Decline in standards?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by marksmith, Oct 26, 2009.

  1. marksmith

    marksmith Active Member

    Another disappointing weekend for Midlands top-section bands. Has there been a decline? If so, what can be the cause?
    At one time, we had bands such as GUS, Desford, Sovereign, Staffordshire, to name a few, giving performances to challenge the best in the country. Recently, the majority of top section Midlands bands struggle to make the top ten in the National Finals.
    The top three at Pontins should be well within these bands' capabilities, so what is going wrong?
    Having friends in these bands, I do not want them to see this post as a criticism, merely a reasonable question to a baffling situation.
    The other question to ask is why so few of these bands support their Association/local contests? Is there a lack of self-confidence?
    I'm confused!
  2. tubalation

    tubalation Member

    I think the midlands has become a much-leveller playing field than it was 10 or 15 years ago. With the loss / reduction of sponsorship (or demise) of bands like Travelsphere (subsequently GUS / Virtuosi-Gus) and William-Davis who, reputedly, were paying players expenses (apologies if I'm talking out of turn) then I think players are now much more likely to play / stay with their existing / local bands / mates / friends etc than perhaps in the past when the best players gravitated to the best bands. (and it's greener too :p). There's also been the loss (to contesting at least) of bands like Riddings and Ransomes. Their players have either stopped altogether, or dispersed into various other north midlands / south yorkshire championship / first section bands again, beneficially (imho) sharing their skills and experience across multiple bands and making the standards much closer.

    With the exception of the Birmingham conservatoire we don't, in the midlands, have the same availability / self-replenishing pool of skilled young players to call on that perhaps our North-West, Yorkshire, and South Wales friends can access from Salford, RNCM, Huddersfield, Welsh College etc

    I don't think we've got a great infrastructure in the midlands for tapping into the schools and attracting children into bands (at all grades) , although we did play three (excellent) young percussionists in our five at the Royal Albert Hall a couple of weeks ago who all attend school in Derbyshire (and two attend South East Derbys Music Centre).

    Opportunities for 'top' midlands bands to support local contests are limited as neither NEMBBA (February) or WMBBA (December) have a 'Championship' section. Only LBBA (and the 'invitation' Bolsover Entertainment Challenge) has a championship section which was well supported last year and I'm sure will be again this.

    (Note these are my personal views and may not be endorsed by my band!)
  3. Di B

    Di B Member

    Have we ever really had a consistent 'top 10' band at the finals?

    From memory, I believe William Davis' never did anything major at the finals yet they were the band to beat for a number of years in the 80/90's. I was very young though so correct me if I am wrong!

    I have noticed that there just aren't the players. People who wouldn't have seen a door into the top section years ago are now holding chairs in champ bands.

    I think the demise of several champ bands from contesting... Ransomes, riddings, nct, rhodian, william davis, thorntons has ended with a number of great players quitting banding. Could name a few too!

    We don't have anyone of the same calibre to replace these players. Those that do still play tend to move to lower bands as well as flock to few midland bands that do consistently well.

    It would be interesting for someone to do a 'where are they now' for a band like Davis' to see how many still actually play.
  4. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    Well I seem to remember Desford had a moderately successful run a few years back...:rolleyes:

    I think that's the point - there isn't the strength in depth in the Midlands that there once was. I played for the NCT band that qualified for the finals twice and quite a few of those players aren't involved in banding anymore. Can't speak for Rhodian or William Davis but I'm willing to bet there are a few players who just packed in when those bands folded.
  5. David Mann

    David Mann Member

    There's a Facebook group, and many do still play, probably nearer home: I know some of the Derbyshire players are in Derwent, Coventry players in Jaguar.
    I wouldn't say it was about expenses or sponsorship, though. Perhaps the pool of players who are willing to put in the practise and travel necessary has dwindled. It was a privilege and joy to sit in a band like WD but also a lot of hard work and putting band before family and career. When the band was doing well there were very few, if any, absentees from rehearsal, ever.
  6. marc71178

    marc71178 Member

    Can't speak for NEMBBA but I know that WMBBA don't have a Championship (or even making the top section Open) because when we did, it wasn't entered.
  7. ericthered

    ericthered Member

    The general standard IMHO at Huddersfiled is nowhere near what it used to be hence the demise of Sellers. A lot of players in Yorkshire are actually travelling from the North West area explaining where the majority of Pennine players went after their demise.

