Sony RX100 review – Small and perfectly formed

The Sony RX100 is a small digital camera designed to fit in a pocket and appeal to DSLR users wanting a compact camera capable of great results without the size, weight and inconvenience of carrying around traditional bulky photographic gear.

Sony DSC-RX100 review

Before I bought my Sony RX100 I had used the popular Panasonic Lumix LX5 for a few years. It was a lovely compact travel camera and superb for taking landscape shots whilst away holiday. I admired the wide angle lens on the Panasonic & found results taken outside in daylight perfectly fine, but it did suffer when light levels started to drop. In reality, shots from the LX5 started to get very noisy when using settings of ISO800 and above.

What I needed was a replacement small digital camera that worked in all situations, could fit in my pocket, had a high quality lens and importantly … worked in less than ideal lighting situations. Of course I did a fair bit of homework when it came to choosing a new model and considered the new Panasonic LX7, the Canon G series models & a few others.

Many reviews were starting to praise the Sony RX100. It had a large 20.2 Megapixel sensor, an f1.8 Carl Zeiss lens, RAW capability and was genuinely well-built encased in a tough metal body. I’d seen enough evidence and sample images to take the plunge and buy one. So read on to find out how I’ve been getting on with the Sony RX100 in the last 6 weeks as a go everywhere digital camera and see if it’s the perfect all round compact digital camera for you.

Sony RX1000 sample image, Sony RX100 review
Black & White High Contrast Setting : Photograph by my partner-in-crime Olivia Wild

The Sony RX100 review

Compact is the key here. The RX100 is a genuinely small camera that will go into your pocket. I don’t just mean a coat pocket either … This camera will happily slip into your trouser pockets which can’t be said for many ‘serious’ compact cameras. This is due to the fact that the RX100 has a fully retractable lens which disappears inside the body when turned off. (no fiddling around with lens caps). The Sony doesn’t have a hot shoe either which allows a smooth profile when the camera needs to be put away or grabbed quickly. However, because it’s so small & somewhat slippery a little care must be taken to keep hold of it. The RX100 comes with a wrist strap alone and while this makes perfect sense rather than a full strap it does mean you have to keep a keen grip on it. (There is an option to attach a standard camera strap to the side lugs)

Sony RX100 review
Chester Cathedral taken with The Sony RX100 : Click for full size image

Handling & Controls

The camera is up and running within 2 seconds of turning it on. The standard PASM controls are on the top dial along with scene, video & 2 programme modes. I’m not normally a fan of Auto modes, but Sony seem to have got this right when you just need to leave the camera on point and shoot. There is an intelligent auto mode & a supreme auto mode, which I thought was rather a strange idea when I first started using it, but in regular use these modes begin to make sense. In a nutshell intelligent auto takes care of everything in normal outdoor use in good light. Switch to supreme auto when conditions start to get a little more tricky e.g. indoors, night-time etc.  Supreme auto uses a stacking system and will take several photos and layer them together resulting in a well-balanced final image. This sounds like technology taking a step too far, but believe me .. it works … and it works really well. (Just be aware due to the fact the camera is taking several images in succession, this isn’t the mode if your subject is moving)

Butterflies with Sony RX100
When taking close up subjects the RX100 will automatically switch to macro mode

The RX100 has a 3 inch LCD rear screen and uses Sony’s whitemagic display technology meaning it can be seen in all conditions. Safe to say that it’s always pretty easy to see what’s going on when composing images even in sunshine, so it does what it says in the book. Talking of the book …  The Sony RX100 only comes with a basic manual which doesn’t explain all the menu functions, modes and custom options that can be performed with this camera. You’ll have to go online to Sony to find the full manual I’m afraid.

The menu functions and further modes are accessed on a rear dial, of which there are many settings to absorb and work out what’s best for you. There is also a custom button to jump straight to movie mode, but more about that later. Custom functions can be set and assigned to the Fn button for ease. I’ve assigned exposure compensation, drive settings, ISO & image modes to this button. If I could criticise anything about the RX100 it’s a lack of a dedicated exposure compensation dial. (I think you may be able to assign it to the front wheel, but I haven’t found that in the non-supplied instruction book yet!)

