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21 July 2008 : Column 626

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): I know that my hon. Friend is not one to blow his own trumpet, but I think that he should be congratulated on securing the debate. Does he agree that not only northern brass bands in mining communities, so beautifully portrayed in the moving film, “Brassed Off”, are involved but seaside towns are, too? I commend the Rhyl silver band, from my hometown of Rhyl, and the Rhyl brass band festival. The bias is not just in funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport but in airtime on the BBC, which is a publicly funded broadcasting company. There is time for rock and for jazz—there is lots and lots of time for classical—but minimal time for brass bands. Does he agree?

Jeff Ennis: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, I wrote on that theme to the director-general of the BBC, Mark Thompson, in about February or March, to say that in previous generations brass bands got a lot more airplay on the radio and on television and that the point needed to be addressed. I was very disappointed with the response that I received. I do not have time to go into the details of that response, but I am sure that that will be of interest to the Minister.

David Taylor: My hon. Friend might agree that when brass bands approach funding organisations, they far too often receive a response that is at best sniffy, and at worst patronising. Those responses come from the echelon of society that tends to be over-represented in assessing applications for grants which would help this form of music that means so much to so many communities, as the film “Brassed Off” illustrated so wonderfully all those years ago.

Jeff Ennis: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Following on from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) about seaside towns, the Minister will recall the meeting that we had with representatives from the brass bands. I took with me the musical director for Ascot Brass, Bryan Catcheside. Ascot is one of the most salubrious areas in the country and Ascot Brass is struggling to keep its head above water. The only way it can stay afloat is because it gets the use of the church hall, given free of charge by a local minister, to practise in. That is the level of disadvantage that brass bands face.

Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that that applies not only to company brass bands but even to Salvation Army bands, which are so integral to the brass band movement? A point was made earlier about seaside towns, and my seaside town, Hastings, has Sussex Brass, which finds it extremely difficult. Most importantly, when the band plays the deckchairs are full, so there is enormous public support for the brass band movement—support that, I dare say, would not extend to opera on the beach.

Jeff Ennis: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I was born in Grimethorpe, so my local brass band is the Grimethorpe Colliery band—probably the best band in the world. The band featured in the film “Brassed Off”, which was also my by-election theme in 1996—“Brassed off with the Tories”—when we got rid of the Major majority, but I do not want to make this a political issue.


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This weekend, the Grimethorpe Colliery band has been at the Kent brass festival, playing at Deal one night and at Dunstable on another. Recently, the band applied to the Arts Council for travelling expenses for those concerts, but the application was refused on the basis that it had not been made in time. That just underlines the situation—the very best brass band in the world cannot get funding to travel to Kent to entertain the people of Kent with music that is loved in the Kent coalfields.

Michael Jabez Foster: I appreciate the fact that my hon. Friend does not want to make it a political issue, but is it not the case that not a single Tory, not a single Lib Dem nor a single Member of any other party has bothered to take part in this important debate?

Jeff Ennis: My hon. Friend makes a good point. He is of course aware that recently I set up the all-party brass band group, which has all-party representation. To be fair to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who is not in the Chamber, he was extremely supportive in setting up the all-party group, and indeed is a vice-chair. Some good brass bands from the tin industry are based in Cornwall and Devon.

Since I tabled my question in November, I have had a number of positive and fruitful meetings. The first was with my right hon. Friend the Minister in February when I took a delegation of brass band representatives to meet her, as I mentioned earlier. The brass band sector was extremely impressed with her response. She was as accommodating and positive as she could be and she made some useful suggestions.

In March, I held a meeting with the chief exec and finance director of Yorkshire Forward at the Minister’s instigation. In May I had meetings with the chair and chief exec of the Arts Council England. Recently, I had a meeting with the new chief exec of the Big Lottery Fund, Peter Wanless. All the people I have met have been supportive and sympathetic to the plight of brass bands. They all made interesting and positive suggestions about how we could improve the lot of brass bands. I am thinking particularly of community brass bands—the ones at grass-roots level that are the vast majority of our 600 or 700 brass bands. Their players are aged from eight to 88 and they perform at local galas and concert halls, local church events and so on. They are intrinsic to the culture of their area.

