2011: October

From Pontins dosh to PLC — more from the 4BR postbag of banding opinion...

Whatever happened to the Pontins dosh?

I would be interested to hear if any of the prizewinners at the 2010 Pontins Contest have received their prize money yet.

This was a major contest involving some 58 bands travelling from all parts of the country and offering thousands of pounds in prize money - and yet it seems that very little has been done to fight 'our corner'.

I know for a fact that the adjudicators were paid cash on the day of the contest, and what annoys me, and many others, is that Pontins had the audacity to increase the prize money pot in August 2010 only a few weeks before the contest when they must have known that the company was in a dire financial position and unable to meet its obligations.

This is an extract from 4barsrest published on the 26 August 2010:

Pontin’s Brass Band Championships, which celebrate their 37th anniversary this year will be marking the occasion with a substantial increase in prize money – with a emphasis on providing successful lower section bands with the biggest prize cheques in the current contesting calendar.

The winners of the Harry & Margaret Mortimer Championship will now take away with them £3,000 for their efforts on ‘Les Preludes’ on Sunday 24th October, whilst each of the lower section winners will pocket an impressive £2,500.

As a member of one of the 'successful lower section bands’, I just wonder if anybody really cares about the 'grass roots' of our so called great brass banding nation.

Philip Heywood
Hazel Grove

An informed inbred...

I was always advised to wait at least one hour before writing an angry email - well I have done and I am still really angry at the arrogant attitude of your recent correspondent from Poole who savagely attacked the recent RAH test piece by Paul Lovatt-Cooper!

I note he only heard it on a recording on facebook. Well I think he should perhaps try to venture from deepest Dorset to listen to ‘live’ music before commenting with such authority.

I was one of the several hundred members of the "inbred, inward and backward looking" or - perhaps "informed" and certainly "involved - as conductor, player and teacher" audience, that remained throughout all of the performances of this very enjoyable and certainly testing piece of music.

He shoots himself down very adeptly when he critically described the piece as having Arban, S/A tunes etc in it.

Thank goodness it did!

Perhaps he ought to grace us with a piece of his music - or a performance by one of his great bands of some ‘proper music’?

I am really sorry to write in such a manner but his arrogance is so provoking.

Perhaps that's what he meant, and if he does - fine, let's make sure that bands don't look back too often (although I quite like to look back at the greats that have influenced me very personally as teachers, mentors conductors and friends)

I look forward to PLC music and its contemporaries inspiring the current generation of brass players for the future.

The three bands that I am privileged to conduct all play newly written music week in and week out, with a blend of traditional and other music and long may they do so.

Perhaps we "inbreds" should wait to hear your entry for next year's finals?

Gordon Eddison

Perfect PLC
I have not heard the Brighouse & Rastrick performance on Facebook so cannot pass comment, but I was at the Albert Hall for the National Finals Championship section.
I did listen ‘live’ to the majority of the performances, and think that this must be the first time I have enjoyed listening to so many performances of the same test piece.
I was surrounded in the hall by many people who had never attended a brass band competition before, and guess what, they also stayed and listened to the majority of the bands. The hall remained full nearly all day.
Every band on the day received excellent applause, and the general consensus of opinion was that everyone had enjoyed listening to and playing the piece.
In my humble opinion ‘Breath of Souls’ ticked all the boxes for a test piece for this section: Technical, musical and listenable.
It is an unfortunate fact of life that I am old enough to remember derogatory remarks made about another composer who had the audacity to think ‘out of the box’ and write a piece of music for brass bands.

Comments being made such as ‘not proper brass band music’, ‘no tune’, ‘get brass bands done away with’ and ‘what does he know about brass bands anyway?’  

That composer was Gilbert Vinter and his piece was ‘Spectrum’.
There are many ‘older’ composers out there who write excellent music for brass but please let us give the likes of Paul Lovatt-Cooper and Simon Dobson credit for the excellent music they produce.
George Fairhurst

Read between the lines?