Olivia Wild, Clarinet specialist & Photographer, Sony RX100 camera review
Black & White High Contrast Mode

Focusing, Exposure & Shooting Modes

I’ve already covered the two auto modes which are fine for general use, but there are many other modes to use when you start digging deeper. There are intelligent scene modes and various fun settings of which several are a little hit and miss, but hidden away are some very usable setting indeed. As you can see from the sample images on this page, I’ve become a fan of the high-contrast black & white setting which works brilliantly. The resulting images need little or no post editing afterwards which ticks a lot of my boxes. The less work I have to do after a days shooting the better. You may want to experiment with some of the HDR & Illustration modes to see if they work for you.

When it comes to focusing, the Sony RX100 is generally very good. I’ve spent whole days out and about and it’s only failed to focus a few times & to be honest, that’s been down to user error if I’ve been wanting offset macro photos for instance. The RX100 will automatically go into macro mode when you are close to a subject and needs to have the right focus point set, but other than that, generally it’s pretty good.

The exposure too has been pretty spot on in general and the camera is intelligent enough to work out if a subject is back-lit or not. I generally keep flash settings in the ‘off’ setting, but the RX100 seems to be good when the flash is in operation too. One little surprise is the ability to tilt the flash back and bounce the flash for a more flattering image. This takes a little deft work with a finger to hold the flash back, but it works surprisingly well.

Sony RX100 review, sample image taken with Sony RX100

The rest

The Sony RX100 has an equivalent zoom range of 28-100mm which covers everything I would need in normal use (It would have been nice if it had been a little wider, but you can’t have everything). The battery seems to last all day even with quite heavy shooting. The Sony website estimates 330 shots, but I’ve managed over 400 without panicking that the battery would run out.

There are several continuous shooting modes upto 10fps which have come in handy and they nice to have when you need a little more speed to capture moving subjects. There are also various focus modes which I haven’t really used such as facial recognition and motion tracking which are accessed via the centre button on the back. (annoyingly I’ve set the tracking focus setting a few times and it took me ages to find out how to turn it off because once again the instructions are very basic so I had to go online again to find out why it kept happening.

The RX100 can shoot full HD video in two formats: either AVCHD or MP4 of which I’ve tested and can say is fine for what I would need. The image stabilisation system in movie mode does work very well though. Battery charging is done in camera which can be a little inconvenient if you wish to use the camera whilst charging a second battery, but that’s just a minor niggle which I don’t really mind.

Sony Cybershot RX100 review, Black & White setting on RX100
Coalbrookdale, Shropshire

Verdict

The Sony RX100 is one of the smallest and most advanced compact digital cameras on the market right now. As a back up to larger DSLR cameras it pulls its weight when it has to and the results are great when taking those everyday snapshots. With a little thought, this little camera can pull out fantastic quality images that often need little or no work in post process.  The large 1 inch sensor also means there is scope to crop photographs afterwards with little loss of resolution.

There may be other small cameras on the market, but very few have a large sensor that is as good as the one in the RX100. There are a few competitors that are cheaper, but in this case you really do get what you pay for. As you can see from the images on this page this camera is a lovely tool that happily stays with me on my travels. With this in mind I’d go as far to say that this is genuinely the best pocket-able camera you can buy right now.

hands on review of the sony rx100

All images have been re-sized to 72dpi on this page as original file sizes range from 5-8mb

To find out more visit sony.co.uk

It doesn’t matter what camera you use – It’s how you use it

The marketing approach taken by camera manufacturers does alarm me somewhat these days.

Suddenly every new consumer camera or photo enabled smartphone is tagged with such lines as “Now everyone can shoot like a Pro” or “Making photography easy.” Now, I kind of have a problem with this … and let me tell you why…

The basis of most camera sales and the marketing behind many photographic brands is how many pixels the cameras have. Of course, we all know that in the real world pixel count isn’t that important. If all you intend to use your photos for is to share them on Facebook & Blogs (such as this) or simply print them 6X4 size on your printer at home for family shots to put in that little photo frame you received for Christmas, then anything over 5 million pixels is more than adequate if you’re using the images online.

Before I go any further, I wouldn’t profess to be a ‘Pro’ photographer by any means. I’m an amateur with a keen interest in photography. However, I was brought up with real cameras … Yes, those ones that used to have film in them. I was also taught how to use a 35mm manual focus camera from quite a young age. No technology, no auto-focus, no auto exposure, so I only had 35 shots to get the image right.. first time. This taught me an awful lot about how to make every shot count. I didn’t have the money to keep buying film and spending money on getting the photographs developed and printed. Every 35 shots cost around £10 from start to printed finish. So just imagine if you had to pay 35p for every photograph you take now!

