Brass band sections in the United Kingdom

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There are five main brass band sections in the United Kingdom: Championship, First, Second, Third, and Fourth. Sometimes, a Youth section is also used, but this is not graded.

Championship section[edit]

This is the section containing the very best bands in the United Kingdom who compete in the Open and National Brass Band Championships, established in 1853 and 1860 respectively.[1] Bands such as Black Dyke,[2] Brighouse and Rastrick, Fairey[3] and Grimethorpe are placed in here. A few of these have professional or semi-professional players, but the contest has always been designed towards amateur musicians.[1]

The test pieces set for or commissioned by this section are extremely difficult and use complicated musical conventions and techniques to challenge the musicians. Music composed for this section in recent years has included "Eden" by John Pickard and "Montreux Wind Dances" by Carl Rütti.

There are a range of different competitions for this section from the Regional Qualifying Contests (also known as "Areas") to the European Brass Band Championships.

The top ten bands in the Championship section (ordered by their Band Supplies / British Bandsman / Ranking[4], as of 9 September 2018) are;

Pos Ranking Band Region
1 1 Cory Band Wales
2 4 Brighouse and Rastrick Band Yorkshire
3 5 Black Dyke Band Yorkshire
4 7 Whitburn Scotland
5 9 Foden's Band North West
6 11 Grimethorpe Colliery Band Yorkshire
7 12 Fairey Band North West
8 13 Flowers West
9 15 Virtuosi GUS Band Midlands
10 16 Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band Yorkshire

First, Second, and Third sections[edit]

The First section is the next section down from the Championship section, and although the contest music is not as challenging, it is still quite difficult to play. The degree of difficulty of the music used in competitions is progressively less for each section. Many individual players in the First section can match the virtuosity of Championship section players, and the gap between the two sections is always hotly contested, as indeed it is between Second and First. Very often the only reason a band from the top of one section does not successfully migrate up to the next section lies in their interpretation of a test piece at a contest, where their fate lies in the hands of an adjudicator. The adjudicator sits enclosed and unable to see the bands as they play, and then judges them on various points, one of which is interpretation. In the past,[when?] deportment was one of the judgeable factors, but this is no longer part of contest judgement. On many occasions success or failure will depend on very small matters or mistakes, and this closeness between bands often increases in the higher sections.

Although many of the players at the top are truly virtuoso musicians, outside the genre they are seldom well known. All are amateurs (players pay for the privilege of being allowed to play with a band), and every player knows that if his or her musicianship is not up to standard, there are other musicians trying for their seat (their place in the band). This means that player rivalry exists even within an individual band.

Fourth section[edit]

Most Fourth section bands try to move up the ranks to Third section, and so they set themselves musical tasks to enable them to improve. These tend to include the simpler marches and old test pieces. The marches and other compositions of the Welsh composer and conductor T. J. Powell remain constant favourites[citation needed].

One of the principal reasons for a decline into Fourth section status lies in the difficulties of recruiting new players. In the past when Britain had extensive heavy industries, these would sponsor brass bands, who would then bear their name. For example, the once-great Melin Griffith Band of Cardiff was adopted by Excelsior Rope Works when the Melingriffith Tin Plate Works closed down, and then they became the Excelsior Rope Works Band. The decline in industrial sponsorship removed the financial backing which supported such vital items as a practice room, uniforms, instruments, stands, chairs, and music, which taken together cost far more than a subscription band can ever afford. However, with very few exceptions, these bands have been struggling to get by supported only by the members' subscriptions, the occasional sponsored concerts, and playing Christmas carols. Not infrequently, practice rooms become unavailable, adding still more to the pressure to disband, and many bands have disappeared or amalgamated in recent years. A further problem is that players of ability would normally rather play in a band which stretches them, so it becomes hard to recruit good players for a lower section band, and this increases the problem.

Youth section[edit]

Youth bands are not usually registered and are not graded, and so they do not really compare with the above sections. However, Youth bands may be permitted to perform in competitions. At some major competitions (e.g. Whit Friday and Pontins), there is a youth section prize awarded, but this is not common.

Youth bands suffer from some perennial problems, because players grow too old for the band and leave, causing the strength of the band to wane and then grow again. Also, as many youth band players are not fully-grown, they do not have the sound capacity of the adult bands; however, this may be offset by their enthusiasm.

The very best three or four youth bands will be around the standard of the top First section and lower Championship section bands. However, their strength undulates, so a youth band could sweep all before them in August, and then collapse in September when all the top players leave for university.