I am writing to ask why David Read has been in the RAH Nationals box every year since 1995?
If this letter is published I am sure that this first sentence will elicit the usual responses of ‘disrespect’ and ‘ageist’ comments.

My argument though is not calling into question Mr Read’s age, experience or musical preferences (as brought into play by ‘Meadgate’) but it is simply express astonishment that one individual has had been a judge at arguably our most prestigious every year for the last 17 occasions.

I would call it into question regardless of the individual.
I suppose the argument from some would be ‘he is our most experienced and respected judge’.

To that I would ask, where else in other competitions of music or sport is this the same? Not even other brass band competitions operate with this ‘policy’, although some do come pretty close on occasions.

Even if David Read is ‘the most experienced and respected judge’, that still isn’t justification for him being there all the time.
The organisers would rightly say that despite Mr Read’s consistent appearance at the RAH, ‘new RAH blood’ has been given the opportunity to work alongside and learn from him in the box.

To that I would ask several things: Do musicians the calibre of David King, James Gourlay, Rob Wiffen etc. need to be ‘looked after’?

Also, if this is the policy (to have an ‘experienced’ head alongside new ones) why not someone of the same generation of David Read, rather than David Read?

Surely this is disrespect to others in this generation that the only person from this demographic capable of performing this task is Mr Read.
Some defeatists would say ‘well, it’s Kapitol’s show, they can invite who they want’.

Firstly, if this is the case then Kapitol is not serving the movement by doing bands and audience the courtesy of allowing other opinions and ideals to influence the RAH result.

I would also say that even thought Kapitol ask David Read every year, no one is forcing him to say ‘yes’.

I know that morally, if I was in the same position as David Read I would feel it necessary to pass the judging baton to someone else from time to time, regardless of how sure I was of my ability to do the job, or how much I enjoyed my annual trip to the Nationals.
I am sure that some will see this is an attack on David Read and nothing I can say to the contrary would change this perception with those people.

I am asking, when conductors change, repertoire changes, bands change, other judges change, where is the moral (or musical) justification for the ongoing decision to have the same person in the box every year?
John Sullivan

Is whizz bang music enough?

I heard a recording of the B&R performance that someone posted on Facebook.
With all due respect to the musicians, who are of course top-class, this music takes the brass band repertoire into a cul-de-sac, or worse.

It's a combination of Arban exercises, SA-style tune, and brass band march, with some deliberately difficult cadenzas: a sweet tune with some simple dissonances and loads of semi quavers.

It's a test piece, so no surprise a brass band audience enjoyed it. But music?

I suspect and hope that non-brass band musicians would be amazed that it was commissioned for the pinnacle event of our medium.
This may be just an indication of my disaffection with the current brass banding scene in general but, with respect, I think it was entirely as expected from PLC.

A tune and some whizz bang. Why don't we commission from "proper" composers!

Perhaps because we are an inbred, inward and backward-looking medium, who insist on a piece being 15 minutes of notes?
Perhaps that's the way it's going, with all the musical enterprise and imagination going into concert items by in-house writers.

Why not? With a bit of luck contesting will actually die sooner rather than later. Some hope!
Peter Hartley

In appreciation of a great bass player

I would like to take this opportunity through your fantastic website to congratulate tuba player John Prosser on his retirement from top class banding.

The applause and recognition he received by Dr. Robert Childs and the Cory Band, and an appreciative audience, at the Royal Albert Hall was fully deserved.

Those who know John will testify that his commitment to Cory has been second to none for over thirty years.

His leadership within the band, both as a player and otherwise, will be sorely missed I’m sure.

I remember the day I joined Cory on principal tuba when John moved on to BBb bass.

Replacing such a player was difficult enough, but having that player sat in the same section added even more pressure.

However John was one of the first to welcome me to the band and to pass on his best wishes.

