From turmoil in England to turbulence in Norway, what a parlous state the brass band movement is in.
As I enter my 50th year in banding I often despair at the lack of cohesion between our various governing bodies, and how undemocratic the organisation of the movement is!
The recent debacle regarding the BFBB (or BBE) and the Brass Band Registry has sent alarming messages out to those who thought that there could be some form of legitimate organisation of banding in this country.
Sadly, this appears not to be the case, and with cracks appearing in the often lauded Norwegian system then England appears not to be alone? Now the battle lines are being drawn between the Brass Band Registry and the Brass Band Players Registry – what next?
We have become blinded by the overwhelming impression that contesting forms the bedrock of brass bands: So much so that our whole existence is centred round the concept that contests hold the key to the governance of the movement.
I am not a believer in this train of thought and am happy to leave contest organisation to commercial companies such as Kapitol et al, who seem to have the ability to control their contests in a very efficient manner.
After all, contesting is only one aspect of a diverse spectrum of activities engaged in by brass bands.
We seem to have lost sight of the reasons we participate in this hobby and perhaps do not always cherish its past nor consider its future. We have various youth programmes run by a variety of organisations, how many of us support these throughout the year – sadly I admit to being one who should be more active in this?
We have seen many bands disappear and gladly a number of new bands being formed, but who is concerned about the decreasing number of 4th Section bands who are often at the root of player development and nurturing talent?
Whilst the brass band media concentrates on the top few Championship bands the lower section bands are often neglected and receive very little media coverage or encouragement.
We appear not to have any co-ordinated strategies to define and determine the future role of bands in society, in education and in the musical life of this country? We are often side-lined and stereotyped in the press, and the vast majority of the general public don’t know we exist?
What is encouraging is that when the non-banding public are exposed to the sound of a brass band they are often amazed at the expertise of the musicians and thrilled by the sound!
All these things take a great deal of organisation, time, effort and commitment. But we have, for long enough, had a free ride, and if we care so much about our participation in this hobby the time is rapidly approaching whereby we have to individually pay our way in funding an organisation to oversee the development of the movement and secure its future.
This, however, should be as a democratically elected body, one person one vote to enable free and open discussion with representatives who truly carry out the wishes of the whole!
I would hope this may happen soon, sadly I doubt it will?
Loss by default
Probably in common with most band secretaries, I view band and player registration as simply one of those hoops you have to jump through when contesting.
The service from the British Brass Band Registry is a little old fashioned (ie very paper-based) but I've previously received good advice and support from the Registry Manager and overall I had no complaints about the Registry.
I may have been fortunate to have been unaffected by the industrial strife at the BBE Registry earlier this year, but this seemed to have been resolved amicably and a better registry service was being promised.
Now we have the new Kapitol Registry apparently using registration with them as a pre-condition for competing in the National Brass Band Championships. We also have a BBE ballot which is trying to garner support for the BBE Registry, and opposition to the Kapitol Registry, though what happens next, if bands vote for the BBE Registry, is far from clear.
What we don't have is a measured debate about the pros and cons of each Registry so that we can make an informed decision about the future. Instead we have ‘armed camps’ in both corners and, as a band contest secretary, I am definitely feeling like "cannon fodder" to the various vested interests.
Clearly, two registries running in parallel are untenable.
But, unless a lead is taken to widen the debate and make it more public, and publish plans over how to deal with the results of the ballot, I shall in all likelihood register with Kapitol in time for the Areas, and then consider what to do with the BBE registration in slower time.
Hence the BBE Registry will have lost by default, and this will be despite my voting for the BBE Registry and opposing the Kapitol Registry.
However, my first priority is to look after the immediate interests of my band.
Alder Valley Brass
No longer a punter
Saturday at the RAH was a milestone - being my 50th National Championships. In those first days tickets were like gold dust, and I even managed to get tickets even if sometimes I did not get to hear many bands.
It was not, however, the moment that inspired me to be in brass bands. That happened some three years earlier when - uniquely - the BBC televised the winning band during their Saturday afternoon sports programme. I saw Geoffrey Whitham playing euphonium under the leadership of Major Willcocks and I was hooked.
In more recent times, getting tickets has never been a problem and I have prided myself on being able to sit in the same seat for many years now!
