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Getting the right message across
Have we finally convinced the media?

Brass banding is starting to be portrayed in a more informed light in the national media — thanks to finally realising we can influence some control over the message to report on...


Is the brass band movement finally starting to control the message it projects to the media?

If there is the potential for a positive legacy to emerge for brass banding from the Coronavirus pandemic, it could well be that it finally starts to rid itself of the national media stereotype that for too long has defined the image displayed in its spotlight.

There is still a long way to go, but a combination of informed argument, positive proactivity and some old fashioned pressure politics has started to make its mark on erasing some, if not all of the misconceived ideas it represents of us.

Latest success

The latest success came when Foden’s Band Manager Mark Wilkinson was recently interviewed on the national Talkradio station. 

Presenter Mike Parry is well known for his ‘forthright’ populist views, although in fairness on this occasion he was obviously sympathetic to the Covid-19 plight of both Foden’s and brass bands in general. 

However, in response to his somewhat misinformed off the cuff assumptions (he believed there to be 400 bands alone in Yorkshire), and mirroring his renowned calm on the contest stage, Mark gave a succinct synopsis of the realities as well as the challenges of brass banding in the UK. 

10 minutes later, Talkradio listeners were left knowing a great deal more about the subject matter. 


Mark Wilkinson kept Talksport listeners well informed

Positive features

It comes on the back of other positively informed features of late; from articles in the Daily Mirror and Daily Telegraph (although the Sunday Express was more questionable), which sought direct quotes and information from performers as well as administrators (such as Brass Bands England), to radio spotlights and regional news items (although some still accompanied by lazy imagery and catch lines).

In addition, the hugely effective work of the Musicians Union, leading performers and arts administrators in successfully pressurising the Government to help all levels of music making and production in the UK, has also brought a more informed appreciation of the benefits of the arts in return.

Foolish and naive

And whilst the recent Parliamentary debate failed to acknowledge brass bands in any way, you can now bet that it would be a foolish MP who wouldn’t be at least briefed on just how much money has been made available for them to claim through various funding streams.

Meaningless aphorisms are just as damaging to the long term future prosperity of the movement in the UK as a lack of media understanding of what brass bands can perform and why they do it as an integral cultural part of their local community

Neither would any be as naive you hope as to patronise the banding movement as Arts Council England CEO Darren Henley OBE did in his underwhelming keynote speech at the last Brass Bands England Conference. 

Meaningless aphorisms are just as damaging to the long term future prosperity of the movement in the UK as a lack of media understanding of what brass bands can perform and why they do it as an integral cultural part of their local communities.


Good images back good news 
Copyright: Lorne Campbell

Getting to grips

For the first time in a very long while, brass bands (from individual representatives to national bodies) are starting to get to grips on how to control the media message we want to hear about ourselves.  

The proactive approach (from the likes of Brass Bands England and Scottish Brass Band Association as well as individual bands and performers) of embracing social media platforms, also works if you also control the positive nature of its content – from successful online contest performances and solo features to fund raising stories and even fun items.

For the first time in a very long while, brass bands (from individual representatives to national bodies) are starting to get to grips on how to control the media message we want to hear about ourselves.  

Give the national media a good news bone to chew on without having to look too hard to find it, and it will come back for more – just look at the work of photographer Lorne Campbell who regularly gets quirky, eye catching brass band images in print in the national press. 


Has the Grimley stereotype finally had its day...

Long time coming

It has certainly been a long time coming. 

Over the decades brass bands have been subject to an irregular high profile focus. 

The touchstone reference point remains Grimethorpe’s pyrrhic 1992 National Championship title success. 

According to the outstanding research undertaken by Gavin Holman, there have been around 500 or so media appearances by brass bands from 1931 to 2019 – from various national television items and film (including ‘Play Up The Band’  from 1935 starring Stanley Holloway leading a ‘northern brass band’ to perform at a national contest at the Crystal Palace) to the Sky Arts documentary series ‘Battle of the Brass Bands’, which is currently enjoying repeated scheduling. 

Reference point

The touchstone reference point remains Grimethorpe’s pyrrhic 1992 National Championship title success. 

