National Finals - Is it time for a change ?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Robin Norman, Oct 17, 2005.

  1. Robin Norman

    Robin Norman Member

    Having gone to the RAH on Saturday to listen to some of the National Championship finals I was dismayed, whilst watching YBS, to see that the hall was only about 1/3rd full.

    What has happened to this contest, is the music (a cracking piece by all accounts!) or the location or what ?

    I have been 'harking on' to all my friends that would listen now for a few years with a suggestion for a change to Birminhgam. If you are not familiar with the ICC complex in Birmingham the building not only houses Symphony Hall but also Hall 10 (rather a grand name!!!). Hall 10 was built with the intention of being used for large-scale conferences and has a great acoustic (I performed there quite a few times whilst at college). It also seats around 1000 people.

    Why not move all the National Finals (Championship - Fourth) to Birmingham over one weekend utilising both Symphony Hall and Hall 10. The audience could buy 1 ticket allowing entry to all the sections, (or just individual ones for certain sections) and we could have a true 'festival of banding' in one venue just like it used to be in the days of Crystal Palace.

    Furthermore, with Birmingham, you have a venue in the middle of the country with a better infrastructure to get there, plenty of car parks within 20 minutes walking, no congestion charge and a whole stack of willing and eager hotels at less than £100 per night. The facilities at the ICC and in the close proximity are second to none whilst, at the RAH, the best on offer for less than a fiver is the burger van across the road. Furthermore there would be a great area within the venue for the trade exhibition for all sections to see.

    I see no reason to keep the contest at the RAH. People in the past have told me it is because of the audience capacity. I don't know how many people the RAH could seat (For all I know it could seat 10,000 people) but if it is not even 1/2 full why worry ? The acoustics are awful despite the mushrooms, the foyer and backstage areas cramped and in-efficient and, all-in-all, it doesn't make for a particularly friendly relaxed atmosphere.

    In this modern day and with what is widely regarded as the best Concert Hall in Europe in Symphony Hall why do we put up with second best with Harrogate and the RAH ?

    Am i being too radical here ? Is the tradition more important ? I don't know the answer but what I do know is that the audiences year-on-year at the RAH seem to be declining, we need to do something!

    I'm interested and intrigued to know what everybody thinks.
  2. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    The capacity of the Royal Albert Hall varies according to which source you use, but 7,000 is nearer the mark. It might have seated 9,000 in the days before safety was invented.

    The acoustics are not perfect, granted, but year after year, the world's greatest orchestras, conductors, soloists, rock and pop groups - etc. ad nauseam - continue to book, and fill, the place. What does this tell us? That brass band aficionados are a little precious, perhaps? Maybe.

    If you have been reading your British Bandsman, Brass Band World or your web diet of 4BarsRest for the the past few years, you will have noted that it is not just the Nationals at the RAH which has been suffering from poor attendance. Although according to my informed source - 4BR again - attendance at the RAH was actually up on last year.

    Brass banding has for many years been a very insular activity, and generally, the chickens are now coming home to roost. I have no better idea about how to combat the problem than you. Sorry.
  3. Robin Norman

    Robin Norman Member

    I note that all events seem to be suffering poorer attendance, that is why I think the idea of one weekend of 'National Finals' in one place could help. I personally would consider going up on, say, a Saturday to see lower sections and then stay over for the Championship Section on Sunday. Others may do the same or, in reverse. Foyer acts could be utilised between sections and, as I said, we could have a completely different ethos of friendliness in a 'National Festival' encompassing all sections and abilities in one venue over one weekend. Brass Banding will always be 'inward' as Joe Public in this day and age are not going to want to come and hear the same piece, good or bad, played 10-20 times by different bands. We need to make every band member and band supporter feel welcome at a national event that they want to attend for the social side as much as anything else and where they can come for one ticket price to support their own band or the band from their area and also catch some of the best bands in the world.
  4. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    ... I feel part of the attraction of competing in the Championship finals is the chance to play in one of the most famous halls in the World, despite all the negatives attached to it. The Albert Hall is probably the auditorium that most members of the public would recognise or quote when asked.
  5. Straightmute

    Straightmute Active Member

    I'd like to see the finals brought together on the same weekend, with most of the lower sections on the Saturday and the remainder plus Championship on the Sunday, with concert on the Saturday night. That would almost certainly mean more than one hall in use but would surely attract a much bigger audience. The notion of a national band 'festival' is something that we miss. The Albert Hall doesn't bother me and the annual pilgrimage to the south has been an important part of banding life for many years; the venue does still reflect a certain prestige onto the band movement which the soulless NEC/Symphony Hall would not.

