Editorial ~ 2010: December


This month we give our opinions on the possible end of Pontins; European Exchange rates and praise the role of the Swiss...

The end of the Pontins road?

Unless there is an appearance of a last minute financial saviour on the North Wales horizon with a rescue plan tucked under their arm, it seems increasingly unlikely that there will be another Pontins Brass Band Championship.

An event that in its 37 years history has been truly ground breaking and hugely enjoyable for all those brass band lovers who took old Fred Pontins snappy marketing PR to ‘Book Early’ at Southport, Hemsby, Bream Sands and Prestatyn, has perhaps inevitability, come to an end.

It will be a sad loss.

At the height of its popularity, with its Easter regional qualification events and November finals, it attracted a multitude of bands with its mix of big prize money (they were the first to put up a £1,000 first prize), generous travel expenses, cheap accommodation, cheerful entertainment and lashings of alcohol.

However, the recipe for its popularity was also the same recipe for its decline: It never quite knew what it needed to do to change as bandsmen and women became consumers rather than mere competitors.

The same old recipe started to looked stale and past its sell by date way before the creditors came knocking on the door – despite changes to the contest rules, and a belated increase in prize money.

Now it looks that a contest era may well have come to an end. 

Pontins gave a great deal to banding, but perhaps never realised that banding could only ever give so much back in return.

The real sadness is that they may not be the first or the last contest organisers to find out that particular fact the hard way.

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Euro exchange rates

With the European Championship due to take place at the magnificent Stravinski Hall in Montreux in less than six months time, the competition may well herald the beginning of a new era.

Despite the recent withdrawal of Brass Band Oberosterreich from the line up, the list of competing bands is still impressive, if a slightly more intriguing one to quantify.

Could it be that the contest sees the first steps to long term change to the established order of the heavyweight guard of European banding?

No Eikanger or Stavanger from Norway; No Willebroek from Belgium; No De Waldsang from the Netherlands; No Lyngby Taarbaek from Denmark; No Co-op or Whitburn from Scotland; No Black Dyke from England - all familiar names on the usual European contest roster. 

Now we have Manger, Fairey (Geneva), Schoonhoven, Tredegar, Kingdom, Concord, Noord-Limburgse and Windcorp joining defending champions Cory in Montreux.

No band has the divine right to reign supreme forever and day in their own country– a fact perhaps borne out by the composition of the line up of bands that will take to the stage in Montreux in a few months time.

If recent results are anything to go by, it looks like long term domestic European hegemonies may be coming to an end – even Cory have been beaten twice in the past three years at what is their qualification contest.

That can only be good for European banding in general, even if it puts the pressure on those familiar heavyweight bands to try and impose their domestic supremacy once more.

We will see if there is any permanency to it all come Montreux.

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In praise of the Swiss role... 

In most people’s minds, the Swiss are unlikely to be featured high on their list of inveterate musical risk takers – although that opinion may change following their recent National Championships.

There, both performers and listeners enjoyed works as diverse as Paul McGhee’s ‘Waiting for a Pain Hit!??!!?’, Thomas Trachsel’s ‘Macabre’, Mario Burki’s ‘Flight’ and Simon Dobson’s ‘Penlee’ to Peter Meechan’s ‘The Legend of King Arthur’ and Martin Ellerby’s ‘Genesis’. 

It made for a wonderfully engaging and intriguing series of competitions.

New, inventive, thought provoking, contemporary – it makes the 2011 Regional Championship list of ‘Paganini Variations’, ‘Carnival Romain’, ‘Resurgum’ and the like look all together predictable, and more than a little musically narrow minded.

Could it be that even the Swiss – the traditional paragons of all things conservative and restrained have finally thrown off their shackles?

If so, then glory be and congratulations to the organisers.

If the Swiss can do it, then there is hope for us all.  

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