Brass Band Summit Conference, Birmingham, July 3rd 2010

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by timbloke, Jul 26, 2010.

  1. timbloke

    timbloke Member

    Earlier this month a number of banding big-wigs met to discuss the way forward for the banding world. Given that no-one has discussed it yet on here and potentially this could be a big thing... please discuss.

    More details are at:
  2. lynchie

    lynchie Active Member

    It could be a big thing, but that article doesn't seem to suggest anything was actually done. From my point of view, while bands continue to put such disproportionate importance in contesting, while neglecting concert work, we'll always struggle. We spend weeks/months on individual pieces to play to one man in a box, and a smattering of hardcore banders tutting at every split, only to then say "well, we can't possibly play that in a concert".

    It's utterly insane. What other musical group would contemplate working so hard on a piece only to never play it to a decent audience? In the end, the majority of bands in this country put on concerts that are beneath them, because there just isn't enough time to work up a full concert of music that actually challenges the band.

    I honestly can't see the people at that summit trying particularly hard to change this situation, given that so many of them have particular interests in various contests. But perhaps (and since there's been a few nostalgic threads recently, I think I proposed this about 5 years ago) a few more high profile non-competitive brass band events would help. Get bands to come together in a tent in Hyde Park or Piccadilly Gardens, or some equivalent in Leeds/Sheffield (or all three). At the moment we have the RNCM festival, which isn't much publicised outside of banders, and not much more as far as I can tell.

    Anyway, I'll just leave this soapbox here for the next rant and slide off back to my corner.
  3. Rapier

    Rapier Supporting Member

    Hmmm. Well, not much there of interest to us non contesting types. Seems to be for the Big Boys.

    I'd call my type of band a 'grass roots' band. We try and get local kids (and adults) interested in learning to play a brass instrument, with no finanicial help from any outside agency. Keeping our band room, music, instruments etc. in reasonable working order by the usual summer jobs, playing to two men and their dog and sometimes some sheep. (and have been doing so since 1893).

    I can't see anything in that article that will help us survive for the next 117 years, except our own efforts.
  4. Simon_Horn

    Simon_Horn Member

    I think that's spot on! Brass bands have forgotten our primary purpose play for the enjoyment of audiences (and players!). Much as I like a good set-piece contest, I feel a greater sense of worth coming off a stage having played to an appreciative audience who have been entertained. Also, as a listener, I prefer the entertainment section of Butlins contest (for instance) to the set-piece.

    There is a place for contesting. It should continue to be used as a way to maintain and develop our playing standard, but good quality concerts should be the end result we aim for. Arranging high profile concerts (like something in Hyde Park) that attract large audiences will require central funding and organisation to be succesful. How can individual groups do something like this on thier own? It should be one of the key points the sub-group should be discussing seriously...
  5. Di B

    Di B Member

    I think more entertainment based contests are the way forward.

    Things like Brass in Concert, if promoted well would attract more of the general public towards us.
    Even for a geeky bander listening to some test pieces 20+ times in a row is too much!
  6. davetubaking

    davetubaking Member

    More entertainment definitely but not more contests. I agree entirely with Lynchie and share his pessimism that things will change. More festivals for bands of all standards to perform not to compete.
  7. marksmith

    marksmith Active Member

    I like the idea of Brass Band Festivals, they would indeed add an extra perspective to the scene.
    I won't over-egg the importance of contesting (to a large group of us), as this has been discussed before - but without contests, I would not enjoy banding as much.
    Organisation of, and gaining support for new 'gatherings', is a logistical mare. People who pledge support often shrink away from involvement and bands often with-draw at short notice.
    As far back as the early 70s, the Federation has been trying to gain national support from Associations and individual bands to develop involvement in policy ideas and expansion of the 'Grass roots' of banding.
    I well remember the frustration that my father felt as a Federation officer and Association Secretary, as positive innovations were met with little more than luke-warm reception at band level.
    It is up to all of us (at whatever level of banding we participate), to ensure a future for our movement by showing support in any way that we can.
    Support the local concerts/contests (even when not playing!), encourage youngsters to play and most crucially, involve yourself in organising events and hopefully, we will continue the legacy of enjoyment of Brass Bands, for generations to come.
  8. timbloke

    timbloke Member

    Fantastic first response. I totally agree with everything you have said Lynchie, and don't think I can particularly add much more.