    Having said that, I feel that it would make sense to hold one of the major contests in Manchester or Yorkshire, and to have the Open and Nationals in the same hall seems a wasted opportunity to reach a bigger (or at least, a more diverse) audience.

  6. JR

    JR Member

    I agree David, the main point being the lack of coherent band festival weekend that we used to have when all sections were held on the same weekend, better still on the same day.
    For a lower section band to "get through to London" was always something to really look forward to - I'm nostalgic for the 60s/70s I suppose when the old 3rd section was at Fulham town hall and the 4th at Hammersmith - both pretty poor venues by today's standards (e.g.warm up and changing facilities) but they were in the capital and they were part of the finals atmosphere - it was always of great interest before the days of mobile phones and internet, who had won at the RAH given that the top section was held simultaneously.
    With the best will in the world - and i like harrogate as a venue despite the appalling acoustics - it's not London and the atmosphere isn't there

    john r
  7. davidquinlan

    davidquinlan Member

    Having competed in the North West Areas for many years, and more recently the Spring Festival where all sections are held in one complex, the Blackpool Winter Gardens, I would have to agree, that having all sections in one weekend in one venue is the way forward. You get a real festival athmosphere at both those competitions which would add to the occasion of the National Finals.

    Symphony Hall Birmingham would get my vote as I've yet to play there.

    Just my 2cents..
  8. DublinBass

    DublinBass Supporting Member

    All sections in one's the future!

    (I still like the RAH though...just for its history. Perhaps get one of the theatres that is black on Saturday/Sunday for two sections and another on Sunday?)
  9. Anglo Music Press

    Anglo Music Press Well-Known Member

    For what it's worth, the RAH seats a maximum of 5,500.

    But I agree with Robin, there is no good reason to stay at the RAH. It costs over £40,000 to hire (for a day!) and the facilities and acoustics are pretty awful.

    I thought the weekend was VERY disappointing. I eagerly sat down to hear the first band and the hall was barely 50% full - almost morgue-like.

    Birmingham would be a brilliant choice.
  10. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    Indeed it does. I imagine the higher figure of 7,000 takes into account the times when the arena and gallery is full of standing customers. On a busy Proms night, the hall takes at least 1,000 prommers.
  11. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    One way of selling tickets for an event, and consequently filling the seats, of course, is to advertise. Is the National Championships advertised anywhere outside of the specialist band press? I don't think so. A few years ago, I stood outside the RAH where a large billboard advertised forthcoming events at the venue. The band contest was simply not listed. How many contests across the country are advertised in the national - or even the local - press? Few, if any, I suspect.

    Why don't contest promoters advertise their event to the general public? Is it because they know that the general public aren't interested? Is it because they are unsure whether the general public are interested, but aren't willing to gamble the considerable sums of money needed to advertise? Is it because, as I mentioned earlier in this thread, brass bands are an insular lot who don't want outsiders intruding on their private hobby? Or is it a mixture of all three?
  12. James Yelland

    James Yelland Active Member

    I hear what you say, but I also hear what a tidal wave of other bandsmen say, in other threads on this forum and in various other outlets, that they are outraged at being asked to pay to listen to performances by bands in sections other than their own.

    It isn't venues which are causing the decline in audiences. It's the medium of contesting itself, combined with the unwillingness of many bandsmen to put their hands in their pockets to support their chosen pastime.
  13. Rapier

    Rapier Supporting Member

    While I agree with most of your sentiments, I think the comment in bold is a bit harsh. I already put my hand in my pocket to support my chosen pastime more than enough, especially when the band decide to enter a contest. And I am indeed outraged at the idea I should pay, yet another fee to listen to other sections. I prefer to leave the venue and find reasonably priced food and drink! So it is the venues. Contests now just seem to be run to make as much money as possible and also treat the lower section bands like a nuisance!
  14. johnflugel

    johnflugel Active Member

    I actually think that there was an upturn in not only attendance but in the general atmosphere this year. The music was good, the standard was pretty high (for the cross section of top section bands on show).

