2011: February

More from a spikey post bag — with everything from 4BR comments to adjudicator's forgetting percussion, archaic formats and the GUS 4...

Effective comments... 

Thanks for your comments about Tredegar playing ‘Folk Festival’ at Porthcawl contrasted with your comments about Flowers playing it at Butlins. 

I don’t think anything could have been more effective in backing up my comments made in my last letter to 4BR.
Lyndon Fletcher

Upping quality not archaic formats 

I am not a player, but have been a listener for almost 60 years now.

I totally agree with the ideas put forward in the article ‘Making our own choices’ - works at the ‘Land O’Burns’, ‘The Sage’ and ‘Brass at the Guild’, and these are very well attended by the general public.

I’ve been attending contests for over 30 years, and am being worn down by the old format, especially when pieces like ‘The Maunsell Forts’ and ‘Atlantic’ are being given more than the ‘once over’

I often feel that bandspeople forget it is people like me (Joe Public) for whom they are perfecting their skills.

I honestly believe the standards have gone up and up. I especially know this when I attend the RNCM Festival. Bands playing the equivalent of five to six test pieces, many of them innovative, all of them different, all with differing programmes, but all able to be appreciated and value judgements made.
But it is not just the musical aspect of contesting that concerns me. I overheard a spectator ask a player at Preston last month, ‘What have you got for us today?’ and the reply was ‘Fatigue!’

I listen to bands such as Wire Brass, and others that have folded, and their decision is not about musicality; it's about frustration and frustrated dedication.

It's about people with other aspects to their lives having to spend hours rehearsing a piece then having to take part in the pot luck of the draw and the schedules. That's not a level playing field.

Why do you have to wake your young child at some stupid hour and drive through the dark to rehearse in a pub that hasn't been cleaned from the night before; then hang around for hours to finally get on stage and play for ten minutes, in a hall with only a handful of people in it?

It's sheer madness!

If I turned up to a concert and was told that the players had been travelling through the day and then been hanging around for several hours, with only one short rehearsal, I would not be expecting a quality show – and I'd not feel I'd had value for money either.

Let's have everything pre-drawn so that bands can plan their day to their greatest convenience and least cost, and so that we can get to hear fresh players playing at their peak.

And let's have open adjudication so there are no puerile claims that the adjudicators are ‘past it and not really listening all the time’ etc.

Contesting is about upping the quality - it should not be about driving public and players away because of archaic formats and ridiculous rules.

Jim Doran

Do not forget the percussion
With the series of Area contests just around the corner, I wanted to raise a few points. 

There are a large number of bands up and down the country that are relying on ‘fair adjudication’ to maintain their current status, in whatever section that may be.
With this in mind I just wanted to draw general attention to a couple of contests I have attended in the last 12 months. 

It appears to me that some adudicators seem to overlook the percussion section of the band when adjudicating.  I have witnessed at least 3 bands that have perform test pieces that require 3 percussionists, and have only had one on stage.

This is no means a criticism of the bands concerned because I applaud bands for entering contests, but when significant sections of the percussion part are just left out, surely this has to be reflected in the adjudicators remarks and therefore the placings?

And by significant I mean no tuned percussion whatsoever in the entire performance.

I’m fairly sure that if, for example, the solo cornet part of let’s say ‘Contest Music’ was completely ommitted, this would affect the band’s placing. So are we saying that percussion is not as important as the brass parts?
All I am trying to say is please can all bands have a fair and thorough adjudication, which means looking further than the B flat bass line on the score.

For some bands there is a lot riding on these contests, and it is a huge kick in the teeth for a band to work hard for weeks on end only to be beaten by a band that make no attempt whatsoever to play all the required parts.

I realise that adjudicators have certain criteria to judge against, but surely ensuring all parts are played has got to come high on that list.
Dave Jones

The GUS 4 

I read Ian Mizon’s letter with interest and if you would be kind enough to ask Ian to contact me at this email address, I would be happy to supply him with a copy of the album cover he desires.