    However, perhaps on a positive note is the recent success in this area of the Kiverton Brass Band Festival and Bolsover Contest - Both entertainments contests that are well run and have had a good turn out of bands and audiences, hopefully they may continue to grow.

    Perhaps also we need to develop more of the concert series type concerts - I was at Brodsworth Hall yesterday listening to Maltby MW Band. A fantastic turn out of the crowd, the job gets more and more popular. Likewise, Wetherby Bandstand is often well supported and enjoyable to do. More like this please.
  9. WoodenFlugel

    WoodenFlugel Moderator Staff Member

    I've long thought that 'the movement' needs an umbrella organisation to try and generate a single, focused and pro-active direction for the good of everyone involved in banding. Basically we're all in this together but unfortunately togetherness is not something that has troubled our organising bodies much. The way the European qualification places are decided is a classic case of this - two bodies pulling in opposite directions, to the detriment of everyone. The trouble is that the 'them and us' feeling extends beyond the organising bodies into band committee rooms, and even onto the pages of 4BR and tMP. The real challenge will be to get everyone involved right from the grass roots up to the very top of the tree.

    This is a start, but there is a long way to go, and to be quite honest I'm still not convinced that this was another token effort that will be forgotten about in 12 months time. There were a couple of things that the article doesn't say - just which bodies were represented for instance - there is mention of a number of bodies, but I'd like to see exactly who was there. Sometimes who wasn't there is more telling that who was.

    The other thing that immediately sprang to mind is this: There's mention of a need to engage the grass roots, but to my knowledge (and I may be wrong here, I've been a little off the scene recently due to various reasons) nothing was put out to the BFBB's member bands. Even if it was just a 'this is happening' statement. I don't think there was a need to actually invite bands - its early days and the most important thing right now is not to get bogged down in the detail before some broad ideas are scoped out, but the best way to alienate organisations is to not tell them what's going on! Certainly the first I heard about it was the 4BR article after the event. Given the access we have now via 4BR, tMP, FaceBook and numerous other websites this must rank as one of the best kept secrets ever!

    Despite those couple of negative thoughts I hope - I really hope - that this is not just another false dawn, and that something comes of this before its all too late.
  10. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    Ooh Goody, another talking shop. :rolleyes:

    Sorry to be Mr Cynical, but there have been a number of attempts to do this sort of thing before and they always hit the buffers of self interest (of MDs, bands and contest organisers). There are a number of historical reasons for this:

    1: Nationalism - the fragmentation into England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales doesn't allow any sort of unified national approach. The BFBB appears to represent English bands in the main, and there's clearly no appetite in Scotland or Wales for subordinating their national associations and/or European privileges to the BFBB. This isn't a problem faced by Switzerland or Norway.

    2: Personalities - we've always been happy to subordinate our movement to its biggest names and outside financiers. John Henry Iles, Eric Ball, the Mortimer family, Robert Alexander, Denis Wright, Roy Newsome, David King, Robert and Nicholas Childs, Philip Morris, Philip Biggs, Paul Hindmarsh - the list of truly influential personalities in banding over the last 100 years is depressingly short. While the vast majority of these people have had the best interests of banding at heart, the concentration of power in the hands of any one person (and particularly the unhealthy paternalism exemplified by Harry Mortimer) can only ever be an unhealthy thing.

    3: History - brass bands in Britain grew up organically, with local associations springing up many years before any sort of attempt to even form a national championship. When "British-style" banding started in the USA, or Belgium (for example) the formation of a powerful and democratic national organisation happened early in the nation's banding history, but in the UK we're only starting to think about it now. Even if it succeeds, you can guarantee that there will be some big name bands and MDs who decline to support it because it doesn't suit their agenda to do so.

    4: Money - we are historically tight-fisted about banding in this country. On the one hand we hear people moaning about the cost of new testpieces and increasing entry fees, on the other there are regular complaints about how poor the prize funds are at major contests. We have yet to grasp that this is not a cheap hobby; there is a perception that is or should be still a working class activity and a failure to grasp that since the end of the "Works Bands" someone else has to pay. I may be wrong here, but I believe that the representative bands from Norway and Denmark at the last European paid their own way to the contest? The formation of a genuinely useful National Association would add extra expense to every bands' annual balance sheet, and would have to represent value for money.