We try to make our trip to London special and stay overnight which means that with contest tickets, score, programme, travel, hotels, meals we get little change out of £500. A hefty expense but it has always been an annual treat for us!
When I go to contests I always try to listen to every performance and my amateur adjudication success is pretty good. I can usually get the top six but not always in the right order!
When it comes to the Nationals, this talent often eludes me and I am left wondering whether I listened to the same performances and why I get it so badly wrong. Was it, maybe, the seat I always sit in?
Saturday proved no exception. Whilst I had no problem getting some of the bands in the top six, I never, as in 2010, got Black Dyke so lowly down the results lists. I find it an unbelievable result and - a few days later - I have not come to terms with it!
I have no problem with Fodens winning - it was a superb performance - but I do have serious concerns about the placings and particularly the omission of Black Dyke from the placings (who I thought were 3rd).
My view was that this was a test piece that Black Dyke should have taken inspiration from three of their recent great stalwarts (Newsome, Watson and Parkes) and produced that beautiful sound that their bands were famous for.
Instead it was very technically correct approach but, nonetheless, never, never only the ninth best performance that day. Will we ever get to know why 8 bands were judged to be better? Personally, I need it for peace of mind and my own sanity!
These placings have jolted my faith in the brass band movement. We have seen some very strange, often worrying, things happening this year and Saturday - to me - was certainly a strange one!
I shall now enforce a break from banding.
Contest and concert tickets already purchased for future events will stay in my letter rack. Of course, I shall miss it terribly – the music, the superbly talented players and the thrill of planning our banding year.
The Nationals gave me banding inspiration – now - along with all the banding movement's other, mostly self-inflicted, 'events' in 2012 - it has dealt me a bitter blow!
You cannot imagine how low it makes me feel that our movement seems intent on bickering; social network GBH; joining the national cult of witch-hunting; and, of course, questionable musical decision making!
It is easy to work out that I am at the wrong end of my banding life for anyone to be worried by my actions but, if we carry on as we are what does the future hold for our movement?
R N Barnes
Everyone who plays a part in one of the nation’s greatest cultural activities should champion inclusiveness in all its forms", you say in your October editorial.
I was wondering how you reconcile that statement with your support (as described on their website) for Boobs and Brass, an organisation which, as a self-proclaimed all-female brass band, explicitly excludes the male half of the population from its membership.
As you also say in your editorial, ‘mistakes and misjudgements will occur along the way.’
I would like to support 4BR’s editorial on discrimination.
As far as the Bolsover incident is concerned, it is universal knowledge among the adult population that the use of masks and so-called ‘plays on words’ such as those are grossly offensive.
The fact that they were used anyway strongly suggests that a decision was made specifically to dismiss or disregard such inevitable offence.
The Registry and top bands
I would like to express my personal opinion with reference to the recent exchanges between Brass Band England and Brass Band Players concerning the Registry.
I have received a letter from BBE asking for my band's opinion on the formation of a new Registry. I support BBE and the BBBR.
Kapitol are attempting enforce an alternative Registry on any band that wishes to take part in the Nationals.
Unfortunately, I really don't think that the opinions of lower section bands such as mine will have any bearing on the matter whatsoever.
If the top 20 English bands say yes, it will happen. If the top 20 bands say no, it won't.
I doubt that Kapitol would be happy to run the Nationals without the support of these bands. Has anyone asked the sponsors of the Nationals what they think?
So the real question is, will Black Dyke et al say yes or no?
Profit and loss
Disunited English’ has a very good point: Mr Morris has to make a profit.
He runs his major contests with a view to making money and now he has set his sights on the English Registry as the next pot of gold.
Indeed Mr Morris should have a firm and productive relationship with the Welsh Registry - he's the Secretary of the Welsh Regional Council that owns it!
What I have asked for previously and ask again here is for more information.
Is there a business plan for moving from the administration of one region to seven, do you intend to employ more staff, how do you see costs moving in the future?
All questions that haven’t been answered and there are many more.
Would you give your car to a garage and say ‘just do what you want and I’ll pick the bill up’, most certainly not, so why are so many people eager to give Mr Morris the registry without a good idea of what he intend to do with it!
Until a clearer idea of Mr Morris intentions comes to light, I think it would be prudent to hold back on the witch hunt and burnings.
The grass isn’t always greener?
