Bringing brass bands to the masses

KMJ Recordings

Supporting Member
The number of brass band contests that happen throughout the year must be more than the number of star-trek conventions etc you would have thought?

Although the estimated attendance at the Star Wars thing in London over the next 3 days is 60,000....add up the total attendance (based on the seats sat in, not available) at the major contests....then start adding in the 'minor' (for want of a better phrase) contests until you get to 60,000...makes you think, doesn't it.

Although Duncan's phrase of "Nobody cares" is perhaps a little strong, I do think he's got a point in that the interest in a lot of what Brass Bands do outside of the players and the rent-a-crowds that go with them is perhaps fairly minimal.

The thing that's lacking here is a clear definition of 'masses'...are we just talking about anyone, the 'classical' music listening fraternity, who exactly are you talking about reaching?

To be entirely dispassionate for a moment - which is really difficult for me to do as I quite like the Band things really ;) - to interest the public at large would be a hugely difficult thing to do...reality TV programmes & tabloids focus on sleaze and scandal from the Big Brother house for instance (if someone came up with a solution to global warming they might as well talk about it when the audio is muted and birds are singing and print it with white ink in the paper)....and what good would that do for the furtherance of Banding if you did that? Let's follow a Band on tour and see what drunken debauchery might happen :eek:. OK, you might get viewers for the series but what about the after effects?

Kind of like a lot of people now expecting every flugel player to play "Orange Juice" and William Tell :hammer

With a bit of inventive programming you might get something that's identifiable to the people who'd watch it (i.e. us - just to see if their Band has the same problems as ours etc etc)....but I fear for Joe Public the reaction would be the same as trying to get me watching a programme on fly fishing....

I'd be quite happy to be wrong though - I want to share Brass Bands with everyone as much as possible (or I wouldn't do what I do)....
 

Simon_Horn

Member
Well, this is pretty interesting…

Are we saying that a sport like snooker or darts (which receives massive sponsorship in comparison to something like banding) is played or loved by more people around the country and is more interesting to watch on TV? Why can two professionals endlessly potting red, black, red etc justify so much air time? I think it is because:-

a) the audience appreciate artistry and skill that has come from years of dedication
b) because they are keen players themselves
c) both these factors

Do you think snooker would receive anywhere near the amount of funding it does if it was not televised?

Imagine us having this discussion about snooker 50yrs ago: We’d have that negative guy (James) from earlier on in the thread telling us that our desire to make the ‘hobby’ competitive is the reason the sport is only played in backroom of pubs. I think even I would have a problem in imagining the sport to be broadcast to countless people one day and thousands of pounds being invested in sponsorship. Has anyone ever tried to get on a snooker table in the local working men’s club when a major snooker competition is on the box? …believe me, it’s nearly impossible!

We’d have Midwales man providing us with an articulate but defeatist essay on why snooker could never take off and be appreciated by a wider audience. And Keith would still be comparing a competitive sport with a convention of geeks - all in support of a flawed argument.

So, why can’t this translate to brass band contests? Are we saying that a major brass band contest when filmed and edited correctly and commentary by a knowledgeable team of articulate guests in a studio type situation could not be interesting viewing for people who are outside of the brass band movement? I think it could if done correctly…but that is the key. It needs to be done in a way that will appeal. What we need are more forward thinking organisers and promoters and less of the old fuddery dudders negative types who can only see banding in the ‘closed’ fashion which I see about me today.

What I am certain of is that society has moved on and so must banding if it wishes to remain buoyant. Let us embrace technology ….why can’t we live stream on the internet …….or onto TV…..or onto Radio…….or make documentaries? What’s wrong in introducing and attracting a wider section of society to an amateur music making competitive sport, hobby or movement (depending on your view)

As long as we keep brass banding only amongst those lucky enough to have accessed it (mostly by accident through school or someone they know), then we are doing ourselves injustice. There is a wealth of talent that is unrecognised and a wealth of potential players that are untapped.

What’s the guy called who does all the promotion work for contests like the Masters or that new Brass magazine? He’s the type of person we need to lead us in the right direction.
 