Many of the suggestions were signposted to the British Federation of Brass Bands, which coincidentally is based in Barnsley. The BFBB is a worthy organisation that is doing its best to represent bands, and I am pleased to say that it is responding positively to the suggestions that have been made. A letter I sent recently to the chief exec of the Arts Council England, to try to get better representation for community brass bands and more financial awards, included the following points from the BFBB. The first was that the

In the past, one of the main problems with Arts Council funding was the form that bands applying for an award had to fill in. They had to fill in a 96-page application
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form for a grant of £250. I am pleased to say that recently—in May, I think—the Arts Council revised its application form to make it simpler; that is a step in the right direction.

Secondly, the BFBB said:

that is the Arts Council England—

that is for the big brass-band instruments—

Chris Ruane: Does my hon. Friend think that a large grant of, say, £100,000 should be provided to the BFBB, so that it can distribute minor grants to brass bands across the country?

Jeff Ennis: My hon. Friend has either read my speech or is reading my mind, because that is a point that I shall focus on shortly. The BFBB responded positively to all the suggestions made by the Minister, the chief exec of the Arts Council, the chief exec of the national lottery and others. The problem is that the BFBB needs much more support. I intend to have a meeting with the BFBB and Andy Carver, the chief exec of the Arts Council England, Yorkshire region, to discuss the matter further. Currently, the BFBB is basically a one-man band. It has a part-time development officer, and the rest of the organisation consists of volunteers. If we are asking the BFBB to do all the connection and liaison work between all the funding streams and the brass bands, it is incumbent on the Arts Council England to help to fund the BFBB adequately.

David Taylor: My hon. Friend mentioned the Grimethorpe Colliery band. The world champion Desford Colliery brass band is now based in my constituency. Does he agree that the BFBB might play a significant role in an area where there is stress and shortage, namely conductor training? The fine musicians of the future will be shaped and led by new conductors, who need to come into brass banding if we are to ensure that its future is as rich as its past.

Jeff Ennis: My hon. Friend makes a valid point, and I would extend what he says to music tuition. Also, many leading brass band players do not stay with brass bands; they eventually go to philharmonic orchestras and become some of their leading musicians. We need to build on the links between brass bands and philharmonic orchestras, given that conductors who start off in brass bands progress to philharmonic orchestras.

Chris Ruane: Does my hon. Friend agree that brass bands provide a way for working-class people in working-class communities to make it, not just through the brass band movement but—


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David Taylor: Social cohesion.

Chris Ruane: Yes, my hon. Friend makes a valid point: brass bands provide social cohesion, but they are also a stepping stone enabling working-class people to make it right to the top.

Jeff Ennis: Once again, I think my hon. Friend has been reading my speech. He is majoring on a point that I shall come to shortly.

I have been pointing the finger at the lack of funding coming from the Arts Council England. The difference between the amounts of money that brass bands draw down from the national lottery and from the Arts Council is a valid cause for concern. At our recent meeting with Peter Wanless, the new chief exec of the Big Lottery Fund, he told us that brass bands’ applications for funding from the Big Lottery Fund are met with a success rate of about 50 per cent., which is a fairly good level of achievement.

Last year, brass bands received just short of £110,000 from the national lottery, and this year, until the end of June, they have been granted almost £54,000. In addition to that, the national youth brass band of Great Britain has received £573,000 of lottery funding over the past five years through YouthMusic, and that figure increases year on year. The two main sources of funding from the national lottery are Awards for All, which most brass bands tap into, and the bigger pot of Reaching Communities, which Easington colliery brass band recently tapped into to the tune of about £100,000. The Arts Council needs to learn lessons from the funding that brass bands are drawing down from the Big Lottery Fund. It needs to make its process for putting in applications much simpler, like that of the national lottery.

Youth brass band music is thriving throughout the United Kingdom. I recently had the opportunity to speak and present some of the prizes at the national youth brass band competition, which is held annually at the university of Manchester and took place in April this year. I was privileged to see more than 2,000 youngsters, mostly secondary school kids, playing brass band instruments to an extremely high standard to packed concert halls. Everybody had a fantastic time.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I am sure that my hon. Friend knows that Smithills sixth-form brass band has an extraordinary reputation; I have had the opportunity to see them twice myself. They very much represent the way many players are now coming through. That shows what one school can do, let alone the wider youth movement.

Jeff Ennis: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. I have had the privilege of listening to the excellent West Lothian schools brass band from Scotland.