I was at a recent meeting and the comment was made that the Kapitol Registry would be moving to a ‘player’ based registry at roughly £1 per player per month.
Now on the face of it £1 per player per month doesn’t sound a lot, but when you do the sums!
The average band currently pays around £80 a year to the BBBR, with the Kapitol way we could be paying as much as £450 in the future (working on 35 players on average in each band): More than 5 TIMES the current cost.
You can now see why the registry is looking like a very juicy option for a profit making organisation.
And all this from an innocent and ‘beneficial’ change to the type of registry for bands.
Could Kapitol comment on their ideas for rates going forward, is the above calculation accurate?
A couple of niggles
I think all that can be said on the current racial debate has been said, so it doesn't require any input from me.
Two responses do niggle with me though:
Firstly: Ken Bartram's comment to those who disagree with him on this subject should ‘rot in hell’.
He must really mean this as just one exclamation mark wasn't enough - he felt it necessary to use three! Eternal damnation and endless suffering seem quite a harsh penalty for a simple disagreement, or am I just being politically sensitive?
Secondly: Kerry Bowden. If you didn't mean to question the integrity and professionalism of Ian Porthouse by asking if he had ‘an agenda in reporting Mr Lippeatt and the Hatfield Band to the contest organisers?’ then what exactly were you getting at?
God help us from the PC Brigade
What on earth is this world coming to?
I refer to the Hatfield/Lippeat/Bolsover incident. Are we now to take out of the music library ‘Black & White Minstrels’? What about ‘Bess, you is my woman now’?
The latter is perhaps a parody of the way negro's used to talk.
This whole thing has been blown out of all proportion by the PC brigade. If we allow the PC brigade to continue with this nonsense then God help us for simply thinking!
Leave politics and racism out of banding
The last two weeks within the brass banding world has for me been at one of the lowest points that I can remember.
As someone who was there at the Bolsover Contest, I feel I have a duty to report my findings of that day, and also to make comment on the ensuing melee that has followed.
From the outset at the contest, Stan made comment that he was too old for compering and made a slip with his words on every introduction to the pieces, all part of the act.
I did not hear of anyone in the audience that had a complaint as to what occurred. Everyone, well over 100 people, laughed and applauded the Hatfield performance.
Again, at the bar, the ‘incident’ never got a mention, just the usual contest talk on who had played well and who would win. So to me the Contest was never ‘overshadowed’ by this incident as reported by 4BR?
The contest was full of wonderful playing in all the sections I heard, and the standard was excellent throughout: A credit to the banding world.
So I am a bit dismayed as to why 4BR feel they had to blow up this incident bringing the banding world into disrepute.
The incident reports and the suspension from ABBA reports hit the web site days before the Bolsover Contest results.
It has been a honour and privilege to have known Stan Lippeatt for over forty years. He has always dressed up for his roles as compere and joker to most of the bands he has performed with throughout his long career.
He is a natural joker, both on and off the golf course and would never intentionally hurt or cause offence to anyone. The people that have suggested Stan is a racist have not got a clue how much that comment has hurt the man.
Stan and Graham have apologised for their misguided joke and that should have been enough.
But, does the banding world have no sense of humour?
Comedians on TV tell racist jokes every day, about the Irish, English, Scots, Arabs, Jews, Geordie's and Liverpudlians to name but a few.
Can we no longer have a laugh at others, or laugh with others?
Banding needs people like Stan Lippeatt, someone who was always been at the forefront of entertainment contests (look in the Grimethorpe archives for his antics on stage), someone who was helping the banding movement and adjudicators move forward into the 21st century.
ABBA has suggested that Stan and Graham will have to undergo Equality and Diversity training: I suggest we all need to undergo ‘English Humour Training’ and get on with blowing our ‘bloody trumpets’.
Leave politics, racism, pc correctness and gutter press out of the banding world.
It has all appeared too much a witch hunt to me. Those who have been waiting to have a go at Stan, have swiftly and mercilessly stabbed him in the back.
Luckily, most of the Bandsmen I have spoken to, are in full support of Stan and Graham, and are hoping that this will not diminish or prematurely shorten their long and illustrious careers.
Bang out of order
In short, I wanted to write to tell you that I feel you have been bang out of order in relation to your ‘discrimination’ article.