Everybody is a ‘photographer’ now, according to most photo sharing social networks. But, the reality is .. digital cameras have made it so easy for anyone to take photographs now and say ‘I’m a photographer.’ Of course, this is true .. But all we are doing now is capturing images without learning the true art of photography. We all take pictures of our family, children, pets, food, scenery, holidays etc, as memories, and the digital age has gifted us with documenting our world around us with ease. The point I’m trying to make is … Please don’t get caught up in the hype of ‘This camera lets you shoot like a Pro’ and ’20 million pixels lets you shoot better than ever before’

The Uncle Bob Syndrome

I attended a wedding last year and was asked to take the photographs as the couple were on a tight budget. However, what happened was that a family friend of the couple had just bought a “really expensive digital SLR camera, that can even make cloudy days look sunny” and was “oh it’s about 25 million pixels so the photographs will be brilliant.” Let me just say … I call these people – Uncle Bob

I saw the results from the ‘happy couple’ that they shared on Facebook. They were awful! Badly framed, wonky, out of focus etc.. To be honest, I could have taken far better photographs with my little Panasonic LX5. These are people that just assume because they have bought, and use a really expensive camera that it makes them a ‘professional photographer’  My answer to this is simply … If I buy a really expensive tennis racquet, then I’m a professional tennis player and I could then have a match with Roger Federer..

7 Reasons why the camera you use doesn’t matter

If you were expecting a written list of seven reasons why, then I’m sorry. Therefore, I thought I’d provide seven photographs from seven different cameras to show why it really doesn’t matter what you use, or how many pixels it has, or how much it cost, but what you want to achieve when using a camera. The rules I always use when taking satisfying images are … It has to be sharp, well exposed and framed correctly. Of course rules can be broken, but get the basics right and your photographic skills will improve no end. And what’s my biggest pet hate? …… don’t just plonk people in the middle of the frame and have empty space above them, or cut their feet off when taking full length shots. And don’t be afraid to turn the camera horizontally.

The photographs below will hopefully show that whatever you use, you can get nice photographs. I chose the same type of images that we take every day when we are out and about.

This was taken with an iPhone and edited with the popular Instagram app..
Of course, mobile phones these days have super in-built cameras
Photograph taken on a 1982 Nikon FM2. An all manual film camera.
Ilford HP5 Black & White film, digitally scanned into Photoshop
Panasonic Lumix FT3 waterproof compact camera
The FT range from Panasonic are reasonably cheap and tough
An old Nikon Coolpix 5100 model
Just 5 million pixels happening here .. which is fine
Nikon D200 DSLR with Nikon 70-200 f2.8 lens
You can pick up a D200 on Ebay for a few hundred pound now
Ok .. It’s a picture of me taken with a Fuji X100
The Fuji X100 is my favourite camera – just 12 million pixels mind..
Snowdonia National Park – Taken on a Panasonic Lumix LX5
10 million pixels is more than enough.. This is a superb small travel pocket camera

I was always taught, a camera is just a light-proof box that contains film. Nothing more, nothing less.

It’s what you do with it that counts!

The “Joys” of buying a new car!

I think someone once said that the most stressful events in your life are moving house, finding a job & bereavement.

Let me just add one more ‘life event’ to this list – Buying a new car!

Maybe classifying this as stressful might not be entirely correct, but it’s certainly introduced me to the mystical frustrating world of the car manufacturers showroom and the type of staff that are employed to work in them.

I’d had a couple of second hand cars recently that hadn’t quite been what you could call ‘reliable’.  In the past I’d always managed to source a well-looked after bargain that served me well. Most of these cars in the past had been bought for less than £1500 and had been useful tools. Whether travelling across Europe in a crusty Saab 900, driving through rivers in a Land Rover Discovery or trekking up and down to Scotland in an old Volvo Estate I’d generally managed to have pretty much trouble free motoring.

Land rover discovery
My 3.5 V8 Land Rover Discovery

This year though I’d suffered with endless mechanical woes from sticking brakes and whining axles to knocking suspension joints. But the final nail in the second hand motoring coffin for my trusty old Ford KA was a complete failure of the steering system. The car still ran fine, but sounded like an angry chainsaw and needed around £600 spent on it to get it sorted.  I took the decision to scrap my faithful old friend in the end and waved a sad goodbye to it just recently as it was unceremoniously craned onto a lorry and driven away to the great car breakers in the sky.

