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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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*

Bye Bye Tattoo: Hello Sydney & a little unexpected holiday

Whilst I was with the Band of the Grenadier Guards Band, one of the highlights of the job was performing at events all over the world.

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The Grenadier Guards Band at Perth Tattoo 2007

We had been planning to tour Australia with a serious of tattoos and shows starting in Perth, then Sydney finishing off in Brisbane.  The shows involved us, The Rifles Band, the Tongan Army band, but strangely enough, no contingent from the Australian services, as we were to find out why later.

During the shows rehearsals in Perth we had quite a bit of free time, which was lovely for me as I had relatives that lived in Perth. I had been given a few phone numbers before I went out there and met up with family and had a lovely day out, being shown all around the city & beautiful coastline.

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Early morning Perth skyline taken from the harbour

After a fantastic week in Perth the show went ahead and for all intents and purposes it was a success. It featured at the time 2 ‘stars’ that had won an Australian version of X Factor so the show had pretty much sold out on the back of the ‘fame’ factor as well as a military show.

Perth is a beautiful city, I suppose the obvious choices to visit in Australia would be Sydney but from my experience Perth is so much more homely & very much more laid back. I’d quite happily go and live there given the chance. The seafood is amazing!

We packed down, checked out of our hotels and made our way to the airport where we were to fly on to Sydney. This was the first time we became aware that something was a little odd! As we were all flying together (or should have been) generally we travelled as a unit to avoid losing anyone, but this time for some reason we were placed on different flights with different airlines at different times.

The best bit though…. We were booked on the flights alphabetically, I was the first (from ‘S’ onwards) to get ‘the posh’ flight. Everyone from A to S were put on the later flight with ‘air good luck‘ or whatever the Australian budget airline was whilst us lucky few from S onwards had the Quantas 747 flight with all the meals, drinks & as many peanuts as you could eat. You should have seen the faces of the ‘budget’ airline travellers in the band when they arrived in Sydney! I enjoyed my wine on my flight. They weren’t too keen on their cattle truck transport!

Darling Harbour: Sydney Australia

We arrived late in the evening to our hotel in Sydney and did the ‘usual’ musicians trick of finding the ‘all night’ bar to settle in. I think they were just waiting to close for the night but on being invaded by 20 or so thirsty English musicians who had just been given their expenses for the week they decided that it might be a good idea to stay open till the early hours.

Fruit Bats (or Flying Foxes) in Sydneys Botanical Gardens

Rehearsals were due to start in a few days at a large arena in Sydney so luckily we had a few days to do some sight seeing. Obviously being in the fantastic city of Sydney I did the Harbour Bridge walk, visited the opera house, went to the beach, visited the Botanical Gardens with it’s resident giant fruit bats (actually known as flying foxes), had a barbeque and explored the zoo. Basically all the typical ‘tourist abroad’ visits.

Walking around to Sydney Opera House

We all arrived a few days later at a huge arena on the outskirts of Sydney and awaited the arrival of our gear for the rehearsals of the shows.

and we waited

and waited some more

Phone calls were made to try and find out where all our gear was?   Our gear, our instruments & uniforms were still in Perth!

All the shows gear & equipment had been impounded in Perth by the shows investors & sponsors because they hadn’t been paid! Producers of the tattoo said they had to cancel the shows because they were unable to pay their bills, leaving up to 500 cast and crew without a job.

After a whole day wasted at the stadium we returned to our hotel to find out we had all been locked out of our rooms as the producers didn’t have the money to pay the hotels bills. Now, this created a little bit of an ‘international incident’  The British Embassy in Canberra were called and quickly became involved and tried to find out what had happened! Funnily enough, once the hotel had a visit from the embassy the rooms were unlocked!

It turned out that the Organiser Kerry Jewel had failed to pay the supply & production companies. This left us all without a job to do. This also left us with flights that didn’t return to the UK!

Getting bored with visiting zoos & seeing kangaroos

Negotiations between the Australian government, the British Embassy & the military were soon on the cards. We had to meet at breakfast every morning to find out when and if we were going home. Who was going to pay?

So every morning we had the news that ‘we are waiting’ to be then told ‘come back tomorrow’. By this time there had been an agreement that at least the hotel was been paid for by the British Embassy & Australian Government. The standard of food at breakfast and evening meal improved somewhat!

This gave us all chance for some more sight seeing. We now had to pay for our ‘holiday’ with our own money instead of ‘day to day expenses’ as we were not involved in the event which had obviously been completely cancelled.

The highlight for me was that a group of 6 of us hired a car and drove into the Blue Mountains region of New South Wales just 2 hours inland from Sydney. This was such an amazing trip out. We chose our own route & visited lots of little villages, drove through the woods, over the mountains. It was an amazing day out and something I shall remember for the rest of my life.

the blue mountains, new south wales, visit the blue mountains
The Blue Mountains: New South Wales, Australia

We spent a week in Sydney without work to do. I couldn’t think of anywhere else in the world I’d rather be stuck though. Obviously flights were eventually sorted out and I got home but the band was not going to Australia for a while after this fiasco!