Comments ~ 2010: September


Plenty more to enjoy - from the Cobb question and Open relegation to underwhelming reviews and the age old problem of errata.

The Cobb award

I am writing to endorse the sentiments of 4barsrest concerning the award of the Iles Medal to Dr Stephen Cobb.

The unsubstantiated ad hominem remarks of your correspondent, Mr Allsworthy (“Give me a break…”) fail to impress.
It is nonsense to imagine  “one big love-in between selected individuals in the banding movement”, and a “favoured few in the Salvation Army”. I was honoured to receive the Iles Medal a few years back and to this day have no idea who was responsible for the nomination.

The reason it’s an honour at all is because of the people who have received it in the past.
The derogatory comparison of Stephen Cobb with the great Ray Steadman-Allen is odious. Unlike Colonel Steadman-Allen, Stephen Cobb is not a Salvation Army officer.  

As Territorial Music Director and Bandmaster of the ISB, Stephen Cobb’s doctorate lends considerable prestige to the SA in the competitive world of church music. Certainly, RS-A and Stephen are two of the most self-effacing musicians imaginable.
As for Mr Caffull - he has overseen a revolution in the way the SA handles its publications. Under his stewardship as Managing Director of the Salvation Army Trading Company, the SA is now fully invested in the wider brass band world.

The British Bandsman seems to be healthier than it has been for some time. Thanks to his advocacy, works like Eric Ball’s The Kingdom Triumphant (which Fodens were able to play at last weekend’s Great Northern Brass Arts Festival) are now released from SA exclusivity for performance by non-SA bands.

Added to this, under Mr Caffull’s supervision, a great deal of energy and considerable resources have been committed by the SA to the world of brass bands. Far from being just an  “ISB member…and nothing else”, Mr Caffull is extremely active in a positive way behind the scenes.
In January 1989 I was invited by Stephen Cobb, in his then capacity as Bandmaster of the excellent Hendon Citadel Band (by no means an “average band”) to participate as a conductor in the annual Two-In-One Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. Stephen’s SA superiors at the time, compelled him to withdraw this invitation as it was then contrary to SA regulations to have a non-Salvationist conduct an SA corps band.
Since those days, over 20 years ago, Stephen Cobb and Trevor Caffull have spearheaded a revolution in the way the Salvation Army has treated its own bandsmen and women, and encouraged closer ties and contacts with the wider musical world to the benefit of everyone concerned.

Stephen Cobb continues to encourage an enormous number of young people to play in brass bands. Indeed, Stephen’s own son, Philip, was principal cornet of the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain and is now Co-Principal Trumpet of the LSO.
Mr Allsworthy writes “I was absolutely stunned to see Stephen Cobb collecting the Iles Medal at the British Open this year.”
I agree wholeheartedly.
It should have been awarded to him years ago.
Bramwell Tovey

Services to what?

Whilst I know many will probably disagree, to be fair, I thought the letter regarding Stephen Cobb had a point.

What are these 'services to brass band music' that stand out from hundreds of other conductors up and down the land who work hard with bands?

You look at the likes of David King and Nick Childs and you can point to groundbreaking advances in the movement with these people behind them. However in this instance, I just don't get it.

Stephen has conducted the band for a long time. But there are Third and Fourth Section bands across the country with long-serving conductors. Is this all the Iles medal is, an award for 'long service'?

I didn't think it was. I thought there needed to be something more than that.

To me it seems a bit like giving Kenny Miller a medal for 'Services to British football' despite having only made any real impact in the Scottish league. If the award was for services to the SA you'd think fair enough perhaps, but to 'brass banding' full stop? I am genuinely surprised.

He's probably a really nice chap (and I'm not being sarcastic) but let's face it, the ISB get to do things (television appearances, concerts with Dyke etc) because they are the showpiece band of the SA.
Put it this way.

Figures suggest the SA has about 54,000 fully-fledged members in the UK. I'd expect someone picking up an award such as this to have had a real impact away from the tiny pond that is the SA for the granting of the award to carry real credibility within the banding community (beyond just the odd guest slot with a county youth band and stuff like that).