My Ford KA being taken away
My KA on its way to the scrapyard

I was now left driving around in a 15 old Toyota Carina which was perfectly fine for my daily commute but had more miles on the clock than the space shuttle. So, the decision was made to buy a brand new car. I needed a car that would be reliable and under warranty for many years as I’d had enough of fixing annoying little things and panicking every time a car went in for its MOT and the possibility of rather large (how bloody much!) repair bills. This is where the joy of choosing a new car began.

First stop was obviously the internet to see who had the deals. (Just a note here to major car manufacturers: VW & Fiat in particular.) Please make sure your websites are easy to use and quick to load. I have a very fast fibre broadband connection and some of the websites are really clunky and slow, full of redundant widgets and badly laid out so I always end up visiting parts of the site where I can buy a roof rack for a van. Useful!

Honda were great, had friendly staff and I test drove the Jazz. However, it was just a little out of my price range for the model I actually wanted. The lower specification models having about as much appeal as a nursing home, and are mostly driven by people that are in a nursing home!  So, back to the drawing board and Fiat. My local garage had no one free to talk to me so I sat in several cars in the showroom, opened the boot, played with the glove box, moved the seat up and down and all the usual stuff you do in that strange manner when you view a new car. It’s a little bit like trying clothes on except without a mirror to see how you look in it. Still, Fiat and the 2 staff working in the dealership were doing something far less important that asking me if I needed any help and advice so I went home.

The Audi A1 took my fancy, but having walked into the Audi dealership and viewing the car the sales staff were looking at me as if I was some kind of lowlife because I wasn’t looking to buy a ‘premium range’ vehicle that Audi are known for. If I’d happened by chance to have kicked a badger in the face in their car park I could understand their contempt! Continuing in the Germanic vain VW were next on my hit list and I’d seen the UP. Quite a small car, but it had its appeal, even if it would make me a typical middle class London car driving chap. I’d chatted to the sales staff who could have doubled for estate agents and I had the pleasure to inform them that yes: I’d really like the UP as they were advertising it everywhere across the net with great finance deals. They took my details and I said I’d be happy with the high specification UP with alloy wheels and electric windows. Fine Mr. VW said: “You can have one in sometime around March 2017” Good job the guys in there weren’t Germans themselves because I was thinking of something pithy to say about Dresden!

vw up
The VW Up : Coming Up soon… or not!

Ok, next stop Ford. I’d just scrapped my KA and looked at the new one. It was so small compared with the old one. Oh well. How about the Fiesta? Personally I thought it was poorly built inside and really wasn’t keen on its weird interior features. Plus, The staff were one step up from the bottom of the evolutionary ladder and weren’t bothered in taking my enquires seriously so off I trotted to Fiat again! I sat in the 500, opened the boot, played with the glove box, sat in the Punto, sat in another 500 and still Fiat couldn’t have cared less. I actually really liked the 500. Small, trendy and largely impractical for my needs, but there was something about it I liked. I went home again disappointed without having any input from Fiats sales staff again!

fiat 500
Fiat : The car that no one wanted to sell

Next door to where I work is a Peugeot garage so I nipped in to have a look one lunchtime at the 208.  It was just a little too ‘French’ and had a square steering wheel. Citroens didn’t take my fancy either because they fall to bits and smell of cheese. I have pretty much the same opinion of Renault, as everyone I know that owned one said they spent more time in the garage being fixed than actually driving them. As much as I like visiting France and drinking their wine, when it comes to their cars the French makers could just Va Va Voom off.

First thing Saturday morning at 9am I walked into the aforementioned Fiat dealership to sit down and discuss purchasing the 500. Guess what? No staff once again to deal with me. I actually took my coat off sat down and made an effort to actually look like I needed help. I walked back and forth in front of the staff wafting brochures and kept sitting in the 500 slamming the doors and the boot. No matter how interested or ‘helpless’ I looked I still wasn’t dealt with. That was it …  Fiat were then crossed off my list with a note in red pen to mention their ineptitude in a blog!

