2012: January

Lots and lots on borrowing, twitter, percussion and an old confession...

Time to get tough

I am appalled at this very invasive social networking has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons at a brass band contest.

Hopefully, the mindless actions on Sunday at Skegness will be investigated by the Police and the person responsible named and shamed.

One would presume that the offender was a brass band enthusiast and that if the person concerned is affiliated to any band - that organisation gives them a swift boot out of the door!

I think it is time that all mobile devices are banned from the contest auditorium and that any offenders are removed. 

At the Open and the RAH last year there was constant flashing; recording; and videoing of bands despite being asked not to before the start and in the programme notes. Not to mention the distraction to the audience and players created. 

Time to get tough before it is too late to do anything!

R N Barnes
Milton Keynes

True spirit of banding

Drighlington Band would like to officially place on record our grateful thanks to Mark Kennedy of Becontree Band for agreeing to step in on the day of the Butlins Mineworkers Contest and play principal cornet for both his band and ours.

Our principal cornet player was admitted to hospital and the easy option would have been to pull out of the contest. 

The band however decided to participate and to ask the band drawn before us if we could borrow their player. 

Mark very kindly agreed, and this is what I believe to be the true spirit of banding, whereby rivals help each other out on the day, when due to unforeseen circumstances they are in dire need of assistance.

For the bands to be awarded first and second prizes was a wonderful outcome, and we are so pleased to have been able to fulfil our commitment to the contest.

We would also like to thank the other bandpersons who offered to help out, both on Friday and on the morning of the contest itself.

Linda Whitaker
Drighlington Band

Keep it up

Just want to send a quick message to you and your 'band of merry men' to congratulate you all on the coverage of the Butlins contest this weekend. 

As a Facebooker, Tweeter and general techno addict it is always great to be able to keep up to date with the band contests.
Keep up the good work in keeping us informed and trying to get the Banding movement into the mainstream music scene, it is really appreciated (despite desperate attempts from certain quarters to sabotage it!)
All the best for the coming year

Damian Wileman
Cornerstone Brass

Mea Culpa...

I'll not forget the day I stood trembling in front of the Yorkshire Area Committee, along with my big friend Jimmy Cunliffe, for 'guesting' with the Yorkshire Main Colliery Band at a local contest in Doncaster.

Jimmy was solo trombone and I was principal cornet, both of us with the Markham Main Colliery Band, around the mid 1960s.

Yorkshire Main, a 2nd Section band at the time (old gradings ) had engaged us to strengthen their chances of winning a prize, and we had gone onto the platform on the day, unregistered, and having not signed our own names (!!) on the contest sheet.

Long heavy drapes at each side of the front of the stage helped to conceal us from general view; especially on my side as I sat beside the soprano player, playing all the principal cornet parts of course.

Inevitably, we were spotted! (How foolish of us to believe otherwise)

A three month contesting ban was handed down, much to the ire of our people at Markham Main, and a lesson was learnt.

In these modern times of course, administrative rigour ensures that errant players, like Jimmy and I, would never get as far as the platform ------WOULD WE??

Archie Hutchison

Borrowing rules?

In response to the recent editorial

Do we not have rules that only permit borrowing from sections "same or lower" than your own? 

And surely then the simple registration card prohibits ‘Mr Joe Professional’ from transferring more than the allowed times in any one period?  

Or do we have a glut of pros just eager and waiting to sign on for a top band?  I think not.

Yes it might be going on, but not nearly as much as your column would indicate.  I feel the current system in place by the BB Registry is more than enough to deter cheaters.

Jim Owen

Not a cancer

I do not agree that borrowing players is a 'cancer' that undermines banding.

In fact, I think without it many contests would have a very small number of entrants. You are right in that it's best to have a long-term strategy to fill vacancies, but how many bands (except the top few) have a full band all the time?

In many regions of the country there is a drastic shortage of players. If borrowing was banned many bands would not be able to contest. This would mean that a strong band of 20 good brass players would never be able to get a good result at a contest (if they chose to even bother to go without a full band), even though the standard of the band was high.

This could lead to people leaving the band (or banding altogether) out of frustration.

If anything, it might be better to change the rules to allow MORE borrowing, especially in local association contests which are generally only attended by lower C'ship (i.e., non-elite) - 4th section bands, where money is not usually a major issue when borrowing players. 

We've got to adapt to the dwindling number of players (as well as addressing the underlying problems causing this obviously, but that's a longer term and more complicated issue).

Encouraging bands to share players with other local bands could be beneficial all round, and also create local networks of friendly banders (surely it's better to have friends than 'rivals'?). 

We already do this in our local area to some extent, but it's difficult with the current registration rules.

Rather than just changing the rules to allow an increase in borrowed players, they could be radically overhauled. 