Admittedly the brass banding world is itself very much a minority movement of course, but it is much easier to make a name in the SA.
Good luck to him, it's not his fault, but I am surprised at this one.
Mark Lowry

Sympathy for the Scots – in part

I do have some sympathy for the Scottish bands as you suggest in your recent editorial about relegation from the British Open – but only in part.

It does seem a little unfair that after just two years a band can be relegated from the premier brass band contest in the world – especially if the aggregate of their results includes at least one top 10 finish.

I would agree that there is now a need to make the relegation process one that is based over three and not two years.

However, there is little sympathy if your band comes in the bottom two for two years in a row and then complains about the result as we have seen from certain quarters.

Until the rules change – just accept your fate and get on with getting back to the British Open by qualifying form the Grand shield.

Peter Collins

The rule of relegation

What would happen if next year either Grimethorpe (9th this year) or Brighouse & Rastrick (10th) get relegated from the British Open because of their results over the two years as did Kirkintilloch this year?

I wonder if there will be an urgent revision of the rules to make it three years then – because I for one can’t see either of them wishing to put their reputations on the line at the Grand Shield.

One rule for one should mean one rule for all

Stephen Conrad

Well done one and all

I would like to thank all the bands at the recent British Open for a brilliant day.

What a high standard of playing from 1 to 17. These bands have set themselves a very high threshold to stay in the top tier of British banding, it's a shame that two of these elite bands have to drop out of such a brilliant day.   

Could the management of the British Open consider bringing the Grand Shield contest from the May date to the Sunday of the British Open thus opening up the whole weekend to top class banding?

This would lessen the sense of despondency at falling out of the premier section and give the Grand Shield contest bands a chance to feel the atmosphere of the Open weekend.

After all, there are some very good bands in this contest and they deserve it, and the Sunday concert could still take place after this contest.

This scenario would then mean an extra class in the May contest, allowing more bands a chance to put a foot on the ladder to the top.
David Meredith

The question of Errata

Here we are again!

Why can't the publishers and editors of all music assume the same mentality that other commercial service providers are held to? An errata sheet for the Third Section test piece issued 10 days before the finals?

I wonder - was it a "I suppose we had better have a look at the score and parts for this piece we charged bands good money for several months ago" or was it prompted by enquiries from the bands themselves as usual?

Come on - this piece is very important to all the bands, spending small fortunes of money and investing countless hours of hard work and effort to attend the finals - the culmination of years (careers) work.

This is not good enough. The third section score is not the only publisher guilty of negligence here either. I am glad most of the points raised had been sorted within our bandroom, but some were still "up in the air".

"We apologise for any inconvenience caused" doesn't cut the mustard I think - perhaps we should all ask for money back or replacement scores and parts (as I am sure we are entitled)?

Looking forward to playing the great piece we have been given though.

Gordon Eddison

Underwhelming review

The review by Malcolm Wood of the Troops at the Bridgewater Hall was quite underwhelming.

The level of reporting barely went above the bare facts and even these were sometimes wrong. F

or example, Himes did not write the march “Able” but arranged it – it was originally written by Turkington. An example of the bareness of the report is (to paraphrase): “Truth Aflame starts quietly…. and ends loudly”.

N. Garman

A Childs question
I am Tonnie Lelie from the Netherlands and I am collecting a lot of music from the EBBC (European Brass Band Championships).

In the year 1997 a brass band performed together with Robert Childs on ‘Fantasie 94’ from Hummel.

In your comments, the name of the band is not mentioned. Could you please tell me with what band Robert played that piece?
Tonnie Lelie

4BR Reply:
We understand Robert played it with the Black Dyke Band conducted by James Watson

Dull Berlioz

Many thanks for the British Open coverage, but I was expecting a bit more in relation to the Sunday concert series.

In particular, the deadly dull Berlioz - that's a 40-minute piece at best and somehow it got dragged out to the best part of an hour. Oh, how the audience wanted it to stop.

One can arrange a Mozart opera for a string quartet and it will still be music, but Berlioz needs all the help he can get, and the brass band cannot cope with longeurs on the scale of ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ - there simply isn't enough action - or puff, unless the arranger is highly adept at moving things around the band.

