2008 - A year to remember?


4BR looks back on the year that was 2008 - full of events, comings and goings and even the odd contest or two...

It was the Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan who once described what it felt like presiding over the fortunes of this once great nation of ours. “Events, dear boy, events.” 

And it is the overwhelming number of events that once again strikes you when you look back on a year. It may not have been really one to remember with the highest regard, but it wasn’t quite as bad as you may have first thought. 

There was nothing as catastrophic as today’s PM, Gordon Brown may well have to try and sort out by any means, but it was another year of incremental gentrification. 

A look back at 2008 reveals a mixture of encouragement and inspiration, apathy and indecision. A year like too many others of the same vintage in recent times in fact.     

It all started off as it went along really too.


January saw Robert Morgan of the BFBB awarded the MBE; Butlins announce a pre draw system, the audience choosing the Gala Concert programme at the Europeans and Sir Colin Davies record Elgar’s ‘Severn Suite’ with Black Dyke.

Desford took the top honours at a vibrant Butlins and the Scots took the step of asking bands their opinions about the way in which they wanted things run – including the registration of players (an issue that would resurface later in the year).

It all sounded very upbeat – yet.

Eyes down: Dr Roy Newsome led the judges (most of them anyway) on the Regional test pieces

The report by 4BR on the Association of Brass Band Adjudicators AGM and area test piece workshop highlighted that a number of the delegates didn’t have a single score of the regional test pieces to look over – just two months before the Regionals were due to start.

Meanwhile, the player and conductor roundabout had already started with Leyland parting company with Russell Gray and signing Jason Katsikaris, Derek Broadbent being revealed as the new MD at Carlton Main (or not as the case turned out) and some high profile ‘star’ players such as Alex Kerwin, Martin Armstrong and Nigel Fielding packing their bags and heading for pastures new. 

Composer Michael Nyman told 4BR that he would love to write a test piece for the British Open and David Read and Peter Parkes raised the most pertinent musical topic of 2008 – innovation and inventiveness. 

All this in the first four weeks of the New Year too.


The Government announced plans for brass bands to share in a £332m windfall – although it later transpired the ‘chance’ was very much in the same league as picking a winning lottery ticket, whilst a delegation of MPs spoke to the Culture Minister about funding levels to the movement.

The RNCM Festival was a musical success – although the coverage it gained from non banding press and the BBC was scant to say the least.  The BFBB tried to get brass bands into the Olympics…

On the contesting front there was plenty of innovation and entertainment at the Action Research Youth Championships, and plenty of brilliance and inventiveness in Bergen at the Norwegian Nationals and in Australia where Katrina Marzella picked up the Ern Keller Trophy. 

On the down side however, Sellers International Band played their last chord, with their long term benefactor David Armitage highlighting many of the financial problems banding would face in the coming months ahead – something both PolySteel and BT Bands soon found to their cost.

Meanwhile, Jim Davies and EYMS parted company, euph star Mark Bousie joined Fairey’s, tuba virtuoso Dean Morley headed for Oz and David Childs headed back to play his euph after a period of ill health.

The banding obituary column saw another high profile entry as the Ransome Band announced that they were no longer contesting for the foreseeable future.


Regionals time!

The contesting season reached full swing as Yorkshire led the way with Black Dyke taking top honours.

Meanwhile, 4BR led the way with its running of a Children’s Adjudication Panel – and a clever and perceptive lot the quartet turned out to be too.

Welsh wizards - Tredegar caused the big upset of the Regionals in 2008 

The following week saw no fewer than five ‘Areas’ on the go – with Tredegar causing the biggest upset by winning in Wales, whilst Whitburn took the Scottish honours for the first time in the 21st century.

Fodens rewrote North West contesting history taking their 15th title and Desford showed further top form by winning in new surroundings in the Midlands. 
The usual down side of contesting however was revealed with some ill placed public comments from rivals after Mount Charles’s spirited victory in Torquay.

A week later the London & Southern Counties marathon saw Redbridge take the honours at Stevenage, whilst rivals Alliance Brass called it a day citing its increased difficulty to compete at contests. It all ended with Reg Vardy returning to long overdue form at Darlington to win the North of England title.

The rest of the world was busy too with Brisbane Excelsior winning the Australian Nationals – again, and Stavanger revealing that they had secured ‘massive cash’ funding to help run the European Championships.

Young trombonist Peter Moore won the Brass Final of the Young Musician of the Year in Cardiff, John Doyle headed out of the Black Dyke bandroom, Nick Walkley heading into the Leyland one, and composer Alun Hoddinott headed for the pearly gates. 


April started with plenty of people taken in by the 4BR April Fool of news that the Nationals would be scrapping the draw – although after the Finals in London, many thought some others aspects of the day should certainly be given the boot…

The BFBB continued on its Olympic preparations and there was plenty to enjoy at the National Youth Championships in Manchester even though the lop sided nature of the format meant just one band in the showcase Premier Section.

