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2020 Vision
What future direction for the Nationals?

4BR Editor Iwan Fox looks at the potential for a change in the future direction of travel for the Regional and National Championships of Great Britain...


Which was does the future lie?

The National Championships of Great Britain stand at a crossroads.

As bands across the country prepare for the first Area contests of the third decade of the 21st century, the future for an event that has stuck to a pre-determined course of travel first set out in 1945, and which has only taken an occasional detour since, seems to be more uncertain than ever before.

The choice to be made at this particular junction point is stark though - although despite the wishes of many traditionalists, we cannot go back from whence we came.

Backwater

Carry on straight ahead, without a glance to the possibilities of where other directions may well lead, and surely the road will eventually peter out in a dusty backwater town called irrelevance.

On the other hand, put on the indicators and see what either turning right of left holds, and the Regional Championships and the National Finals could once again become the vibrant stop-off hubs of the banding movement in the UK.   

It’s all about vision. 2020 vision that is able to see a road of travel that stretches a decade or more into the future.

Carry on straight ahead, without a glance to the possibilities of  where other directions may well lead, and surely the road will eventually peter out in a dusty backwater town called irrelevance.


Left, right or straight ahead?

Which direction?

So which way will Kapitol Promotions choose to go?  

Critics argue that if they decide to stick on the same track the annual National Final destinations of Cheltenham and even London will no longer retain their allure.  

Cheltenham Racecourse may already have the same appeal to weary band travellers as Thurrock Services on the M25, but even the grandeur of the Albert Hall comes at price that is becoming ever more difficult to justify.

Meanwhile, the actual process of getting there has arguably become antiquated and unfit for purpose.  

Cheltenham Racecourse may already have the same appeal to weary band travellers as Thurrock Services on the M25, but even the grandeur of the Albert Hall comes at price that is becoming ever more difficult to justify.

The grading structures hold little meaning or relevance, the prize money has stagnated, qualification rules reflect quantity rather than quality, registration has become almost meaningless, the adjudication systems for the lower sections need modernising, the hard working regional committees are desperately in need of help and the choice of test-pieces are quixotic. 

So what is the point of it all when the general public knows next to nothing of what is going on, and cares even less about the results?  

500 bands and more

Yet despite all that, over 500 bands will still take to stages from Blackpool to Stevenage over the next six weekends, fuelled by a desire to claim victory over their rivals, be crowned Area Champion and secure their place at the National Finals. 

It remains a remarkable communal success, with players at all levels testing nerves and resolve, trusting in their companions and ultimately enjoying a 15 minute musical experience like no other.

All that and they still return to work the following Monday knowing their colleagues will remain oblivious to what they have achieved.  

It remains a remarkable communal success, with players at all levels testing nerves and resolve, trusting in their companions and ultimately enjoying a 15 minute musical experience like no other. 


The third decade of the 21st century kicks off in Blackpool

Contesting debate

There is always a great deal of talk about the ‘ideal’ future for the National Finals and Regional Championship events - including a rather meandering ‘contesting’ debate at the Brass Bands England Conference last year.

However, we still await the results of a survey which was to take place soon after. It seemingly has a timeline for publication much like the report into potential Russian interference in the General Election.

Kapitol Promotions is the easiest of hanging piñatas to smack with a stick when it comes to their stewardship of the Regionals and National Finals. 

There is a reason why there hasn’t exactly been anyone queuing up with a bulging cheque book to chuck cash at sponsorship or buy it out as sure-fire money making investment.

However, in their defence (as as the BBE Conference debate showed), not many people take the time to find out just how the Regional contests are run, understand what autonomous structures are in place and just how much Kapitol have to stump up each year to run the events in Cheltenham and London. Even fewer offer to help. 

Fortune

Anyone who thinks the owners are making a fortune off the backs of the hard graft of bands should simply do a little bit of investigation work.

There is a reason why there hasn’t exactly been anyone queuing up with a bulging cheque book to chuck cash at sponsorship or buy it out as sure-fire money making investment.

Lots of people seem to know what’s best for the National and Regional Championships of Great Britain - but not too many have actually come up with any alternative model to the one we’ve currently got.


Plenty of debate but very few answers as yet...

Other options

Which brings us to the other options of future travel.

Instead of deciding on more of the same, Kapitol Promotions could very well opt to turn right and to embrace a conservative form of graduated change themselves.

That could give further free reign to work with the various Regional Committees (Scotland works on a different model), who currently have a degree of autonomy, to introduce a new template of progressive grading systems, registration requirements, qualification rules, sponsorship links and even test-piece choices.  

It has been Kapitol’s indicated way of travel for some time, even if they haven’t been shouting it too loudly off the roof top of the Albert Hall.

In time this could potentially free Kapitol to concentrate more fully on the National Finals – re-engineering them in the process with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity governing the qualification process.

It has been Kapitol’s indicated way of travel for some time, even if they haven’t been shouting it too loudly off the roof top of the Albert Hall.


Could turning right see the Albert Hall filled once more in future?

What about a future that that sees the top-six bands at the Albert Hall pre-qualify each year, joined by eight regional champions?  A long day in the heart of London would certainly be shortened, making it easier (and potentially cheaper) for the bands taking part, and more attractive to a wider audience.  

Meanwhile, Cheltenham (or wherever they go to in future) could also embrace fewer bands, but ones that more accurately reflect the correct grading for their region. The same benefits apply.        

It won’t revolutionise things overnight, but it could give both events a focus of excellence that would make them much more appealing to performers, listeners and potential sponsors alike.  

Revolutionary route?

The left hand turn may well be the trickier, more revolutionary one to embrace – although it could potentially lead to the most prosperous future of all.

This would involve Kapitol retaining their ownership of the National Finals, but working in partnership with others – notably Brass Bands England, the Scottish Brass Band Association, a potential new body in Wales and also Northern Ireland over its stewardship.

This would involve Kapitol retaining their ownership of the National Finals, but working in partnership with others – notably Brass Bands England, the Scottish Brass Band Association, a potential new body in Wales and also Northern Ireland over its stewardship.   

It would also embrace fundamental changes in the way in which the National and Regional Championships in the UK could be democratised and financed.  

As with any partnership agreement, trust, a willingness to implement change, and even give up some element of control are the keys. 


Votes will count...

Once again Kapitol could make the regions fully autonomous, freeing themselves to concentrate on the National Finals. 

Player registration would be scrapped and replaced by individual membership, whilst the partners would agree to implement the findings of an independent commission charged to look at regional structures, rules, gradings, qualification etc – making them fit for third decade 21st century purpose. 

One member one vote

Each player would pay an annual fee that would in turn fund the National Finals, create funding opportunities to support new initiatives, such as increasing participation and inclusion, increase regional prize money, pay for new works, help fund British European Championship representation and subsidise ticket prices for youngsters etc.  

In return, the partnership will also be democratised through elected representation from each region: One member one vote.  And yes - it should still allow Kapitol Promotions to make a decent profit for running it. 

In return, the partnership will also be democratised through elected representation from each region: One member one vote.  And yes - it should still allow Kapitol Promotions to make a decent profit for running it. 

So what decision will Kapitol make?

Straight ahead and damn the consequences, turn right and control graduated change, or turn left and revolutionise things? 

One thing is for certain: If you stop and do nothing at a crossroads, sooner or later someone will pass you by knowing exactly where they need to go, and leave you in their wake. 

Iwan Fox

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