Scarlet & Gold: Army music at its best!

I was most honoured to be invited to The Household Division 2012 Scarlet & Gold Concert in London by The Buffet Group who supported the concert.

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For many people the stereotypical image of a military band is of soldiers and musicians parading up and down in front of Buckingham Palace or playing waltzes on the bandstand at the seaside in summer. I urge anyone with these views to think again and attend a large military band concert to change your mind about army music and the diversity that these professional musicians can offer.

Before the concert, I was invited to attend with Howarth of London and other MOD musical suppliers, to a VIP drinks and dinner reception held in the Guards Museum, who were hosting the event at Westminster Central Hall. During the dinner I was seated next to the charismatic and entertaining Frank Renton, presenter of Listen to the Band on BBC Radio 2.  Frank Renton was also previously Principal Director of Music for the British Army, so as you can imagine is very well informed on all things musical & military.

The Scarlet & Gold concert had previously been held in the Royal Albert Hall but this year the venue had been moved to a slightly smaller, yet still imposing venue of the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster.

The concert opened in traditional military fashion with the National Anthem closely followed by a barnstorming concert opener of Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkeries’ conducted by the Senior Director of Music, Guards Division: Lt Colonel Barnwell, with a slightly unique twist of having two teams of fanfare trumpeters located on either side of the upper balcony. If we hadn’t heard enough trumpets already, the Massed Household Division Bands were then joined by the state trumpeters of the Life Guards and Blues & Royals to play ‘March Militaire’ which in the Central Hall would have been what the composer Charles Gounod wanted, I’m sure of that.

The showcase piece of the first half was Armenian Dances by Alfred Reed: a large scale original work which tests the technical ability of any band. This was played with style and panache that suits the guards bands perfectly. In contrast to this, violinist Rebecca White then played the theme to the film Schindlers List accompanied by the band. Proof that many musicians in the army are also accomplished string players and Rebecca played it beautifully. The applause following this fantastic performance said it all.

To close the first half we were introduced to the Corps of Drums, 2nd Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment who performed ‘Victory Beatings’ then joined the band in playing the rousing marches Namur and Scarlet & Gold, composed by Lloyd Thomas which was a very fitting march, considering the title of tonight’s event.

Guards Bands, Military music, army music, corps of army music, army music, howarth of london
Scarlet and Gold, Household Division Bands Concert.

After a brief interval, Captain Smith of the Grenadier Guards opened the second half with the Star Wars main theme. Which is repertoire perfectly suited to a military band and always a concert favourite. It was now, in true army style, time to bring on the Pipes and Drums of The London regiment playing Crags of Tumbledown, a march by ‘Jimmy Riddle’ written during the Falklands conflict on the back of a cardboard army ration pack. The original ‘score’ can be seen today on display in the guards museum. We were then off to see the wizard! A wonderful selection of tunes arranged from the film The Wizard of Oz conducted by Major Wolfendale of the Coldstream Guards.

As another example of the diversity of army music today, the Household Division Big Band had a slot of three contrasting numbers. Dressed in No. 2 uniform to give a retro-feel to the proceedings, The Guards Big Band certainly did rock with some amazing drumming from Neil Brocklehurst. James Scott sang his own arrangement of ‘In the wee small hours of the morning’ with a lovely intimate feeling and the remaining two pieces having notable saxophone solos from Clark Doidge & Dean Nixon.

The fanfare teams returned to the Hall afterwards to join the massed bands again in Bizet’s Farandole before Andrew Wallis: Curator of the Guards Museum stepped onto the stage to explain about the purpose of the nights concert and the military charities that were supported.

And so to the finale: It seemed inevitable that all performers for the evening would be involved in a rousing & loud finale and we weren’t shortchanged here. A setting of The Last Post to ‘Will ye no come back again’ and Auld Lang Syne by Duncan Beat would have had the traditionalists reaching for their headache tablets with fanfare trumpets, state trumpets, bagpipes and drums all involved in this epic arrangement, but it was certainly memorable. With the applause still ringing around the hall the massed bands ended the concert with Horatio Nicholls ‘When the Guards are on Parade’. How could there be any other march that could close this Scarlet & Gold musical spectacular?

It’s rare these days to see large scale military concerts, so if you have the chance to attend one of these events, then please make the effort to see musicians from the British Army perform. It’s not just about the marching!

As a final word, these concerts are critical in this current climate in raising awareness of the need to raise more cash for the charities that support soldiers, guardsmen and their families. Plus, The Guards Museum that tells the story of an important part of Britain’s military history about the seven household division regiments that have kept the British Army the pride of the nation for over 350 years.

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Corps of army music concerts


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