The History of the BRASS IN CONCERT CHAMPIONSHIP
The Brass in Concert Championship was originally conceived as a one-off event to mark the Queens Silver Jubilee and the opening of a new factory in Darlington in 1977. Thirty Seven years later it is thriving and has become widely recognised as the leading brass band entertainment contest in the world attracting the very best bands from all corners of the UK and in recent times from other brass banding nations in Europe and indeed as far away as Orlando, Central Florida and Kansas City, USA.
The founding fathers of the event were Cyril Beere and Peter Hartley, Secretary and Conductor of Barnard Castle Band whose vision was to create an event which would play a part in the community life of North East England and which would offer the people of the area an opportunity to see, hear and enjoy the best exponents of brass banding. Roy Newsome was appointed Music Director and within a few weeks 12 leading brass bands had accepted an invitation to compete, each band playing a well balanced and entertaining programme of actual music between 20-23 minutes. Applause would be allowed and the first prize for the winners would be £1,000, with bands being marked for quality of performance out of 200 and for entertainment out of 60.
There was one more essential ingredient, Barnard Castle Band. It was the view of Cyril and Peter that members of the band help run the contest. As each competing band arrived in Darlington they would be escorted to a room where rehearsal facilities had been arranged and lunches provided with a member of “Barney “ Band being on hand to deal with any pre-contest issues. This was in keeping of Cyril’s philosophy that players and conductors were the most important people on the day. Keenness and friendliness were hallmarks of Brass in Concert, the contest quickly becoming known as “the Friendly Competition”.
The first formal sponsors were Rothmans. So impressed were they by the initial event and by the enthusiastic response of the audience and bands alike that they continued their support through to 1984. In 1978 the BBC recorded the performances of all the bands and broadcast a programme of highlights on the Radio 2 programme “Listen to the Band” . So much were the bands enthused by the contesting format that many commissions for new compositions and arrangements were regularly included in their programmes. Fronting the whole event and critical to its success was BBC Radio 2’s John Dunn whose wit, charm and rapport with the audience was to continue through to 1992. His successor as compere was Frank Renton, the current presenter of BBC Radio 2’s “Listen to the Band” who continues to this day to link the proceedings in his own admirable and humorous style as well as presenting the now regular DVD highlights.
Sadly Cyril and Peter passed away and were not to see the fruits of their labour in the magnificent surroundings of Sage Gateshead. David Bennett, a colleague of Cyril’s at Rothmans, became a key figure in the event’s development and together with Paul and Jackie Beere, Cyril’s son and daughter-in-law, the team have played a crucial role in ensuring the contest’s survival. Another important figure who became an integral part of the presentation was the redoubtable Ron Massey, a regular contributor to the British Bandsman, who took responsibility for press and publicity. Roy’s work as Music Director continued for a further 34 years until his death in 2011, his efforts being crucial to the success of the championship, from the appointment of adjudicators, invitations to bands, prescribing the rules and acting as the principal link between the event and the presentation of the Youth Brass in Concert programme.
The 1st Brass in Concert champions were Grimethorpe Colliery, they have gone on to win the title on 15 occasions and the current champions are the No.1 band in the world, the Cory Band from the Rhondda. Following the end of Rothmans’s sponsorship, the event was sustained by new sponsorship from the Trade Union movement, notably the TUC, the Musicians Union and the Tobacco Workers Union, the funding being raised through the indefatigable Dougie Grieve, General Secretary, The Tobacco Workers Union. This continued until 2005 when as part of its transfer to Sage Gateshead, the leading supporters became World of Brass, the British Bandsman, Yamaha and the Banks Group.
Brass bands love contesting where they compete for honour, trophies and cash prizes. Brass in Concert is no exception where the prizes available range from the overall champion band to the best soloist, most entertaining band to best programme content. In all there are 20 trophies to be won with cash prizes totalling over £12,000 in 2012.
From humble beginnings in the Beehive Ballroom, Darlington, in reality a works canteen, to the Dolphin Centre, Darlington and Spennymoor Leisure Centre, the event is now presented to an audience of 1,500 people each day in one of the great music venues in the world, Sage Gateshead. The move to The Sage Gateshead in 2005 has been highly successful, in no small part due to the creative skills, drive and leadership of Trevor Caffull, Managing Director SP & S. Further impetus has been generated by John Woods, a dedicated euphonium player who plays an active part in the South West Brass Association and Alan Hope, a native of North East England until recently the Regional Co-ordinator of the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain.
Following the loss of “Dr.Roy” in 2011, a Music Advisory Panel was formed; its members represent a wide spectrum of the devotees of the brass band movement, Frank Renton, Simone Rebello, the internationally acclaimed percussionist,. Kenny Crookston, Editor of the British Bandsman, Malcolm Brownbill, the well known Conductor and Adjudicator, Alan Morrison, the acclaimed cornet player and current Chairman of ABBA and Stuart Bulmer, a dedicated bandsman with an invaluable knowledge of how audiences like to be entertained.
From a a one day contest it has grown to a weekend long festival involving Gala Concerts, Youth Concerts, Workshops where aspiring young players are coached by some of the best brass players in the country and Taster Sessions where young people who have never before played a brass instrument are encouraged to “have a go” for the first time. The inaugural Youth Championship Contest was held very successfully in 2018.
The event is a top quality Techni-Colour presentation featuring multi media screens above the stage showing the action as it happens and even close up views of the sweat on the brows of players in the heat of competition. In brass band terms this event is leading edge and in wider music terms, as the management of Sage Gateshead would confirm, it has become one of the key attractions of the calendar in the North East’s most iconic concert hall.
The Brass in Concert Championship is a registered Company and Charity. Its Board of Directors meet on a regular basis throughout each year to plan activities in partnership with Sage Gateshead Management Team. The Chairman of The Brass in Concert Championship Board is John Woods, Administration is conducted through Paul and Jackie Beere, Finance and Communications through John Woods, Secretarial duties through David Bennett and Workshops through Hugh Stephenson. The Honorary Patron is the much loved, Muriel Newsome, widow of Dr. Roy Newsome.