This would need some thought and involvement of people from all sections of banding, not just elite bands (and not just senior members). 

It might be appropriate to reduce borrowing in the elite bands, but the same rules might be damaging for the rest of the banding community.

I question whether it would actually be best for elite bands either, as, whether or not we like it, the incentive of money drives the standards up and encourages top musicians to enter or stay in the banding movement. 

It may also play a role in encouraging youngsters to study on courses at RNCM etc., which incurs a lot of debt these days and is more tempting if you think you could make a career out of playing in brass bands at the end.

Football is only a hobby to most people, but no-one objects to the fact that top footballers earn insane amounts of money. 

In today's world the involvement of money at the higher levels may actually help the whole movement, both by driving people to achieve that standard and maybe even raising our profile in the non-banding world - if money is involved we will be taken more seriously.

The wider implications of changing registration rules need to be carefully considered to avoid damaging banding at a time when it is already suffering at all levels.

Dr. J. Cambray-Young,

Percussion in the World of Brass
I have heard and read various views on percussion in brass recently and would like to put forward my own thoughts on the subject; thoughts which stem from a turbulent 18 -year history of being a percussionist, in and out of various bands from Championship to 4th Section.
It still amazes me how many bands will ask someone to come down and help out on percussion, only for them to arrive and find little more than a glockenspiel, a triangle (minus a beater), dodgy old cymbals tentatively balanced on top of cymbal stands, and if you are really lucky, something which resembles a drum kit.
Granted, not every band has the funds to own a full orchestral percussion section, but come on, you wouldn't expect a brass player to play an out of tune instrument would you?
This becomes even more disconcerting when the rehearsal begins and the music is given out, and to your excitement it's a cracking piece that requires 4 timps, a tam-tam, various items of hand-held percussion, xylophone, etc, and you are left staring in disbelief at the handful of tat in front of you which looks like a find on Time Team!
Let's now add insult to injury. The conductor then tells you to play the xylophone part on the glock!? 

Now maybe it's just me but I thought the differences in the two are very plain to see.
When you get into the realms of contesting there is again the issue of the percussion parts being:

a) badly written
b) the parts not split in the best of ways (if you have inexperienced players they may not realise that a 3 part could just about be managed by 2 - on occasion, not always)
c) an unrealistic list of instruments has been used, most of which not many bands can gain access to until the contest itself when good old Ray Payne supplies the goods.

This is ridiculous as a variety of techniques can be required depending on what has to be played, and as percussionists, we do care about how we play and want to do the best that we can.
I still don't think that adjudicators really take much notice or interest in the percussion. I say this from experience, because I have heard a huge amount of slips be made, which no mention appears on the judges comment sheets.

I’ve never agreed with the box and think that they should adjudicate in the open. I don't think that it ensures fair and non-biased scoring as we all know certain bands have 'rent-a-crowds' who will make sure everyone knows who's playing.
All in all I am disillusioned with banding, for a variety of reasons over the years, not least the politics, click committees and backstabbing which is rife, along with the lack of decent percussive instruments in bands.  

It should only and always be about one thing – the music!
Bands need to take a good look at themselves and make sure they have a decent selection of instruments available, respect for the percussion parts.

'Traditional' music and the 'For the good of the band' attitude will not ensure the future of banding it will only drain away the enjoyment, as it already has for many. 

Zoe Rainford

The history of borrowing...

I felt drawn to respond to the editorial about the borrowing of players, and how '4BarsRest' felt it was a bad thing for the brass band world of contesting. 

I have not played in a brass band for over twenty years, nevertheless, as a history and musicology PhD researcher, who uses the brass band as a way of understanding nineteenth century working-class leisure and culture, I felt the need to comment, and put this problem into a historical context.

Firstly, the borrowing and payment of players is nothing new. 

When brass bands and competitions became fully established some of the minor bands were engaging semi-professional players on a regular basis. 

Helmshore Brass Band, for example, has, in their minute books from 1903-1908, the names and addresses of players they could use, together with how much these players would charge, to play at a contest.

A common fee, excluding additional rail fares, was one pound. Let's not forget the significance that this was a week's wages for a working-class person at this point in history. 

Other examples can be found for Cleckheaton Christian Bretheren Brass Band and Heap Bridge Brass Band. The motivation behind this was to do well at competitions.

Secondly, the 'crack' brass bands of the time could hardly be called amateur. John Gladney, of Besses, for example, was well known for surrounding himself with skilful and semi-professional players. 

Questions of class raise their head here, but the fact is that players from the 'crack' bands were making money as players, teachers and adjudicators. Hardly amateur occupations. 

For the 'crack' bands, of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, players could be termed as professional musicians.

Thirdly, the leading journals, 'The British Bandsman' and 'Wright and Round's Brass Band News', for example, from the 1860s onwards, and reflecting your own comments, constantly wrote editorials that enforced the importance that band members should not go to other bands just to earn money. 