You are the very same people who have hung Stan Lippeatt and Graham O'Connor out to dry over what was albeit a silly mistake.
This world is full of a PC brigade at present but I thought that the people at 4barsrest were a bit more level headed than that. I thought you wanted to champion the cause of brass bands but by alienating such figures of our movement, you are in fact doing the opposite.
I understand that we can't condone racism in any form but you have gone completely over the top in your reporting of this to the point were I'm not sure what I think of 4barsrest in its entirety.
Demeaning and insulting
Forty years ago I formed a school brass band, 50% of whose members were black.
I also worked as music inspector in Newham where probably 50% of the young musicians were black, and with a band in Paris where 90% of the members were Congolese. I have worked with a primary school band in south London where 90% of the players were black.
I have twice directed a music school in the Democratic Republic of Congo where 100% of the players are black.
None of these young people would find what William Rushworth refers to as a 'Golly Doll' anything other than demeaning and intensely insulting. Such a 'doll' belongs to the ear of the Black and White Minstrel Show.
To reject legitimate censure on the grounds that it is 'political correctness gone mad' is to betray a frightening lack of social and political awareness.
The views expressed by some of Mr Lippeatt’s defenders are even more concerning than the original offence - inappropriate use of the word 'moron' only adds insult to injury.
Having only belatedly begun to come to terms with gender equality, banding can ill afford to be brought into disrepute by excusing as so-called humour words and actions with racist overtones redolent of the colonial period.
And shouldn't the humour in entertainment contests be found in the music and not in the ability of conductors to perform as fifth-rate stand-up comics?
Has anything changed?
I have just read with interest your statement regarding discrimination, and agree with your opinions generally.
I have been 'out' of brass banding for 14 years now, having played previously at quite a high level.
Having been sacked from the band I played in, there were limited other options to consider, as there were few other similar bands I was allowed to play for despite being a reasonable musician.
My hideous crime was to be a female!
How times have changed. There was nobody 14 years ago to even consider that discrimination was wrong in this 'wonderful' movement, steeped in tradition dating back to what felt like the middle-ages.
I presume many of the individuals back then must surely be the same musicians who are on the scene today?
It would be interesting to discover whether those same people from the 1980's/1990's, who felt compelled to use their own language and special terms of endearment for females in the brass band movement, would agree with your discrimination comments today, or whether they too have been dragged into the 21st century?
I do not wish to comment on the reason for your statement, nor any of the individuals involved, as I was not at the event, nor know any of the background surrounding the incident, but I did feel compelled to write with my own opinion on the way your movement has always behaved (from my memory).
It is refreshing to hear that individuals are trying to make a difference to what essentially should be a fun, amateur pastime, suitable for talented musicians, amateur musicians, children and families alike, irrespective of their background.
I wish you all well in your endeavours.
Kirsten Stott (nee Thomas)
With regard to the sorry affair of the ‘Bolsover Incident’, may I add the following.
Whilst agreeing wholeheartedly with the sentiments of disbelief and shock over this ill-judged episode I feel that perhaps we all need to take stock now and move on.
Stan and Graham have rightly been hauled over the coals for their actions, but there has also been an almost lynch mob mentality to some of the comments which seem to be trying to destroy completely the reputation of Stan in particular over this.
Ironically most those making these comments seem either too cowardly or too full of their own self-importance to take the responsibility for their own comments by logging in under their own names.
I have had the pleasure of sharing a stage with Stan in various capacities over the last thirty years and his work in many different areas of the movement certainly doesn't need my endorsement - it speaks for itself.
The comments posted by people hiding behind pseudonyms on these forums are, rightly in my opinion, dismissed out of hand by those of my acquaintance in brass bands.
Perhaps they feel safe throwing stones from their glass houses - as long as no one knows where those houses are.
I rarely feel compelled to write to a forum such as this, but in the wake of recent events at Bolsover I feel I must answer and challenge some of the other comments you have published here.
My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that making a joke using a Golly was (intentionally or not) a racially offensive act.
I think that objecting to a racist joke and discussing concern around the wider issues is ok; defending it or turning a blind eye because we're meant to be a cosy supportive community and the joker is a good bloke is not.
To Mr Rushworth, I would suggest that before you make another sanctimonious attempt to defend the recent actions at Bolsover by playing with semantics, you find it useful to strengthen your argument by checking your facts.