KMJ Recordings

Supporting Member
What’s the guy called who does all the promotion work for contests like the Masters or that new Brass magazine? He’s the type of person we need to lead us in the right direction.

Philip Biggs.

What makes you think he hasn't already tried?

By the way, I'm not comparing anything to a competitive sport in a flawed argument - what I'm saying is that you won't make me watch a programme on angling because it just doesn't interest me full stop - no matter how appealing 'you on the inside' think you can make it for an external audience....in my case it just wouldn't happen. OK, I may just be a minority....but the demographics for the major radio stations suggest otherwise as I've posted about before....where the usual argument about playing bad arrangements or classical transcriptions or corny novelty pieces like the Floral Dance or Padstow Lifeboat abound. The reference to the numbers at the convention is purely down to trying to get an idea of what you think is meant by mass market.

Historically, of course. things were much happier as has already been alluded. For instance, contesting aside, Besses o' th' Barn played to 85,000 people in Heaton Park in Manchester prior to the departure on their first World Tour in 1906. That's a fair few bodies. But there were no TVs and it was before the BBC....people used to go out to live events or sit round the piano in the parlour....

Moving forwards, the aforementioned TV and Radio has brought a huge diversification in entertainment into our living rooms - and this is where the snooker and the football and all the rest does come in - people were suddenly able to access things that weren't available locally. Logically, people found out that they liked different things and a new audience of couch potatoes was born.

Maybe the lessening exposure by the broadcast media has been instrumental in causing the supposed lack of popularity, perhaps not.

The point I was trying to make with the previous post is that Joe Public's interests have diversified culturally - and I think you'll struggle to break into the modern mindset.
 

Griffin

Active Member
hade edge did a tv series for yorkshire telly last year
called err yorkshire brass
its on dvd too
think we've still got some.. i know how much its in demand ya see :p
 

DublinBass

Supporting Member
I really want to make sure you all understand this post isn't trying to be cheeky, or ask a rhetorical question when I know the answer already as neither is the case. I am really just ignorant in the matter...

How did most of the "major contest" come about being test piece contests?

I've attended an incredible number and variety of contests in my days and in my opinion the best attended and supported contests by the public...by the masses are either 1) March and Hymn contest (possibly because they are free, much like a concert in the park) 2) Entertainment Contests..e.g. BIC, West Lothian Challenge, U.S. Open and Crawley were all near capacity when I attended or 3) The top bands in what is percieved the top contest with a good set piece...The Open, Albert Hall, even last year's NABBA championships with Dances and Alleliua's was quite full.

So, not to seem harsh, but I don't see a lot of people going out to see "lower" bands play a 15-minute test piece. I don't find it particularly enjoyable unless I am supporting a friend, even then it can be a bit difficult.

One option I have heard is to create shorter, but more difficult test pieces for lower section. What if the 4th section test piece were only 6 minutes long but much harder. What if the second section test piece were Malcolm Arnold's Fantasy for Brass Band. It'd be challenging and be able to separate bands, but less time could be spent on it and it could be thrown into a concert at any time?

Maybe march/hymn/entertainment contests are to subjective and the results are usually more questionable, but perhaps if that was the dominant form of contesting we would be spending a greater deal of time not only working on musicianship, but also entertaining the masses? Whereby there has been some advancement/ modernization of test-pieces, couldn't the banding movement (dare I say movement) advance a great deal more if entertainment were the focus?

I think what Butlins did by adding the entertainment contest was brilliant. This may be a bit over the top, but what if Pontins became solely an entertainment contest and the bars were open like they were for the nightly entertainment. Would that not draw even more in? 4th & 3rd sections could be on Friday, 2nd & 1st on Saturday and Championship on Sunday...now that'd be an interesting weekend!
 
Last edited:

Thirteen Ball

Active Member
If discovery channel can make a programme about crab-fishing in alaska interesting, then surely it's not beyond the realms of possibility that a big-brother style situation documentary could work with a brass band.

It has the advantage over an orchestra for a start in that there's only 28 players and one chap with a stick in even a full band.

I suppose part of the problem is the traditionalists within banding. Who like things a certain way because "That's the way they've always been done."

