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Fire up the Quattro
The return of the Regional Championships

Regional Championship activity is reawakened this weekend — but banding in the UK cannot base its future survival by thinking it can live in a pre-Covid past.


Fire up the Quattro...

Like a particularly odd episode of the television series ‘Life on Mars’, the Regional Championships will emerge over the next few weeks from an extended period of enforced dormancy with a curious case of déjà vu.

However, on this occasion banding will reawaken to find itself not in a dystopian vision of the early 1980s, with Gene Hunt ready to ride to the rescure by firing up his old red Audio Quattro, but in a ‘Sliding Doors’ version of 2019 with uncertainties aplenty. 

Moved on

The world around us has certainly moved on, yet on the face of it the Regional Championships will seem just as reassuringly insular, anomalous, antiquated, and glacially entombed in progressive stasis as ever before. 

It appears that nothing has changed, yet everything so obviously has. 

The world around us has certainly moved on, yet on the face of it the Regional Championships will seem just as reassuringly insular, anomalous, antiquated, and glacially entombed in progressive stasis as ever before. 

Players will soon be faced with trying to fit into musty band unforms that have hung forlornly like old job interview suits in wardrobes for the past two years.

In the weeks running up these championships they will have returned to band rehearsals that have been held with some sort of pre-Covid familiarity, yet the spectre of a positive lateral flow test contest day absence remains a very immediate concern. 


The Winter Gardens will host 74 bands on the weekend

Encouraging news

The number of competing bands seems to have held up remarkably well; 74 on the entry list in the North West on Sunday with 69 for the Midlands over the next two weekends, whilst there is encouraging news from the other regions too.

However, it’s worth remembering that not so long ago there was a real worry that there wasn’t going to be an event in the Midlands or the West of England, whilst Wales also had to find an alternative home at short notice. 

Anyone who really thought that the regional championship events could somehow be completely immunised for their very particular contest day benefit against the ever-changing real-world demands of Covid-19 was either naïve or incredibly misinformed. 

The news led to an outpouring of splenetic entitlement outrage (a great deal of it bilious) – yet in the end the contests were saved by the hard work of dedicated Regional Committee volunteers with the assistance of Kapitol Promotions.

Few volunteers

Strangely, despite the focus of opprobrium from people who though they could do better (but qualified with the caveat of a lack of inclination to offer anything other than keyboard acidity), it hasn’t really resulted in a noticeable increase in volunteers wishing to become members of Regional Committees.

Nothing has changed there then. 

Anyone who really thought that the regional championship events could somehow be completely immunised for their very particular contest day benefit against the ever-changing real-world demands of Covid-19 was either naïve or incredibly misinformed. 

Plus ca change

Meanwhile, registration rules have been altered to help bands out, yet still there are stories of several Championship Section bands having to import playing talent from abroad to ‘fill’ principal seats. Plus ca change.

These though are the consequences of communal inertia.

As glad as we all are that the Areas are back, the past two years have still been a missed opportunity to lay the foundations of a progressive regional brass band movement in the UK.


Yorkshire will field 25 bands in its top two section but only 14 in its bottom two

Out of kilter

Surely something is out of kilter when Yorkshire fields 25 bands in its top two sections yet just 14 in its bottom two, whilst Wales sends four top section bands to the Royal Albert Hall in October from a field of just seven competitors?

How much healthier a position we would have been on our return if the opportunity had been taken for a comprehensive regrading process, or if the Fourth Section could have become an open, transparent and inclusive entry level of competitiveness (and non-competitiveness) for ensembles that just wanted to be part of the event.

People’s expectations have changed as their lives have changed in the past two years, yet brass banding remains stubbornly immune to the need to re-imagine itself.   

So whilst it is heartening to welcome the likes of Onchan Silver as well as returnees such as Port Sunlight Lyceum this weekend in Blackpool, how many bands that were around in 2019 at Fourth Section level cannot now return given our insistance on maintaining antiquated rules?

People’s expectations have changed as their lives have changed in the past two years, yet brass banding remains stubbornly immune to the need to re-imagine itself.   


Wales will send four bands to the Royal Albert Hall this year

Proactive approaches

Some organisations have taken proactive approaches and looked outwards – the successes of which have been reported on, yet far too many have simply waited and hoped that things will return in a form of self-survival mode. 

For others even that has been too much and have found that the fragile organisational foundations on which they survived before Covid-19 struck have simply crumbled away – unable to offer any substance on which to build a future. 

For any band that believes that it can prosper on the vagaries of contesting success is living in a fantasy land every bit as unreal as that of ‘Life on Mars’.

There have been stories of bands unable to return to antiquated premises or having arguments with landlords and trustees, whilst others have found instrument stock missing or that funds have simply leaked away to unsustainable levels as income sources have dried up.

All have had to re-evaluate how they attract or develop players to sustain themselves in future. 

The celebrations as well as commiserations that we will hear about in the coming weeks won’t hide the need for that.  

For any band that believes that it can prosper on the vagaries of contesting success is living in a fantasy land every bit as unreal as that of ‘Life on Mars’.

Iwan Fox 

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