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

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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 Cold Wet Day in March on the Shropshire Union Canal

As the whole family were together for a Sunday, we thought that the 6 of us would hire a small narrow boat / day boat and take to the waterways as the weather had been seasonally warm and quite pleasant.

We had seen the weather the day before we went and had not been too impressed, but after all, how bad could it be ?

Our Boat for the Day
Our Boat for the Day

We hired a traditional 32ft narrow boat from Norbury Wharf Staffordshire.

After the obligatory Bacon rolls in the canalside cafe we had a quick demonstration of the basic controls and we were on our way for the rest of the day.

The Shropshire Union Canal: Staffordshire
The Shropshire Union Canal: Staffordshire

The weather was dreadful! We had to take it in turns to pilot the boat as it was raining & sleeting and we were getting cold rather quickly at the helm. We had a 14 mile round trip to make in 7 hours, turning the boat around at the pretty village of Wheaton Aston.

Me at the Helm of the boat : in the rain

I did a little research and found out that the canal (Built as part of the Liverpool to London canal system) had been in use since the 1830’s and was one of the last major civil engineering feats of the great Thomas Telford.

Amazingly at one point there is a raised embankment at Shelmore where you can look down over the fields & woodland. This little section took over 5 years to build and was constantly slipping and collapsing during construction.   It just shows how our historical engineers built things to last!

The Shropshire Union Canal

After a soggy 3 hours of cruising down the canal, past many annoyed fishermen we arrived at our turning around point and moored up for lunch. We would have gone to the nearby pub to warm up but feared that we may run out of time for the return journey so we sat on the boat with our sandwiches, lit the stove for some warmth and got some well needed coffee on the go.

We set off back to Norbury junction at 1pm as we had to have the boat back to the yard by 4.30 pm. Luckily the rain had stopped and had been replaced by some sunshine, however it had now become breezy & bitterly cold. Even though it was cold it was lovely to be outside, out in the countryside with just the sound of the diesel engine chugging along.

I would recommend getting out on the water to anyone that hasn’t done it before. I have been on many canals in the past and love the freedom, love seeing the wildlife & enjoy the scenery and the canal engineering feats of a bygone age. I had a brilliant, but chilly & damp day out on the water 🙂

Sunshine on the return journey on the Shropshire Union Canal
Sunshine on the return journey on the Shropshire Union Canal

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*

A Walk in St. Pancras and Islington Cemetery

The St. Pancras and Islington Cemetery is located in East Finchley, North London and is one of the largest cemeteries in the UK.

St Pancras Cemetery has a traditional style with a mixture of old and new graves covering some 190 acres. It was established in 1854, the burial chapel was built in 1854 but at the moment closed for refurbishment. All burial services are held in the Islington burial chapel.

St. Pancras and Islington Cemetery Chapel

This was the first publicly owned cemetery in London to be established after the 1852 Metropolitan Interment Act when the St Pancras Burial Board bought over 35 hectares of Horse Shoe Farm on Finchley Common.

The Cemetery is now on The English Heritage Register of Historic Parks and Gardens

The cemetery has a war graves plot containing over 100 graves from both world wars, together with a number of headstones retrieved from graves that were scattered elsewhere in the cemetery and could not be maintained. A memorial bears the names of 27 casualties whose graves could not be marked individually, and of six First World War casualties buried in adjacent Islington Cemetery who could not be commemorated there.

Graves in St. Pancras and Islington Cemetery

As it was such a lovely day I thought I would have a walk around the cemetery as it just a 10 minute drive from my house. It really is a beautiful and peaceful place.   Now… I’m not a religious person at all, neither do I have a morbid fascination with cemeteries. I just love the peace and quiet that you get in places such as this. The cemetery is located right next to the North Circular in places but you would never believe it!

St. Pancras and Islington Cemetery in the February sun

It really is a vast and sprawling place. Much of the cemetery is overgrown and neglected and to be honest virtually impassable in places but that simply adds to the charm and attraction of the place.

It was the first proper warm day of the year, the birds were singing, squirrels were running around and the cliche crows were crowing in the ancient trees. I walked around for about an hour and never came across another person. It’s a lovely place to get away from the noise and madness of North London.

There are thousands of gravestones & memorials in this cemetery including some huge mausoleums in places dating back from the 1850s

It certainly was a nice stroll to be had this morning in the warm February sunshine. I had been told that the place had become a little bit of a wildlife reserve and is home to many species of birds & has resident foxes. I have seen foxes in Highgate Cemetery a few times but alas I never spotted them here. I did however make a friends of an inquisitive cat that followed me around for sometime, wondering what I was up to..

My walking partner in St. Pancras & Islington Cemetery

If ever you are in North Finchley, London and fancy somewhere different to visit, you can certainly spend a few hours in this fascinating place.

St. Pancras & Islington Cemetery : more information

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 🙂

A Series Of Firsts!

I thought I’d join in the fun of writing this post..  Not my usual blog style but what the hell!

Who was your first Girlfriend?

I was living in Shirebrook, Nottinghamshire.. or was it Derbyshire (I don’t think it was ever happy being in either county)  One of my next door neighbours on our street called Samantha Taunton. I even remember the name. Other than that not much to remember. I must have been 13/14 ish?

First person you kissed?

The aforementioned Samantha. I think we used to make a tent using blankets on a bunk bed and hide under there.

First job?

I do admit to doing the local paper round before I went to school. I’d collect the newspapers at some ungodly hour and trudge miles away to deliver them. I must have had the most remote & bleakest road to do. It was the street that lead out of our village into the countryside. By the time I’d finished I’d walked miles. But: The first job I had properly was the cliche Saturday summer job. My mother worked at Sherwood Forest visitor centre in Nottinghamshire & got me a job at weekends working in the ice cream wagon. Just think… Ice cream for lunch every day. Perks of the job I suppose! Never was a fan!

The Major Oak: Sherwood Forest Nottinghamshire

First pay packet? What did you buy with it?   Some LP or another.. I was a bit of a music nut

First CD you remember buying?

This would have been in 1988. When I started getting decent wage packets I saved up and bought a really good Hi-Fi. Being a musician this probably wasn’t so surprising. But the first actual CD I bought was ‘Works by Sibelius’ by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Von Karajan.  From here on in I became a Classical Music CD geek. To the point that I now have thousands of them. I was always to be found in ‘Our Price’ or HMV, or specialist music shops looking for the latest hi-fi recordings of great classical works. I still love well recorded music, especially classical works!

First holiday abroad?

I was brought up in a traditional English fashion. My parents didn’t go on overseas holidays. I suppose that money was tight during the 70’s so we always took holidays in the UK, I remember going to Butlins, Self Catering holidays in Cornwall & Caravan Holidays in Skegness.

Butlins Skegness & Brighton Beach sometime around 1979

But my first trip abroad ‘other than day trips to Calais’ was with the school band. The band travelled to Holland & Germany quite regularly and this was my first taste of europe. Well, my first taste of something alcoholic would be more truthful. As mentioned in a previous blog, where there are musicians there’s alcohol.

What age were you when you moved out of your parents’ home?

I joined the army in 1987.. So I left home just before my 16th birthday.  I covered this here in a previous post!

As is the norm in these posts I should tag a few fellow bloggers..  so this is for – @SunnivaAnne  @HimupNorth  @RhiannonFox   &  @PaulaMaher