Search over!
Paul Drury


Window shopping 

Re: Window shopping for young composers

Good points about good young composers, which brings about a more important point: What are their publishers doing?

These are all talented composers you have mentioned and if they were on my books I wouldn’t just sit back and hope for the phone to ring.  

James McFadyen

Personal Parkes tribute

It was very sad to hear of the death of Major Peter Parkes, a true legend in the brass band movement.

I had the pleasure of working with Peter at Fairey's and he always inspired the band with his musical ability and motivation.

To Birgit, Jonathan and Christopher we send our deepest sympathy.

Alan and Margaret Lawton

Is it all worth it?

In reply to Lyndon Fletcher -  yes of course it is.

It makes me smile when as bandsmen we all need our egos massaged and take offence when critique comes our way.

When we read on 4BR that we gave a poor performance (yes even if we win the contest) then the reporter is clearly wrong in his opinions, blinkered and the mud slinging starts on the social networking sites.

Does this happen when we receive a good report though? No not in the slightest.

I would urge Mr Fletcher to read the retrospectives from the Grand Shield 2002:  ‘In our opinion we had Flowers figured as the winners of this contest.’.....’Philip Harper captured the musical strengths of this test piece in an altogether marvellous performance.’ 

Or how about the Masters 2006:  ‘We have been critical of PolySteel on occasions, but it would be nigh on impossible to find fault with their performance here.’

Then there is the 2007 English National Championships: ‘The other stand out performance on the day for the three judges in the box also came from a band that didn't perform well at Cambridge PolySteel, but here they were sparklingly vibrant, fresh and colourful, placing a real emphasis on balance, clarity of detail and a clutch of fine solo contributions’. 

The list goes on.

So to put it another way does 4BR only get it right when they tell us we have played well? Or is it just a case of maybe an element of truth hurts?

Why not just do as all the top bands in the country do, take the comments for what they are and let your playing do the talking then it really does become worth it.

Chris Howley

New title same ideas

I am writing to you with regard to the news that the British Federation of Brass Bands has proposed a brand change to be known as The English Federation of Brass Bands - a move that has been applauded by Simon Oates!

Even with Simon’s tacit support, I’m surprised it has taken this so called ‘all embracing’ organisation to take so long to show it’s true colours. If we are to be totally honest, this organisation has for years been the mouthpiece for the English brass band movement only.

It even organises the qualifying contest for English bands to compete at the European Brass Band Championships!

Although not surprised by this decision, and to be honest, glad to see a bit of honesty by the BFBB, I do worry that the new umbrella group known as the United Kingdom Brass Band Alliance, will follow the same path as the BFBB.

Many of the personnel associated with the setting up of this body, really have my respect, but as with the founders of the BFBB, their aims may soon change.

I hope I am proved wrong.

Kerry Bowden

James Watson remembered 

Having had the pleasure and privilege to have played under James Watson’s baton and enjoyed the company of both his sons at John Laing (Hendon), it is with real sadness that I heard the news of James’ untimely death. 

The most recent experience with him was with St Albans City band a few years back, when he was kind enough to come along prior to a Regional’s contest and give the benefit of his experience to a lower section band.

 It was a real inspiration to the band and demonstration that he was willing to find the time in his busy schedule to support brass bands in general. 

He is a serious loss to the world of music.  My thoughts are with the family.
Gari Spearpoint

A great musician
I read on Monday with great sadness, pride and admiration of the passing of Jim Watson.
I recall the first time that our paths crossed - probably about 1959 in Kettering, at Kettering Rifles Band Slow Melody and Quartets Contest!

I was about a year older than Jimmy. He played Angus MacDonald on cornet, and I played The Iceberg on euphonium.
I think that I may have won on that day - probably the late/great Bert Sullivan had an influence, but I remember that over the next 5 or so years that ‘Jimmy’ and I swapped many victories, both in Slow Melodies and Av Varies.

Both being boys from the Midlands, we came up against each other most weekends.

