2009 Butlins Mineworkers Championships - Postcard from Skegness

21-Jan-2009

Butlins is growing in importance, but is still having to overcome a few teething problems in the process - from a cold hall to confusing results.


Whisper it quietly, but the Butlins Mineworkers Championships is fast becoming one of the ‘must visit’ contesting venues in the entire brass band calendar. 

Skegness is still cold, and the tide is still out in mid January, but the Butlins Resort offers good quality accommodation, decent food and drink prices and great entertainment. Oh – and the contests themselves are pretty good too.

Long way in a short space of time

It is also a contest that has come a long way in a very short space of time – for confirmation just look at the number of bands that took part this year.

That has meant growing pains and teething problems of course, but there is an overwhelming sense that these are looked at, digested and acted upon by the organisers in time for the following year. Brian Eggleshaw and his team worked their socks off once again – a great effort much appreciated by the vast majority of performers and supporters.

There are of course the usual contesting grumbles – but these will be tweaked and amended in time for 2010.

You can be sure Butlins will not overlook the fact that they will have to put the heating on a few hours before the contests start in the main Centre Stage auditorium, whilst they will also ensure that there are adequate warm up facilities for all the bands at each of the contesting venues on the site.

Bone of contention

The main bone of contention of the First Section split draw wasn’t helped by the confusion over the results of the play off final, but as a way forward to accommodate a large field of bands, the system had much to commend.

There will of course need to be an appraisal of the mechanics. The four judges need to have a stricter set of marking criteria so that there is no confusion over the placings in each of the qualifying groups, whilst clarification is needed before the contest to which two judges do the writing, and which two sit and pass comment, in the play off itself.

Overall though it works – all 26 bands get to be heard by judges who are not fatigued by sitting in a tent for over 7 hours, whilst the qualifiers know they need to perform not once, but twice, to secure victory.   Despite the little glitches, this is the way forward, and the system does allow for up to 30 or more bands to try their luck.

Slight appraisal

A slight reappraisal of the rather crude Championship Section points system is needed too.  

Placing the bands in order of merit works well, but the penalty process for those running over time should be amended. There is a possibility under the current system that a band could well win both disciplines of the contest and still be demoted to second place if they run over time in the entertainment section.

The loss of one place in the overall results table for going over the generous time limits seems a touch draconian – Wingates dropped from 6th to 7th even though on aggregate placings they were 3 points clear of Carlton Main.

That said, if a band at this level cannot work out that it can’t get away with being close on 3 minutes over time, then the punishment perhaps fits the crime.

Reasonable approach

A slightly more reasonable approach may well be to add a penalty point to the transgressing bands overall points tally for every minute they exceed the time limit in the entertainment contest.  Wingates and Skelmanthorpe would still have come where they did, but it would have been a more transparent way of doing it.

Bands of course always complain – and some did on the weekend without thought and manners, but they must realise that they do get a very good deal from the Butlins contest and its organisers.

And some bands are getting close to abusing that goodwill.

Borrowed players

The issue of borrowed players is fast spiralling out of control – and it is the bands not the organisers who are at fault.

It is a generous rule that allows for genuine player problems to be addressed with an appreciation of the ethos of contesting. It is becoming an excuse however to import star players into cover up short term personnel problems.

Having to use up to 5 borrowed players in the Championship Section to be able to compete is totally unacceptable, and gains a band with deep pockets and a disregard to the overall contesting ethos an unfair advantage over those who make the effort to compete with their regular players.

It is hard to see what can be done – perhaps limited it to 2 players for 2010 for all sections. If bands can’t meet those requirements in the top section then you should ask the question as to why they are competing at this level in the first place.

Major attraction

Thankfully, if you wanted to be cheered up away from the rather more cynical contesting environment of the top section, the Youth Championships were a delight, despite only having the three contenders this year.

This will fast become a major attraction for youth bands in years to come, and it would be great if the eventual winners could take away with them that old Butlins Youth Trophy that is currently given to the band winning the ‘most entertaining prize’ in the championship contest. It deserves to return to its roots.

Encouraging extras

What was encouraging however was the size of audiences in all the sections – the main hall on the Sunday was packed to overflowing – over 2000 people enjoying the bands. There were ‘sell out’ signs on the doors for each of the well received band concerts from Desford, Fodens and Grimethorpe, whilst the ‘in house’ entertainment was very polished and well received too.

Add to that the usual extras such as the success of the Doug Yeo ‘76 Trombone’ record attempt, the usual glitz of the results ceremony at Reds, and all the ingredients were in place and working well once again.

Shot in the arm

As we have said before – what a shot in the arm for banding it would be if the Lower Section National Finals perhaps came here in future too – no empty halls for the bands to play in, no expensive hotel rooms to pay for, and plenty of family orientated entertainment to enjoy too.

Appetite

Once again Butlins has shown that there is a real appetite for this festival approach to band contesting. Yes – Butlins will have made money out of it with the number of people staying on camp, but they also plough a great deal of it back in long term investment too – work seems to be going on to upgrade just about every aspect of the place.

Who would have thought it just a few years ago? A ‘must visit’ brass band contest in the middle of January in Skegness. But that is what the Butlins Mineworkers Championship has become. Long may it continue, despite the cold.

Iwan Fox

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