On the edge of history

Issue 5946

Cory Band looks to make further history at the RAH on 8 October. All about the National Final and much more in the latest packed edition of BB!

Mailbox - Have Your Say - October 2016

Friday 30 September, 2016

In support of Poynton

Before I joined Poynton I played for a number of top section bands including Hammonds and Foden’s, and having been a member of bands that have invited or bought in ‘guest’ players and witnessed other bands doing the same achieve great contesting success, I would happily support your ‘one player, one band’ version of registration.

Where I take great issue with both BB’s report of the National Finals and Episode 13 of The Brass Band Podcast is in what I, and many others, have perceived as an attack on VBS Poynton and your questioning of its success.

I feel your “they’re not a real band” jibe was over the top, deeply offensive and damaging to the band and its players and conductor, who worked enormously hard, not only to produce a performance of such a high musical standard, but also to try to fill seats when dropped in it by British players. All bands and players have their struggles and I am sure there are worse out there than VBS Poynton. 

Regarding our guest players - by your own admission when with Whitburn you were happy to engage high-quality deps but now feel differently regarding the matter. Perhaps your current position with BB makes it easy for you to look at it in this way. I don’t doubt from BB’s ivory tower it is very easy to single out for criticism the players and management of a village band like Poynton, but all we can do, like you thought you were doing at the time, is what is best for our band - to work with the best quality of player or conductor that we can.

In the podcast you make the comments that VBS Poynton asking Anne Britt and Preben to guest was “corrupting the result”, “a game changer” and “verging on unsporting…”, but when higher-ranked bands bring players in it is seemingly more acceptable as it is bringing “great players into already great bands”.

I have two issues with these comments. Firstly, there are some fabulous players at VBS Poynton - players who have achieved great success with bands such as Brighouse, Grimethorpe, Leyland, Foden’s, Fairey and YBS; players who, in my opinion, deserve more respect from BB. You say when your band used deps it had “25 good players,” well so does VBS Poynton and each worked very hard to make this performance a good one (I would imagine if the band had fallen off the rails before the cornet solo that it would not have mattered how well Anne-Britt played!).

Secondly, and as an example, when playing with a previous band we did a joint concert with the band that had just won the Championship Section National Final two weeks earlier. Expecting to be blown away by this band, we were sadly disappointed when it turned up with no less than 17 deps (some of whom could barely play the march in the joint concert). These were definitely not “great players into already great bands”. They were, however, paid deps and this is, I feel, the bigger issue here.

Our Norwegian friends (amazing people that they are) were more than happy to help a band at short notice and for no fee. Asked to help, British players of varying quality were asking for hundreds and, on a couple of occasions, thousands of pounds to do the same job! You say in the podcast that “somebody somewhere has to preserve the level playing field of banding,” well this strikes me as a great place to start.

My feeling remains that your attack on VBS Poynton is misplaced. Perhaps as a 1st Section band from a small village in Cheshire we are an easy target, and if you truly want to preserve the level playing field you might want to look at the bands paying thousands on deps, the deps charging that sort of money and the registry that allows it.

Where we are in agreement is that the issue can only be resolved by those running the various registries. I think it would be virtually impossible to ask bands to police themselves while the rules allow them to use guest players. Engaging the best person for the job is good management and, while the rules remain the same, cannot ‘skew the contest result’ as all the bands are subject to the same rules.

One final thing we definitely agree on - those who were called by VBS Poynton asking for help and either quoted crazy prices or misled the band should be ‘suitably ashamed of themselves’.

Tim Hewit


Editor: It has never been our intention to single out individual bands for undue criticism on this matter, but we feel that it is an important subject that needs to be addressed urgently by contesting administrators. We will, therefore, continue to mention the presence of high-profile ‘guest’ players when we observe them and where space allows, in the hope that some effective action will be taken sooner rather than later.


 Putting the record straight

Regarding your report on the National 1st Section Final, can I point out that VBS Poynton had 26 other players on that stage giving their all, not just the two you mentioned. Everyone seems to have forgotten the excellent playing of our other solo players - Pete Cookson on flugel, Sarah Johnson on repiano, Steve Gordon on euphonium and our bass duet players, Iain McKnight and Duncan Stephenson - as well as the band as a whole. Hours of preparation by Neil Samuel and practise by the band all contributed to our performance.Congratulations to all on an excellent performance.

Helen Mossman



One for the decision makers

I just listened to episode 13 of The Brass Band Podcast, which featured a most interesting discussion on borrowed players at the National Finals. On this, you should put forward a formal proposal for a rule change to Kapitol Promotions. You are influential people and I have little doubt that your proposal would be discussed by the Kapitol Forum. Who knows; it might even be accepted! It’s now down to you to take action if you feel this is so important. Over to you!

Peter Hargreaves



Build your own team

We’re now in one of the busiest periods of contest activity with the British Open and Lower Section National Finals, with various other lower level contests to come and, of course, the Championship Section Final just around the corner in London.