That’s the kind of bandsmanship which I feel is lacking in some bands at the moment. In today’s (rather embarrassing at times) climate of self-indulgent and self-promotion certain players take great pleasure in announcing how great they are or that they’re endorsing a certain valve oil, instrument, mouthpiece, valve spring, water key etc!

How refreshing to the movement it is to have players, like John Prosser, who are also world class performers but don’t lower themselves to be over self-indulgent.

Players who never miss rehearsals, work their socks off at every opportunity, plays with pride, and who puts the band first.

Despite his huge experience John was always eager to learn. I remember on a Cory tour of Sweden a few years ago I, along with the other principal players, was asked to give a masterclass at a local venue.

As I began to teach an enthusiastic room full of local players I realised that amongst the group, with his hand raised to ask a question, was John Prosser!

Enjoy your retirement John. Thanks for the inspiration.

Gavin Saynor

Summed up feelings

Congratulations on your very sympathetic and insightful report on the funeral of our NWABBA President Roy Newsome.  

You summed up the feeling of those of us present at the event magnificently.

Shirley Woodward
General Secretary NWABBA

Why attack our own?

Being involved in this year's National Championships (my fee going to H4H), I have been interested in the varied comments about the new PLC piece 'Breath of Souls'.
Why must we constantly attack our own?

Love or hate specific composers, conductors or even players, these people have a talent and choose to use it in our small world of brass bands.

The music of PLC will not satisfy everyone as a contest piece, as Mr Stone made clear in his comments on 4BR. 

However, to dismiss it as a 'very very long show opener' is perhaps not doing the music justice.

As a player, there are elements within this music that require practice, advancement or improvement…one of the essential elements (for me) in contest pieces.

How else do we advance?

Yes, it has some PLC trait elements; and why not? It contains some great tunes, has some great dynamic, technical and rhythmical challenges, plus exposes enough soloists to create a great test 'on the day'.
To compare this piece with those of 'Holst, Elgar, Ireland, Howells, Vaughan Williams, Simpson and Heaton’ is perhaps unfair. 

We only have to think back a few years to a great piece by Elgar Howarth  (a man revered as an innovator and pioneer for brass bands) that drew similar moans and groans.

Perhaps we should just thank PLC for the music and hope that he and other talented composers are not deterred by our negativity and continue writing for us.

Dr Roger B Webster

Worrying about our direction

Can I assure your correspondent Tom Stone that he is not a lone dissenting voice with regard to the choice of ‘Breath of Souls’ for the National finals.

When pieces like “BS” are held up by one of our most prestigious competitions as demonstrating where we are as a movement then we really need to worry about where we are heading.

I was reminded about an article on your site some two years ago which, having re-read it, seems to almost scarily prophesize the state of play today

We have to look collectively into the mirror and ask are we doing all we can to encourage composers of real quality and skill to write for our medium? 

What will be the legacy of works from the current era of lasting quality and depth that we bequeath future generations of bandsman and women?

Sadly we seem to be afflicted with the same dumbing down process prevalent in many other areas of music and the media.

This can be seen on radio stations like ‘Classic fm’ with the championing of what are essentially light music composers of superficial and compositionally simple music dressed up as mainstream ‘classical’ composers.

We need to re-engage with more challenging music - and fast.

Ken Brewer

Death of Dr Roy Newsome

I read with great sadness yesterday about the death of Dr Roy Newsome.

I have been fortunate in my time with the Reg Vardy and Hammonds Saltaire Bands to play under Roy on several occasions.

As a conductor he was an inspiration to play for, his musical knowledge was incredible and his rehearsals were great fun.

When Roy conducted you, you always learned something about the piece and his interpretation always insightful.

My abiding memory of Roy is a phone conversation we had when I was working with the then YBS band and I sought his advice about the history of band as we were making the change to be known as the Hammonds Saltaire Band.

