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The Whole Truth and Nothing but …
By Howard Snell

When I was very, very young I was taught always to tell the truth. Much later, in professional life, I had to learn occasionally to be economical with the truth, to shade it from purest white, through off white to (let’s call it) dark charcoal white. Before you start to think badly (or worsely) that’s what one is asked to do by musical organisations of all kinds from symphony orchestras (the Chairman) to brass bands (the MD). I can tell you that nothing disappears faster than a players’ committee that has just asked you to tell a fellow player that he/she has just been sacked. Out of sight allows a conscience free pint, I suppose.

Although the connection may not be immediately obvious, these thoughts linked up with some news that has just reached me: a distinguished banding conductor has apparently begun pushing his all-singing all-dancing pen over the papyrus. Or putting it more simply, his autobiography is on the way. In autobiogs one normally reads how the modest author saved the world while washing up the tea things and changing the baby’s nappies. Touching stuff and all very believable! But from this man we shall certainly get the truth. He not only conducted but also managed one of England’s finest bands for a couple of decades and continues to shine as a welcome guest all over everywhere. The kind of problems I mentioned at the start … distant memories now ….will have been tapping him on the shoulder and grinning at him like old friends. As an MD he had nowhere to hide. (It brought all the old hassle-feelings back to me instantly, and reminded me of one of the reasons I gave up M-D-ing.)

This will be interesting! Banding has just a few memoir-and-opinion type books, and only Harry Mortimer’s book as a fully blown autobiog, so this new one, I am sure, will add mightily to banding’s literature. In the field of autobiogs there has been a spate of recent offerings, mainly from sports stars and managers, or at least their ghost writers in the sky. These present day books, with a single excellent exception that I know, have only one practical value: they contain so much white space before, among and after the words, they can be used for writing shopping lists or jotting down flight times or birthday memos. Cheaper to buy a notebook, I suppose. I tell a lie. If you are studying for an NVQ in GBH (specialising in human bone re-arrangement) or an A level in the Craft of Swearing, one recent volume will teach you all you need to know. But in the case of Richard Evans … for it is he …. have no fear. He can communicate …. he can sharpen his own pencil …. he is highly intelligent, articulate, and possessed of as sharp a mind as you could ever wish to meet. He is happily a cheerful man and does not need any lessons in being a ray of sunshine from recently established literary figures such as an A Ferguson. (How the latter managed an auto-biog when he never sees anything his players do is a bit of a puzzle.) He has had enormous success as a contest conductor, but has also had to work very hard for it. I am sure that the gritty reality, as well as the romance of banding in particular and the musical life in general, will come through.

I have always thought that sports performance has a great deal in common with music performance, but very little of that comes through in today’s dreary sports autobiog. Show me one with any wit or humour? Len Shackleton, an old-time Sunderland footballer with more talent than anyone now playing in the Premiership, wrote his own autobiog including a chapter entitled ‘What the average club director knows about football.’ It consisted of a blank page. (The thought comes to me that there is opening in the market for a player’s book with a chapter on ‘What the average conductor ….etc.’) These present day sports books now come out annually, and are, in effect, a tax on the purchaser’s intelligence levels. A bit like the National Lottery. (No doubt DB’s will come out every six months when he learns to use his other foot as well.)

The excellent and honourable exception I mentioned earlier is a cricketer who kept the England team afloat for many a year. Richard’s fellow Lancastrian Mike Atherton has penned a book that is well worth buying. He paints a remarkably clear and honest picture of his own worth, both strengths and weaknesses. Apart from the story of what he did and how he did it, he makes a number of points that are valuable to anyone who wants to be good at anything. I’ll mention two only. He says that a strong attitude is often more benefit than mere talent: when I meet a new student for the first time, attitude is the very first thing I assess. The other Atherton comment worth mentioning is posed as a question: “Who knows cricket who only cricket knows?”

At first sight this connection is much less obvious. In fact it is a plea for those involved in cricket …. and it fits banding just as well …. to learn about life outside cricket. To become rounded, to gain perspective. What’s the connection to banding? As banding is so awash with ‘attitude’, not to say ‘talent’, it would be especially valuable for those qualities to be used in a more interesting way rather than just jumping endlessly through the same old contest hoops. Some brave spirits are trying different things at different times: Bram Gay has innovated in the past, as have some others, and today Philip Biggs is a fine example of someone currently showing initiative and being rewarded with great audiences. But I would be surprised if the audience contained a lot of bandsmen or conductors. My guess would be not. How does one get it across to people that music contains so much more to enjoy than just the stuff you play or conduct? Most days I discover some new treasure that I could kick myself for missing previously.

But back to our hero. I can just see Richard’s book-signing sessions at Waterstones, the superstar interview on Radio Three, even …. just possibly …. maybe …. being asked to adjudicate at a major contest? No, no, silly me. He’s too young and inexperienced for that! Richard, keep at it! We are holding our collective breath. I have my pocket-money pennies stacked and waiting on the mantelpiece already.

© Howard Snell 2002 [© 4BarsRest]

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