They constantly wanted bands to develop, and keep, their own talent. Contests should be pure and reflect the amateur ethos of the bands. Clearly, however, this was becoming impossible.

In short, this problem has its roots in the beginnings of the band movement. It is a historical part of the brass band world. 

The solution to end it is unknown, but the solution will be fighting against a trait of the brass band world that has been known since the mid-nineteenth century.

Stephen Etheridge GLCM, MA

Stamp it out...

Congratulations on having the courage to air your thoughts about borrowed players.

I conduct a 3rd section band and we entered an entertainment contest last year for bands in the 3rd section and below. The rules stated that we could borrow players from the 3rd section or below. We came second and agreed that the winning band was better.

Only a few days later I read a review of a CD in which the winner of the contest's solo prize was featured several times playing with his own band Carlton Main. If I had complained no doubt I would have been accused of sour grapes.

What worries me is that the movement is getting corrupt not only in the championship section but at grass roots level. I agree that contest controllers need to bite the bullet and stamp it out for good.

Thank you for all that 4bars rest offers-it's great!                        

John Edward BA, LGSM(P) Cert. ED.
Gawthorpe Brass'85

A charter for cheats

I read with interest your editorial about ‘borrowing’.

You are quite right – it has become a euphemism for bands cheating at contests.

Just listen to the excuses to justify it: “Our player dropped us in it at the last moment”, “Wife’s expecting a baby”, “Can’t find a soprano/principal cornet/euphonium/flugel etc for the last year or more...”

The list is endless and spurious. I have great sympathy for the contest promoters who have tried to help bands out. I have none for the bands (and the MDs who endorse it) who have deliberately made it into what you rightly call a ‘charter for cheats’.

I wonder how many at Butlins will come clean and own up to why they will take to the stage with players who just happen to come from better bands than themselves, or should the contest organisers get something in writing off an employer, doctor etc so that any prize money can be withheld until proof of why a player is borrowed is forthcoming.

I can hear the lawyers getting ready for action....

Malcolm Powell

Bob Noble memories

Firstly, Peter Bale it was very interesting to read a little bit of history about you.

I played in Sunderland Millfield Band May1967/68 and then May 1973 to May 1977.I knew Harry Woods, Bob Noble who I owe a lot to for introducing me to Contesting Bands.I was in Australia and he sent me Reels of tapes and everyone in Aussie loved them.

I came to England and was married to a local gal from Millfield, Ann Nixon.This happened August 2 1967

After returning to Australia we came back with 2 boys and lived at Shiney Row and attended Millfield 1973 - 1977

Every year I attended the British Open and the Nationals.

My first Nationals was when Bob Noble took me to London on the overnight train to London the year Black Dyke won with "Journey into Freedom" and Bob introduced me to Eric Ball - Great and I was 22yrs old.

Bob Noble played in the SP & S Band under Eric Ball.He sat next to Harry Dilley who was top cornet.


John Harmer

Europeans can more than hold their own

Malcolm Powell - Not everyone knows that a 'European' band couldn't win the British Open! 

The top five or six bands in the UK would take the challenge of the top five or six bands from Europe competing at The British Open very seriously indeed.

Actually and contrary to what you have written, you only have to look at results at the European Championships over the past five years to clearly see that Europe's elite can more than hold their own against the UK's finest!

Europe has some of the best brass bands and individual soloists in the World and I for one think that is something to celebrate. 

Moreover, I think it would be a privilege to hear more of them compete in Birmingham in future years. 

Ian Brownbill

English complacency

Your correspondent Malcolm Powell asserts that "...everyone knows no European band could win the British Open against the very best British bands..."  

As European bands are not invited to take part in the British Open this must remain as mere opinion, not fact.  

What we do know for certain is that European bands have beaten the very best British bands three times in the last six years when they have come head to head at the European Championships.  

It is also worth noting that it has now been seven years since any band from England - where, allegedly, most of the very best British bands come from - has won the European Championships. 

I don't know if Mr Powell is (like me) English - but his sentiments are, for me, just the latest example of the complacency which is affecting English banding.

Regarding Mr Powell's remarks about the 2011 European Championships - if he has evidence to support his inference that the result was rigged in Manger's favour he should produce it to the relevant authority.  If he hasn't I'd advise him to apologise. 

Most people will treat his comments with the contempt they deserve.  Others recognise defamation when they see it and might just raise the matter with their lawyers.  Good luck!
Jim Yelland

Listen to the Europeans...
I have to admit, I've never really had the urge to reply to a comment on 4barsrest; I can get into enough trouble on facebook!!

But after laughing very hard and for quite some time at Malcolm Powell's comment I thought I'd ask a question; Have you ever heard Manger Musikklag play live, in the flesh?  