    In Yorkshire, the top six bands may boast a full ensemble but for the rest it is all about poaching and bringing in players before the big contests.

    With no conservatoires or large universities (Hudders is relatively small) boasting brass music in Yorkshire the area struggles. It's only the big guns like Dyke, Grimey etc who are able to still attract the best players and that is only due to their brand name status and obviously their ability to pay.
  8. mxb59307

    mxb59307 Member

    Blimey :eek:, light the blue touchpaper and stand well back! I'd expect a backlash from the fatherland after a post like that!!
  9. My personal opinion is the Midlands still boasts some really great bands - Desford and GUS namely, All be it I know players travel from far a-field to play in these bands - not sure how many of their own players actually come from the Midlands. These are great bands, that they don't get extremeley good results is because you will never touch The Cory's, Dyke's etc. If you went to either of these bands concerts you'd be impressed.

    But,Generally, from the ERA most people are talking about on here (70's, 80's and 90's), in most but not all counties banding isn't the strength it was so of course the standard will have 'declined' generally
  10. marksmith

    marksmith Active Member

    I love the WMBBA contest in Leamington, one of my favourites for many reasons but closing down the 'open' section, does not give the bands opportunity to enter, or even suggest that you'd like them to!
    It is a short-sighted move in that respect, much better to have a 'rolling decision', ie cancel it if not enough entries. Just a suggestion!
    Regarding another post, some of the local authorities disuade their students from joining brass bands, citing the conflict of interests as their reason. Some bands have well established junior bands and first-class tuition, so how narrow minded can some music services get?
    Leicestershire and Derbyshire bands have excellent facilities for their junior ranks, I just wish that more of the West Midland bands would follow their example (a few do).

    Back to the orginal point, in recent years, there has been a noticeable absence of Midlands top-section bands in the prizes at major contests. I believe that some of them have forgotten that regular contesting is the only answer. So many do 1-2 contests a year, bringing in players as required - and then expect to do well!
    I do agree that their concerts are probably still first-rate but so they should be, surely it's a requirement that all bands perform to their best in front of an audience?
    Anyway, I would love to see our bands back to their best on a national platform, not just doing enough to justify their status as a 'Championship Section' band at a local level.
  11. Di B

    Di B Member

    I don't think regular contesting necessarily helps, but regular practising together does. 25 great players don't make a band!

    It does surprise me though how Desford are still so good when they don't do the usual, regular rehearsals. (Not having a go by the way - I admire what they do in the time they do it. )

    I believe they still only form for big concerts/contests?? I still respect the band for doing what they do but can't help but think if they did rehearse regularly I think they might have a chance to take a few scalps! Unless of course they are now practising regularly? Not sure....

    Desford do Butlins, Area, Finals, Open and All England Masters, Brass in Concert, plus the RNCM Festival of Brass. Not exactly one or two contests a year.

    GUS do Butlins, Area, Open, All England Masters and a lot of concerts! So, I guess they could do more if they wanted to, but each band to their own :)

    Info taken from their websites.
  12. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    It helps when you have these great players who are experienced in playing various music genres at a high standard. The gelling of the performance can be quick if direction is clear from the MD and executed by the players. How long did Desford rehearse for the Open? A week?
  13. mikey.smithy

    mikey.smithy Member

    This is a really good thread and one which I hope to be able contribute more to as it progresses.

    I think in the main Desford and GUS are, and have been, the standard bearers for the Midlands over the last 30 years. Both of us have had sporadic periods of good results over the last 15 years but they have been just that - sporadic. The odd prize here and there at London and the Open, a few area wins, and of course Desfords win at the Masters last year. However go back to 1988 and the Midlands ruled the world - seems a long time ago now doesnt it?

    Desford are a different proposition to any other band in the UK, a band packed full of great players that come together occasionally and produce great performances on the minimum of rehearsal time. In my opinion would challenge the very best if they could rehearse twice a week and maintain a reasonable concert diary.

