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2022 European Championships retrospective
Cradle credit notes

4BR Editor Iwan Fox looks back at a European Championship Festival that in the end amounted to much more than just profit and loss...


Back to the cradle

The 2022 European Brass Band Festival was an undoubted success.

Just how much in financial terms is yet to be finalised, but measured by the feel-good factor it engendered, it certainly ended in considerable profit.

Four days of well organised competitions, events and initiatives culminated in a crackerjack Sunday evening Gala Concert featuring Cory Band and Louis Dowdeswell that was worth every penny.  

That may have been followed by a rather long-winded results ceremony that was at times as thrilling as an auditor’s report, but it was soon forgotten as performers and supporters alike partied into the Birmingham night. 


Waiting to boogie: BBE's Mike Kilroy and Kenny Crookston

If any members of the hard-working Brass Bands England organising team had any energy left to enjoy a boogie after their efforts in putting the event on, then it was well deserved. 

Credit entries

The financial figures aside (although not sold out, ticket sales were encouraging given the immediate post-Covid planning circumstances), BBE, CEO Kenny Crookston will certainly be able to present an upbeat report to member bands and more importantly, Arts Council England (ACE) that will be full of credit entries in the ledger for the hard cash investment made.

That included a contribution from ACE of £116,000 for the outside events which were deemed part of a ‘nationally significant’ festival.  

That was a hugely positive recognition. What it could mean for other competitive ‘festivals’ is particularly significant. 

That included a contribution from ACE of £116,000 for the outside events which were deemed part of a ‘nationally significant’ festival.  

banstand 
Outdoor support in Centenary Sqaure

And it was obvious that money had been well spent with the increased profile generated both in the immediate surroundings of Symphony Hall and the wider media landscape.

Sense of inclusion

It may sound rather obvious, but the general public knew that there was a major brass band event going on - through local and national radio, electronic roadside advertising and social media outlets, to the performance stage bandstand surrounded by deck chairs and inflatable tuba in Centenary Square outside the hall.

It may sound rather obvious, but the general public knew that there was a major brass band event going on

That summed up the sense of inclusion; passers-by taking the time to sit and listen to a variety of bands and ensembles (with a few showing off themselves), BBE taking the opportunity to survey their opinions.

It also continued from the Opening Ceremony, with the welcome from the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, to that late-night revelry accompanied by another whizzer set from Louis Dowdeswell and his band.  


Worth every penny...

Outreach

In between there was the involvement of the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain and HM Royal Marines, Collingwood (including a super outreach initiative for over 700 local school children) as well as Grimethorpe Colliery Band’s excellent contribution to the European Composers’ Competition.

BBE staff were visible, welcoming and indefatigable; the presentation (including the printed programme) of the events, first class. Any queries and problems were addressed and solved quickly.  

BBE staff were visible, welcoming and indefatigable; the presentation (including the printed programme) of the events, first class. Any queries and problems were addressed and solved quickly.  

Talking of which, that certainly included BBE making the European Youth Championship an integral, rather than additional attraction to the competitive schedule.


Youth band smiles told the story...

Heartening

Seeing Symphony Hall staff having to open doors to the upper tiers of the auditorium on the Saturday morning to let in people to enjoy the splendid performances of the eight bands in the Development and Premier Sections was as heartening as anything on the entire weekend.

Why it is now being scheduled to be shunted back to the Sunday for Malmo in 2023 is puzzling to say the least. 

The youngsters were thrilled to feel a part of the European experience - enhanced greatly by being able to play to a large, appreciative audience.

It would be a huge shame if the success here was ignored.

The youngsters were thrilled to feel a part of the European experience - enhanced greatly by being able to play to a large, appreciative audience.


Take a bow...

Hugely positive

For BBE, the 2022 European Festival was a hugely positive, if exhausting experience; the occasional tensions between themselves and the European Brass Band Association noted by both Kenny Crookston and EBBA President, Ulf Rosenberg at the EBBA Press Conference.

However, he and his fellow EBBA delegates and Executive Committee members will also have left Birmingham delighted with the decision to ask BBE to host the event (two years ahead of time) in what Ulf Rosenberg called ‘the cradle of the brass band movement’. 

However, he and his fellow EBBA delegates and Executive Committee members will also have left Birmingham delighted with the decision to ask BBE to host the event (two years ahead of time) in what Ulf Rosenberg called ‘the cradle of the brass band movement’. 

They also played their part in its success.  Lilli Grong gained widespread plaudits for the way in which she liaised with competing bands as General Secretary, whilst the backstage staff led by Marc De Backer and Matt Piller went about their business with their usual quiet efficiency.  

Skip in step

Ulf Rosenberg may have hobbled like Long John Silver due to his leg injury, but he still had a skip in his step. 

Whether Malmo will also give rise to such a positive outcome we will have to wait and see, but surely the scheduled events and initiatives can now be built upon rather than simply maintained?


Smiles all round as the event was live stream broadcast 

Finance key

Finance is once again the key. The caveat of being a host country does come with considerable overheads, many of which relate directly to EBBA. 

They are financially healthier than they have been for some time. The annual accounts show just under €47,000 in reserves – a not unsubstantial amount, but still someway short of its 'nest egg' of some years ago. In 2020 and again in 2021 it posted a small profit.  

In addition, Ulf Rosenberg reported that he was delighted by ongoing negotiations that had led to future pledges of sponsorship support. 