    These are not insurmountable obstacles, although it takes someone with the stomach for a fight to get over them. For a start, I'd centralise on one registry run by the BFBB (scrap the Welsh and Scottish ones) and require anyone who wants to use it for contesting to be a member. Straight away you would effectively force 500-600 contesting bands to join the BFBB, which allows it to claim that it is a genuinely representative of "British" bands and put quite a few grand in the kitty.
  11. DublinBass

    DublinBass Supporting Member

    I'm not sure about Belgium, but even the USA has had some similar issues with their "national" banding body (the North American Brass Band Association).

    First of all, about 90% of their focus has been on their one contest a year (the North American Championships), with only about 10% of the focus (if that) on grass roots efforts, promoting regional events, etc... (there isn't even a "national" youth band like in England and Scotland). I think this is much the same issue Ian brought up and is not unique.

    Secondly, it is a "North American" group, yet a Canadian band hasn't competed since 1996 and except for a strong push a few years back, I don't believe there are any more Canadian member bands (a similar situation perhaps to the Welsh and Scottish/ BFBB scenario).

    Wanted to clear up some facts.

    Wish I had some good answers (although I think supporting smaller events and county youth bands might be a start)...but this is really complex issue with limited funds to go around.
  12. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member


    +1 :tup

    How UK banding has remained functional without a true FA, FIA, FIM, FIFA sort of organisation/governing body for so long is nothing short of miraculous.

    And if becoming a member of the BFBB were made a compulsory part of registering as a contesting band, it suddenly becomes a lot easier to consult the membership as a whole, and organise things on a national level so they don't clash. Ie: presently if several areas hold their contest the same day, you could end up with an almighty adjudicator shortage....

    Dare I suggest it... the possibility of balloting the membership on changes in the system then becomes practicable too....
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2010
  13. Rapier

    Rapier Supporting Member

    And that helps 'grass roots' banding how? It's not about 'contesting' that keeps a lot of bands going, is it? They don't exist just to contest once or twice a year (or whatever number). Surely it's about making music to entertain people that's the important thing.

    I can't see that saying to any of our learners, ''and when you are good enough you can play the same piece of music for several weeks and then perform it to one (or two) strangers, who judge it against what they want, but without you knowing what they want!'', would be much of a selling point. :wink:
  14. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    An excellent point, and one that highlights a failing of the current talking shop - it doesn't contain much in the way of "grass roots" representation. However, the other side of that coin is defining what it is that a National organisation could effectively DO for grass roots banding. It's easy to bang on about "getting more funding" but without some sort of defined purpose in mind that funding is going to be a) hard to acquire and b) wasted once it IS acquired.

    So leave aside the needs/wants of the top bands. What defines a "grassroots" band and what would such a band need from a national body? To stretch the FA analogy (although they're by no means a perfect example), at grassroots level they offer training for coaches. Maybe there could be free training for youth band conductors and committees, with suggestions on how to keep players motivated and how to encourage parents to get involved.

    Trouble is, this new national body would need money to do all that, which means getting membership up and applying for Arts Council funding, which means the support of the bands at the top of the contesting structure is needed as well.

    So all we need is for a majority of brass bands across the UK from Scotland to Cornwall and Yorkshire to Wales, including non-contesting and youth bands as well as the top flight bands, all with differing priorities, finances and skill levels to agree on something?

    We're knackered, then, aren't we? :rolleyes:
  15. timbloke

    timbloke Member

    See they're still talking about actioning things - reminds me a bit of a Monty Python sketch.

    One thing that struck me, is that most of the Banding organisations, press, even tMP are for bandsmen. It is all very insular. Fine for us, but I doubt the average man in the street, or potential audience, ever pop onto 4br to check the latest news or reviews. What we could do with (and if I had the time, money or inclination I'd have a go - I haven't) is a new organisation/website which is aimed at the general public - promoting concerts and bands up and down the country but with more emphasis on encouraging audiences and outsiders to show some interest.