I didn't go to the competition on Saturday - the idea of listening to the same piece, God knows how many times over, is as much anathema to me as it is to my father.

Competition is fine to a certain extent but repetition is simply boring. It takes years to learn how to be a competent musician and to have all that practice reduced to the views of two or three men sitting in a box ticking off the bars is nonsense.

I did go to the Sunday concert though, and the Berlioz aside it was a very good afternoon.

Cory played with their usual exuberance and Black Dyke with their usual precision (one of the things I like about Black Dyke is that one can listen to them without any sympathy - they are a benchmark, and one can be completely critical of them because one expects them to get it right all the time).

I must hand out marks to the soprano cornets throughout the afternoon - they were superb, and the tenor horn in the Berlioz was on top form.

It goes without saying that the soloists in various pieces were impressive, but given that all three bands on show on Sunday are pretty much full time professionals then that would be the least one could expect.

A good show. I enjoyed it at any rate. I even thought Dad did a not-bad job on 'Abide with Me'. He’s a genuinely terrible conductor - just stands up and waves his arms about, really.....(written with a smile)

Peter Gay

Different outcome blindfold?

Whatever would have been the outcome (judges agree with 4BR or Steven, or not) if Steven and 4BR would have been in a box, blinded from the bands.

I think their result would have been different.

We cannot deny knowing which band is playing - at the end this is just a human reaction….nothing wrong with that influencing us.

Apart from that, the form is a ‘no brainer’, thus very usable indeed.

Edy Van Asch

Tried before

I've not been paying much attention to brass bands lately but your article on Criteria-based adjudication caught my eye.

Thought you might be interested to know that 4BR were ahead of the game as a simple version was tried at 2004 Scottish Championships using a maximum 10 points to be awarded for each of 10 criteria measured.

A bit simpler than Steven Mead’s version, but the same principles.
From memory it was a fairly unsuccessful experiment as I found that in listening to, and marking on, so many specifics it was difficult to also maintain a proper perspective on the overall performances.
Incidentally, Andrew Keachie of Kilmarnock used a marking system based on, from memory, 5 different performance criteria when adjudicating solo & quartet contests in the 1970's, so this approach has been tried in the past.
Anyway, good luck with your experiment.
David Crookston

Not the finished article

Well done lads on the British Open coverage – and the publication of the Adjudication Criteria Experiment with Steven Mead.

Not too sure it’s the finished article as yet, but it certainly made the day a lot more enjoyable for the average committed listener.

I think it needs to be subjected to closer scrutiny under specific conditions – such as used in the box and not outside. It was interesting that neither Steven nor yourselves opted for the eventual winners.

Perhaps the eye still sees more than you may think?

Howard Carpenter

4BR’s usual bias

Why is it that when 4BR reports on the British Open and any other major brass band contest, the bias towards the so called named bands is so obvious to everyone else except the 4BR Editor!

Once again it was Black Dyke, Cory, Fodens etc who got the great write ups regardless of how they played and others were subject to the usual cheap attempts at humour and snide remarks.

You have shown your true colours far too often now to be taken seriously. The attempt to rig your results with Steven Mead was a joke.
J. Taylor

Love in awards

I was absolutely stunned to see Stephen Cobb collecting the Iles Medal at the British Open this year.

It is hard these days to work exactly whose fingers are in which pies but one can't help but escape the conclusion that the whole thing is one big love-in between selected individuals in the banding movement and the favoured few in the Salvation Army.

Consider for a moment the inclusion of Trevor Caffull being on board for this working group that are looking at the future of the movement.

Forgive me, what are Trevor Caffull's achievements in brass banding? ISB member.... and nothing else!

It was no surprise I guess to see 'Dr Cobb' (why would a well known person in a movement that you'd think wishes to emphasise the relative unimportance of worldly qualifications insist on being known by 'Dr' when Ray Steadman-Allen is happy to just be called 'Ray'??) pick the medal up I suppose.

