Editorial ~ 2004: April


This month we give our views on Contesting Crossroads, Leylandgate and other and looking forward to a Glasgow Kiss.

Contesting Crossroads

The brass band movement has been contesting just about from the time "All Brass" ensembles were created over 160 years ago. It has been our lifeblood. However, with the end of the 2004 Regional Championships (they themselves in their 60th year), the movement is perhaps at a crossroads in regards to it's contesting future.

This year 533 bands took to various stages around the country to perform a well-chosen selection of test pieces. Taken in isolation, musically the outcomes were encouraging – standards at every level are improving, but before a complacent smugness sets in amongst us all, it is worth mentioning that in 1988, 642 bands were on show at the Regionals, whilst by 1995 there were still 580 bands performing around the country.

We know there has been a decline in numbers since the end of 1960's, but what has happened to over 100 bands in the last 16 or so years – and more importantly, what are we doing about it as a movement?

The financial economics post the 1984 Miners Strike can certainly account for many, but losing some bands as Lady Bracknell once said, may be unfortunate, but seeing over 15% of bands disappear may be considered a touch more careless.

Is there someone out there who can explain why? More importantly, is there someone out there in our ragtaggle mishmash of differing administrations, who can inform us that they have identified the problem, and have put in place, plans to address the decline? The latest Directory of British Brass Bands for instance lists close to 900 brass bands of some sort or another in the UK, yet over one third of them do not take part in the Regional Championships. Why is that? And is anyone in our Brass Band Universities or Conservatoires doing any research into it to explain why? It appears not.

From Motherwell to Torquay, Swansea to Stevenage, the situation must now by addressed before that numerical decline becomes terminal. The answers could be varied – create a non competitive Fifth Section to allow bands to perform on stage without the confines of the usual rules of competition may be one, or even relax registration rules to encourage more bands to compete in the Fourth or even Third Sections, another.

Contesting may be our great anachronism as a movement - but it would be sadder to report that in ten years time there isn't enough bands in the country who can be even bothered to turn up at the Regional Championships to enjoy it anymore.

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Leylandgate and others

It had to come didn't it? The alleged improprieties that surrounded the transfer of a player from the Ashton Under Lyne Band to the Leyland Band in time to play at the North West Regional Championships have been well reported – none more so than by ourselves.

And just like the "Watergate", "Iraqgate" or even the recent ludicrous "Beckhamgate" sagas, they are all stories of perceived trust. The brass band movement is no different to any other amateur movement in the world – it is only as good and as trusted and honest as those who take part in it.

We will never know what occurs between any bands when the thorny question of player transfers occurs. The rules are clear and set out to help both parties – but the unwritten rule is that fellow players, Secretaries, Band Managers, Chairmen and even the bands themselves, trust whoever they are dealing with to undertake a transfer in a manner that reflects properly on both parties.

No one likes losing a player to a rival band. No one really enjoys picking up a player at the expense of another band either. Players themselves decide if they want to leave or not, and players themselves, decide who they want to join and when.

Thankfully, the "Black Arts" of registration tampering that any self respecting Band Secretary or Band Manager knew about many years ago (and just about any of them was a better forger of signatures than the man who did the Hitler Diaries) have been eradicated. The system that has been put in place works – 99.9% of the time without a hitch. It has been refined and amended in a thoughtful manner that has benefited everyone concerned, whilst those who administer the rules at the Registry do so in a very professional and sympathetic way.

All of us may bear the "Trust" question in mind then, the next time one of our star players decides that they want to seek pastures new. Without it, what's the point of banding at all?

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Looking forward to a Glasgow Kiss

4BR is really looking forward to the forthcoming European Championships that are to take place in the fair city of Glasgow in a few weeks time. Not only do we get to spend a few days sampling the local hostelries around the city, but also there is going to be some great music making to compliment the aforesaid pints of "Heavy" and the occasional deep fried Mars Bar.

There is also a fantastic line up of bands looking to topple Yorkshire Building Society from their seemingly perennial perch astride the European banding tree, a great selection of test pieces, a healthy and encouraging selection of bands in the B Section, and the "side events" that include the European Soloist Competition, various concerts and master classes that have been very cleverly chosen to appeal to a broad audience base.

The possible worrying news is reportedly that ticket sales have been a little sluggish, whilst there was a disappointing UK turnout of playing talent for the Soloist Competition. We could be totally clich้d and suggest that those North of the Border may be reluctant to part with their hard earned cash in advance, but it would be a great pity if what should be one of the best organised European Championships ever should be seen and heard by a small audience.

So wherever you are in Europe, get a few days off work, take a cheap flight, slightly more expensive train ticket, or even take a long old journey in the car and make your way up to the fantastic Glasgow Royal Concert Hall between the 25th April and the 2nd May.

The people will make you welcome, the city is just about open all hours and you will get to hear some fantastic bands and players all on top of their game. If the sun shines and Rangers and Celtic have won at football you may even get a proper Glasgow Kiss of enjoyment. What could possibly be bitter?

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