I was privileged to conduct J36 Brass at Cheltenham. For the first time ever I’m conducting a band where the same players are at each rehearsal. The band’s next rehearsal in October will have present the same players who took to the stage at Cheltenham. There’s no worry about filling empty chairs and all the endless efforts of trying to fill the spaces before contests.

I’ve also encountered the other side of banding. At a previous band I conducted, borrowing a player (or players) for contests was the norm in the Championship Section or, at times, the 1st Section. Before the North West Championship in 2015, I received an email from the band’s Secretary confirming flights and accommodation had been booked for two players from Brass Band Willebrook and off we went. Did those two players make a difference? Yes. Did we finish a few places higher in the results due to having their help? Yes. It also had an effect on the band afterwards, which eventually led to players and, in time, myself leaving. 

In my view it’s a false economy for all sorts of reasons. It can lead to the band moving forward too quickly by gaining false results, which can lead to severe problems when the really difficult music comes along before the majority are ready. It’s easy to say, but a settled team, working together, gives a much better feeling of achievement and fulfilment. Of course, when you find yourself short within a month of a contest you try and try to find a player. Unbelievably, in many cases an international player can be the cheaper option as some players can ask for incredible amounts to play in a band. I certainly know of one conductor who tried every possible option before going foreign in Cheltenham.

As I said, sometimes a genuine reason leaves you needing to fill a seat, but can you really imagine Ronaldo playing for Preston North End in the Championship play-offs then going back to Real Madrid a week later for the Champions League Final? Taking it a step further, it can be argued the pinnacle of banding is the European Championships. The starting point is the various qualifying championships, which in the UK begin in February and March each year. It’s possible for players to ‘dep’ for bands in various countries as well as your own, and this thereby affects the eventual result. How can this be correct? To use the football analogy, how can Ronaldo help four or five teams qualify for the Champion’s League? Of course he doesn’t. It’s against the rules. Surely this loophole has to be closed. 

I’ve seen the subject from both sides and in my opinion it is much better to train your own band. The results of each rehearsal are fantastic.

Andy Warriner



Pursuit of excellence

I recently attended the British Open in Birmingham and the 1st Section National Final in Cheltenham, the former as a spectator and latter as a competitor - a feast of music over two consecutive weekends. Aspects of these major contests that I feel are becoming more prevalent are the use of guest players from overseas (and, indeed, within Britain) and the advent of project bands, posing the question of whether this is good for the movement or the bands that follow these paths. Are they operating within the spirit of contesting? Whatever my judgement, contest promoters seem to accept these as common practices as they have set the boundaries and rules to allow them.

I do remember in the not-too-distant past incidents occurring when players were registered with Welsh and British registries, resulting in disqualification of bands and banning of players, as well as when service musicians were not allowed to play at contests, even though they might have previously been members of the bands in question. This has all been relaxed nowadays and there is a more liberal approach to registration and major contesting. It does, however, beg the question of continental players registered within their own countries and also registered to play in Britain. Is this a loophole that needs to be dealt with or should we accept this as fair play? Do we want a level playing field for all competing bands or should we as a movement allow this in pursuit of excellence?

At the British Open I heard some amazing playing from many bands, with service musicians and foreign players participating (the players in Willebroek and Wellington aside), and one of the project bands did well on this occasion. Did I accept this as the norm as part of modern-day banding? I thoroughly enjoyed the music, while the playing of the bands was outstanding, but will this practice be good for brass banding in the long-term? I don’t think so.

This brings me onto the 1st Section National Final, which was to be my last contest conducting Brunel Brass. To say that it was a difficult week building up to the contest would be an understatement. On the Sunday morning after the British Open I awoke to a number of phone calls from the band chair and principal cornet to tell me that the soprano cornet player had suffered a stroke. I phoned Philip Morris, the organiser of the Finals, to confirm what would happen on the day of the competition. Would we just take a chance on the soprano player from the band playing immediately before Brunel or rearrange the solo cornet line to cover the soprano part. After studying the parts I was able to cover most of this on Bb cornets, albeit a little exposed. This would put a lot of extra pressure on the cornet team, especially the front row (three of them teenagers), but it was a solution. The end result was pleasing under the circumstances. Yes, we had a few clips extra in dealing with this, but felt that eighth position was a reasonable result. In the meantime news was unfolding regarding another competitor using players from abroad. Would it be seen as controversial? Well this was a practice employed the previous week by our elite bands at the Open. However, should a player from a top-flight band be allowed to play in the 1st Section Final? Is the player still registered with the band in their home country? Is this in the spirit of contesting? Will this help the band in the long-term? Will it prepare the band for the Championship Section?

My own personal view is that these do nothing for the improvement and development of bands. Spend some time training young people and investing in the long-term. If you get it right you won’t have to look elsewhere for players in the ‘pursuit of excellence’.

John Winterflood