My fondest memories are that of Mrs Watson sitting on the front row of a hall, knitting for the next generation of  ‘Watsons’ - Bobby was growing up during that time – others to folllow.

We would play our performance and then be outside playing football as soon as we could...only being pulled in by our parents for the results.
I have followed Jim’s career with admiration since those days, and although we had not been in touch for many years, I still had a great feeling of camaraderie.
I send my deepest sympathy to all of the family. 

Russ Booker  


I was shocked and saddened by the news of Jim Watson’s death.

He was a good friend and an amazing talent. We played together in Leicestershire in the late 1960s.

I've just posted a short video and I thought people who knew himmight just like to take a look.


John Whitmore

Who are the GUS 4?

I have a strange enquiry, but I hope you may be able to help me.
Many years ago I was involved in the Brass Band world, and amongst my record collection is, Quartets For Brass, by the GUS (Footwear) Band.

I believe the music was recorded in 1968.

I had a particular liking for the GUS band and their records, as I was taught to play by David Read, and later also by Stanley Boddington.
I believe the original record sleeve featured a picture of the four musicians; John Berryman, David Read, Trevor Groom and John Cobley.

At the time, unfortunately, I was young and was unable to buy a copy, but later did manage to buy one, but it had a different LP sleeve.

Do you know if it is possible to obtain an original sleeve showing the band members, or do you know if it might be possible to obtain the photograph itself, or a copy, showing the four players?
Ian Mizon


I read with interest the article on 27th January in connection with the BFBB considering a re-branding to become the EFBB. (English Federation of Brass Bands)

I am pleased that (although it has taken some years) English bands will now finally have the direct voice they deserve.
With the English Championships and an English Federation in place all that remains on the original EFBB shopping list is the appointment of Regional Directors/Ambassadors to ensure communication is cascaded from the EFBB and more importantly regional bands have a direct channel of communication to the EFBB.
Simon Oates

Is it all worth it?
Imagine this scenario, which I’m sure, is familiar to many of you.
You work really hard in preparation for a contest.  The band you play for then go on stage and play really well, so well in fact that when the results are announced you find you are the winners.  You all enjoy that winning feeling and celebrate the result. 

Then later in the week, on a well known brass band website they provide a retrospective on the contest that does nothing but criticise what your band has done. 

Even though their comments do not agree with the remarks of the adjudicators, it is of course the only information about the contest that is provided to the brass band public who were unable to attend. 

So what do the public believe – that your band were rubbish of course!
How does it make you feel? 

Well I know how it makes me feel.  I feel like putting my instrument back in it’s case and never bothering to take it out again. 

Why do we ever take time to do what we do, when we consistently have to put up with this type of reporting?
Lyndon Fletcher

Right but ironic
I think it entirely right that the Grimethorpe Colliery Band should mark the death of actor Pete Postlethwaite in a musical tribute. 

But I find it ironic that it should choose to celebrate the life of a man who made a significant contribution to perpetuating the commonly held stereotype of brass bands at the RNCM Festival of Brass, the principal event in the banding calendar which has gone some way to dispelling that stereotype.
The fact that the original programme has been changed to incorporate music that would be more suited to one of Grimethorpe’s lighter concerts makes it disappointing as well. 

Let's hope that if Radio Three are going to broadcast items from the event, we do not have the strains of 'Danny Boy' singing out from our radios.
You complain in your January editorial that the actor's death brought stereotypical responses from the media, and conclude 'we only have ourselves to blame'. 

I agree.
Jim Yelland

Masterclass magic

I just wanted to drop you a quick email to thank you for taking time out to give the masterclass's recorded by 4BR. 

The Lanner Brass Academy was established just over 12 months ago and currently has 23 members with an average age of 10.  We do have some fantastic tutors and the children have made considerable progress to a stage where they have been able to undertake five public performances.
That said, getting across to children the importance of long tone practice is extremely difficult... as you say yourself it is boring! 

But for them to hear it from a 'world class' musician has really made a difference.