    Just a thought.
  16. WoodenFlugel

    WoodenFlugel Moderator Staff Member

    Tim, you're right - it is all way too insular, but from what I've read so far there is no want to change that - or even an admission that this is the case. I fear we'll end up with another largely pointless and toothless organisation with an abbreviated name, which in a few years will be criticised for 'not doing enough'. Trouble is, until there is a step change in the way people think and, more importantly the way they work together, that is all we'll ever get.

    I keep meaning to get around to posting my thoughts on where we should be going with this, but so far have failed miserably... I ought to try a little harder sometime this weekend.
  17. Ankanala

    Ankanala Member

    A very interesting discussion here and as someone involved in the initial idea of the current ` summit` I feel a need to join in.
    It is very easy to write off these efforts because the people involved are supposedly only interested in top bands and contesting but this is not the case. The idea here is to organise some `umbrella` orginasation for British banding that will be a kind of central association that will promote and develop all aspects of British brass banding.
    When Stan Lippeatt and I first discussed this we recognised that in order to find the funding that will eventually encompass all aspects of banding including the essential element of grass roots development and overall amalgamation of everything Brass Band from unregistered bands to the very elite, we needed to bring together the most influential people in our movement. Yes these people are mainly involved in contesting but all actively promote banding as a whole and together as one body will provide a much more potent organisation for the benefit of all aspects of banding throughout the range of abilities and aspirations. The fact is, only these people as one, can influence the movement as a whole and I find it disappointimg that the people involved in grass roots can`t recognise this and obviously distrust the people involved.
    Nobody disagrees that banding should be less insular, or that we should devote more time, money and funding to grass roots development nationally and locally, but who is going to do this if it is not a national body and who can form a national body if it is not the people who run the national contests as we know them now. Like it or not contests are the central force of our movement and we have recognised that only the leading lights in contesting can collectively bring the movement together for the good of the future development at all levels
    British banding has evolved the way it has over the last 150 years without a central organisation and we a suffering for it now. The efforts of Stan Lippeatt from ABBA and all of the delegates involved here should be applauded because the aims are not to promote contesting and top bands but to develop a fundamental strategy and central organisation that will provide funding, advice and overall government of everything to do with Britsh banding.
    We should be supporting this initiative wholeheartedly because the aim is for the benefit of all levels of our movement and not just the few!

    Alan Morrison
  18. hi everyone,

    this is my first post on tmp, so i hope what i put makes sense.

    i'm new to a lot of the worries that are expressed here, as i only joined my local band earlier this year after spending 32 years being brought up in the salvation army, (which i'm now so pleased to say i've left).

    however, the last thing i think that's needed is more admin. the passion is with the players, and they need the freedom to enjoy their music. different types of contest will come and go. the traditional ones will stay the same.

    the solution i think is that whatever umbrella body sits above it all, their mission should always be to talk banding to the media. always to go outside of the organisation, so we have one voice to the outside. then leave the bands alone to work out what we want to do.

    believe me, after 32 years in the sa, i can say that the last thing you need is more management.
  19. brassintheed

    brassintheed Member

    Spot on Tim. For brass bands to actually become relevant to today's society, we need to focus more on performance and image, and less on contesting, registrations and rules. I'm pretty sure that the governing body will simply work with the existing status quo, rather than looking for something fresh and new which is so drastically needed.

    It's amazing how many people admit we're too insular, but then still insist that contesting should remain the absolute bread and butter of brass band music. Why is this the only musical form where those that don't contest are considered the poor relations.. It should be flipped on it's head with contesting used for development within the lower ranks, wheras the very best bands need to concentrate on going out to the public to raise the perception of brass band music, exploring new styles, attracting new composers (without the fear of a public flogging ala judith bingham) and giving astounding concerts, rather than spending all it's money and effort making sure it gets as many contest wins as possible. Let's bring about an environment where it's a good thing when the best brass bands have enough clout to pay for the greatest players in the world, rather than accuse them of bringing in 'ringers' and other terms which should be completely alien to professional and respected music.

    We know we've got a concentration of amazing talent within brass bands, let's have the guts to make the break from our safe little world so we can finally convince the rest of the world of that.

    I'm completely convinced that until this happens, brass bands will continue on it's path of ever decreasing circles.

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