The main competitions for youth bands are the Action Medical Research Youth Entertainment Championships, the National Youth Brass Band Championships of Great Britain, and the brass band section of Music for Youth.

The National Youth Brass Band Champions of Great Britain are "Youth Brass 2000" who have won this award for 4 consecutive years. They have also come second in the Europeans top section for 3 consecutive years (the latest 2 have also won best soloist).

The National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain[edit]

2017 champions Brighouse and Rastrick playing at Towersey Festival 2018 with the championship trophy displayed

The National Brass Band Championships are split into two parts. The first is the Area contest where bands across all sections compete to qualify for the national Finals.

The contest is run as a yearly event. The Area contests usually take place in March. The second part of the competition – the Finals – takes place the following September or October. Each section is assigned its own test piece. These test pieces are usually announced at the lower section Finals in September (or sometimes even before). In early June (after the qualifying bands from the Area contests have been decided), the set works for the Finals are announced.

There are eight Areas: West of England, London & Southern Counties, Midlands, Wales, North West, Yorkshire, North of England, and Scotland.

Since the Lower Section Finals in 2011, the Finals of Sections 1 through 4 are held at The Centaur, Cheltenham Racecourse, and the Championship Section Finals are held in the Royal Albert Hall, London.

Championship Winners[5][6][edit]

Year Band Region Conductor Test Piece
2018 Foden's Band North West Russell Gray Handel in the Band
2017 Brighouse and Rastrick Band Yorkshire David King Gallery
2016 Cory Band Wales Philip Harper Journey of the Lone Wolf
2015 Cory Band Wales Philip Harper Spiriti
2014 Black Dyke Band Yorkshire Nicholas Childs The Legend of King Arthur
2013 Cory Band Wales Philip Harper Of Distant Memories
2012 Foden's Band North West Allan Withington Daphnis et Chloé, 2nd Suite
2011 Brighouse and Rastrick Band Yorkshire David King Breath of Souls
2010 Brighouse and Rastrick Band Yorkshire David King Terra Australis
2009 Black Dyke Band Yorkshire Nicholas Childs The Torchbearer
2008 Black Dyke Band Yorkshire Nicholas Childs Concertino for Brass Band [Downie]
2007 Grimethorpe Colliery Band Yorkshire Allan Withington Music for Battle Creek

British contesting year[edit]

Other organisations' contests and championships are spread out over the year.

January Butlin's Mineworkers' Brass Band Championships
February Local Association contests
March Regional qualifying contests
April National Youth Brass Band Contest
May European Championships, Spring Festival (Grand Shield, Senior Trophy, Senior Cup), All

England Masters

June Whit Friday Marches
July English Nationals
August National Eisteddfod of Wales[7]
September British Open, Lower Section National Finals
October Championship Section National Finals
November Brass in Concert Championships, Pontin's Brass Band Championships, Scottish Open, Local Association contests

Promotion and relegation[edit]

At the end of the competing season, the top two bands from each section are promoted to the next section up, and the bottom two are relegated to the section below. Several factors are used in determining who is promoted and relegated, and a band must perform consistently for three years, because the scores are aggregated over the previous two years. Therefore, a relegated band will usually have to spend at least two years in the section below before it can make its comeback.

There are some shortcuts; for example, a band winning the National Title for its section is automatically promoted for the following year.

Brass band rankings[edit]

Controversial rankings of the bands are published by 4BarsRest and Brass Band World; however, each should be compared by how they compile their rankings. Often it is the band which has competed successfully in the most competitions that wins the highest ranking. However, some competitions give more points than others, so this also affects who is number one.

Non-contesting bands[edit]

Participation in the whole contesting and ranking exercise is not compulsory, and there exist brass bands in the UK which for any number of reasons choose not to do so; these are known as non-contesting bands.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Herbert 2000, p. 7.
  2. ^ Cox 2011, p. 195.
  3. ^ Cox 2011, p. 199.
  4. ^ "World Rankings". 4barsrest. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  5. ^ "Report & Result: 2018 National Championships of Great Britain". 4barsrest. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  6. ^ Sawyer, Tim. "National Championship of Great Britain (Championship Section Final) - Contest - Brass Band Results". Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  7. ^ National Eisteddfod of Wales. "Details of the competitions, rules and conditions and the entry form for the brass bands section". Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  • Cox, Gordon (2011). The Musical Salvationist: The World of Richard Slater (1854–1939), 'father of Salvation Army Music'. Boydell & Brewer Ltd. ISBN 978-1-843-83696-4.
  • Herbert, Trevor (2000). The British Brass Band : A Musical and Social History: A Musical and Social History. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-191-59012-2.