Less than two hours later I was signing the paperwork to buy a new Vauxhall Corsa Limited Edition from the really friendly, helpful, attentive Evans Halshaw in Borehamwood. Proving that car dealers really can make a difference to the customer when you are making one of life’s biggest financial decisions and not being treated as if you were simply buying a kettle from Comet. Thank you Vauxhall & Evans Halshaw!

vauxhall corsa limited edition red evans halshaw
My new Vauxhall Corsa Limited Edition : Review coming soon…

A brief musical history of how I ended up as a Tuba Player

Music must have been deeply rooted inside somewhere with me from an early age. Both my grandfathers were amateur musicians. I was born in Nottinghamshire & brought up in South Yorkshire. My granddad on my mothers side was a proper northern working class man. He had served in the RAF during the War & afterwards had gone to work at t’pit. His sideline was playing the piano in the traditional northern working mens clubs. I have subsequently heard that he actually played piano on the regular ‘stripper’ nights at the King of Diamonds local ‘establishment’.

However, my grandparents looked after me quite often & Maurice ‘my granddad’ would always be in the kitchen listening to jazz music on the ‘wireless’.

He always listened to the great jazz pianists. Art Tatum was a favourite of his.

School Guitar group c.1981

My dad always had a guitar, he was a big blues fan & I was brought up to the soundtrack of Jimi Hendrix, John Mayer & Eric Clapton.

I was given a guitar I think for my 7th birthday and that was it… I was off. I learnt all the old rock & roll tunes, The Shadows Hank Marvin stuff. In fact, my guitar was red and just looked like Hank Marvins Fender Stratocaster, although I suspect my guitar wasn’t as good as Hanks!

At this time I was at school in Derbyshire. My junior school had an active choir & a brilliant music teacher & choir master. His name was Malcolm Lees. He was very respected in choir circles. I was roped into singing in the choir & he soon realised that I was actually quite musical and learnt the tunes and songs really quickly. During that time the Brookfield School choir Shirebrook entered all the East Midlands schools choir contests and I remember winning a contest singing at the Opera House Buxton probably in 1980? I also was the ‘understudy’ to Joseph in the schools monumental ‘teatowel headgear’ production of Andrew Lloyd Webbers Joseph & the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

I was used to uniforms: From the Scouts to the Grenadier Guards

I played in recorder groups, sang in choirs & played guitar in all many ensembles during those years, then my parents moved to Nottinghamshire where I was put in a new school which had another positive music department. As I was ‘a whiz’ at guitar I became the ‘authority’ on all things musical.

There is a video still floating around somewhere of my solo singing debut at that school around the early 80’s!

Then & Now

I was the off to Secondary school. Or off t’comp as we knew it. Once again the Dukeries School Comprehensive school had a well established music department run by Malcolm Bevan, who I believe is still the head of music there today. I was involved straight away with the guitar groups & was taught double bass as I was quite a big kid. (see photo above on left)

They must have spotted my musical ability as they advised me to also learn a brass instrument. Once again, being a ‘big lad’ there was a tuba chucked at the back of the cupboard so I got stuck with learning that. I used to struggle walking the 20 minutes back & forth to school with it & got some ridicule!

Dukeries School Band: Playing ‘Tuba Smarties’

I was lucky really to have gone to the Dukeries School as they had a very good band. We used to play lots of concerts & county shows and also went abroad to Germany to play at music festivals. (Where I had my first taste of the musicians life of getting involved with beer & wine festivals)

I joined North Notts Music school on Saturday mornings & was also selected to play with Nottingham County Youth Wind Orchestra. I played with local brass bands in the evenings during the week & had private music theory lessons at home. You could say that’s all I did. Real school was rubbish!

It was at this time when I played for Nottinghamshire County Youth Wind band that I had my first introduction to the world of Military Music. The Conductor of that band was Lt Col George Evans who was director of music of the Blues & Royals Military Band in London.

It just so happen that I was also playing with the championship section brass band Ransomes and started talking to a cornet player called Ian Greaves who was in the Household Division Life Guards Band in London.   I went down for an audition with the Senior Director of Music Guards Division Lt Col Derek Kimberley when I was 15 and was offered a place in the Grenadier Guards Band as soon as I was old enough.

army scholl of music, corps of army music
Army Junior School of Music Band 1989: I’m on the far right!

 I signed my life away to the army in 1987 and joined the Guards Depot Pirbright in September as a junior musician in the Grenadier Guards.  I won’t describe what hell I went through during my time in training. (That would be worthy of an article of its own). I spent 4 months in basic training then progressed onto musical studies. I was then having lessons from professional teachers on Tuba, Double Bass, Guitar, Piano, Music Theory & Orchestration.