The Scots voted for ‘modernisation’, Richard Marshall wowed Elgar Howarth in Leeds, Fountain City took the top honours at the USA Nationals, 3BA in Germany and Drogheda in Ireland. The National Youth Bands of Great Britain delivered an inspiring Easter Course and concerts.

Conductors came and went – Frans Violet headed to Hull from Belgium, Philip McCann from Yorkshire to Switzerland and Howard Taylor from Australia to Scotland.

Brian Tait called it a day at Reg Vardy, whilst ‘Epic Symphony’ gained an extra drum part for the Spring Festival and the English Nationals went for ‘Infinity’ – but not beyond…


All eyes and ears on Stavanger – where the European jamboree started off with a little spat about adjudication resulting in Nigel Boddice taking the gentlemanly course of action to move sections.   

A brilliant contesting weekend did have the odd flaw or two, but that was all forgotten when Cory ended 28 years of hurt by taking the title and the expanding nature of European brass band culture was seen with the Italians  (with the help of a Welshman, Englishman and an Aussie) taking the B Section crown.

Waiting for the results
The smile told you everything: John Southcombe of Cory just knew it was his bands time for Euro victory...

A week later and it was back to the sun and sea of Blackpool, where Leyland ended their British Open exile by winning the Grand Shield with Hatfield and EYMS the other Spring titles. 

As always the rumour mill went into overdrive as Garry Cutt ended his tenure with Grimethorpe, Allan Ramsay left Scottish Co-op, Ian Porthouse switched to Tredegar and John Berryman to GUS. Meanwhile, the Austrians of Brass Band Oberosterreich made their feelings clear after their result in Stavanger.

The annual money trail at Whit Friday led to Fodens and Brighouse as usual, as both bands dominated Saddleworth and Tameside once again, whilst the month ended with the thorny question of registration after Desford took the Masters title in somewhat controversial circumstances.

However, there was celebration as Peter Moore took the BBC Young Musician of the Year title and the news came out that Edward Gregson was making a return to the contesting fold with his ‘Rococo Variations’ set for the British Open.


The traditional halfway point of the year saw the bad news hit as Pontins pulled out of their Youth Championships, and EBBA lose out on substantial EU funding.

Some balance was gained with news that Butlins would restore their famous youth championships in 2009.

More comings and goings saw Mark Bentham leave Hepworth, Frank Renton depart from Camborne, Peter Christian leave Point of Ayr, Lynda Nicholson say goodbye at St Helens Youth and James Gourlay leave the Scottish Academy, whilst another major contest had to ask one of the adjudicators to step down when David Horsfield agreed to vacate his place at the English Nationals – although not for the reasons given by the organisers.

Elsewhere cricket legend Geoffrey Boycott revealed his compete lack of knowledge of the current brass band scene live on radio, whilst Melanie Sykes turned up to support the bands at the English Nationals and the 4BR Betting Shop saw plenty of money being placed on Kenneth Downie providing the London Nationals test piece.

Grimethorpe reigned supreme in Preston as Staffordshire pull out and Richard Evans dropped out with Reg Vardy.  The English National gained respect and plaudits, but others were less impressed with the post contest message from the composer’s wife.


Peter Roberts and Alan Pope were revealed as the recipients of the Worshipful Company of Musicians medals, whilst the James Shepherd Versatile Brass brought the memories flooding back at their re-union concert.

Around the other side of the world, the National Youth Band of Scotland enjoyed themselves in Japan, whilst Brisbane Excelsior retained its New Zealand National title for a second year in a row. At home the National Youth Festival of Brass was an enjoyable affair too. 

The BFBB continued to lobby the Government for financial scraps, whilst students all over the country enjoyed the plethora of Summer Schools on offer.

Bands finally made it to Parliament – with an astounding five MPs taking part in the debate.

Comings and goings: Gone – Philip Harper from PolySteel and Gareth Pritchard from Tongwynlais. Arrived – David Hirst at PolySteel, Sheona White at Fodens, Paul Hindmarsh at Brass Band World magazine, Kevin Mackenzie at Camborne, Andy Duncan at Scottish Co-op and Jim Davies at Carlton Main.

Coming and going – Ben Tubb announced as writing the YBS programme for Brass in Concert. Not by the time of the contest he wasn’t, whilst it was Kenneth Downie for London all along – in a shortened form with his ‘Concertino’. 


The South West launched their bid for Olympic participation called ‘Superact’, whilst trombonist Peter Moore actually took part in the Olympic handover in London.

The Parliamentary Group on brass bands gained a few more hangers –on –up to 29 and the BFBB met the lottery – looking for a winning ticket perhaps?

Bands appear on the television – although only in Wales and in Welsh where Tredegar win the National Eisteddfod, whilst their former conductor Nicholas Childs becomes a Professor at Leeds Metropolitan University.  

Conductors on the roundabout sees Mark Bentham to Pemberton, Russell Gray to Carlton Main, Steven Mead to Whitburn and Paul Archibald take over at the Guild Hall, whilst John North departs from Besses.

King Kev – Newcastle United boss Kevin Keegan makes the draw for Brass in Concert – the last one he gets as a couple of weeks later he’s out on his ear.