If we all had that attitude, we'd still have an overture as the test piece for every section!

If you always do what you;ve always done, you'll always get what you always got... and I have to say there's a fair whack of the brass band community rather likes it that way.
 

DublinBass

Supporting Member
then surely it's not beyond the realms of possibility that a big-brother style situation documentary could work with a brass band.

There was once a show in the States called "making the band." The idea was to have auditions for a 5-member 'boy' band. I could so see a version of "Making the Brass Band." It could be like big brother, and Pop Idol combined. Imagine the auditions playing a solo to make the show?

After initial auditions, the show could start with 5 bands thrown together in various rooms and what-not (e.g. Pontins) The first week it could get cut down to 4 bands. Then the next week three with all three competing at Pontins.

As it went on, various members of various bands would get consolidated and various conducting personalities could be brought in (I've experienced and heard some interesting stories that I think could draw ratings). There could even be challenges whereby the 10 most likely to get chopped have to play between rounds at a pub quiz.

After Pontins, down to two bands. Then combine bands with two on a part and trim sections down (perhaps somebody switches from flugel to horn, euph to bari, front row to back row, EEb to BBb bass). All in time for the "choosen band" to compete at Brass in Concert.

Sorry for the randomness, I just finished a full day working on my dissertation and my mind is wandering to no end trying to decompress.
 

Anno Draconis

Well-Known Member
Are we saying that a sport like snooker or darts (which receives massive sponsorship in comparison to something like banding) is played or loved by more people around the country and is more interesting to watch on TV?

Well, yes. It's certainly more comprehensible. While we all understand the ritual involved in a brass band contest, it's pretty silly to outsiders.

So, why can’t this translate to brass band contests? Are we saying that a major brass band contest when filmed and edited correctly and commentary by a knowledgeable team of articulate guests in a studio type situation could not be interesting viewing for people who are outside of the brass band movement?
That's precisely what we're saying. For example; I went to the own choice section of the European this year, arguably the pinnacle of banding performance with the added piquancy of having a "home team" to support. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I'm a band geek. I can't imagine for one second that the format or the music would appeal to the general TV viewer - my wife, who is an erudite and educated music lover with a degree in music, would have hated it.

I think it could if done correctly…but that is the key. It needs to be done in a way that will appeal.

Which will be difficult. The best candidate might be something like Brass in Concert, because the music will at least be more accessible to a TV audience. Maybe following B&R for a few weeks as they prepare to defend their title? The trouble is, most "fly-on-the-wall" type documentaries at the moment are looking for a negative angle - simmering tension at the WI, bitter rivalry at Crufts, that sort of thing - and I have a horrible feeling that any documentary that came out might be more keen to portray bands as a collection of geeky obsessives and drunks.

Still, maybe there's no such thing as bad publicity? ;)
 

brassneck

Active Member
Pastime With Good Company

Erm, it's been an interesting discussion so far but ... if the brass band is to be re-sold or re-presented to the masses (those who have limited interest or knowledge of our culture) how do you make it relevant and attractive? The younger generations are a suitable target audience to generate new interest. Out of all the choices kids have in their leisure time why should brass bands be considered above other hobbies?

Maybe a documentary about youth band experience and how it positively affects children in social life might be a determining factor in promoting our pastime. Parents can be assured that their kids' interests are being looked after securely and safely and that it can be beneficial in preparing for adult life. It's maybe not so much the music they have to learn to play but the participation with others towards a common goal that will gain approval.

Youth organisations like the cubs, brownies and girls' brigade has mirrored the decline in interest of brass bands and I have always felt this has been linked to the death-throws of Victorian Culture and how society was organised around industrialisation and the growth of towns and cities. There is less need now to keep town populations occupied with the creation of clubs and teams to maintain social order. Maybe the benefits of team bonding can be illustrated using brass bands as a vehicle! I think so!
 

Simon_Horn

Member
There was once a show in the States called "making the band." The idea was to have auditions for a 5-member 'boy' band. I could so see a version of "Making the Brass Band." It could be like big brother, and Pop Idol combined. Imagine the auditions playing a solo to make the show?

