The NIBA (North of Ireland Bands Association) was formed on the 7th March, 1907 following a meeting in the Mandeville Bandroom. After much hard work by the committee, 13 bands registered and a parade of bands took place on the 29th June, 1907 assembling at Ormeau Park in attempt to register more bands. The bands which took part were Mandeville, St Mary’s ,Ulster Amateurs, Ravenhill Temperance,14th Old Boys, Argyle Temperance, Dundonald, St Michael’s, Wellington, St Saviour, Kitchener Apprentice Boys, Carrickfergus Amateurs, Victoria Temperance. In early 1909 a decision was made to invite brass and reed bands to join the association. A meeting was held on the 11th February 1909, at which brass bands were well represented, and a decision to affiliate was taken. Following many years of success, the NIBA runs annually every year and is looked upon by brass bands in NI as the most important contest of the year. The contest currently runs in The Marketplace Theatre in Armagh in October of every year and is the only contest in Northern Ireland which has a set piece for each section, meaning all bands play the same piece as the others in their section. For the championship section bands, there is a place at the European’s at stake for the winner.
The BBL (Brass Band League) is another organisation for brass bands in Northern Ireland. They run two entertainments contests, currently in Fivemiletown and Queens University, and also a Spring Festival in Strabane where the bands compete with a piece of their own choice. They also run the Solo and Ensembles competition which brings soloists from each band to compete against each other with a solo of their choice and in various sections. As well as soloists, bands enter ensembles, usually quartets, quintets or 10 piece’s to compete for various prizes as well. This event is also a great opportunity for youth and junior players to begin performing as soloists and receiving feedback on their performances, but most importantly it gives them valuable experience of contesting and performing solos from a young age.
Throughout the troubles it was often difficult for people to attend band as their routes to rehearsals may have been affected by various checkpoints, diversions or bomb scares which would have had a knock on effect on the brass bands, but indeed it showed an incredible sense of commitment for players to make it to band and continue on playing as it turned out to be a great way for people to socialise during this difficult period.
As like any social organisation or team, certain ones often eventually come to struggle for numbers and just like the rest brass bands has been no different. Throughout the years bands have folded or amalgamated with others to form a new band. This is probably the factor in two important things. 1. it has lowered the number of brass bands, but interestingly, 2. it has probably been a factor in the raise of standard of bands at the top. Although it is sad to see bands fold, the combination of two or more bands, provided they keep their best players, will help raise the standard of the bands. Thankfully now, although some bands do struggle for numbers, we don’t hear of bands folding so often.