Roy was so very friendly and his knowledge of the history of the band coupled with his enthusiasm about the banding movement in general was a delight.

He was so very helpful and he we talked endlessly about the band.

Roy was gentleman, a great musician and a genuine champion of the Brass Band movement. I'm sure that there will be many bandrooms around the UK and beyond feeling his loss this week.

My thoughts go out to his family at this sad time.

Thank you Roy, you will be missed so much.

David Long

Elland remembers...

Elland Silver Band organisation was so very sorry to hear of the passing of Dr Roy Newsome and we send deepest sympathy to Muriel and the family.

At the rehearsal on Monday 10th October the band under the leadership of James Shepherd paid tribute to Roy by playing his arrangement of ‘Deep Harmony’.

It was a very sad but fitting tribute to a man held in such high esteem.  
The present youth band is best known for its charity work and innovative concert programmes.

However a decision was made to enter a few contests in preparation for the Yorkshire Championship in March 2012.
I'm sure Roy and Muriel would have been delighted to hear that the band came first and were warded ‘Best Bass Section’ at the recent Fleetwood contest.
Kathleen Harrison

BFBB tribute

Although we all knew that Dr. Roy Newsome was seriously ill, it came as a great shock to me when I saw the sad news that Roy had died early this week.  

Roy was a giant of the brass band world and without doubt did more than anyone in my lifetime to encourage bandsmen and women, bands famous and not so famous, to keep up the great banding traditions that we have in the UK.

His work with bands all over the world has been appreciated and his encouragement of developing brass band countries in years gone by is legendary.  

Many young people who were members of the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain when he was Musical Director will have their own special memories of Dr. Roy.

Roy was a true gentleman; always encouraging but a stickler for detail and to work with him was one of my life’s greatest banding pleasures.

It was appropriate that at the English National Brass Band Championships in June the BFBB awarded Roy and Muriel a joint Lifetime Service Award because, as everyone knows, Muriel was always at Roy’s shoulder with all that he did.

Banding has lost a true legend; a man who gave his life to brass bands and who will be greatly missed.

Robert Morgan
Chairman, BFBB

Sad news

So sad the news concerning Dr Roy Newsome.

I remember the encouragement and support he gave to my Fourth Section band when he conducted us in the 1980's,

Our standard always raised when he was in the middle.
Jeff Weston

BBC Cuts - Beware!

Many people may have heard about the BBC cuts on the news this week.

The bad news is that these are very likely to impact on both local and national brass band programmes – even though there are currently only three.

’Specialist Music’ in general is being targeted, particularly on BBC local radio as it is thought this is provided for on Radio2.

Local radio and Radio2 are both facing cuts of 20%, so it can be envisaged that even the flagship ‘Listen to the Band’ cannot be considered safe.
The entire BBC brass band music output is just three and a half hours a week, in three programmes: Just two on BBC local radio – ‘Sounds of Brass’  (1 hour), ‘Yorkshire Brass’ (2 hours) and 1 hour on national radio: Radio2, ‘Listen to the Band’, (30 minutes)
Even if you add in the other stations that take ‘Sounds of Brass’ in the West of England ‘cluster’ as it is referred to by the BBC, the1 hour of ‘Yorkshire Brass’ that is taken by BBC Radio Leeds, that still only adds up to twelve and a half hours being broadcast in total.
These programmes are of course available 24 hours a day on the BBC IPlayer and are enjoyed by a myriad of listeners throughout the world – but this is a repeat service, something that the BBC states that now start to fill a great deal of local radio output in the afternoons in future along with generic news programmes.

The local flavour of local radio is going to be lost along with the possibility of local programmes that attract a core of loyal listeners.

Technology may well send ‘Listen to the Band’ to the far flung corners of the world, but what use is that if all that is being heard is a rehash of CD requests and ‘features’ with so called ‘celebrities’.

Those who heard the recent programme with Alan Titchmarsh will attest to that fact.

