Brass at The Beeb
It was only a few months ago in the columns of Get Classical that I congratulated 16 – year old euphonium player Cameron Scott, from Ipswich, on his success in reaching the final of the BBC Radio 2 Young Brass Award. Although Cameron didn’t win he had the wonderful experience of performing live on Radio 2’s Friday Night is Music Night accompanied by the mighty Foden’s Band. I was hopeful he would enter again but, if he does, it won’t be through Radio 2. In its wisdom the station has dropped the award, although a new brass band internet service, Brass Pass TV, has announced it is to run the competition on its platform. At least it has not gone completely but, no disrespect, it’s not quite the same!
The remit of Radio 2 is to be a distinctive mixed music and speech service, targeted at a broad audience, appealing to all age groups over 35. It should offer entertaining popular music programmes and speech-based content including news, current affairs, documentaries, religion, arts, comedy, readings and social action output. Given that brief you would think within its schedules it could still find room to promote a young person’s award involving brass bands?
Brass bands have been broadcasting on the BBC since 1923. The golden days of brass band radio belonged to the 1940s and 1950s, and part of the 1960s. These broadcasts, which peaked at about sixteen per week, reflected the undeniable popularity of the brass band, but also the lack of programming variety pursued by the BBC itself. The advent of offshore pirate radio, the huge pop music explosion of the 1960s and the significant changes to BBC radio in 1967 with the creation of Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4 changed things forever. Less popular styles of music were gradually pushed out including, as Beccles based conductor and composer Elgar Howarth so succinctly put it a while back, “the by now distinctly old – fashioned looking brass bands”.
The denouement is now complete as, sadly, the demise of the Young Brass Award wasn’t the only bad news for brass band fans. Earlier in the year the BBC announced that from May it was “resting” the one remaining regular national band broadcast, Listen to the Band, which had been a weekly feature of Radio 2 for the last 30 or so years, but can be traced back to the Home Service in 1943. ”Resting” means the end of the programme, but in the politically correct world of the BBC it cannot bring itself to say such words. Things are little better on Radio 3, a station which is expected to offer a mix of music and cultural programming in order to engage and entertain its audience. It cares little for brass bands, playing occasional CD tracks and broadcasting a limited amount from the Manchester RNCM Brass Band Festival each January.
There is no excuse for ignorance, however, because a Radio 3 presenter cannot be bothered to do her homework. The CD The Symphonic Euphonium, recorded by Colchester based Chandos Records, featuring the acclaimed euphonium player David Childs, was a joint project with BBC Radio 3, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales providing the accompaniment. Presenter, Verity Lambert when interviewing David Childs on its release said this;” Quite shamefully, I cannot picture in my mind what a euphonium looks like.” She followed this by saying, “can you describe the sound…is it similar to…more like a French horn or a trombone?” Oh dear!
Brass bands collectively, however, are not entirely blameless for this state of affairs. Even after factoring in changing musical trends they have done little, if anything, to influence or persuade the BBC that the genre has a place round the table. There is also evidence to show that individual bands didn’t always treat the opportunity to broadcast seriously enough, attending the recording venue under rehearsed. If bands cannot be bothered then why should the BBC?
All is not lost, however, and in the absence of any live music to tell you about, I can point you in the direction of BBC local radio and community stations that have a brass band presence. You will need the internet however as your radio dial will not find anything locally! Philip Hunt does a sterling job in the south west with Sounds of Brass (www.bbc.co.uk/devon) on Sundays at 7.05pm. David Hoyle is on air every Sunday from 1pm to 3pm on BBC Radios Leeds and York (www.bbc.co.uk/radioleeds). And finally, produced and presented by Chris Helme from Brighouse, there is Sunday Bandstand. For further information see www.chrishelme-brighouse.org.uk and follow the Sunday Bandstand links for his play list and previous shows dating back to 2014.