The month ends with a secret millionaire coming to the rescue of Easington Colliery Band.


Garry Cutt with Maestro Trophy
The Maestro: Garry Cutt filled his cabinet at home with yet another Mortimer Trophy

Back to contesting with all eyes on the British Open where Garry Cutt overcomes personal tragedy to lead Fodens to the title – the fourth in his career. 

A registration ‘cloud’ is reported as questions arise over registration rules again – this time with the Scots, but there is no questioning the integrity of Fodens victory.

The bandwagon then pitches up in Harrogate, where a slickly run event is enjoyed by an encouraging number of supporters, although even their patience is tried with some of the selections of test pieces by the Music Panel. 

Wales comes away with two National victories by Point of Ayr and Beaumaris, whilst Wellington (Telford) and Lostock Hall Memorial are also crowned champions. 

After the less than enthusiastic reception of the pieces for the Finals, the Music Panel opt for youth for the Regionals – although once again eyebrows are raised with the choice of ‘Pentacle’ for the First Section, whilst the Championship bands get the old tub thumper ‘Salute to Youth’.

A rare Harry Mortimer cornet is found up for sale on e-Bay, whilst further concerns over registration are aired as it transpires that at last four players from Australia and New Zealand ‘sign on’ for bands at the British Open – only to allegedly jump on board the next OZ bound 747…

Cory join forces with the ‘Last Choir Standing’ winners ‘Only Men Aloud’ whilst Nigel Weeks leaves Dalewool in New Zealand.


More contesting fun and games.

Grimethorpe draws number 1 at the Nationals to end up out of the prizes in pursuit of the hat trick, whilst the award ceremony becomes something of a farce with no one drawing any kind of inspiration at all in presenting the prizes.

Glyn Williams makes it a personal ‘double’ by taking the ‘Best Instrumentalist’ Award – the first person to win both at the Open and Nationals in the same year.
Black Dyke take the national title back to Queensbury for the 21st time in their history and then announce they are off to Australia in 2009 to celebrate. 

Meanwhile, the Nationals announce plans to dispense with points in future, whilst Butlins announce that they have 32 bands entered in the First Section at the Mineworkers Championships and have to split the contest in two to accommodate everyone. 

Another band bites the dust as Pennine Brass call it a day, and the Mid Rhondda Band in Wales announces a very uncertain future. Meanwhile the ISB announce that they have signed a £1m record deal and Grimethorpe head the 4BR Money List with just the one major money making contest of the year to come at The Sage.

Age does not weary them as Peter Parkes makes it a ‘Sovereign Reign’ at Pontins, rolling back the years to win on ‘Cloudcatcher Fells’ – again.  


The White stuff: Alan Morrison in full regalia at Brass in Concert

The contesting climax of the year sees Cory take the Brass in Concert title for the first time in its history and into the bargain it helps them claim the number I ranking spot and become the leading prize money winners for the year.

Stavanger’s runner up spot and brilliant, if ever so slightly bonkers, concert contribution on the Saturday night makes a memorable weekend even more special and Alan Morrison of Brighouse dressing up like the dead man from Randall and Hopkirk deceased. (Strangely the original bloke himself is killed off again in Coronation Street)

Not everyone is happy about the way brass band entertainment is going though if the comments page of 4BR is anything to go by…

Elsewhere Woolston Brass takes the FABB Australian title, Lyngby Taarbaek the Danish crown, Treize Etoiles reign in Switzerland, Rijmond in Holland, Festival Brass stun everyone in Belgium, Scottish Co-op take the honours at the Scottish Open, Stockholm win in Sweden, Manger win at SIDDIS, Fountain City win the US Open, Youth Brass 2000 win at Tameside, Tongwynlais are crowned Welsh League Champions and Glen Van Looy of Belgium becomes British Open Solo Champion.

Camborne rake in £58,000 after winning on the National Lottery (but not on a scratch card) and Fairey do their bit for Anglo/French entente-cordiale by playing at the Louvre in Paris.
The MPS have another chin wag over brass bands in Parliament and Edward Gregson becomes the Doctor – not of Who, but of Music. 


Peace at last.

With all the major contesting matters out of the way it is time to relax and enjoy the Festive season.

Not a hope…

Jim Gourlay joins the Grimethorpe conducting team only to find that by the end of the month that both his principal cornet and bumper up, in Roger Webster and Ian Shires have been sacked.

The English Nationals announce their line up of bands for the 2009 contest – only to find that there is no Midland region representative, whilst Steven Mead becomes a very nice Fellow in academic circles at the RNCM.

The ISB seem to be the most successful in the pop charts this Christmas of all the brass bands and composers trying to cash in on any spare credit crunch money, whilst Nick Walkley departs from the end chair at Leyland. 
The BFBB announce changes to the format of the 2009 National Youth Championships and 4BR announces its Award Winners for the year – after over 11,000 take the opportunity to use their vote.

Then its time for a few mince pies and a glass or two of Cinzano and Guinness chasers before putting finally being able to put your feet up for the year…

Roll on 2009…


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