A ‘Golliwog’ and a ‘Golly Doll’ are one and the same thing.
Substituting the word 'wog' for 'doll' may make the name of the object marginally less offensive, but it does not fundamentally change the object itself or the racist associations that go along with it.
I suggest a little self directed learning into the history of the Golly and the reasons why over the past few decades we have seen it disappear from the Robinsons branding, Enid Blyton books, TV etc etc.
And to all of your correspondents who are decrying this so called ‘witch hunt’, I must simply ask, what witch hunt?
The only evidence I have seen here and on other websites of people baying for blood, of 'bored morons' with nothing better to do or 'cowardly small minded' behaviour, has been from those who are attempting to defend the indefensible and attacking anyone brave enough to speak out and say they are uncomfortable with it.
The majority of comments and posts I have read discussing racism don't even mention any individuals or the band involved.
This goes a long way beyond the incident or gentlemen in question, and I firmly believe that whether or not there were any racist or offensive intentions is actually irrelevant.
I don’t think anyone did intend the 'entertainment' to be offensive or racist, but that doesn't take away the fact that it was.
For me, the most worrying aspect of all this has been the demonstration of how many people in brass banding are ignorant or uncaring of the wider issue, and dismissive of anyone who stands up to ignorance and bigotry.
I write as a cowardly, small minded, politically correct, do-gooder, moron member of the witch hunt in praise of your editorial arising from the Bolsover Contest affair.
In most other walks of life this statement would be seen as a statement of the obvious with regard to discriminatory policy so it should not attract criticism.
I also congratulate the ABBA on the manner in which they have dealt with the problem with which they were confronted.
They acted promptly, with a clearly defined process, reviewed the situation, took action and published a statement of future policy in the minimum of time.
A shining example of how to deal with a problem compared with many other private and public institutions who would have prevaricated for many months and even years before dealing with and resolving such a situation.
It is good to note that as well as dealing with the immediate situation, the ABBA has clearly looked at its own structures with regard to equality, diversity and discrimination and has formulated a set of constructive proposals to ensure that it has its own process as an organisation.
A positive outcome to this incident then, is that it has confronted us all with the need to examine ourselves both as individuals and organisations with regard to discrimination.
That can only be a good thing.
It is a beginning and we have a way to go yet judging by some of the comments on your website.
It is worth remembering that it is only recently that there have been comments on your website about the absence of women in one or two of our leading bands when other top class bands have welcomed women for decades.
It is essential that we make real progress on this issue and I believe your editorial and the actions of ABBA have helped move that process along.
Standing well clear of brass bands
I am writing to your website to tell you that I will be steering clear - well clear - of brass bands at the moment.
I am an outsider to brass bands. I conduct a happy, thriving all-instrument community band in Shropshire - a village band. I am happy.
9 happy years together, still evolving, still building our band, all 50 of us, a wonderful time had by all, then I look at my beloved childhood hobby of brass bands in 2012.
It is like a hobby of hate and nastiness with people who bicker and resent each other dragging it down to the public. What has happened to brass bands?
Looking at this national brass band website and all the players, conductors, composers fighting with each other in letters pages and arguing, editors printing literally anything and things like 'Stick 2 fingers up to...!' and things like that.
What a hateful, awful, nasty and terrifying thing brass banding looks to the general public nowadays - all those people you used to look up to arguing and writing letters and making remarks about each other.
As a conductor I would never work with a brass band which was somehow linked to the national brass band press because - all in all - I'd simply be too scared.
It looks like a hideous thing for conductors and players to be involved with, from what the public sees and reads on the national website. How awful.
Everyone should just behave themselves and, if they can't express themselves nicely and politely, they shouldn't have a forum and platform to express terrible views and malicious hate comments against other musicians.
This is awful. This is brass bands.
Well done Scotland for keeping out of it and creating a thriving, civilised brass band culture up there.
Positive banding, teamwork banding, friendly banding: Professional banding.
I want things to be better and am petrified about what would happen if I were to conduct a brass band, something I have always wanted to do.
I am so very sad and feel awkward to read what I read, all presented with such hate and unprofessionalism in such a public medium.
Please could people take onboard my letter? I want things to be better. I'd really love to get involved in brass bands and I am just too scared.
