Editorial ~ 2005: July


This month we give our opinion on the Imps affair; Euro qualification and the trouble with the youth of today.

The Imps Affair

The decision of the organisers of the British Open to allow the Yorkshire Imperial Urquhart Travel Band a 'bye' from the 2005 contest is a correct one. However, its outcomes are not as clear cut.

The band were perfectly within their rights to ask for the bye following the decision of the management of Symphony Hall, not the British Open, to change the date of the contest. Whether or not the band could have cancelled a long standing concert booking misses the point of the matter – they booked their concert in good faith.

The problem was with the precedent set with Grimethorpe Colliery (UK Coal) in 2003, when they were given permission to miss the contest due to their appearance at that year's Proms concerts. By allowing this, and not making clear what would be allowable in future for a band to request a bye, it was only a matter of time before this unfortunate situation would arise to cause concern and disappointment to many fellow competitors, and cause an almighty headache for the organisers.

Bravely, they have tried to ensure that it does not happen again by inserting the clause of ‘truly exceptional circumstances' into their rules – but this is surely legalese speak for allowing the status quo to remain in place.

What is now needed is a clear and unambiguous ruling to what is and what isn't deemed as a ‘truly exceptional circumstance'.

A death or force-majeur such as a fire or flood should of course be seen as such, whilst a concert given by a band that is seen to enhance the profile of the banding movement as a whole (and not just the band in question) should also be favourably considered.  Such a concert should at the very least be broadcast on national television or radio – not just in front of a large audience.

Any other requests should not be granted, and if the band in question is unable to attend the contest, they should forfeit their place and be demoted to the Grand Shield. Any other band should not take that place, and only one band should be automatically relegated from the contest. At the following Grand Shield contest, an extra qualification place should be allowed to give the demoted band and others the chance for an immediate return to the Open and return the contest to its original number of entrants.

In that way the penalty allows for immediate recompense from the penalised band, but also allows others an extra chance as well - and perhaps that will stop the problem happening again in the future.

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Euro Qualification

And talking of qualification, the continuing saga that is the European Championships seems to hit yet another set of buffers on the Euro track that is the EBBA inspired Contest – or has it?

It comes as no surprise that there was never any official agreement between the European, the Nationals and the Welsh and Scottish Regions over the matter of a qualification process being formally agreed – as Besson were the sponsors of both events, the convention arose as it was beneficial for all parties concerned.

Now Besson are no longer involved in the Regionals, Nationals or European, the convention no longer exists, and a new formal process of qualification must be put in place.  The organisers of these events no longer have the capacity to announce that the winners or highest placed band will be invited to the EBBA run contest.

It may on the face of it appear a huge stumbling block, but in reality it should be easily overcome – if EBBA can act quickly and clearly on the matter.

The Scots can of course make an agreement with EBBA to send its ‘Champion Band' to the contest as the Scottish Championships has incorporated the Regional event since 1971. No problem there.

The Welsh meanwhile could vote to re affiliate back to EBBA (and so end their current mess) or EBBA could invite the ‘Welsh Champion Band' (a couple of years ago, the Champion Band title was taken away from the four contest system and given to the winners of the Regional Championships – so they could do this without technically impinging on the Regional Championships themselves, as long someone then pays the affiliation fee).

As for England – the matter only applies to 2006, as thereafter the new English Championships will provide their representative. EBBA could therefore just make a special invitation to the English band who happens to be placed highest at the National Finals this year through the BFBB.

It all sounds so easy doesn't it?

However, unless it is formally agreed, the European could leave itself open to accusations of favouritism and elitism as the choices would have no basis of process to back them. Let's hope someone from EBBA is writing something as we speak.

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The trouble with the Youth of today

There doesn't appear to be much wrong with the brass band youth of today – just go to any youth contest and the mayor or sponsor will always pike up about how fantastic it is to see so many children behaving themselves and taking part in an activity that doesn't involve petty vandalism, loutish behaviour or drinking cans of Woodpecker cider until they are sick all over the local car park.

No –  the trouble with the brass banding youth of today is that we have no actual idea of whom or what the criteria is for them being described as such.

In fact, all the major youth contest in Great Britain have different interpretations to what they consider the participants to be; the classification of bands differs, the numbers allowed to take to the stage, as do the age ranges and the type of help and assistance they can have from ‘adults'.  In some cases certain bands can actually meet the criteria for more than one section they could compete in, due to the ages of their players and the set up of their organisation.   

It is starting to become a mess, and a mess that appears to have little or no reference to actual education policy in Wales, England or Scotland.  In fact a number of organisations can now field bands at contests made up of a vast proportion of youth players who are no longer legally seen as dependents, yet can still play up and past the age of 21 in many contests.

Perhaps it is time for the BFBB to get together with the organisers and educationalists who run music services in this country and ensure that there is a single set of criteria to cover all youth contests. Without it, the whole youth set up runs the risk of becoming fractured and confused and open to bad practice.

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