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The Lower Section National Finals 2002

Post match analysis: A General Overview...

On the face of it, the 2002 Lower Section National Finals will be remembered as a complete “Balls Up”; a 24 carat, 100%, real McCoy, 198 pointer off a number one draw, complete and utter “Balls Up”. That however, would be a great pity, for the Nationals at Torquay also provided the listener with compelling evidence that the body politic of the brass band world, is alive and well and as vibrant and healthy as at any time in the last twenty years or more.

The BFBB for their part have accepted full responsibility for the farce over the timings of the test pieces that were used. It says a lot for an organisation that they were mature enough to put their hands up and take the knocks on the chin – and there were plenty flying around on both days (some from sources who should have known better – people in glass houses and all that), but it was one hell of a breakdown in communication within the organisation, and one that was totally unacceptable.

David Stanley retired on the Sunday and was presented with a very nice going away present from the Federation. He is a delightful man – intelligent, considered and thoughtful, and someone who has an obvious love for the movement – especially for the lower section bands, and so it was a great pity that he had to retire on such a sour note. However, he also retired with his reputation intact – even enhanced for he had the balls (and we are talking the size of a Grand National winner here) to get up at the end of the night after the completion of the sections and state quite categorically that what had happened on both days was totally unacceptable and that he gave his word that it would be investigated and sorted out.

After a day that had started at 8.00am on the Saturday and finished at gone 1.00am on the Sunday, that took some balls indeed. That he was met with a round of applause – not a single boo or slow handclap, says a lot for the man and the way in which he honestly and bravely didn’t try to hide, spin or excuse what had happened. It was a mess – he knew it, the Federation knew it and the audience knew it – yet he didn’t make an excuse and thanked everyone for their forbearance and patience. When you are in a hole, don’t try and dig yourself out of it – he didn’t and the organisation he represented with such honour over the past ten years or more will be given another chance to get it right. The next time they won’t be so lucky.

The problem it appears arose over the lack of any checks being made over the timings of the test pieces. The Music Panel had we are informed, considered the pieces in terms of their musical content but were given approximate timings only. (one of which came from the composer of one of the pieces himself) These were not checked – either against recordings or with the bands and so the BFBB went ahead with planning the day with no accurate knowledge of the exact timings of the pieces. This was a huge error.

The result was that both days started on time, but rapidly went out of hand – and once it started there was no way in which things could get back on track. The Fourth Section piece saw that contest end over an hour and half too late (although there was a mid session break that took longer than expected) before the Third Section started halfway through the afternoon. Goff Richards piece, “Cherchebi” had been mistimed by over 6 minutes plus and so the contest became an interminable marathon.

The last band, Raunds Temperance then made history by becoming the first band ever to start to perform a test piece on one day and finish it the next, as they didn’t take the stage until five minutes to midnight!

The same thing happened on the Sunday, although the Staffordshire Band will have some of their initial misgivings diluted somewhat by giving a tremendous performance as last band on to win the First Section – perhaps they should try it every contest?

That being said, there should be no way in which this should ever happen again – it makes us a laughing stock, and undermines all the excellent work the members of the BFBB had out in prior and during the contest weekend.

All members of the BFBB we met and talked too were open, willing and friendly and were always willing to accept ideas and criticism from the press, bandsmen and women and the audience alike. They didn’t make excuses and all took time to apologise to whoever wanted to find out why things had gone completely peetong. This offers hope for the future – and Dundee in particular. However, it also highlights that nothing less than a totally professional approach to organising such an event is the least we can and should expect. Torquay 2002 fell way below those standards. Frank Hodges and his team are a credit to the movement, but after this episode they will be aware that all their good work in previous years now counts for nothing.

There will be many bands who will have to fork out extra cash for bus drivers with tachograph problems, families with young children who were knackered from being up from early morning to late at night and many bands who could rightly point to their prospects of giving a prize winning performance being scupperred by fatigue. These people will have to be addressed and their concerns taken on board and sorted out satisfactorily. Only then can the BFBB look at ensuring that Torquay 2002 is not repeated in Dundee in 2003.

As we have said, for 4BR, Torquay was a “Balls Up” – not a shambles or a disgrace. If there were no facilities, no restaurant, if the coaches weren’t catered for or the bandsmen had good changing facilities, if people didn’t have anywhere to go or the hall was a tip, then you could call it such. It wasn’t – even at 12.30pm things were well organised, even if it was running 5 hours too late.

We can only hope the BFBB will put a strategy in place to ensure that the music (the one thing everyone wants to be first class) is now checked to the point where they know exactly how long the contest will take. No one will want to be left high and dry in Dundee now would they? The BFBB has made its one big mistake – we can hope it will be the last.

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