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In the spirit of a Grand Day out?
Personal thoughts for debate

Paul Gomersall wonders if we are only really interested in paying lip service to the true spirit of contest banding...

The following are purely my personal thoughts on issues currently being discussed about what we like to call the ‘true spirit of banding’ – or given the fallout from the recent Spring Festival event in Blackpool, perhaps more accurately, what constitutes the ‘true spirit of contesting’.

I wish to clarify that I am neither a member, administrator nor even supporter of any band. 

However, I am the parent of a player whose name has been mentioned in relation to some of the issues that have arisen - although I wish to make clear he (Chris Gomersall of Oldham Band (Lees)) has had no input into the expression of my views.

My aim is to initiate constructive discussion and debate. Hopefully I have presented cogent, balanced arguments – although I am also sure not everyone will agree.  


It was a grand day out for Oldham Band (Lees) at Blackpool this year

Catalyst

As stated, the catalyst appears to centre around what people believe to be the true nature of the ‘spirit of banding/contesting’ ethos as displayed by certain bands taking part in the recent Spring Festival - and particularly the Grand Shield contest. 

As far as I am aware, no band or individual player has been officially accused, or found to have broken, any contest rules. Yet the outpouring of anger and self-righteousness has been startling.  

Without doubt it has centred on the winning band – although others have also come under fire. 

Spurious

To me, the ‘naming and shaming’ has been a spurious response on social media in particular. It is witless and poisonous, and totally misses a broader understanding of the symptoms that people wish to question. 

To me, the ‘naming and shaming’ has been a spurious response on social media in particular

Surely the underlying problem is the registration rules themselves?

More reasoned debate

A more reasoned debate over the ‘ethos’ of the registration of players will surely provide more insightful arguments for them to be tweaked, revised or even scrapped. Accusations based on envy help no-one. 

And if so, wouldn’t it help to lead to a progressive solution to solving what is obviously a deeper malaise surrounding the lack of top-flight players capable or willing to commit to this type of contesting?

The problem of money?

It is easy to simply characterise the problem as one of money – and who can afford to spend it on players.

And many players who are paid, are not necessarily professional musicians, whilst others may no longer wish to commit to the grind of twice a week rehearsals and more.

Given that brass bands have been able to use professional players in the contesting environment for many years now, what is the problem about people being paid to perform with a band?

The demand for top class talent is linked to its supply. And many players who are paid, are not necessarily professional musicians, whilst others may no longer wish to commit to the grind of twice a week rehearsals and more.  

Different ways to survive

Bands have simply found different ways to survive. Ideally, we will all be producing a never-ending supply of generational talent. But ideals take time and also cost money – and contests come up with never ending monotony. 

But ideals take time and also cost money – and contests come up with never ending monotony. 

And even though it may seem at present to be a recipe for a free for all that only benefits those who can afford to pay players, as has been seen throughout banding history, it is nothing new, and certainly doesn’t guarantee success either.

No template for success

Not every ‘works’ or ‘colliery’ band that was able to offer financial help – from generous retainers to housing and jobs, won all the major awards on offer.  Successful contesting music making is a much more complex conundrum to solve than that.

There is no template that guarantees success, and in all honesty, would so-called ‘top-flight banding’ have ever reached the levels it has without financial support from its inception whether in the form of a levy, public subscription, company sponsorship, patronage or personal benefaction?

A ‘ringer’ is now an almost archaic word in the banding world – although we still understand its implications.

Issues surrounding a true understanding behind the use of a ‘borrowed player’ brought into genuinely help a band, rather than a ‘ringer’ brought into simply artificially boost prize winning potential are also full of complexities.

A ‘ringer’ is now an almost archaic word in the banding world – although we still understand its implications.

Corinthian spirit?

Any sort of Corinthian contesting spirit in banding never really existed in the first place though. 

Nowadays most bands are up front about the reason why they seek the best players available from home or abroad to play for them – although not many perhaps are as transparent about the cost? 

Nowadays most bands are up front about the reason why they seek the best players available from home or abroad to play for them – although not many perhaps are as transparent about the cost? 

That said, who has the right to legislate on how any individual or organisation may wish to spend their money?

At best, using ‘ringers’ to boost competitiveness may be deemed to be ‘against the spirit’ of contesting - although that is subjective and down to a personal viewpoint of why we compete against each other in the first place. 

Blah, Blah, Blah...

If there is an actual ‘spirit of contesting’, it is pretty hard to define at the best of times. 

Just think of what type of spirit a contest decision elicits on social media at the best of times – from unfounded accusations of bias and conspiracy theories to incompetence.   There is plenty of blah, blah, blah...

We are surely all old and big enough to know that brass band contests are not the same as primary school sports days. Someone has to win, and someone has to lose – and we don’t all go away with a tap on the head and a medal for ‘doing the best you can’.

Someone has to win, and someone has to lose – and we don’t all go away with a tap on the head and a medal for ‘doing the best you can’.

Would seeking a consensus on a set of acceptable contesting guidance that instils an ethos of fairness and transparency be better, or would we still find that not everyone quite interprets those ‘guidelines’ in quite the same way?

Defining spirit

Perhaps it may be better to try and define what we mean by a ‘spirit of banding’ rather than a ‘spirit of contesting’?

Even that is almost impossible though. 

For instance, what happens when a band replaces their regular principal player to bring in another player on a temporary basis for a specific contest.

If the player agrees and is willing to move help their band, is that in the spirit of banding, but not in the spirit of contesting?

If the player agrees and is willing to move help their band, is that in the spirit of banding, but not in the spirit of contesting?

Opinions will always arise about what constitutes the true spirit of both banding and contesting, but as long as it’s undertaken with a constructive sense of purpose, with arguments presented with respect, it is a surely a good thing to ask as many questions as possible – whatever the result of a contest may be. 

Whether we get the answers we all want though is a different matter.

Paul Gomersall
Jarrow


Paul Gomersall was educated at St Andrews University before pursuing a career as a teacher of Economics, Business Studies and History.

He has been a player, administrator and conductor of bands in the North East of England and an observer of the brass band world for over fifty years.

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