2008 English National Championship - Postcard from Preston

1-Jul-2008

An air of quiet satisfaction in Preston - so was it the 'Hot Pot' or the success of the Championships this year...


Grimethorpe prize
Quiet satisfaction: Lyndon Chapman of sponsors Besson delivers the trophy to Terry Webster of Grimethorpe
Picture: Ian Clowes


There was an air of quiet satisfaction around Preston Guild Hall on Saturday as the third English National Brass Band Championships came to a close.  

For the BFBB, this contest, now in its third year, is surely heading in the direction they want it to go. It has taken its time to settle down and fully establish itself, but there is well founded justification to their argument that the contest now has a long and bright future ahead of it.

Bonus

This year, Black Dyke made their debut at the event, and whilst Desford declined its invitation, and despite the unfortunate withdrawal of Staffordshire, the BFBB has finally achieved its goal of attracting the best English bands to compete here with the lure of some healthy prize money and the additional bonus of representing England at the Europeans the following May.

The penny (not quite the Euro – yet) has finally dropped. 

With the Contest Controller, Derek Atkinson and his army of volunteers from the North West Counties Brass Band Association organising a slickly run event, there was also an air of calm efficiency about the day too.

Calm efficiency

The bands benefited from notification of their draw sector whilst the one break (a little longer than planned this year due to the one withdrawal) gave everyone the chance to enjoy their lunch (which included a very nice Hot Pot in the VIP lounge) without the usual rush. It was also a move endorsed by the judges too – giving them chance to discuss and ponder and not losing concentration either.  

The quirks of the draw meant that Black Dyke, Brighouse, Fodens and Grimethorpe were all playing after lunch and those in attendance in the morning (with the addition of players who’d already performed and got free entry) came in to listen. It was all over at a reasonable hour too, so the BFBB should not be tempted to try and fiddle with what is an ideal number of bands and a well thought out format.

Live streaming

As at Cambridge the chaps at themusicpage.com streamed live coverage of the event over the web.  By their own admission, it wasn’t without the odd glitch along the way but the good news is that you should be able log on to their site and watch all the performances from the contest very soon. 

Live streaming is fast becoming a ‘must have’ for major events now – so could we be seeing more at Harrogate and London?

In discussion with 4BR afterwards, Robert Morgan MBE hinted that there could be a new commission in 2009, whilst with only one year left in the initial three year agreement with Preston Guild Hall, discussions for future dates for the event will take place soon, with the BFBB making announcements when they’re in a position too.

Preston may not be the most glamorous of places to visit, but the venue does the job and the contest now needs a period of extended stability in format to help it grow even further. We could be coming here for a few more years yet.

Judges

Hopefully in their post contest discussions, the BFBB will also agree that it will stand firm over maintaining the judges it announces in advance. 

Last year, complaints were made over the appointment of Steven Mead and this year, David Horsfield.  The BFBB cannot afford to be drawn into allowing the tail to wag the dog.

The same goes for the borrowed player rule too – it needs sorting out once and for all.

In an ideal world, no band wants to borrow and there are always valid arguments put forward for doing so, but there is a much more acute problem with banding in general when top bands are struggling to put out a full compliment of players for a contest of this magnitude.

Not cricket

It’s becoming a little like the cricketing circus of the Indian Premier League – a free for all where top dollar buys in the top players regardless of previous commitments or affiliations. There were a lot of bands here on the day that would have paid out quite a few quid for deps and the rules need tightening up before it spirals out of control. 

Having reached the half-way point in the year though, will the bands competing here be happy with their contest exploits so far in 2008?

Yorkshire pride

The contest season now seems to have a natural cut off point with the English Nationals, giving time for the bands too look back as well as forward over the year. Yorkshire banding in particular is wearing a smile of self satisfaction for certain what with Grimethorpe, Black Dyke, Brighouse & Rastrick, Hepworth and Rothwell all coming in the top seven. 

Those who have already qualified for London and are at the Open will be pleased we are sure, and with two clear months of contesting free time on the horizon, batteries should be recharged in time for what it looking likely to be an intriguing British Open.

Positives

There were plenty of positives to admire about the English National 2008 – from the organisation to the playing, the increase in the numbers of people in the hall (helped by the decision to issue wristbands to competing players), the support of the sponsors Besson (they put in some major dosh here), the use of a new test piece and the format of the day, to 4BR even interviewing television celebrity Melanie Sykes!

The English National Brass Band Championships have come of age – let’s hope the BFBB can continue to make them prosper.   

Malcolm Wood

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