Editorial ~ 2010: August


This month we give our opinions on the last of their kind, Open borrowing and praise the late Peter Wilson.

Last of its kind

There is a strange kind of fame to be associated with being the last of your kind – but it does come at a price.
With Grimethorpe’s news that Sheona White will play with the band at the British Open, Brighouse & Rastrick now stands as the sole, ‘Men Only’ major championship band around – although they themselves will rigorously ascertain that fact is due to circumstance, rather than any conscious historical decision to deliberately exclude females players from their ranks.

Whatever the reasons though, Brighouse & Rastrick is the last of its kind – a banding anomaly forever to be read as the final entry in the wrong kind of record books.

However, the rest of the banding movement shouldn’t try to take the moral high ground on the subject of female emancipation.

There is still a lazy undercurrent of misplaced misogyny in the brass band world that will take considerable time to be fully overcome. And it hasn’t been the sole preserve of the bands themselves either.

Why aren’t there more female conductors at the top level of banding, or adjudicators for instance? Why don’t we get to hear more serious music from respected female composers?

No one will own up to it, but the banding movement, noticeably in the UK, remains a musical environment that has been disgracefully slow in accepting female equality – views that are still very prevalent if you scratch below the surface even in the most ‘respected’ of banding circles.

It seems there may currently be the one band left that remains an all male British Open contest preserve, but the price paid by the banding movement as a whole in getting to this position is one we should all be ashamed of.

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Open borrowing

The question of the borrowing of players at contests has been highlighted by 4BR time and again over the years.

Now comes the news that bands at the British Open – the premier contest in the banding world, can now go officially into ‘player debt’.  

How one earth can this be good for the bands, the contest and the movement itself?

It’s like Manchester United asking Real Madrid if they can borrow Christiano Ronaldo for the European Cup Final against Barcelona.

Everyone would agree there is a lack of player numbers in the banding movement at present – from championship level down to the grass roots, but this short sighted decision does nothing but harm to a contest that should be the ultimate showcase for brass band excellence.

How many competing bands at Symphony Hall will now take the easy option to find a player that can ‘help them out’ so to speak, rather than for the reasons the organisers really envisaged when they made their decision.

And just look at other ‘borrowing contests’ to see just what effect having a well chosen, well paid, borrowed player (or more), can do to a band’s performance.
What incentive is there for bands to produce their own players when all they need to do, even at the British Open, is check if they can afford a bit of mercenary help?
If a test piece now has a tricky solo part, open the chequebook and relax; problem solved.

It has been coming to this for a number of years now – the increase in ‘convenience signings’ from abroad the most noticeable example. Now bands don’t have to worry about looking at their passports.

And if bands really can’t perform at the very highest level of competition without recourse to ‘borrowing’, then what does the future hold for the rest of the banding movement?

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In praise of Peter Wilson

Peter Wilson, was the highly respected former editor of British Bandsman newspaper and organising administrator of the National Championships at a time when the brass band movement was undergoing great change.

Without his skill, professionalism, diplomacy and above all, patience, there could have been a very real possibility that both the newspaper and the contest could have gone to the wall.

Throughout a significant period of the 1970s, both were being run into the ground by the dealings of the crooked Robert D Alexander – so much so that by the start of the 1980s Boosey & Hawkes were left to pay the massive debts of the National to safeguard its future.

It was a very close run thing.

Ever the diplomat Peter Wilson once told 4BR that Alexander was ‘a very difficult man to deal with or like’. It also says a great deal about Peter Wilson that he put all personal feeling aside to do just that for the benefit of the banding movement.

Amongst his many achievements, that was perhaps his greatest.

He should be remembered with a great deal of respect because of it too.

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