    We at GUS however have a traditional approach to it all. We rehearse twice a week, and if you look at this year play about 20 concerts, one CD recording, and 5 contests. We couldnt really fit much more in to be honest. With five contests and the extra rehearsals required I expect the band to turn out about 120 times a year all told. Thats a big enough commitment for all of our members, probably 50-60 less than Black Dyke, and because of this we tend to retain players by not pushing them (and their families)to the limits. Its therefore quite obvious, if we assume that Dyke, Grimethorpe and Fodens have better players in the main, that we will only occassionally be ahead of them at a contest. I dont see how much better Dyke and Fodens can get, whereas we still are improving with a fairly young band so you never know!

    As an aside I cant comment for Desford but GUS have a full band with 25 midlanders (less than 50 miles from Northampton, 20 of 30 miles or less). The other three are lunatics who do travel around 100miles each way!!!!!

    Lets keep this one going guys,

    Band Manager
    Virtuosi GUS
  14. Aidan

    Aidan Active Member

    Hi Mike, Zone 1 are in the same situation though arn't they? Albeit with mostly orchestral players in the ranks rather than banders.
  15. Di B

    Di B Member

    What does it actually take to make a top band anyway?

    Thinking as well as commitment you need players with potential, some with experience, all with ability, an excellent band trainer and musician in the middle. Is that it?

    Do any of our bands in the midlands have this in abundance? Only one I can think of is gus and they were rewarded with promotion to the open.

    So, what is it we are missing? Do we not have the same calibre in MD's anymore? Do we not have enough raw talent to shape? Do we need the experienced players back? Or.... Is it just lack of commitment?
  16. mxb59307

    mxb59307 Member

    All of the above?
  17. mikey.smithy

    mikey.smithy Member

    Hi Aidan,

    absolutely right, I had not thought of Zone 1 who seem to be progressing nicely. I wish them all the best as it cant be easy at all to get a band together in central london when there are so many other musical opportunities for brass and indeed percussion players. I guess thats part of the problem as i believe no coincidence that neither Manchester or Birmingham have a first class band and these are all industrial areas where historically there have been some great bands (CWS, Swinton, Jones and Crossland et al).

  18. tubalation

    tubalation Member

    Well I think we have commitment (probably a touch over the 120+ rehearsals plus jobs as quoted for GUS earlier in the thread), players with potential and experience, and in Duncan Beckley an excellent band trainer and musician in the middle (now in his 21st year in front of the band!), so that just leaves 'all with ability'... :oops:

    As well as John Berryman at GUS, Mike Fowles (Ratby) and Dave Lea (Jaguar) spring to mind as proven successful band trainers. May be we need a bit of stability to go with Di's suggested qualities to make a top band.

    I'd agree that there don't seem to be as many active / top quality players available to the top bands in the Midlands that there were 10 years ago, but the upside is that any band with a full complement of committed players can now go to Bedworth with realistic hopes of qualifying for London.

    This levelling (a word I'd rather use than 'fall') of standards also means that any young players that do come into (midlands) bands can live the same 'dream' that I've been fortunate to fulfil; start playing in your local village / town band in section 4 and 30+ years later, with the same organisation, have two Royal Albert Hall appearances on my CV!

    Mike Allcock
    Newstead Brass
  19. Di B

    Di B Member

    Hi Mike :)

    My comment was cartainly not disrespectful to Newstead - but in my opinion GUS have more young, fresh talent (thought I don't know all members of Newstead, the ones I know have been there a long time!).

    I have noticed generally that young and talented people can boost a band. If all the players are highly experienced they can feel and sound a bit tired on occasion - you need that enthusiasm that the young bring!

    The 'all with ability' statement.... depends on your understanding of ability! lol! Some would say I can, others I can't - it's not really measurable is it?

    I'm not too sure about starting in a 4th section band and progressing to RAH top section with the same band - think that is still fairly rare to be honest. EYMS and a couple of others are laws unto themselves though!
    Think you have a difficult record to beat :)
  20. tubalation

    tubalation Member

    That's probably hit the nail on the head, we're very proud that three of our RAH percussionists are still at school (including the NYBBGB principal), and we have several other current and recent (non-music) students in the ranks.

    You're probably right that in James Fountain et al GUS are doing even more to bring young talent through, but our doors are always open and we've had some of the best local young talent spend extended time rehearsing and doing concerts with us whilst continuing to contest with their own bands.

    So, how do we get more 'young and talented' players interested in bands...

    Last edited: Oct 28, 2009

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