To be or not to be — The BFBB faces up to a battalion of potential sorrows

A storyline inspired by Prince Hamlet could see the BFBB fall headlong into terminal obscurity.

BFBB logoAs an unfolding tale of seething distrust and loathing goes, the current Shakespearian woes of the British Federation of Brass Bands are up there with Hamlet and his siblings.

Chaos and confusion reign: Something certainly smells rotten in the national state body of British banding. 

Even parts of the BFBB’s Elsinore Castle in Barnsley are reportedly locked up, keeping out the squabbling factions.

Headlong descent?

Now we have come to what could be the final act in its possible headlong descent into terminal obscurity. Not even a change of name to ‘Brass Bands England’ may be enough to save it from the same fate as the Danish Prince.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise though. It is unlikely there will be an unexpected plot line twist to save the protagonists from their grisly end.

Unfortunately, no one will get away scot-free - especially not the bands of Great Britain who are starting to wonder just how relevant the BFBB has become to their own day to day contesting existence.

Beset with problems

The BFBB has been beset with various internal and external problems for some considerable time –primarily as a result of its outdated organisational structure that has stifled attempts to implement the need for proactive change.

It has become engulfed by institutional inertia, limited vision, lack of new blood, terrible PR, and an over reliance on taxpayer funding. 

Even some of their hard working staff have spoken of an absence of transparency and openness.

Its salvation it appears comes in the form of the new organisation, called ‘Brass Bands England’ – a charity with a board of directors that will take over the BFBB assets (including the Registry and BFBB Contest Ltd) with the aim of establishing up to 2,400 brass bands in England by 2020.

BFBB Officers
BFBB Executive members and staff at the 2010 AGM


However, not even that process seems to be simple, as one BFBB member told 4BR: “Holding the AGM on a Tuesday night in Birmingham after a Bank Holiday (28th August) tells you everything you need to know. 

We have been told that the AGM starts at 6.30pm and is to last around half an hour before the new AGM of the new body takes place. 

How are we to discuss all the reports and ask meaningful questions in this time frame? How many people are going to be able to attend? It’s a farce.”        

Fraught storyline

Central to the increasingly fraught storyline has been the damaging dispute at the British Brass Band Registry, which has crystallised into an almost incomprehensible mess, complicated by levels of distrust between factions that now appear to be too far apart in their entrenched positions and opinions to reconcile.

For years the Registry has provided a service to banding in the UK that has been universally respected and admired: Now it teeters on the edge of implosion.

Three new Directors from within the BFBB have been appointed (making four in total), the existing Line Manager has been relieved of his duties (although he remains as a Director), the Registry Manager is on long term sick and has sought legal representation, whilst the part time staff have been unable to gain access to the Registry building.

Too late

There is talk of arbitration, unopened post, Data Protection and Health & Safety issues - yet nothing seems to be actually happening to resolve matters quickly.

It may well be too late anyway.

Own hands

The British Open has become the first major contest to take registration rules and transfer matters into its own hands, with the National Finals now following suit.

The very future of the British Brass Band Registry as a part of the BFBB’s (or Brass Bands England) structure is in real doubt – especially if someone with better business acumen and a clearer understanding of what a Registry is for and how it can benefit member bands sets up its own nationally recognised service.

Signing on
A new registration process may be on the cards?


Without the Registry, the BFBB/Brass Bands England could well become an organisation that quickly becomes financially unsustainable, especially given its own claims for projected future revenues. 


In a recent article in Brass Band World magazine, Nicola Bland expertly pinpointed the BFBB’s current and possible future financial position with a clarity that made for startling reading:

64% of its funding coming from Arts Council and Awards for the Arts, just 25% from member bands and 11% from other revenue streams such as the two National Championships BFBB Contests Ltd runs and Fedsure Insurance.

The BFBB hope that by 31st March 2015 as Brass Bands England, this will have changed to 52% from the Arts Council, 42% from membership revenue and 6% from other streams.

Don't add up

However, in the most simplistic terms, the numbers don’t add up: From the naive target of a band in every English postcode by 2020 (that’s around 2,400 bands), to the audience it attracts to the English National Championships, current membership levels and even the number of people who attend its AGMs.

The BFBB says it hopes to have attracted 1,200 bands by 2015. It currently has around 250.  

English National Championship
What does the future hold for the English Championships?

New questions

Now questions are being asked about VAT and the legal status of the Registry within the BFBB organisation, whilst others are wondering about issues around rental claims, possible contest losses and future events, potential employment issues and charitable governance.

As Claudius says in Hamlet: “When sorrows come, they come not single spies. But in battalions.”

It seems that just like the Shakespearian tragedy there appears to be no happy ending in sight for this tale of woe too. 

Iwan Fox

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