It looks so terrifying. Can we make things better?
Frustrated at excuses
I am growing more and more frustrated with 'leave my mate alone' or 'but he has done so much good for the movement' responses to the 'Golly' debacle.
Stan Lippeatt has been a stalwart of the brass movement for years, as a player, conductor, tutor and adjudicator, etc.
He made numerous friends in the movement and perhaps if I were to meet him for a coffee (up until a week or two ago anyway), I am sure I would think the same thing.
The fact remains though that it doesn't matter how popular, funny, committed, nice, musical or what 'a good bloke he is', it doesn't mean that his actions should be defended.
Nor should we ignore it because 'he has done so much good for the movement'.
Reading some of the vitriolic responses in Mr Lippeatt's defence, I wonder that if it wasn't him and someone else (someone they had had a run in with the past, or a conductor who had sacked them perhaps?) who had behaved in the same way, would they feel the need to defend this person?
If it's solely about the moral issue (ie 'we believe that what Mr Lippeatt did was fine and the PC brigade should get of its high horse'), then they certainly should but I am sure that they wouldn't!
As for Mr Lippeatt's inference that he has been driven out the movement, that is questionable.
Is he saying that his banding life is about being high profile?
Is he saying that he wouldn't be able to find fulfilment away from the ABBA spotlight?
Surely banding is about more than a few people at ABBA who have 'wronged' him.
This is reminiscent of a child locking him/herself away in their room after being told off claiming they will never come out again.
I suspect Mr Lippeatt will be out of 'his room' in the near future and if in 18 months time he has not been part of organising Butlins (this event is right at the heart of the movement), undertaken any adjudication work, conducting, tutoring or playing his flugel, I will happily stand corrected.
Tyne and Wear
Whilst agreeing with the general thrust of Ted Griffiths comments in reference to the Registry debacle currently rumbling along, let us in England not forget that in the absence of our ability to get our English act together.
A businessman like Phillip Morris has to do what he has to do to protect his profits. It doesn’t make me angry that the registration of hundreds of English bands is being 'outsourced' to the Welsh, it embarrasses me quite frankly.
It embarrasses me that the six 'disunited' English regional committees of the biggest and finest banding nation on earth appear to have a rather supine relationship with Mr Morris, whereas in the case of the Scots and now presumably now the Welsh, the relationship with them is one of negotiation rather than the profit protecting dictats we in England have to put up with.
And finally, it embarrasses me that the English regional committees are more interested in joining Mr Morris in putting the boot into the much maligned BFBB/BBE rather than picking up the phone to talk to each other, and perhaps working out a way they can work with the people (BBE) who give us the best chance of the English National body we so desperately need.
Well done to the Scot`s and the Welsh by the way, you at least have banding administrators worthy of the name.
Thanks Colin for an outstanding job
As a band/contest secretary for more years than I care to admit, I wish to express my most sincere thanks to the work of the British Brass Band Registry.
Colin Johnson and his staff did an outstanding job: They were only a phone call away and were always very pleasant to deal with.
I therefore wish to personally thank them for the sterling work.
Nothing was too much trouble and any problems were soon put to rights. New players and transfers were handled very efficiently and quickly.
I also wish to thank the volunteers who took on the task of running the registry in what must be very difficult times.
Their prompt action leading up the National Finals in Cheltenham was very much appreciated.
Once again I thank everyone past and present for their dedication to the task and wish them well in the future.
I have been given an old soprano cornet manufactured by Hawkes & Son London, which is something of a mystery.
I have contacted many professional people in the music/instrument world such as Bradley Strauchen of London Instruments archives, Arnold Myers of University of Edinburgh, Paul Norley at Kneller Hall archives to say a few – but have still to sort out the true identity and reason the instrument exists.
The sop was made in 1915 plus and minus a couple of years, and amazingly made in low pitch.
I have given it to a professional brass instrument technician and he said it has not been converted,
On the bell of the instrument is engraved the name B Gibbs. No military bands ever used a low pitch soprano cornet, so, who did? Brass Bands remained in high pitch until the 1960s – and does anyone know of a B. Gibbs?
This sop is in good playing condition and sounds very nice!
I am trying to find relatives/friends of this person to give it back to them if they wish, if they are found.
Any help from any sources would be appreciated.