I hope that you might encourage your readers to comment on this direct to the BBC Trust, as these are initial proposals open to public consultation until the end of the year.

For more details you might like to have a look at: www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/consult/delivering_quality_first.shtml
Michael Howard

Radio hams?

I have had a request from a brass band player from Delaware, USA, who would like to get in touch with any bands persons who are ‘ham radio’ enthusiasts.

There are none in the Leyland band, so I thought I would call upon your services to see if there is anyone out there who would be interested.
They can contact me in the first instance, at this e-mail address, and I will arrange for an exchange of radio ‘call-signs’.

It can only be helpful in international banding relationships after all


Wrong breath taken at London?

I have taken advantage of PLC Music to purchase, study and also listen to the 2011 Royal Albert Hall test piece.

This has really given me a real head start to understanding the piece, and its method of release is a new practise that is to be highly commended.

That said, could I say how very disappointed I am with it as a choice of test piece.

Paul Lovatt-Cooper is undoubtedly a very talented percussionist, teacher and composer and has contributed greatly to the brass band scene in many ways.

His compositions fly off the shelves and his CDs are best sellers, but ‘Breath of Souls’ for the Royal Albert Hall is a mistake.
I know that if you publish this letter, I shall be a lone voice and I am fully prepared for that, but ‘Breath of Souls’ is really a very, very long show opener that PLC is so very good at composing.

It has all his trade mark compositional effects, which are all very effective and which many people enjoy. I also enjoy PLC compositional style in the right place and in the right context.

Sadly, 100th National Championships is neither the right place nor the right context.
I know why it has been chosen: It will be extremely popular and bottoms on the seats are vital for the promoters, but the question I pose is should the organisers also be thinking about the musical heritage we are building by commissioning new pieces, especially for this very important event?

Holst, Elgar, Ireland, Howells, Vaughan Williams, Simpson and Heaton to name but a few have all written masterpieces for this event and the British Open - pieces that the wider musical world respect and enjoy.

With all due respect to Paul, ‘Breath of Souls’ is light years away from the pieces these composers have provided for us.
I shall be at the Royal Albert Hall and I shall sit and listen, as I normally do, to all the bands.

I wish the promoters and Paul Lovatt-Cooper well. I bear them no grudge.

I am merely thinking about the wider responsibilities and implications, for now and the future, that a promoter should at least consider when they commission new music.
Tom Stone

Wake up call to lend a helping hand

Is this a wake up call for the banding movement? Thanks Iwan and Malcolm for a very timely word of warning to all bands and players.
For bands and their players, a contest is all about getting the music right for the day, getting to the venue, performing, having a drink or two and back home. Job done!
For the organisers, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Usually, as soon as the contest finishes the organisation starts for the following years event. Venues, sponsorship, stewards etc. all have to be sorted.

The admin for the actual contest can take several months and the days leading up to the date can become quite frantic, always with the worry in the back of the mind of what may go wrong on the day, especially with late withdrawals.
Yes, the age of those `backstage organisers’ is worrying for the banding movement to the extent that without a major influx of volunteers to do these roles, hopefully from the younger end, I fear for many of the contests currently on offer.
Luckily, we have some bands that are selflessly organising their own contests, such as Ireland Colliery Chesterfield and Ripon City, but in reality these are the exceptions.

Look to the major contests organised by Associations/Regional Committees and other such bodies.

The average age of the organisers, I would hazard a guess must be around 60 years of age plus?

In my own association, some members who have dedicated many years to the cause are starting to rein in their involvement and who can blame them?

Time waits for nobody and there is another life out there to sample after many years of dedicated work to the banding movement.
Bands should be encouraging their players to get involved and not just the youngsters.

For myself, I help out at two or three and organise one each year. I have never been able to play in a brass band, I just love the music but I am now past 60 and have no idea how long I can continue.
New blood is desperately needed now. It’s time to get involved.