It was inevitable at some point. The MBE and Knighthood will surely follow (and I don't jest; mark my words!!).

Give me a break and let's give these awards to people of real quality rather than average conductors of average bands who nobody would ever have heard of but for the fact they're better than other Salvation army bands.

M. Allsworthy

4BR Reply:

The Iles Medal is awarded by the Worshipful Company of Musicians for services to the brass band world – something we at 4BR believe Stephen is fully deserving of.

All members of the Brass Band Summit ‘Working Party’ were democratically voted into position by those people who took the time to attend the event in Birmingham – all of whom have a vast number of years experience at various levels in differing professional and voluntary areas within the whole of the banding movement. 

Banding racism in Wales?

Having agreed to play with a band in the South East Wales Brass Band Association at the forthcoming Ammanford contest, I duly asked my previous band, based in England, for my registration card and letter giving me the necessary permission to play.

I informed the secretary of the Welsh band that I had obtained card etc, and was dumbfounded when informed that my English registration card was not acceptable to the contest controllers.

I pointed out that I had previously played at the Pontins Contest at Prestatyn a few years ago with a Welsh Championship band and had used my English registration card without any problem being encountered.

Apparently that contest comes under National Rules and English cards are acceptable.

It would appear that some local associations have their own rules and the South East Wales Association does not allow its bands to borrow England based players.

There must be a very good reason for this racist rule to continue to be in existence and I would love the powers that be to explain why they have adopted such an archaic rule and why, in this politically correct environment, it is still allowed to be applied.
It would appear that I am about to join a racist organisation!!

Are there other Welsh Associations with a similar rule or is the SEWBBA the only culprit in Wales?

As a former secretary of an English band I borrowed a number of Welsh players for various contests so I was really shocked when confronted with this ridiculous rule.
This rule should be abandoned immediately and I believe most Welsh band secretaries would agree.
David Francis

Why or why?

Out of interest- Why do we have regular reviews of Wind Band concerts, Songster Brigades, Timbrel groups, etc, etc etc appearing in the reviews section, normally from one particular reporter?

Isn’t this a brass band site?

Barry Cobley

More on Northern Ireland

As a keen visitor to your site, I have notice a lack of information on Northern Ireland brass bands.

The brass band contests, or concerts don’t seem to get any mention. I know we are only a small part of the brass world, but wonderful things are happening over here for brass, E.g. Fodens 10 year anniversary in Armagh.

The Cory Band had a wonderful weekend of teaching in Carrickfergus and the NIBA have just started a youth section for brass bands.

Things are positive so hers hoping you will soon give us a mention.

William Thompson

Albert Hall memories are the best

If my memory serves me correctly, my first performance on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall was, I believe, in 1946, long before the introduction of the acoustic balloons now suspended from the roof.  

Eight massed bands were assembled on stage for the evening concert, the guest conductor being the late Sir Adrian Boult, conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. I was a teenage member of the Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band.
I share this memory because since that memorable occasion I guess I have had the opportunity of performing on the stage of the RAH probably approaching one hundred or even more times, always playing in or conducting a brass band.
Sitting next to my friend and colleague Major Leslie Condon in the bass section of The International Staff Band for close on twenty years built up an experience of knowing something about this marvellous building, especially the stage.

The ISB would perform there at least twice a year and sometimes more when there were international events.
Being a member of this famous band for nearly twenty-five years created the opportunity of playing in many concert halls, not only in Europe, but North America, New Zealand and Australia.  

I mention this because, in my humble opinion, none can compare with the RAH experience. It is unique.

Am I correct in saying that the first time you blow a note through your instrument, the sound seems to be going nowhere or maybe quickly into oblivion; and there is a sense of isolation and not hearing other sections. That is until you get the "feel" of the stage and building.
As experienced bass players, Les and I quickly recognised that a marking of pp on our music was not practical in the unique building. This was born out by using" guinea pigs" seated in the arena and stalls during rehearsals and then offering a feed back; mf was to be our lowest dynamic.
I make this observation, and this is purely personal, simply because I feel that some of our well known and much admired experienced and league heading bands may have a distinct advantage over newcomers when it comes to performance on stage at the RAH.

