Editorial ~ 2005: January


Our views on 2004 - A Vintage Year?; Money, Money, Money and possible European Union?

2004 – A vintage year?

It is always well worth looking back at the years end to allow the thought process to recall the ups and downs, the triumphs and the disasters of the past twelve months. By doing so you can quantify in a small way to whether or not the brass band movement as a whole has grown in strength, stagnated or declined in its influence and popularity.

Looking back, 2004 certainly wasn't a vintage year for sure, but it wasn't a complete disaster either. No, 2004 was a year when as Harold MacMillan once famously said; "We managed our decline".

Last year we looked back at 2003 and drew almost the same conclusions – not great but not too bad, a year of mediocrity. This year has possibly been the same, but the edge this time is that if we continue to accept nothing of consequence being the norm and good for our movement, we shall die from the monotony of unexceptional achievement. Nothing of real meaningful consequence has been achieved during 2004.

There were highlights; the Europeans in Glasgow, the setting up of the National Children's Brass Band; the news of an English Championship; the quality of contest and concert performances from the very best bands and the small pockets of good practice and innovative teaching and promotion by certain enlightened bands and organisations.

The lowlights were also there as well though; the unholy mess of the future of the Europeans and to a lesser extent the Masters and the Open; the alarming decline in interest of audiences to attend our major contests; the further decline of media interest in our movement and the overall decline in performance standards [in the main] in the lower sections.

The biggest problem however remains the complete inability of the British Federation of Brass Bands to produce any coherent blueprint for the future and to coordinate itself into a body of some meaning and relevance.  However hard it tries, it remains an outdated organisation run in an outdated fashion and unless it radically overhauls its well meaning but amateur approach it will continue to hamper any real progress the movement as a whole could make. 

There was much to admire in 2004  - David Childs at the Proms, Katrina Marzella and Daniel Powell winning at the BBC, top notch CD releases, fine concerts at the British Open, London and the European, but there was always that uneasy feeling that we were performing to less and less interested people.

It may have not been either a vintage or disastrous year, but it was one that could either be the start of a new era of progress or one that heralds the beginning of terminal decline. Let us hope 2005 is the start of the former and not the latter, and that it stems from our ability as a movement to start organising itself to meet the important challenges that will surely come our way.

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Money, Money, Money

The Swedish pop group ABBA had it right when they sang about finance: ‘Money, money, money – must be funny – in a rich man's world'.

2005 will see the vast majority of brass bands throughout the length and breadth of the country once more scrimp and save, beg, borrow and overdraft (none steal) their way to survival. It is a miracle so many do it so well, and this year could well see a couple of our most famous bands looking down the barrel of ‘subscription banding' (getting their players to put their hands in their pockets) to safeguard their own survival.

The most famous of these could be the YBS Band (as they will now be called), who as it has been reported from the 1st January, no longer come under the financial safety net of sponsorship (although there seems to be encouraging news it is rumoured). 4BR is informed that others are also facing the cold hand of economic reality blowing down their collars as well this year, so unless these organisations do find a sponsor who is willing to invest heavily in a brass band as a promotional tool for their company, some could find 2005 a very hard time indeed.

Sponsorship has great benefits, but also great drawbacks; bands invariably prosper under good secure financial backing as it usually allows the players to concentrate their efforts into performing rather than paying their way. However, it does mean that all too often it provides players with false expectations about their real worth and bands about their true financial responsibilities.

The brass band history books are littered with far too many examples of long dead bands who collapsed after the money dried up; usually because greedy, brainless players put their own self interest before that of the band, whilst the band itself never engaged its collective brain to ensure that some money was put away for long term survival when the inevitable sponsorship ends (and it always does).

A well run banding organisation can survive and prosper in the 21st Century without sponsorship money, but it takes damn hard work from everyone from the conductor to the bottom third cornet player, the librarian to the Band President.  Hoping sponsorship will mean survival is no hope at all – there must be a realistic approach to financial management for all bands.

As Aneurin Bevan once said; ‘The reason the rich are rich, is that they don't give their money away unless it makes them something greater back in return.' The problem is that too many brass bands have yet to understand the truth of that statement. And that is not funny at all.

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European Union?

Even though on paper the positions of the opposing camps on the European Championship debate seem to be as far apart as they ever were, there does appear to be signs that a possible agreement, if not, reconciliation could be on the cards.

4BR understands that some movement and discussion has taken place about bringing the two parties together (although thankfully it has not involved Tony Blair) and even though we understand it is at a very early stage, there appears to be a feeling that these preliminary discussions could lead in the right direction of finally producing a compromise that would allow both parties to claim success in a new agreement concerning the future of this most important event.

Both parties will have to compromise for sure, but if a skilful intermediary can do it, and it does come off, then everyone should be thankful that common sense has prevailed. The movement needs the one strong, vibrant, well run European Championship. If we can't get this one sorted, the future will look bleak indeed.

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