Peter Gilby

Seven out of seven at Cheltenham...

Well done to Andrew Warriner for getting the first seven bands right - or - well done to the adjudicators for getting the first 7 bands right - at the recent First Section National Finals in Cheltenham!

Peter Hartley

Foreign policy at home?
Whilst it is easy to question the increasing use of foreign players by bands in competitions it is just the natural extension of what almost all bands have done since the beginning of banding.

Even in the early days of pit bands a player would be plucked from a different area of Britain, relocated and employed by the mine until the player got a better offer from another band.

Now the best (and in some cases not so good) players demand high prices and travel many hundred miles to play at a particular band.

Why would you expect this practice to be restricted to the shores of Great Britain?
To say that a great player from Europe could not be brought (bought) in by a wealthy band would surely beg the question of whether a player living in England should be allowed to play in a Scottish band.

Or even a player who lives in the North East playing for a band that rehearses in Yorkshire (I know a few of these though couldn't be bothered with the travel myself).
I currently live in Ashington and for a couple of years played with my local band Wansbeck's Ashington Colliery.

This year I transferred to Felling who rehearse 25 miles from my home. Should this be allowed or should there be a rule that you play for the nearest band to your home?
Everyone in this day and age of relatively cheap travel (though this is perhaps becoming a thing of the past) understands that such and such village band may well have no players in it from the immediate village of town.

Why should this be restricted to the shores of the UK, or even the boundaries of Europe? If bands are stupid enough to pay the sort of money that these international signings must cost then good luck to them.
Most of the bands in my area struggle to get anything like a full band on a regular basis so it's not like these foreigners are stopping British players from getting a seat!
Dick Stacey

Don't forget Pendennis
Thanks for getting the retrospectives up - always makes for an interesting read!  

Can you please advise on a matter that is puzzling me?  I have played euphonium with Pendennis for the last 5 years and I note that we don't often get much said about us - particularly in the year's second Section retrospective.  

As far as I am aware we punched well above our weight and landed a result much higher than anyone anticipated. 

As you're aware we have voyaged from the Fourth Section almost in parallel with Brunel on a similar rehearsal schedule (one a week) and yet nothing much is mentioned.

This is a genuine request and not a rancorous denouncement of your site, which I believe, performs a very valuable service,

Simon Phillips

4BR Reply:

Now people certainly know. Congratulations on a fine achievement.

Words to live by...

I read with pleasure a comment made recently by Ken Ward and I quote:

"We can all strive to be the best we can be, regardless of our natural talent (or lack of it). But if in trying to be the best we can, we lose sight of the fact that making music is something to be enjoyed then we do both ourselves and our audience a disservice."  

These few words are surely words to live by within our ranks?  

Never could I have ever put it better. 

Music is for the romantic, for the adventurous, for the heart and soul of man (and woman).   

There are far too many squabbles about this and that and not enough real music making.

Jim Owen

Well informed journalism...

Just a message to congratulate 4BR on such a wonderful piece of writing concerning the recent Miners Welfare Contest held in Porthcawl.

Such well informed journalism balanced with just the right amount of emotion is all too rare these days.

It surely is worthy of publication in the national press.
Well done and thanks
Dennis Evans

London Central Fellowship Band - The International Staff Band in Cambridge

Saturday 24 February • Wesley Methodist Church, Christ's Pieces, Cambridge CB1 1LG

Contest: North West Regional Championships

Sunday 25 February • Winter Gardens Complex, Church Street, Blackpool FY1 1HU

Contest: Midlands Regional Championships

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

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

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.

London Central Fellowship Band

February 16 • We are currently recruiting a back-row cornet player, a Solo Cornet player, a Tenor horn player and a percussionist.

Darren R. Hawken

PGdip, BMus(hons) PGCE, dipABRSM, LRSM
Conductor, Arranger, Teacher, Adjudicator, Band Trainer


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