4BR Talking Point - Bands and politics


Political analyst Iestyn T Davies argues that a cash crisis at Arts Councils should prompt a rethink amongst the banding community - and not just in Wales.

Iestyn DaviesIntroduction

You don’t have to spend long in the bandroom to know that banding is political.

Let’s face it, there’s not a band in the country that hasn’t had to put up with a suspect bit of tuning or dodgy vib just because the player in question is ‘well connected’.

Most Band Chairmen could broker peace in Middle East in about twenty minutes given their experience of mediation and brinkmanship on the committee.

But following on from the recent summit in Birmingham, I would like to offer my suggestions for the way that banding can maximize its influence in the world of politics beyond the band room.

Borrowed time

In the first instance banding community needs to recognize that it is living on borrowed time.

The number of players willing to commit to the time and effort required in the art form is decreasing. Accordingly our focus needs to be realigned from performance to participation.

On the surface this sounds quite easy but our banding structures currently reward contest success. We need to develop a culture where widening participation is celebrated and recognized.

Participation in today’s culture is sadly for many of us, more about a subjective sense of achievement and satisfaction than it is in sharing in collective endeavour.

Meet people

But if we are going to turn things around we have to meet people where they are, this includes current members, former players and those interested in taking up playing.

Yes, for many of us banding exerts a deep narcotic-like addiction. Others aren’t similarly afflicted – yet!

The first step

The first step then is about the realigning the movement so that it is an attractive participatory activity.

At the same time we need to get serious about making our case to politicians and policy makers. We need a strong evidence base that can point to the size, scope and ultimately the benefit of banding.

This begins by asking bandspeople what they want from banding and what they currently putting in and getting out of it.

The banding industry has grown and big money flows in and out of a hardcore of businesses. I recognize that these businesses are often vulnerable but it is in their interests to prove that there is such a thing as a ‘banding benefit’.


Robust research into the impact of banding needs to be funded and the academic institutions currently recruiting students to study for qualifications leading to jobs that often don’t - and certainly won’t exist in the future - need to join with the band industry to fund this.

There are some examples of research, but these are largely historically focused and aimed at a generalist audience. This is a good start but quality, peer reviewed research has to be available of we are to take the step towards lobbying effectively.

It would not cost an arm and a leg. Sponsorship upping the sales of celebrity-endorsed instruments would buy us a lot of evidence. And at the end of the day I’m probably not the only player to notice that my own ability hasn’t changed that much by switching to the latest gold plated valve caps.


The final priority if we are going to succeed in getting a cash injection into banding from government via arts councils and local authorities is to get serious about putting it on the agenda.

A child of the seventies, I personally come from the Arthur Scargill school of political negotiation. But even an unrepentant old-school Marxist from the valleys has to recognise that politics has changed.

Different approach

At the same time we don’t have the PR budget of the large-scale arts enterprises such as English National Opera. So our approach has to be different. It cannot lean on the old cloth cap stereotypes but at the same time it cannot deny our heritage and grassroots history.

The practical approach has to be based on getting local politicians into the bandroom and concert hall.

Why hasn’t anyone asked David Cameron to present the trophy at this year’s nationals for instance?

Locally the lobbying begins by approaching your politicians to become honorary president. It then calls for meetings in constituency offices and a visit to Westminster to back up the messages you have communicated at key events.


Finally, in any campaign there has to be an ‘ask’ or a call to action. What do we want from government?

I would suggest that it cannot be business as usual where we accept grants for a few bits of percussion or the big money for a bandroom.

Our ask now has to embrace the idea that funding needs to be in the form of people - development officers working locally and building capacity. It certainly has to include seats at the top table of the arts councils and the likes of the Big Lottery fund.  


There does seem to be an appetite now to change the way we work as a movement and as an art form.

These changes need to filter down pretty quickly to grassroots banding. They also need to prompt a rethink of how we relate to government. When the banks went bang and Cameron took office things changed in politics.

We have the skills and experience within banding to make the most of this opportunity and preserve a unique and important element of the arts landscape in the UK.

Iestyn T Davies

Iestyn DaviesIestyn T Davies

Iestyn T Davies is a leading political analyst in Wales.  

For the past 14 years Iestyn has worked in marketing, communications and public affairs, and is currently a freelance consultant whilst studying for a Masters in Political Communication at the JOMEC School, Cardiff University.

He has recently worked with NHS Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, Local Authorities and voluntary groups, and is a regular contributor to political television and radio programmes in the Principality.

He currently plays with the Llwydcoed Band, and will hopefully be playing with them at the Lower Section National Finals in Harrogate in September.   


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