Editorial ~ 2004: December


Our views on missing crowds; the trouble of the Christmas Spirit and even 4BR going full time.

4BR goes full time

When we first set up 4BR over three years ago, we never knew that one day we would be getting over 35,000 people logging into to us each week to find out about the brass band movement. Such has been the success of the website that the time has finally come when one of us has had to give up their full time jobs and undertake to edit the 4BR site on a full time basis. 

The decision will mean that we will be able devote more time and energy into further enhancing our provision of articles, features, reviews, comments, shop and most importantly the provision of up to date news, whilst allowing us to develop new and exciting features for the site and for the growing number of bands who subscribe to our "Classified Adverts". 

It has also meant that we are able to develop a progressive working relationship with the British Bandsman newspaper and its new editorial team headed by Kenneth Crookston. That relationship will hopefully mean bigger and better coverage of more banding events throughout the year and the means of giving the movement a much more diverse and vibrant media presence.

4barsrest.com remains a truly independent, forceful and progressive voice for the movement, solely the property of its two founders, Anthony Banwell and Iwan Fox. We could only do this because of the help and assistance we have received from you the bands, the players and the supporters, and we can assure you that it will remain that way for many years to come.

The future should be exciting, hopefully entertaining, and very, very busy.

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Where have all the crowds gone?
One of the most interesting photographs to be published in the banding press during 2004 was taken by the excellent Tony Carter for the November edition of the Brass Band World Magazine. If you haven't got a copy or don't subscribe, then get out and get one, because it perhaps captured the moment when the brass band movement finally looked at itself in the contesting mirror and found that what was staring back was not what we wanted to see.

The photograph shows the Black Dyke Band under Nicholas Childs on stage at the Royal Albert Hall, midway through their winning performance of the test piece ‘…all the flowers of the mountain…' by Michael Ball.  It's a great fish eye lens shot that manages to just about capture the entire auditorium in all its refurbished splendour – but there is something missing. 

What is lacking is an appreciable full hall of people – and for Black Dyke remember, at our most prestigious and most high profile contest of the year. There are row upon row of empty seats in the main hall, stalls whilst even the two tiers of boxes are not jam-packed; the top tier of the cheapest seats has a sprinkling of spectators and that's all.  It is the most worrying image the brass band world could every imagine – one of our very best and most famous bands playing to an auditorium that is barely more than half full.

There will of course by those who will suggest that the test piece, the time of day, the draw etc all contributed to it not being full – but they would be deluding themselves. The reason why it wasn't packed to the rafters as it would have been 25 years ago, is that audiences are fast losing the appetite for the large scale test piece contest.

The Nationals are not alone either. The Open no longer fills the hall as it used to (despite protestations that all the tickets are sold – measuring success on pre contest ticket sales and not by taking into account how many people actually sit and listen is a sure fire recipe for disaster), whilst the Scottish Open, Grand Shield contests and the Regionals certainly didn't have the "Sold Out" signs up did they?

It is nothing to do with what we play (giving people brass band lollipops just gives you dumber more parochial audiences, not new or better informed ones), or the standard we play at. It is all about the way in which we deliver that music to the people who we want to hear it, and the simple fact that trying to do it by performing the same extended work 18 – 20 times or more is no longer appropriate or relevant.

The time is fast approaching for the traditional brass band contesting format to change (many people have new and interesting ideas), but change it must or by the next time we get another photograph like Tony Carter's published it may well show more people playing on the stage than actually listening in the hall.

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Christmas Spirit

Christmas is the most important time of the years for the vast majority of bands throughout the world. The contesting season will have finished for another year and the last notes of annual concerts may have faded into the cold night air, so with all the musical travails of the year out of the way comes the tricky business of raising enough money to fend off the bailiffs and put enough dosh into the coffers to support the band and its players for the season ahead.

If you think practising for the Regionals is hard work, then have a thought for the poor souls who will trudge their ways around supermarkets, pubs, clubs and street corners playing on freezing cold instruments with chapped lips and fingers that have long since lost their feeling. This is what the survival of the brass band movement is all about – raising cash.

There are now very few bands who will have to worry about their players receiving lewd (and physically impossible) suggestions from drunken secretaries on their annual Christmas Parties of what they would like to do with your instruments; whilst band managers will have the gruesome task of searching for pound coins amongst the debris of foreign coins, chewing gum, fiddly five pence pieces and old buttons that usually find their way into the collection tins on a Saturday night.

It is hard, hard, hard work. Just try being cheerful when a drunken 18 year old suggests you play the "Birdie Song" on your trumpet in return for him popping 8p in coppers into the tin, or when some idiot tries to snatch you new Prestige euphonium off you to imitate the sound of a sexually horny bull rhino.

There should be medals for all those who take the time to undertake this thankless task, but especially those who take the time on Christmas morning to go around the hospitals and nursing homes to play a few carols to those who are in desperate need of some cheer at this time of year.

Congratulations to everyone who does it (even 4BR will be having a stint) and we hope you raise thousands upon thousands of pounds from all those people who should really appreciate what you have been doing.

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