morgan and the BFBB to do the same if the English National isn’t to find itself carrying on down, rather than up, from the Khasi.

Size, as we said, isn’t everything.

Iwan Fox


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