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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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!

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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 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*