I passed out of Pirbright in December 1988 then went to the Royal Military School of Music: Kneller Hall for a year in 1989.

My Tuba Teacher there was Patrick Harrild: Principle Tuba player of the London Symphony Orchestra.

Adrian Snood Tuba, Corps of army music
Me & my Tuba

I arrived at the Band of the Grenadier Guards in 1990 and had to learn quickly about all things ceremonial. I’ll always remember my first trooping the colour as all the experienced members of the band kept shouting at me for getting things all wrong!

As you can imagine I’ve done probably thousands of Changing the Guards at Buckingham Palace, Investitures,, Royal Garden Parties, The State opening of Parliament, Royal & state visits, Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph, 18 Trooping the Colour Parades & of course the Royal Wedding last year!

corps army music, Guards band tuba section, Adrian Snood
Household Division Bands Tuba Players 2010: I’m in the centre!

Over the years I’ve also played at the Festival of Remembrance at the Albert Hall (numerous times), The Edinburgh Tattoo, Royal Ascot, Henley Regatta & the band has toured the USA, been to Australia twice & visited places such as Germany, Holland, Italy, Belgium, Bosnia & Switzerland.

I have just finished with the Grenadier Guards Band as principal Tuba Player & Double bassist & leaving a career that has been ‘interesting’ to say the least!

I still have my Tuba. I still have guitars & I still have a piano!  What comes next is anyone’s guess? but i’ll still be playing!

*Summer 2013 update – I’ve been happily working as a Social Media & Marketing Manager, whilst still taking lots of photographs at events & festivals. As for the Tuba … well, It’s a shame, but I don’t play it any more due to time constraints. However, the guitars are still very much part of my life.

Guards Bands, CAMUS, Corps of Army Music
Massed Bands of the Household Division

Thank you for reading – If you got this far.

Joining the corps of army music as a musician

A Spring Brass Band Contest

As many of my friends and followers are aware, I’ve been a tuba player all my life.  Right from the age of 14 when I was given some battered and dented instrument at the back of the schools music cupboard as ‘I was a big lad’.  It became my career after my education & I then spent an amazing 20 years in the British Army with the Band of the Grenadier Guards Band playing that big, heavy, shiny quite comedic but cumbersome instrument.

I originally come from up t’north and as you can expect I played in several Midlands brass bands.

Many years ago, every northern mining town had its own brass band. It was a huge tradition that the local pits had their own band and the towns and villages were proud of the tradition of brass banding. Every local northern village summer fete had a brass band playing in those days.

Sadly over the years as many pits and mines were shut so the brass bands representing them also vanished.  The 1980’s were dark days for a lot of northern mining towns and communities and the brass bands became a shadow of what they were originally were.

Luckily, musicians being musicians were passionate enough to continue in many cases and the bands found a way to survive, through sponsorship and donations from local communities and in recent years Arts council & lottery grants have meant that brass bands continue to thrive.

brass band contest
My Bandsman Entry Pass for the Brass Band Contest

One fun aspect of brass banding is contesting.   The first brass band contest was held in Manchester in 1853 and has continued to this day.

Brass banding is highly competitive, with bands organized into five sections much like a football league –A Championship section, 1st,2nd,3rd & 4th sections plus an under 18s youth section. Competitions are held throughout the year at local, regional, and national levels, and at the end of each year there are promotions and relegations. The bands are made up of 25 players and have supporters & fans just as loyal as football fans at times.

I was invited to play tuba with Staines Brass; a championship band competing in the London & Southern Counties regional finals at Stevenage.

I had previously contested with Staines Brass back in 2006 & had also been ‘borrowed’ for a few concerts in the interim years.

The Championship section had 13 bands in total and were to play a modern piece of music called ‘The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea’ by Derek Bourgeois. A piece that is  around 17 minutes long.     The order in which bands are to play are drawn out of a hat around 1.30 pm and the contest begins.

We all wanted an early ‘draw’ to get the piece over and done with, calm the nerves and get to the bar for a few refreshing beverages. Early numbered draws are affectionately known as the ‘beer draw’ for obvious reasons.

          Where were we drawn?

     13th !!