These top bands and conductors know the building and how to adapt. I make the point that it can be an awesome and nerve-racking experience for new entrants.
May I now be bold enough to suggest that the promoters of the October contest look into the possibility of each band, on seeing the green light or hearing the whistle, being allowed to play a common meter hymn tune of their own choice twice through, taking less than one minute, the No.1 band playing the ‘National Anthem’ first.
Not much to ask but it will at least give newcomers to the building and stage the opportunity of getting a feel of the building.  

The promoters can stress that no band must exceed one minute in playing the hymn tune or risk point deduction
Just thought this would encourage further thought and comment
George Wittingham

Gracie Cole remembered

I recently came across your site and saw the piece about Gracie Cole by Brian Ravenhill from 2005. I tried to access the Ivy Benson site but it doesn’t seem to be operational now.
I wonder if you have contact info for Brian?

It would be a shame if his hard work were to disappear. Perhaps you can forward my details to him with a view to maintaining the site.
Sylvia Wise
(ex Ivy Benson 1966)

4BR Reply :

We have sent your details on Sylvia and we hope you get a reply

1965 – a great year for the 1st Old Boys

I write regarding the 1965 Grand Shield contest results in your most interesting archives.       

I was for many years the conductor of the 1st Old Boys Band and on this occasion was awarded the runners up prize.

However, I feel sure the adjudicator was the ‘Wee Professor’ Walter Hargreaves and not Harry Mortimer, both, I would add very good friends of mine.      

I look forward to clarification - I am still curious after all these years.

Alfie Burch

4BR Reply:
We have checked back through the record books Alfie and you are correct. It was Walter Hargreaves in the box that day, who awarded you second place on ‘The Shipbuilders’ with 184 points. We have changed the 4BR site accordingly.

Bloody hard work!

No offence but talk about bloody hard work! I have googled Bolsover contest and it took me to Carole Crompton oozing on your site about the contest entry and listing the bands taking part.

So enthused was I that I have decided to come and listen but can I buggery find the date or venue?
Could you tell me the best way to navigate quickly and easily to a list of all contests and dates and times on your site please?
Anthony Fawbert

4BR Reply:

Go to the classified section or even type in the details in search box and hey presto!

The grand old instruments of York

I have to totally disagree with Paul Sommerville and with Buffet Crampton –
“I would agree with the statement from Buffet Crampon. The main reason why York failed was that the instruments never made an impression with customers when they got their hands on them.”
When looking for a new Euphonium last year I tried 2 Besson Prestige Euphoniums, 2 York Eminence, a Besson Soverign and a York Preference:
Soverign and Preference were very light in sound but the Eminence was easily as good as the Prestige with less effort (better sound to my ears). I really wanted to like the Prestige but the Eminence was better so I got the Eminence and everyone who has heard me play since has commented on how much more beautiful my sound is now.

I love it and wouldn’t swap it for any other Euphonium I’ve had the opportunity to play.
Of course Buffon Crampton are going to be negative about the York range, it makes their current instrument range look better if they can convince everyone that the Yorks were never any good and if you have one you should “trade up” for a Besson.

I plan to keep my Eminence pretty much until it no longer functions so I hope that Buffet Crampton will continue to support York owners with any consumables that are not common between the instrument ranges but I have my doubts.
If the York instruments are really that bad then it’s quite remarkable how well Black Dyke and Cory in particular have done while playing with them.
Jon Wigham

About these comments

We will not print anonymous letters and we will not print your email address 4barsrest has a responsibility to inform our readers of our opinions concerning the many topics of the banding world we cover, and we are proud that we give the opportunity for people to comment with their thoughts about certain topics (including contest results). However, we are very clear that these comments are those of the individual who has written them, and in no way do they indicate that 4br agrees with the sentiments, observations or perceived injustices that are highlighted in them. We will continue to inform and report to our readers, and will give our own opinions and thoughts. We will also continue to give the opportunity to others to do the same, but by allowing people to air their opinions does not, and will not mean that they reflect in any way the responsible and informed opinion that we ourselves hold.

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