Editorial ~ 2004: November


The European question takes up all our thoughts this month.

The European Future - the answer can be found in our past.  

The decision of Besson not to renew their agreement with EBBA for them to run the European Brass Band Championships has great implications for the whole banding community in the UK and Europe. 

For Besson have in fact done the brass band movement a great service; for the time has now come for the bands (and especially those in the UK) to ask themselves whether or not they have the appetite, resolve and degree of ambition to final rid themselves of their ambivalent attitude towards how and by whom they are organised and administered.

For the past 100 years or more brass bands has cared not a jot about how their movement has been run. Their most important individual aim was to survive through contesting and concerts - the wider picture of the well being of the body politic of the movement meant little or nothing to them. As a result, there has been no historical appetite for the bands themselves to administer (and more crucially, finance) their own movement - that has been left to others.

Firstly, private individuals and then private and public companies took a benevolent attitude to promoting brass band contests - seeing it as a means not only to gain revenue but as a cheap promotional mechanism to generate future potential sales and goodwill. Meanwhile, well meaning and enthusiastic amateurs took it upon themselves to administer those contests in the form of committees and not for profit organisations. This was symptomatic not only of the brass band movement but of Britain and most of Europe in social terms for the majority of the 20th Century.  That it worked was because the power was always held with those who promoted the contests and not those who administered them, and those who administered them were happy with their lot, because the bands to which they belonged didn't have any ambition to own and run the contests themselves  - and this has never really changed.

The creation of EBBA though on the face of it, a democratic move in the right direction for the benefit of the bands, still didn't change the fundamental power balance - all EBBA has done (and done very well) was to run the European Contest on behalf of the promoters.  The bands didn't want to change things because they neither had the ambition or the philanthropic desire to help each other by investing their own money in their own future.   

Therefore, when the stark economic factors of life finally came home to roost and companies such as Besson have had to take radical decisions to safeguard their very existence from competition from abroad and production costs at home which are no longer economically viable, saving money on the European was simply an economic decision born of that reality. 

As a purely financial question it makes absolute sense for Besson to have maintained their rights to a contest they have invested in for many years whilst lowering their costs. In purely moralistic terms however, it is a decision that is unfair and that is short sighted.  The balance in business though will always lean to finance.

The problem is that it should have never have come to this - and the bands have only themselves (especially in the UK) to blame for not having the sense to see what was going to come about years ago. There has been no appetite in Britain for a self financed, self administered National body - be it in England, Scotland or Wales, whilst in Europe, EBBA has had to survive from the proceeds of its management (and potential profit it could make) from the European Contest itself. 

The Bands in the UK have never had any control, because the bands have never really wanted to have any control over who runs them, promotes them, looks after their interests as a collective body, administers their rules, chooses the music they play and leads them in discussions with private promoters.  That is why in Britain all the major contests are run by private promoters, who can choose the bands, the prize money, the rules and the music, and as a result the bands have never had the ability to set the agenda that has been needed to help safeguard events such as the European itself.  It is not too late for that to change, but who is going to be the catalyst to do it? 

No control equals no power, so when this latest decision was made (following on from others of late) all the bands could do was sit back and accept it as a fait accomplie.  It has taken this decision by Besson for the movement to finally wake up and smell the roses, and for that we should be grateful to them, for when it came to a choice between a private promoter offering to take all the risks and not wanting any money for doing it, or an organisation that needed sponsorship, because its members have never wanted to pay for the chance to control their own futures, it was an easy one to make.