Sounds like a possibility…Full marks to our forward thinking friend from across the pond!

Further to earlier posts, the trick in making appealing programmes for the wider 'removed' audience (those not directly involved in banding and unaware of culture and customs etc.), would be of course be to add some level of comprehension as suggested. Those subscribers to this thread who suggest that the ordinary Joe would not watch a brass band focused show are missing the point that whatever is produced should in some way have to relate to the viewer. Of course, a TV camera simply following Black Dyke or B&R around for a week would even bore me after a while! How would it relate? What questions will it make me ask of myself and others around me (in the same way that the first big brother experiment perhaps made people think - even though it was just about a group of boring extroverts stuck inside a house together for a few weeks!).

The success of Brassed Off as a film was not (as some brass banders may like to think) that it was about brass bands and people bought the film because they had a burning desire to understand more about how bands operate! The band was a representation of the type of community that is comprehensible to all. Along the way, the wider audience were exposed to brass banding geekyness like contesting and rehearsing – but did this detract from the film because the vast majority of viewers didn’t have any prior experience of this and found it hard to relate to this? No. However, how many people reading this thread have since spoken to someone outside of banding who immediately referenced this film once the subject of brass banding has come up. In this way, the film was a good advertisement for brass bands. [in other ways you may argue that it was so stereotypical that it didn’t show a true reflection of banding today]

Anyway, back to the subject: in the simplest form this comprehension could be some type of competition as BBCBass suggests above. Moving on from this could be an exploration of personality and/or musical clashes (as in docu-soap) or examination into how near obsession of hobby impacts on personal and work life etc. etc. No-one is advocating that we simply produce something that will only relate to those who are already within the movement!! ……the point is that we want to promote outside and to do that we have to find the angle that will appeal.

As an aside, a friend of mine was keen to tell me that although they had never really give it any thought before (and wasn't particularly interested in it because of that reason) they had happened to switch onto an episode of 'faking it' where they got someone from a very different background to pretend to be a conductor of a symphony orchestra....and they found the whole thing fascinating! Something which they had associated with posh, grey old men and last night of the proms was suddenly revealed to be something within the reach of most people if so desired. Who would have thought eh? Now if I had been proposing to you that we should increase awareness of conductors amongst the wider population, some of the people who have already responded on this thread would no doubt be able to see the wood for the trees! ‘Oh no’ they would say, ‘who would want to watch a documentary on conductors when they have limited or no interest in it to start with!’

I would argue that it is the job of anyone with an interest in ensuring the survival of this part of our heritage is to find an angle that WILL relate.....and potentially attract!
 

James Yelland

Active Member
If discovery channel can make a programme about crab-fishing in alaska interesting, then surely it's not beyond the realms of possibility that a big-brother style situation documentary could work with a brass band.

A major factor which governs which minority interests appear on television and radio is the people who commission and/or make the programmes. If Discovery showed a programme about crab fishing in Alaska, I'd wager a small bet that someone at Discovery, or in the office of the film-maker, had a personal interest in fishing, or Alaska, or crustaceans, or a combination of all three.

There was a period decades ago when brass bands received massive coverage on the radio. And who was in charge of the relevant department at the BBC at the time? Harry Mortimer.
 

Simon_Horn

Member
If Discovery showed a programme about crab fishing in Alaska, I'd wager a small bet that someone at Discovery, or in the office of the film-maker, had a personal interest in fishing, or Alaska, or crustaceans, or a combination of all three.

Perhaps...but in UK we have the BBC which is paid for by all of us and meant to be representative is it not? Therefore, surely a well thought out proposal submitted by the right representative body would mean some consideration would be taken? Also, if the proposal was given to an independant producer and the selling capability could be demonstrated then would they not consider making it to sell to the likes of BBC, Discovery, C4 and other types of channels?
 

Bass Trumpet

Active Member
Alaskan crab fishermen are widely regarded as having one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, so the sort of program would attract the same sort of people who read books about survival, the SAS and so on. Also worth noting that a lot of the bilge you see on Discovery, Living, National Geographic, Men & Motors, etc. is not commissioned by the company, but bought wholesale from the companies who produce it, mainly in the US.

