Editorial ~ 2004: January & February


This month we give our views on 2003, 4BR Soapbox wishes and a new Nationals.

2003 – A Vintage Year?

A bit like fine wine, brass band years deserve to be categorised. Not only does it give the lover of the medium a chance to make a preferential historical choice, but it gives even the casual observer of the scene the opportunity to see if the current years output is up to scratch. Certain years of course stand out better than others; some are like a Châteaux Mouton '47 whilst others are more Châteaux Blue Nun '98, but each has it's own special characteristics. So given that we have had a full vineyard of brass band plonk to taste this year, where does the bottled stock of 2003 stand then?

Not Vintage that's for sure, but no unpalatable pint of panther pee either. 2003 was a decent year – nothing more, nothing less – but worryingly it could even be the last even decent year we have for a while?

A very fine European Championship held in Bergen and the Eric Ball Centenary Concert in Nottingham, which was an event that honoured our finest composer in admirable style and content will live long in the memory banks, whilst a great weekend of banding in Dundee and the announcement that the Mineworkers Championships had been saved and reinvented in Skegness made things look rosy if not quite rosé.

The 2003 Open and the Nationals though were disappointments – choices of music based primarily on time constraints never make for memorable occasions, whilst the Masters once more bravely set the standard for other UK contests to follow, even if it continues to lack support from it's participants in trying to help make it the contest is deserves to be. Other events, such as the continued support of Pontins and the survival through sheer hard work of Spennymoor and the Regional Championships should also be cause for celebration.

There were also some super individual concerts the length and breadth of the land that we were lucky enough to report on, whilst the quality of CD output from just about every band was a joy.

However, the downside is starting to gnaw away at the body politic of the brass band movement like a most virulent form of cancer – and it is a cancer called apathy.

The loss of the BFBB control over the Regional and National Championships highlighted the continued problem we have in the UK of not having a properly funded organisational body, but that paled into insignificance with the now alarming problem the movement has in attracting audiences to our major contests and concerts. Whatever the organisers may tell us, you only had to look in the halls when even our best bands were performing in 2003 to see what is slowly but surely killing us.

Apathy – and an apathy from within no less which is now the greatest problem facing us. Some notable people are trying hard to stop it, but as Goethe said, "we should not know what to do for sheer apathy and boredom".

Therefore if we are to remember 2003 for anything, let it be for it being the year when the movement finally woke up to its responsibilities and found renewed vigour and strength to plan a healthy and prosperous future. Then we could remember 2003 as the best vintage year ever.

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4BR Soapbox wishes

Given that we have given our thoughts on the year just past, what then will 4BR be doing from its privileged soapbox position to try and put a few things right?

The first and most important thing we will do is to continue to highlight what is good, bad and indifferent in the movement. There has been plenty of each to report on since we started 4BR, but the main thing that has also struck us is that we continue to be a movement without organisation – the result of which is that we neither have the structure or mechanism to learn from those individual examples of when we either excel or perform abysmally. Football has UEFA, rugby the IRB – even line dancing, dog breeding and fishing have organisations that promote as well as regulate what it governs, but the brass band movement has nothing – and it is that more than anything which holds us back from every region of the UK right through to Europe and beyond.

Lets not be too ambitious, but wouldn't it be great if we had a properly funded central organisation in the UK that regulated and promoted our movement in partnership with our major contest and concert promoters? Funded by the bands and players themselves, dedicated to better the lot of the bands and players themselves. The Norwegians have led the way and shown us what to do, so why can't the Brits?

Given the British reluctance to change something that patently hasn't worked (just look at the railways for instance) then we think we may have to hark on again about a few less ambitious pet fancies in 2004.

Getting rid of the ludicrous "invite" for the top four bands at the Nationals and then asking them to appear at the Regional Championships is one we will continue to demand, as is the equally ludicrous absence of an appropriate mechanism to find an "English Champion" band for the European (why not get the Masters to open their contest to include the winners of the six English Regional Championships – in that way it becomes "open" to all, not just those invited).

Those then will be our three wishes for 2004. We are not too hopeful we will get all three granted to us (however hard we shout and bawl), but we live in hope that possibly one or maybe two of them get something of a green light in the next 12 months.

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The Nationals – Please discuss

As we have said – the ludicrous continuance of the 4 "invited" bands rule at the National Championship Finals is one we hope will come to an end in 2004. You can see the reasoning behind it – but when it is in effect a rule that cannot work because a further rule is imposed to enact it by making sure those "invited" bands must compete at a qualification contest, it becomes patently obvious that it needs to change.

What then about this for an idea?

From 2005 those bands that fill the top 8 places at the 2004 National Finals in London in the Championship Section should automatically pre qualify for the following years Final. The winners only of the eight Regional contests should then join them at the Finals.

This would make a Finals line up of 16 bands (so we won't have to have a nip and tuck job on any test piece), whilst it would give the opportunity for the best bands to be rewarded for their excellence by confirming their status the following year by aiming for a top eight place.

But what of the Regionals though?

Why not reorganise them so that those bands that have already qualified still participate in some way – masterclasses over the weekend for individual players or small groups from lower section bands, a fund raising concert for the Region on the Saturday night or (heaven forbid) get their players to help with the running of the contest days by manning registration desks etc. They would then be putting something back into the event – not just turning up, playing and going home. Just to make sure they do help – make that As for the European qualification question, why not leave that up to the Scots and Welsh and even the English to sort out with the agreement of the bands. If the Welsh and Scots want to keep the Regional as it is, then let them do it, (it may just mean a slight tinkering to our initial qualification rule) whilst the English should sort out with the Masters to ensure they have a proper route as well. The winners in London could then be invited to the European as true British Champions.

Some people may say that the Regional contests will suffer if the best bands are missing, but give it a thought. It means a better way to get the best bands to London (a type of proportional representation will occur) and in return they will put something back into helping their Regional get stronger both musically and financially.

Just think of the Fourth Section – 9.00am on Saturday morning, nervous youngsters ready to give their all. Roger Webster could wish them good luck as he signs their registration card, whilst after they play they can look forward to a masterclass lesson from David Thornton or Owen Farr, Stuart Lingard, Chris Jeans, Peter Roberts or David Childs. Wouldn't that make it a better weekend for everyone?

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