Or, Eikanger Bjorsvik, Burgermusikk Luzern, Treize Etoiles, Brass Band Oberosterreich and many of the other top European bands?  

I'm pretty sure if you had then you'd not make such a bold statement as to their abilities to win the British Open.

Your comment amuses me more if you consider the best soloist prize at the National Finals went to Glenn Van Looy (Belgium), the soprano award at the Open went to Christian Hollensteiner (Austria) and the best instrumental prize at the Europeans went to Bert Van Thienan.

I've been lucky enough to travel outside of the most magical isle of brass band excellence that is the UK to listen to Brass Bands and have encountered many bands that could win the British Open.

4barsrest travel throughout the year to many Brass Band contests so they seem as well placed as anyone to pass their judgement on the players that are around at the moment.

If Malcolm Powell was to travel to the Norwegian, Swiss or Belgium nationals he'd soon realise that these players and bands deserve the recognition they deserve

Paul McGhee

Tribute to Mr Barraclough

In the past I have been associated with Grimethorpe Colliery Band, and I am now living back in the UK after 13 years in Spain. 

I am just starting to pick up threads again, and read on 4BR that David Barraclough is calling it a day at Grimethorpe.

Please excuse me if I am presumptuous, or but wondered  if there was going to be any article about him or not...if so, I would sincerely like to add my tribute to the many others who no doubt wish to do the same.

Gordon Higginbottom

4BR Reply: 
We hope to do something to recognise his career in the near future

4BR's love of the Europeans

Why are there so many European bands and players in this year’s 4BR Awards? 

Everyone knows no European band could win the British Open against the very best bands in the UK, and that Manger’s win at the European Championship was more to do with it being a contest that is run by the Norwegians and their European friends for their own benefit.

Now 4BR has been made to look stupid by trying to con us too. Just look at your own rankings to find the real truth!

Malcolm Powell

A question of disgust!
Could I please show my disgust and also question as to who decides upon the selected choices for your 4barsrest awards?

As a brass band enthusiast for over 30 years, playing for some of the very top bands around, your choices offered for the ‘Performance of the Year’ is almost a joke.

Having watched all bands at the North West and Yorkshire Championship Section Area's, I am puzzled at how you have left out Foden's performance. 

I know full well that in the second half of the year that they didn't get the results we (the public, players and yourselves) would have expected but in the first half of the year they were almost unstoppable.

They gave a spellbinding performance at the RNCM Festival of Brass, playing some of the best music heard in years, and won the Area's by a country mile in many people’s opinions. 

They also won the overall Whit Friday title and came second to Black Dyke in Preston.

How can their Blackpool Area performance be missed when it was the best performance of the Areas for me and many others.

Were you not in the hall at Bradford? Did you not hear the inaccuracies and splits that the winners made?

 I do not wish to offend or criticise the West Riding outfit’s performance, as it was terrific, but so was Foden's, and they had from what I could hear, 1 (yes ONE) split in the whole performance.

Can this option be added to the choices please or if not, could you after the results have been awarded, release the figures on how many people have done what I have done, and voted for 'other' and chose the Foden's area performance.

Thank you and keep up the terrific work!

Steve Armstrong

 A reminder of our banding heritage

I must congratulate 4BR on the fabulous report taken from the Bradford Observer of 1858.

As a keen brass band historian I found the article so informative and interesting with some great photographs enhancing the report of the contest which took place over 150 years ago in Peel Park, Bradford.

It is interesting to note that Enderby Jackson, the sponsor of the contest owned a music shop in Kirkgate, probably in the market area where still today there are a few music shops.

As a proud ‘Tyke’ and member of the White Rose Society, it was nice to hear that all the bandsman came from the West Riding of Yorkshire and probably the majority in the 13,000 crowd also.

Bravo 4BR - more of the same please. 

David Horsfield

Googling brass bands

Dont know if this is of any use to anyone reading your website, but I was doing some searching on Google and decided to enter my grandfather's name (Hugh Higgins) and see what came up
I noticed a comment where Russ Booker said he wasn’t sure what happened to him.

Sadly - he died April 2001 in Kettering General Hospital - he had developed diabetes a few years earlier and had complications from that condition.

I do remember seeing him as a conductor for (I think) Corby Silver Band, playing in East Carlton Country Park (in Corby) during a particularly hot day, but I’m pretty sure he was the conductor of CSB for quite a while - although the CSB website doesn’t really have much historic stuff on in it to confirm it.

I do know he was a cornet player (don’t know what type, I’m afraid!) and won many competitions for it. 

I know this is written quite some time after the comment and article were posted, but as it seems that getting information about historic musicians in brass bands is often difficult, I thought I'd write in case it was useful.

Simon Lawrence

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.

Nigel Seaman

Conductor, band trainer, teacher and adjudicator


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