Sorry for pedantry, I actually agree with you here, but I can't see banding being quite as exciting for people to watch as a lot of other things. Look at the film Brassed Off. Good story, good writing, good acting, but do we really play the 'National Semi-finals' in an open-air bandstand in the rain? Do with then go on to play William Tell at the finals? Do we then hire an open-top bus? No, of course we don't, but the film's creators probably took one look at a real contest and couldn't believe what they were seeing. You try explaining a contest to somebody who doesn't know about them.

"Ok, everybody turns up at 8.00am on a bus and draws numbers out of a little bag to decide who plays. A guy sits in a box all day with nothing but a bucket for company. Every band then goes on in turn to play the same piece of music, which costs £60 and will never be played again. If a band is drawn last, they have to wait around all day. Eventually, the bloke in the box says who's won. All the bands say that he's wrong, even though they didn't hear any of the other bands. Everybody gets drunk and goes home"

After the first few sentences, I defy anybody to tell me it isn't a little strange!
 

catherine_S

Member
"Ok, everybody turns up at 8.00am on a bus and draws numbers out of a little bag to decide who plays. A guy sits in a box all day with nothing but a bucket for company. Every band then goes on in turn to play the same piece of music, which costs £60 and will never be played again. If a band is drawn last, they have to wait around all day. Eventually, the bloke in the box says who's won. All the bands say that he's wrong, even though they didn't hear any of the other bands. Everybody gets drunk and goes home"

After the first few sentences, I defy anybody to tell me it isn't a little strange!


Nearly as odd as the late-night programme I found myself watching the other night on competitive bell-ringing! Same obsessives, same team spirit , same vast quantities of beer! Much to my surprise, it made fascinating viewing!
 

midwalesman

Member
Nearly as odd as the late-night programme I found myself watching the other night on competitive bell-ringing! Same obsessives, same team spirit , same vast quantities of beer! Much to my surprise, it made fascinating viewing!

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, some people in banding actually believe that contesting makes banding unique, or at least the seriousness in which we prepare for them. Bell ringing, possibly an older tradition, barbershop tradition (influenced by Americanization), choirs, wind bands, poetry and morris dancing only some traditions now competing in some form or another. Barbershop have a ritual, I think called "after glow", which involves drinking and telling stories. Carnival traditions in the West Indies have people shouting during performances. There are almost certainly more ritual characteristics in other traditions which could give "bands" ideas but thinking outside of the box is something that is hard to transmit to those in charge of a largely "no-headed" or organised movement. If a change costs something it will be the bands that get the bill and not the promoters. Of course they need to make a profit but not at the expense of the bands.

But central to the topic, give more audience participation. Considerations:-

a) TV and gameshows today are more interactive. Audience members in band contests have no say, rightly or wrongly.

b) Why is there not an audience prize or chance to have an audience 123 and an adjudicator 123?

c) An opinion box that goes on the screen behind bands (obviously censored for foul language or slander) between performances?

d) How about a contest where soloist players are drawn out of the hat on the day of contest following the draw for places...meaning a top soloist could play for any band including his own.

e) Outdoor contest like Brass in Concert in the summer?

f) A march contest reintroduced to the Belle Vue contest (sorry British Open contest), after all there is a big space out in front of the Symphony Hall?

g) How about the lower sections returning to the London weekend? More bandsmen in one place and can watch the Championship.

In other posts I have highlighted characteristics that would be good, but history and the lessons that can be learned can be used to progress banding to a mass audience. However the lessons of history in banding are generally used in the wrong sense. Players and others are taught about how things used to be, how they should be in the future.

History can be as regressive as it can be progressive, especially in this topic.
 