    I really enjoy the annual trip to the RAH - there is a real sense of occasion about going there and for bands like St Austell, Horden, Bournemouth, I doubt they would have wanted to play in any other hall than the RAH on their 'big day'. The main thing that let's the RAH down are the tickets prices and lack of facilities within a reasonable walking distance. We know the acoustic is not great but it has been the same for umpteen years - do we honestly think that this main reason for the crowd not being that big at the RAH

    I understand in a sense the calls for Birmingham to be used but are we forgetting that despite the great acoustic and facilities, the British Open is never more than 2/3 full for the top bands and virtually empty for the 'lesser' bands. Now, isn't the Open recognised as the highest level of banding?? Also, would moving the Nationals to Birmingham take away from the Open being held there too?

    I say keep it at the RAH but maybe a rethink is needed on the format and ticketing price structure to attract more numbers rather than just discard a great tradition without giving an opportunity for change
  15. Cantonian

    Cantonian Active Member

    The view of tradition is that it is the be all and end all for bands to qualify 'for the Albert Hall'.

    It was the same in soccer and Rugby League to get to the FA or Challenge cup finals at Wembley Stadium. Of necessity the change was made to Cardiff and there seems to be a large concensus that prefers Cardiff for reasons similar to those given in previous postings concerning Birmingham, i.e Parking and hotels.

    Why not break with tradition and try Birmingham for a year or two and see the reaction?
  16. Di

    Di Active Member

    I hear what you're saying, but if we were to ask people why it is the be and end all to qualify for The Albert Hall, would the answer be because they're playing at the Albert Hall or that they're playing at the National Championships with a chance of becoming National Champions? :)

    And when are they going to let what they delightfully term "the lower sections" compete at the Albert Hall again? Fairness to all and all that. ;)
  17. tubaloopy

    tubaloopy Member


    Can you not see? It is all about money.
    The powers that be do not care that the hall is half empty during some performances as long as they have already sold the tickets. In fact, i wouldn't bet against the organisers taking a cut of the profits made on the concourse ie refreshments, meaning it is probably BETTER for them!!(I dont know this for fact, sorry if i'm wrong)
    How many people go to the Champ section at London, then also go to the "lower section" event as well?
    Quite a few I think.
    Sticking them all together would see a downturn in profits.

    As for Birmingham as a new venue, yes, ok, it has all the facilities.

    But it's in BIRMINGHAM!!!!!

    I like going to London, it's a great place.
  18. Di

    Di Active Member

    So IF its all about money, why go the expense of hire a hall for the whole day and only stage one section? More bands means more supporters. More supporters means more money. Back "in the old days" (I'm talking early 80's here) ;) didn't they rotate the sections so they all got a shot at the Albert Hall or was it just that with a round number of 4 sections they just ran it over one weekend?
  19. Chunky

    Chunky Active Member

    When I first started banding back in the last century (around 1980) all the finals were held around the Kensington / Fulham / area which gave you a chance to go listen support other bands and hear the top section too. Then in the evening it was the gala concert, which was normally a massed band made up of 4 bands if I remember correctly.

    Then on the Sunday It was the European Championships, what a weekend.

    So Dinie is aboslutely correct, if its all about revenues, why dilute it? The weekend would be a true festival of banding again if all sections were held together in one city whether that be London, Manchester or Birmingham.

    In summary I dont think its totally the venues fault, but the way the 'Lower Sections' have been shunted off into the sidelines. Instead of having supporters for 100 bands in London you are only getting 20 sets of friends families etc at the RAH
  20. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    I think this suggestion makes perfect sense. If, as Philip Sparke says, it costs 40 grand to hire for the day, then OK it'd cost 80 grand to hire it for two, but four more sections worth of players as potential audience to help counteract that AND have a fuller hall for the top section, I reckon.