This meant that we had to wait around all afternoon and eventually got on stage to perform at 7.30 pm.

Staines Brass had rehearsed the piece well & had worked on it for many weeks before hand as it is a very challenging and technical piece.

I sat in the concert hall and listened to several bands before we went on and the playing standard was very high for the afternoon.

Eventually we went on & did our very best. There were a few ‘moments’ in our rendition but all together we were very happy that we had done the best that we could and our conductor Melvin White seemed very pleased with our performance under the hot lights on stage at Stevenage arts & leisure centre.

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea : Staines Brass Performance

All the days competing bands and supporters crowded into the hall and the nail biting wait for the results began.

The results were announced & the band were ecstatic to hear that we had been placed 2nd winning the Coleman Challenge Cup along with an invitation to the National Finals of Great Britain at the Royal Albert Hall in October.

staines brass band

If any of you have seen the film ‘Brassed Off’ you will know that every brass band aspires to reach The National Brass Band Finals of Great Britain which is held at The Royal Albert Hall in London.

( and it isn’t just playing simple pieces such as the William Tell overture! )

Brass band test pieces are very technical & challenging pieces of music that take months of preparation to get to the required standard.

In October, Staines Brass will be competing against several famous brass bands including Black Dyke Band & The Brighouse & Rastrick Band.

We have a huge mountain to climb to compete against these fantastic bands and Staines Brass are looking forward to the challenge.

Staines Brass Website

Thank you to Staines Brass & Jason Pickin for the Results Quote & use of the Staines Brass Photograph

A Musicians Guide To Dealing With A Chemical Attack!

Clutching a guide to CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological & Nuclear) acronyms the band sat down in a comfortable lecture hall for an introduction to the events during the week ahead in Winterbourne Gunner near Salisbury.

The guide numbering over 500 acronyms was soon needed as we were informed of the tasks that we were to undertake during the training course. Within the space of half an hour we were introduced to IPE, CDA, RVD, ID, COLPRO, CAM, LCAD & MCAD.

band of the grenadier guards, corps of army music
The Grenadier Guards Band : not as you would normally see them!

My notepad resembled a 4 year olds school writing book as I struggled to make sense of all these initials and their relevance to course.  The fact that the whole afternoon was taken up with PowerPoint presentations; and as anyone who has sat in a classroom and tried to take in hours of PowerPoint presentations after a substantial lunch can attest, concentration levels were suffering a little.

The next morning, having worked out the correct order of dress for the day which was 3R (we should have known even getting into uniform for the day was subject to an obscure code) all became slightly less murky thanks to the great training staff that we had for the course. There were still a few confused faces when shown how to use the PDRM testing equipment with blinking lights of different colours depending on whether it was switched to H or G.

Lessons soon moved to the RTF (Respirator Testing Facility) or Gas Chamber in old money, to put our Gas Masks…  sorry… ‘Respirators‘, to the test and check that they were fitted correctly. All went well and the band proceeded to next step of the course,

Setting up the CDA. The CDA (Chemical Decontamination area) is an area where personnel, in event of a chemical, biological or nuclear attack would be decontaminated and then moved on to be treated beyond the contaminated or “dirty” area. The band were taught various decontamination roles of when and why they should be used.

This all taken on board the band were split into 2 groups and told to prepare for the next days exercise. Half the band would be the decontamination team, the other half casualties. The decontamination team was broken down further into roles such as Commander, Medics, Cutters & QM’s department. The teams were instructed to make a list for the next day of everything that they would need to set up a CDA.

This list was debated over at great length that evening in the camp mess over several refreshing drinks and soon, the ever expanding list was spilling onto the backs of several beer mats.

After a comfortable nights sleep in the modern accommodation at the camp, the band walked up to the training area and the first decontamination team presented the list of equipment they needed to set up the CDA.  The training staff were a little bemused as to certain items on the list.  The previous nights suggestions to the list had obviously been effected by the refreshing drinks, as on the list were items such as; A coffee machine, Leather Settee, LCD Television & a pool table.

corps of army music
Shane & Me : *note the spooky eyes cut out of a newspaper & stuck behind the eyepieces

The training staff took this in good humour and the exercise began.

Once the decontamination area was set, a bang and loads of green acrid smoke signalled that an attack had taken place and the casualties were soon to arrive.