In addition, Ulf Rosenberg reported that he was delighted by ongoing negotiations that had led to future pledges of sponsorship support. 

These included existing partnerships with World of Brass (to 2026), who produced a high-quality live broadcast stream covering all the major Symphony Hall events, as well as with the likes of Besson, Yamaha Music, Hal Leonard Europe, Lake Music and Stomvi.  

Although Geneva Instruments’ three-year deal finished this year, hopefully that may also be renewed.


The Composer Competition took place at Birmingham Town Hall 

Questions remain

Questions remain though – from the byzantine contract with the host country, to prize money allocations and the cost of the European Youth Band.

4BR understands that there were considerable disagreements over elements of the hosting contract and fees.  The tensions that were admitted to at the EBBA Press Conference still had a little touch of rawness to them. 

The allocation of prize monies and ‘in-kind’ awards remains antiquated and at times bizarre, although EBBA has increased the cash element considerably since 2019. 

Swallow up

Malmo meanwhile will host the European Soloist Competition - which will hopefully prove popular but surely cannot continue to swallow up sponsorship prize money amounting to €5300 as was the case for the Composer Competition in Birmingham.

Thibaut Bruniaux, who came third in the event took home with him €1500 plus an extra €250 ‘in-kind’ benefit. Foden’s who came third in Blue Riband Championship Section contest won €2000.

The allocation of prize monies and ‘in-kind’ awards remains antiquated and at times bizarre, although EBBA has increased the cash element considerably since 2019. 


Regensburg claimed the Challenge Section title

Archaic

The new Champion Band of Europe now gets €6,000 cash and yet another euphonium.

Meanwhile, the Challenge Section Champion Brass Band Regensberg went home with a soprano cornet and a €2,000 instrument voucher. The runner-up got €3,000 cash and a €500 music voucher.  

All this and the competing youth bands got no prize money (although the winner of each section got an instrument and reportedly each band got a contribution towards its travel cost).

Having to meet the cost of attending the contest by flogging new instruments at knock down prices is simply nonsensical.  


The National Youth Band of Great Briatin played their part on the weekend

European Youth Band

It also leads indirectly to the thorny issue of the European Youth Band. 

BBE had originally felt that it was too much of a cost drain to include it in their budget for an event that was still potentially threatened by Covid-19 restrictions.

It remains an admirable (brilliantly led by Florent Didier) but dauntingly expensive commitment to any potential future host nation.

It remains an admirable (brilliantly led by Florent Didier) but dauntingly expensive commitment to any potential future host nation.

On this occasion EBBA funded it thanks to a financial gift (referred to as ‘Covid Support money’ in its accounts) of approximately €60,000 from multi-millionaire Norwegian businessman Trond Mohn.

eybb
Can EBBA keep the banner flying?

However, hoping that it continues through a philanthropic handout via EBBA year by year is not a recipe for long term sustainability, or coherent future financial planning for any host nation.

That type of relevance was a topic touched upon at the EBBA Press Conference, as Ulf Rosenberg was asked by 4BR whether the organisation itself is in need of a organisational overhaul.

Polished

A polished spokesperson who can readily see a potential googly being bowled his way from a journalist, he batted it away with deft accomplishment in expressing the hope that a new generation of executive and delegate members would bring with them both the skills and the time to help develop EBBA into a body with long term financial stability and growth.


The polished EBBA President Ulf Rosenberg

Legacy

All of which finally leads us to the question of legacy, and whether the European Championships will return to the UK any time soon. 

Much is made of publicising the legacy credentials of major events.

However, on this occasion, even if just a few children have been inspired to take up brass lessons in their local schools or join their local community bands, then BBE can justifiably say their commitment to achieving it has worked.

And all this at a time when there is a huge amount of uncertainty about future levels of investment in the arts and music in particular in the UK.


Saints Triumphant will surely have a lasting legacy

Saints Triumphant

One thing is certain: The Championship Section test-piece ‘Saints Triumphant’  will certainly gain a performance legacy. Philip Wilby gave performers and audience alike yet another engrossing composition; the sumptuous qualities revealed in all their glory by the competitors.

Philip Wilby gave performers and audience alike yet another engrossing composition; the sumptuous qualities revealed in all their glory by the competitors.

Elsewhere the choices in the Challenge Section and Youth competitions proved popular, and the music heard in the concerts (Paul Saggers’ ‘In Many Lands: The Adventures of Mary Seacole’  with the NYBBGB, and new works from trio of Composer Competition entrants) will hopefully be aired again.  


The top bands once again gave full value for performance money...

Changing the process

And as for the legacy of adjudication which came under further scrutiny after digesting the results of the Championship Section?

The competing bands there certainly gave immense value for money - although it also came with a major headache of just how any set of three judges can now make anything more than a very personalised subjective decision about what they hear, such is the quality of the playing. 

Changes to the process of decision making really do need to be considered for the future. 


Not another 15 years to wait...

For Brass Bands England, it has certainly shown that it can host a future major festival event with an inclusive, outward looking appeal. 

Hopefully, it will not be another 15 years before the process of seeing the European Brass Band Championships return is undertaken again. 

EBBA meanwhile has made encouraging signs that it too is looking towards progressive change. 

We will see how that plays out on the balance sheets in Malmo in a year’s time. 

Iwan Fox 

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