At the time it garnered worldwide (pre-internet) media coverage, and subsequently inspired the 1996 film ‘Brassed Off’ - although the actual calamitous decade long denouement following the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike was considerably less well documented. 

Unfortunately the film’s success arguably coloured the media’s lazy assumptions of brass bands for the next quarter of a century. 


Postive media responses followed the 'Dark Arteries' ballet production at Sadler's Wells

By the time Rambert Ballet commissioned ‘Dark Arteries’  in 2015 with its brass band score by Gavin Higgins, and which led to the start of a more critically nuanced media appreciation (backed by a later successful tour), stereotypical assumptions had been cast in rock – although it can be argued that the sedimentary layers were laid much earlier.

Instilled

Look back to the 1969 ‘Where there’s Brass’  Granada television programme written by Michael Parkinson or 1970s comedy series’ ‘The Shillingbury Blowers’  and ‘O Happy Band’, and the caricature of ‘working class’ brass band music making had already become instilled in the mind’s eye of the general public.

Occasionally there was an informed appreciation of artistic value; from the 1977 Andre Previn ‘Conductor’s Eye View’  BBC programme and Granada’s ‘Arrivederci Grimethorpe’  in 1979, to productions for the Open University etc.

Occasionally there was an informed appreciation of artistic value; from the 1977 Andre Previn ‘Conductor’s Eye View’  BBC programme and Granada’s ‘Arrivederci Grimethorpe’  in 1979, to productions for the Open University etc.


Andre Previn visited Black Dyke and Besses o'th' Barn in his Omnibus programme

In general though, media coverage for close on half a century has been mixed to say the least; from the occasionally supportive and informed to the far too numerous ludicrous and patronising – not helped at times by the willingness of bands to grab the perceived benefit of any type of media attention that comes its way.

Depressing apex

Powerless to control a more positively informed narrative (or provide a strong representative voice), the movement has until recently lived off the scraps of the media table; occasional regional news items, radio features and news print articles invariably accompanied by well meaning but narrow minded parochialism.  

The 2010 series ‘A Band for Britain’  with Sue Perkins was its depressingly obvious apex. 

Powerless to control a more positively informed narrative (or provide a strong representative voice), the movement has until recently lived off the scraps of the media table; occasional regional news items, radio features and news print articles invariably accompanied by well meaning but narrow minded parochialism.  

Change

Thankfully, things certainly changed with the 2019 Sky Arts ‘Battle of the Brass Bands’ documentary series (as well as the one-off BBC1 ‘Battle of the Bands’  programme) – which was helped enormously by the Twofour production company basing their research on a deliberately blank canvas of appreciation.


Battle of the Bands approached the subject of brass bands with a blank canvas

No assumption approach

The ‘no assumption’ approach was as refreshing for those who helped them as it was enlightening for the series director Neil Edwards and his production team.  

Interestingly they were deeply impressed by the Norwegian NRK1 ‘Korpsfiksert’  series that followed Eikanger Bjorsvik Musikklag in 2013 - one that shone a positive focus on its players and organisation.   


The succesful Eikanger ‘Korpsfiksert’ series showed how the Norwegians portrayed brass banding 

Subsequently the more Twofour asked, the more they found out – and the more they understood that their narrative approach based on the collective pursuit of musical excellence was what in fact underpinned brass band music making at all levels throughout the world – not just the UK.

As a result an episode subsequently won a BAFTA Award - with the series itself currently enjoying an extended run of repeats on the Sky Arts schedule.   

However, now that we have seen how we as representative bodies, organisations, bands and individuals can exert some measure of control over the message that we project, it will be of vital importance we do not ever lose it again.

Control

It may well be that as the Coronavirus pandemic finally finds a long term resolution the challenges to the brass band movement will no longer be as pertinent or interesting to the ever increasing number of media platforms that could report on it.

However, now that we have seen how we as representative bodies, organisations, bands and individuals can exert some measure of control over the message that we project, it will be of vital importance we do not ever lose it again.  

The opportunity is there: Some have already grasped it. It is now up to others to follow suit. 

It could be good news for us all if we do. 

Iwan Fox 

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