WoodenFlugel

Moderator
Staff member
As an aside, a friend of mine was keen to tell me that although they had never really give it any thought before (and wasn't particularly interested in it because of that reason) they had happened to switch onto an episode of 'faking it' where they got someone from a very different background to pretend to be a conductor of a symphony orchestra....and they found the whole thing fascinating! Something which they had associated with posh, grey old men and last night of the proms was suddenly revealed to be something within the reach of most people if so desired. Who would have thought eh? Now if I had been proposing to you that we should increase awareness of conductors amongst the wider population, some of the people who have already responded on this thread would no doubt be able to see the wood for the trees! ‘Oh no’ they would say, ‘who would want to watch a documentary on conductors when they have limited or no interest in it to start with!’

There seems to be a common theme running through this thread now - you can pretty much televise anything, but to make it worthwhile you have to add interesting personalities or situations so that the public feel personally involved. The Faking It programme Simon has mentioned above is a great example. I caught this particular episode of the show totally by accident as it's not something I would normally watch. But I was hooked pretty much from the outset. IIRC the guy "faking it" was the lead singer of a punk band, complete with bad haircut. He had "issues", had been an addict of some discription in the past, and had a real problem with authority and being told what to do. But underneath all that he was clearly an intelligent guy. His tutor was an introverted, temperate, quietly spoken, classicly trained musician, so it was a classic chalk and cheese set up. But the programme took you through the experience both of these totally different people had over the month or so they were together and it was fantastic telly. In truth they could've been doing the World Worm Charming, or National Tiddly-Winks Championships, rather than a classical conducting competition, as the programme was actually about the situation, and the personalities inside it being placed out of their comfort zone.

It can be done - and done well. The BBC can make a ballroom dancing competition prime time Saturday Night viewing by adding the right amount of glamour and a sprinkling of celebs. But again, the same rule applies. Anyone who saw Matt Dawson's journey from cynical rugby hard-man to sequined dance diva will know that. It was all about him being out of his comfort zone, and how he dealt with it.

So thats how to do it - and certainly the Desford documentary failed in that respect. Although it was intersting it didn't have enough "peril" to really engage. Even for a bando like me, it was a "half-watch on a Sunday Afternoon" rather than a "must watch on a Saturday Evening" type of programme.

Banding has enough interesting personalities to make good TV, but if its going to be worthwhile the programme needs to push the boundaries slightly to get everybody watching engaged with those personalities. Just televising a contest, or following a band for an month doesn't do that.
 

James Yelland

Active Member
Perhaps...but in UK we have the BBC which is paid for by all of us and meant to be representative is it not?

There are tens of thousands of minority interests in the UK. It would be impossible for the BBC to 'represent' them all - there are simply not enough air hours available. So the BBC has to prioritise those things which it believes is of interest to the greatest number of people, in order to satisfy its brief as the national broadcaster. Unfortunately, as the BBC itself has admitted recently, it employs, and is institutionally predisposed towards, the young, the liberal, the left wing, the culturally diverse, the ethnic. The image of brass bands, irrespective of whether it coincides with reality, does not tick any of those boxes. And with the BBC chasing ratings and increasingly behaving like a commercial broadcaster, image, not reality, is what counts when it comes to commissioning and scheduling programmes.

Therefore, surely a well thought out proposal submitted by the right representative body would mean some consideration would be taken?

It might well do. Unfortunately we don't have such a body, as I mentioned in post number 4. The first step towards representation for brass bands to the wider world is unity amongst bandsmen through membership of a national body. That requires action by individuals. Until then, it's all hot air.
 

on_castors

Member
If discovery channel can make a programme about crab-fishing in alaska interesting, then surely it's not beyond the realms of possibility that a big-brother style situation documentary could work with a brass band.

Might that be because risking your life continuously in extreme seas for months on end for the potential large pay-out IS interesting? It is probably boring for other deep sea alsaskan crab fishermen to watch, but for other people it has the potential of being very interesting.

As much as I like playing with a Brass Band, the biggest thrill I get in the average session is hyperventilating (and that is more than likely due to ingestion of too many Benson & Hedges in years gone past) - and I am very pleased it is NOT as interesting as Alaskan crab fishing - if being that interesting is the only way we would be featured, then I think they are going to be struggling a bit.

Plenty of fly on the wall documentaries have been made using seemingly very dull situations - there is a voyeur in most people and they want to see how the other half lives - perhaps to see HOW dull that is!

 
Top