We had to prioritise the casualties as they came in depending on the injuries sustained. Now remember, we were all wearing charcoal lined suits, thick butyl rubber boots, gloves, a respirator and Kevlar helmets. The conditions, even in the overcast weather was somewhat uncomfortable.

In the casualties came and stretched the decontamination team to the limit.

corps of army music, grenadier guards band
Training Exercise

In the medical area the team were tasked to cutting off  the decontaminated charcoal lined suits and getting the casualty treated and out of the “dirty” area as soon as possible. Several uniforms were sliced and many pairs of shoelaces were cut through as the confusion ensued. It was getting extremely hot in those horrible uncomfortable suits.

band of the grenadier guards, corps of army music
Casualty Decontamination

Several members of the team were then tasked with carrying a casualty on a stretcher to the corner of the field and back to show how quickly your performance would be degraded by extra work.  I was one of those carrying the stretcher. Normally you would use 4 people to carry a casualty but, as it was so hot and tiring in the suits we had to use 6 people just to carry one person.

Two hours into the exercise now and the dehydration set in. I just could not take in enough water due to the nature of wearing a respirator. It was really unpleasant work.

There were still many light-hearted moments such as when my friend Jim came in as a casualty impaled with a spade and  Shane O’Neill had camouflaged his helmet with a branch from a tree, complete with nut filled bird feeder still attached.

corps of army music training
Jim with a spade stuck in his back

The exercise ended after some 3 hours and we were relieved to get our respirators off, suits off and get some fresh air.

It had been an exhausting afternoon but we had learnt what to do if such a situation should ever arise.

The week at Winterbourne Gunner, learning the musicians secondary role and wearing green was certainly a change from public duties and concerts, but the band enjoyed the chance to do something different and showed the Grenadier Guards Band’s professionalism and team spirit continued in a totally alien environment to the pomp and ceremony of London.

*article originally published for print in 2007*

I was… Hong Kong Phooey

I’d just like to say that this post was prompted by a 3 hour car journey discussing the ‘quality’ TV that was on offer during my childhood.

We had one of those brown TVs which had legs that screwed into the bottom of it. The very same TV that came from radio rentals or some local business that rented home appliances at the time. Our TV had the little black box on the back to put 50p in. We had a 50p pot that was also used for feeding the electric meter in the cupboard under the stairs. (My grandma used to shout “go and put ‘ten bob’ in the meter”)

I used to plan my time at home away from school and weekends by eagerly grabbing the Radio Times and using a felt tip pen to circle all the good programmes that I needed to watch! That; and preparing my beloved tape recorder to record the theme tunes and songs from all the cartoons.

I have pretty early memories of such classics as Mary, Mungo & Midge, Captain Pugwash,  Bagpuss,  Roobarb & Custard & Mr Benn.

I have the Mr Benn theme tune as my ring tone now on my iPhone!

I went looking on Youtube for a few reminders about some of these programmes. I also found some rather disturbing kids TV shows that I remember watching.. namely Pipkins!

I’d go to my grandmothers house at lunchtime from school and Pipkins was often on.  The main character being a moth eaten manky puppet called Hartley Hare.  If you had a Hartley Hare puppet now you would scare your kids to death with it!  I also seem to remember the character ‘Pig’ from the show. Pig had a thick brummie accent for some unknown reason.

The TV highlights for me though were the Hanna-Barbera Cartoons such as Hong Kong Phooey, The Hair Bear Bunch & Scooby Doo!

Hong Kong Phooey

I was Hong Kong Phooey!!  I would proudly consult my ‘Hong Kong Book of Kung Fu’ whilst wearing my dressing gown with the white piping edges and stand on my mums ironing board in the kitchen doing karate kicks. My friends and I often were to be found in the garden shouting ‘Chick-a-Bow’

I loved cartoons! I would do everything I could so that I wouldn’t miss them. I suppose with only 3 channels there wasn’t much choice for the 70’s child, but I was obsessed. I loved Wacky Races, Captain Caveman, Stop the Pigeon & Scooby Doo!

Scooby Doo was changed in later years & I hated it. The original episodes were the best. And they are still broadcast to this day 🙂

The statistical breakdown of villain capture in Scooby Doo

I think that we; the 70’s generation children had the cream of quality TV programming. Not the overly PC, morally correct kids TV we have now!

This is why I think that our generation love the concept of The Simpsons and the brilliant Family Guy!

We are the generation that grew up loving American cartoons 🙂