That brings me to an interesting comparison between Scotland and England. Last year, the Scottish Arts Council gave £55,000 towards Scotland’s youth brass band championships. Given that England is roughly 10 times the size of Scotland, one would think that the Arts Council England would give the national youth brass band championships in England a grant of about £500,000, but last year it gave the paltry sum of £25,000—less than half what the Scottish Arts Council gave for its youth brass band championships.


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Chris Ruane: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way yet again. Can I pick his brains and ask whether he has any comparable figures for Wales?

Jeff Ennis: I am afraid not, but I can tell my hon. Friend that the Cory band in south Wales are the European champions because they recently beat the Grimethorpe Colliery band to win the European championships in Stavanger. I congratulate Cory. Grimethorpe won the national brass band championships again this year at the Royal Albert hall and will therefore represent England in next year’s European finals. There are some excellent brass bands not only in south Wales but in north Wales, with the silver brass band in Rhyl.

I am concerned about the need for greater co-operation between Government Departments across all disciplines, but particularly music. I know that that is happening. I congratulate the Minister on the co-operation that is taking place between her Department and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. In Barnsley, for example, we are benefiting to the tune of just over £1 million in funding from the Department for Children, Schools and Families, through an initiative it has for teaching music that allows children to learn a musical instrument at key stage 2.

The Government will invest hundreds of millions of pounds in music education over the next three years. The target area is key stage 2—the top juniors in year 6. The aim is that every child at key stage 2 should learn a musical instrument or receive specialist musical tuition for one year free of charge. That will be done by teaching the playing of instruments to all key stage 2 classes as part of the wider opportunities project. In Barnsley last year, 50 per cent. of all junior schools benefited from the project, and by 2009 every primary and junior school in Barnsley will benefit from it. By 2009, every year 6 child in Barnsley will have a year to a learn to play a musical instrument.

David Taylor: My hon. Friend has centred the debate on the contribution that can be made by the Arts Council, the lottery funds and so on, but will he pay tribute to the way many private firms have picked up on providing the sponsorship that was once routinely provided by the National Coal Board? I have in mind organisations in my constituency such as Ibstock Brick, and the Ibstock Brick Brass, and Leicestershire Co-op, with the Leicestershire Co-op band. They are doing a great deal to bridge the gap, but it is still widening, not least because the young people getting involved need uniforms and instruments that present funding sources are unable to supply.

Jeff Ennis: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I have focused on community brass bands, but in the second half of my speech I want to focus on the elite brass bands, and the very issue that my hon. Friend has highlighted. The fact is that we do not have the staple industries any more. The coal industry supported Grimethorpe Colliery band and the textile industry supported the Black Dyke Mills band. Those industries have collapsed and the elite brass bands need corporate sponsorship from the private sector rather than the public sector.

To finish the point about co-operation between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Children, Schools and Families, I should
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add that excellent work will be going on in Barnsley schools over the next couple of years, but when pupils leave school, they will need a strong infrastructure of community music making. Brass bands offer a unique opportunity to provide that, and it should be invested in so that they are ready for the influx of players and a public who show a revitalised interest in amateur music making. That is very much an example of best practice, which I hope the Minister will focus on in her closing remarks.

I now come to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor): we need to make progress on the situation of the elite brass bands. I would like to focus on bands such as the Grimethorpe Colliery band, the Black Dyke Mills band and the Cory band. There are between 10 and a dozen top elite bands in the United Kingdom. They are not just some of the best brass bands in the world; they are the best brass bands in the world, and long may that continue. The main problem is the way in which the Arts Council England funds its regularly funded organisations—the RFOs. The Arts Council has just short of 900 RFOs, such as English National Opera, the Northern Ballet, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. We can all think of examples of the so-called elite RFOs. There are nearly 900 of them, and they are guaranteed, over the next three years, more than half the funding provided in the total Arts Council England budget. Just over half a billion pounds is going to those organisations in the next three years—but there is not one elite brass band among those 900 organisations. The Arts Council has appointed 80 new RFOs and not one is a brass band. That is a major concern for me.

My point about the elite brass bands is probably best articulated through a couple of examples that have been brought to my attention. When I first mentioned brass band funding in the autumn, I received an e-mail from John Myles, the chairman of the YBS band. It used to be called the Yorkshire Building Society band when it was sponsored by that organisation. The building society no longer sponsors it, so it goes under the name “YBS band”. It is one of the elite bands. The e-mail says:

which Grimethorpe won. The e-mail continues:


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I received the follow-up e-mail about six weeks later:


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