Why did it end?

Why does something so marvellous as the Sun Life Band have to end? A question which takes a lot of answering. Many say that something of great beauty will over time loose that beauty, fade, and then eventually die. Is this sort of band any different?

Do the band members who were there at the very end know the answer? Questionable. We can only speculate the turmoil of emotions that these guys & girls were going through at the time, and any self diagnosis drawn from that time would be greatly influenced by such.

Let us, therefore, put forward a hypothesis of 'why' it ended, elicited from the history of the Sun Life Band itself but also taking a wider view at the ending of other great band institutions over recent years.

Loss of sponsorship

The band had demonstrated in most of the first decade of their existence an ability to compete at the highest levels with virtually no money whatsoever. True, that the loss of the lengthy sponsorship deal with Axa-Sun Life hastened the end, but it can not be thought of as being our 'why'.

Personnel core

The band had through nearly all of its 30 years of existence a core to it. That is, there were always about 12 players out of 28 who were always there - offering stability to the band. This core of players included many from when the band began, which may be gleaned from the number of players with an extremely long service record. This stability of personnel is 'key' to their success. Look at CWS in the 1960's and the Dyke of the 1970's, both bands had very stable personnel cores. The Sun Life Band's personnel core had been slowly eroding since the late 1980's and, even with their greatest success coming in 1990 at the Open, it is still nevertheless a unequivocal fact. The core was so small at the end it was difficult for them to draw emotional and physical strength from each other to fight on - all in this diminished inner sanctum appeared exhausted.

New quality players

Every band in the world, no matter who or where they are, suffer from lack of available talent when a position becomes available. How the Sun Life Band always managed to replace an excellent player with another always astonished everyone. Even so, the Sun Life Band can be said to have had, relative its peers of the North, quite a low turn-over, roughly equating to 3 or 4 players each year. The Sun Life Band was geographically isolated from the other premier bands of the UK - Cory 70 miles, Desford 130 miles, Dyke 200 miles, and so on. Disadvantage: when a position came available there was rarely someone of experience at our performance level, locally, to take over.

If someone could be enticed to move to Bristol from elsewhere then it was a move of band, job, and home. Further, if a player arrived from well outside area they found it difficult to relate to the driving passion of our band; a band from the West-country standing alone and taking on the big boys from up North. Loyalty to this cause was therefore difficult to graft onto these few transplanted newcomers. Advantage: the isolation meant that the band could develop independently and uniquely - it was like no other top class band of its day, something to be extremely proud of. This difficulty of personnel replacement always went on and can not be taken as our elusive 'why'. Could it be that the development of talent within schools, and elsewhere for that matter, has been seriously reduced over the last 10 years, making the band's job of replacement from a rather difficult thing to something nigh-on impossible? When we look back over the events of recent years may we come to regret the amount of Lottery Money (what a wind-fall!) we have spent on shinny new instruments and what little we spent on a coherent youth development policy & programme for the benefit of all (including the kids themselves)?

Social change

Probably, next to the personnel core issue, can be argued to be the major contributing factor to the Sun Life Band's demise. Let us look back to the late 1960's - people had safe jobs, they moved cities or homes infrequently, they were more often than not a single income family, where having a regular social hobby was common-place, and going off to university to study was quite rare. In the late 1990's - people do not have safe jobs, they are far more likely to move jobs from one part of the country to another, they are more likely to be a dual income family and will share family commitments more evenly, where having a regular hobby is not so trendy and having a variety of interests is, and going on to university is more the norm. Furthermore, someone was once quoted as saying, "…top class banding is a young man's [woman's] sport.". Taking this at face value & in association with what has been said before, we can reason that as someone ages they take on more responsibilities and commitments [social & financial] to work, family, and life outside banding, which renders the all enveloping commitment to a band like Sun Life totally incompatible with what else one has to juggle with in modern life.

So, in our hypothesis, there is no single 'why', simply a state of affairs which were mostly out of the control of the people involved in the Sun Life Band at the end. Could the band have continued? - Yes. Should it have continued? - that is another question, and one which would take vast reams of text to argue a definitive answer - and probably a wrong one at that.

What has happened to all these great players? Well many just gave up playing altogether. They were deeply saddened to see the band go but could take no solace in playing elsewhere and have floated off to family, friends, and other past-times. Others have flung themselves into other named bands in the area and are desperately trying to recreate that drive & ambition that came naturally to Sun Life. And the remainder have quietly withdrawn into the world of community banding, where the musical heights may not be so great, but, we are pleased to say, the company, camaraderie, and banding interest are still very strong and widespread.

In conclusion, let us wish for the day, in the not so distance future, when a small group of dissatisfied Bristol bandsmen and women will decide, once again, to set-up a new band dedicated to the pursuit of excellence, resulting in them becoming the very best band in the land.