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It's coming home
Has Brass Bands England set out a new contesting future?

The European Championships will return to Birmingham in 2022, but can it provide the right stimulus both EBBA and British contesting needs to proposer in the years to come?

The news that the European Brass Band Championships will be returning to England in 2022 has caused a certain amount of patriotic celebration.

Without quite breaking into a chorus of the execrable ‘Baddiel and Skinner’ pop-song that accompanied the hosting of the 1996 Euros football tournament, it has been far too long (2007 in fact) since brass banding’s premier competition ‘came home’ - and back to Symphony Hall in Birmingham.

It does however bring with it a number of intriguing questions – the answers to which could well herald not only a more prosperous future for the European Brass Band Association, but also for a number of major brass band contests in the UK. 


It will be the third time that Symphony Hall has hosted the event  

Brass Band England’s desire to host the event again has been well known for some time, with a proposed 2024 date at Sage Gateshead outlined at the 2019 Europeans in Montreux.  

Backed by an inventive, if slightly opaque proposition, it would have seen a ‘Special Events’ company set up to run alongside, but separate to, the main BBE organisation. 

Cost neutral

The slick presentation made by CEO Kenny Crookston and Nigel Stevens gave a high level cost figure of approximately £238,000, projected to result in a 'cost neutral' outcome through tickets sales and other commercial activity.

Asked at the time by 4BR how the event would be financially underwritten, it was revealed that the safeguard would come from BBE.

Backed by an inventive, if slightly opaque proposition, it would have seen a ‘Special Events’ company set up to run alongside, but separate to, the main BBE organisation.

When pressed further, given that BBE was itself core funded through Arts Council England, it was revealed that although no formal agreement with ACE was currently in place, their CEO Darren Henley had indicated his "approval" of the bid, which it was said was "as good as having it in writing".


The 2024 BBE presentation was given by CEO Kenny Crookston

However, as encouraging as it looked on overhead projector slides, BBE did admit that it was under no illusion that at that time there was still a great amount of work to be done on any formal EBBA agreement – and from Arts Council England in particular.      

Five year lead time

Looking back on it now, given the preliminary nature of what would have been a five year period of development before the event was hosted, and which would have included at least one other Arts Council England funding cycle application, it was about as much as anyone could have hoped would have been possible. 

https://www.4barsrest.com/news/37774/its-coming-home-its-coming-home

Then and now

That was then though – and since Montreux, EBBA has been forced to cancel events in Palanga and Malmo and saw Innsbruck (the intended venue for 2022) pull out due to post-Covid financial concerns of its own. 

And although EBBA’s latest accounts (ending Dec 2019) did show a return to profitability (just over €14,000), given the reported losses of over €67,000 since 2014, this was welcome news as their own reserves had plunged from close on €100,000 at the end of 2013 to just under €26,000 by the end of 2018. 

That was then though – and since Montreux, EBBA has been forced to cancel events in Palanga and Malmo and saw Innsbruck (the intended venue for 2022) pull out due to post-Covid financial concerns of its own. 


All venue bets off after Montreux...

Montruex was understood to be a considered financial success, but it was no secret that there were some in the organisation who felt that Palanga in 2020 followed by Malmo in 2021 were locations that offered little in the way of financial largesse - or attractive venues in any other sense. 

Palanga curse

To say Palanga’s bid to host the event was cursed is an understatement.

All the incredible work, financial cost and commitment shown to meet EBBA’s strict criteria was eventually undone, not by a lack of acoustic tiling, but by Covid-19. 

EBBA had engaged in ‘constructive dialogue’ about a possible 2022 hosting, but the local organisers felt that it was perhaps too soon to take such a risk.  Malmo meanwhile has also been put on the back burner. 

EBBA had engaged in ‘constructive dialogue’ about a possible 2022 hosting, but the local organisers felt that it was perhaps too soon to take such a risk.

Big sigh

At present it means that Stavanger will host the event in 2023, but after that potential candidates are currently few and far between.

Little wonder then that you suspect EBBA will have breathed a very big sigh of relief when Brass Bands England offered to take up the 2022 challenge – and at Symphony Hall in Birmingham at that, in just over 14 months time. 


Hopefully the European will take place in Palanga - but when is still yet to be decided

5 year rota

You also feel that a regular 5 year rota of venues that includes England, Norway, Holland, Switzerland and perhaps one other well-funded applicant would solve a lot of financial headaches for EBBA given that as it confirmed in Montreux, it didn’t have the resources to explore European-wide cultural funding streams or commercial opportunities itself.

On the other hand, Brass Bands England is backing its ambition - and why not given that it has gained critical acclaim for a great deal of its work over the past couple of years which has been boosted by an additional round of annual funding as well as extra Covid-19 monies to plough into maintaining its core activities. 

You also feel that a regular 5 year rota of venues that includes England, Norway, Holland, Switzerland and perhaps one other well-funded applicant would solve a lot of financial headaches for EBBA given that as it confirmed in Montreux, it didn’t have the resources to explore European-wide cultural funding streams or commercial opportunities itself.

Same questions

That though raises the same question as that posed by 4BR in Montreux in 2019.  

How will BBE run the 2022 event and how will it be financially underwritten?

The answer it seems could well be an amended version of that outlined for Sage Gateshead in 2024 – a ‘special events’ stand-alone company.  