 I did take the liberty of putting the exercise down on paper for them and although many are struggling to make the full 20 seconds they are getting there. 

My 7-year-old daughter was having issues maintaining a 'decent' sound on her top G's (cornet) but since she has followed this exercise there is a noticeable improvement. 

Children are a strange breed, you can advise them all you like but it doesn't always go in, it's great that our teaching can be backed up with these masterclass's. 

Lee Rouse

Exit – quick tempo

Mr Buckley is clearly a man who will stand no nonsense.

Whilst none of my words were in any way libellous or meant to be amplified to such extraordinary heights as they were, I now see how ABBA operates and clearly must apologise forthwith to all parties concerned and request that my polemic paragraphs be purged promptly.

There are many important issues in this world and I really don't think this is one of them.

Here's to the future of brass bands!

I hope my exit matches the required tempo marking.

Russell Cavanagh

Coming second at Butlins – in 1933

With reference to you Butlins article about the first championship in 1933.

I can't help with the winners, but the Rothwell Temperance Band Centenary Chronicle (1881-1981) includes the following entry for 1933:

"Harry Nuttall had succeeded Nathan Sidebottom and gained himself a conductor’s medal and second prize for the band, playing “Coriolanus” at Skegness contest."

Tim Sawyer
Rothwell Temperance Band

Political nanny state?

I'm not entirely sure that the article entitled 'Political correctness gone mad...' does exactly what it says on the tin. 

Add to the mix talk of the 'Nanny State' and I was left entirely confused by the whole thing.  I suggest that someone at 4BR invests in a sensationalist journalism dictionary. 

Just made me laugh, that's all!

A blotch on the otherwise good service...

Chris Pannell

Free speech

I must totally agree with the comments made by Wayne Ruston recently in which he says "We are lucky to live in a country where we have the right to free speech, although some people and organisations fail to recognise this basic right and consider themselves to be above any criticism."
I have been known in the past for my outspoken comments, the results of which have landed me in trouble with the occasional bands I’ve been a member of, but those who REALLY know me know that I have never been known to say anything but the truth, and if that upsets folk then so be it.
On this occasion I shall not mention those bands concerned for fear of opening old wounds but is it REALLY wrong of me to write in these columns and then put the name of my band after my own name?
Many writers do the same, but it does not mean that those comments represent the opinions of their band, it only helps the reader identify the area of the country they come from.
Nuff said.
Jim Owen
(the town, not the band)

Haverhill Silver Band - Waterbeach Brass - Spring Concert

Saturday 2 March • Histon Baptist Church, Station Road, Histon, Cambridge CB24 9LQ

Contest: Yorkshire Regional Championships

Saturday 2 March • Corporation Street, Huddersfield HD1 2TA

Contest: Midlands Regional Championships

Saturday 2 March • Corby Business Academy, Gretton Road, Corby NN17 5EB

Contest: Midlands Regional Championships

Sunday 3 March • Corby Business Academy, Gretton Road, Corby NN17 5EB

Contest: Yorkshire Regional Championships

Sunday 3 March • Corporation Street, Huddersfield HD1 2TA

West Midlands Police Band

February 27 • Are you a committed musician looking for new opportunities? We are currently seeking a competent 3rd Cornet player, BBb or Eb Bass player, and a Percussionist (kit).. Rehearsals on a Wednesday in friendly environment at Chelmsley Wood Police Station

Mereside Brass

February 20 • Mereside Brass (Rudheath, Northwich) are looking for a FRONT ROW CORNET, position negotiable. We are a friendly 4th Section band restarting contesting this year and with a sensible calendar of jobs and band social events. Come and give us a try!

Haverhill Silver Band

February 19 • Play Bb (or Eb) bass and want to compete at the Spring Festival and Whit Friday? . . Due to work commitments, Haverhill Silver Band (L&SC Champions 2022) have a vacancy for a talented Bb or Eb bass player to join us after the areas.

Prof. Christopher Houlding

Conductor, Performer, Educator


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