The main contests will be held on Staurday and Sunday

BBE has attracted several highly respected professional people to its organisation in recent years, whose commercial expertise should ensure that the event is a financial success.  

Sensible rescheduling

It has already confirmed that the sensible rescheduling of attractions will mean that the main contests will be held on the Saturday and Sunday (with the European Youth and Championship Section set-work on the Saturday followed by the Challenge Section and Own-Choice on the Sunday).

It will also allow the other side events to be concluded on the Friday evening - so there shouldn’t be too much of a problem selling tickets. 

Youth band hiatus?

On the downside, that could mean a temporary hiatus for the European Youth Band, although given that it has become an expensive and somewhat cumbersome inclusion to the ‘festival’ in the last few years, it may be the right time for a rethink.  


2022 - Time for a youth band break?

The same could well be said for some of the other events, although Birmingham offers exciting possibilities of links to the likes of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire just down the road from Symphony Hall.         

Paid and underwritten

So if this can be undertaken, how is it going to be paid for and underwritten? 

First and foremost there will surely be the need to obtain clear confirmation from Arts Council England (ACE) that it is happy that the event comes within the remit of Brass Bands England’s charitable aims and objectives – and whether or not that then allows salaried members of staff to work on delivering it - a substantial undertaking given the time frame.

At present, according to the Charity Commission, Brass Bands England spends its money to; “maintain, improve and advance the education of the public through the promotion of the practise and performance of brass band music by representing and furthering the interests of the brass band sector in England.”

First and foremost there will surely be the need to obtain clear confirmation from Arts Council England (ACE) that it is happy that the event comes within the remit of Brass Bands England’s charitable aims and objectives – and whether or not that then allows salaried members of staff to work on delivering it - a substantial undertaking given the time frame.

You can possible see then why critics would like to see something a bit more concrete than “as good as having it in writing" – especially in a post-Brexit Britain.  

In the small print

However, in response, the clause that strengthens BBE’s case to do just that can be found in its ‘charitable objects’, which adds to the above statement; “…and other countries comprising of all those activities that are associated with brass bands.”

That would seem to enable BBE to undertake hosting and underwriting the event – the ‘other countries’ in question being Austria to Wales and all Euro-stops in between.
 
So, if ACE do back it, then what a ground-breaking opportunity it represents - and not just for the European event. 

All that and BBE can already point to the success of the revamped National Youth Championships (which it directly runs), so why not this?

So, if ACE do back it, then what a ground-breaking opportunity it represents - and not just for the European event. 


BBE already runs the succesful National Youth Championships

The upside for a financially successful 2022 European could well be for other organisations such as the National Championships of Great Britain, British Open, Spring Festival, Brass in Concert, Bolsover and Wychavon Festivals of Brass to gain Arts Council Funding for their activities – especially if they become charities themselves. 

Fundermental change

BBE could well be pioneering the most fundamental change in brass band funding ever.    

BBE could well be pioneering the most fundamental change in brass band funding ever.    

The organisation does have the money in the bank at present, so given the nod, things could be paid for without a problem with the real possibility of even a profit being made on the investment. 

If ACE doesn't confirm its backing though, it wouldn’t be an insurmountable problem. 

Robust enough

The organisational model BBE proposed in Montreux is certainly robust enough to stand alone and work well; with trustees and other volunteers offering their professional help to run the event. BBE staff could still offer their help on such a basis outside their normal BBE working hours.

How that body would pay for the deposit on Symphony Hall, meet hotel expenses, pay for advertising, programmes, additional stage hire etc is a financial question with many potential answers – but to put it simply, someone will have to come up with the cash. 

How that body would pay for the deposit on Symphony Hall, meet hotel expenses, pay for advertising, programmes, additional stage hire etc is a financial question with many potential answers – but to put it simply, someone will have to come up with the cash. 

Again though, direct sponsorship could sort this out – although that isn’t a cast-iron guarantee.  
 

The youth event will be held on the Saturday morning

There is a possibility perhaps of utilising the Norman Jones Fund (and it has been used for a variety of purposes over the years), but then again, there may also be many other ways in which commercial connections for an event that should hopefully gain a much wider media profile than those held in 2000 and 2007 can be successfully explored.  

Realistic ambition, backed by organisational transparency and clarity will be just as important to the successful hosting of the 2022 European Championships as any well-chosen test-pieces (and there are already a set in waiting there) and box office ticket sales.

Positive weight

Despite the short term time line, the financial complexities and even longer term concerns over post-Covid health and safety requirements, the positives far outweigh the negatives - although beware any mention of a post event ‘legacy’, despite a key proposal set out in 2019 of a pre-contest 'Brass Arts Festival' linking together innovative musical partnerships.

That’s tick-box nonsense that has little or no meaning and even sparser evidence to back it up.  Remember the 2012 Olympic legacy that was promised?

It resulted in the stadium being rented out to West Ham Football Club.

Realistic ambition, backed by organisational transparency and clarity will be just as important to the successful hosting of the 2022 European Championships as any well-chosen test-pieces (and there is already a set in waiting) and box office ticket sales.

Get it right and Brass Bands England could deservedly be bringing brass banding home on a more regular basis than once every 15 years. 

Iwan Fox

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