Lance Corporal Damian Dunphy is a trombonist with the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band (HC&C Band) based in Catterick, North Yorkshire. Prior to joining the HC&C Band on its formation in 2006 he was a member of the King’s Division Waterloo Band, and prior to that the Regimental Band of the Green Howards.
Monday 14 February saw the Band briefly putting away musical instruments and clearing one of our practice rooms for the commencement of 2 weeks’ Military Training Tests (MATTs). Whilst the Band’s primary concern is musical and the majority of our time is focused upon musical objectives, we are at the end of the day soldiers first and have to complete annual training and tests just as everybody else in the Army has to.
The MATTs training programme generally refreshes skills not often used and sometimes introduces new skills to the unit. As we entered practise room two on Monday morning the sight of a couple of limp resuscitation dolls were an omen that the day would be spent dealing with issues relating to first aid, in Army speak, Battlefield Combat Drills and Basic Life Support.
The pallid complexion and debilitated demeanour of the lifeless forms in front of us may well have been evidence of a particularly harrowing rehearsal, however, the presence of brand new boots soon confirmed that these were indeed training aids and not overly fatigued musicians.
The day included plenty of opportunities for the musicians to hone their skills, often through practising on each other. I can confirm that no amount of training can impart the gentle touch that our colleagues in the National Health Service posses; and many of the Band still have the bruises to bear witness!
On Tuesday the Band undertook map reading tuition and associated classroom based exercises. Despite the complexity of what musicians do on a daily basis magnetic north always seems to cause problems when it comes to map reading, we came to the conclusion that this was because we are generally used to the Drum Major leading the way whilst in ‘the field’!
Diverse package of training
Of course Bands are always in demand and for that reason on Wednesday morning, mid-training, we once more donned our ceremonials to perform in support of a parade at the All Arms Drill Wing, Infantry Training Centre, Catterick, which is something of a frequent event in the Band’s diary. The parade gave the Band a quick chance to draw breath before Military training resumed that afternoon.
On Thursday a diverse package of training was put together starting with education on health and well-being and moving through equality and diversity training, culminating with training on security and the Geneva Convention. For the day’s training the tuition was divided up so that many members of the Band were given the opportunity to teach.
As ever Friday was given over to Pass Out Parades at ITC Catterick, this time the Band performed in support of two parades, one of which was the largest for a number of months in terms of numbers of participants. Fortunately the climate was more akin to a warm April day than the frozen February ones we had recently become accustomed to.
The following Monday the Band donned their CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear) suits for the next phase of MATTs training. This is an area with which the Band are more familiar as we have in the past undertaken training for our wartime role as CBRN Medical Decontamination Assistants.
This is one instance where familiarity does not breed contempt given the consequences of any error if one is exposed to a CBRN environment. There are a number of drills to be carried out as part of the test, ranging from simple ones with little exposure to the environment, to the more unpleasant ones whereby the respirator is removed from the face. Your author had the misfortune to be selected for one of the more potentially unpleasant ones. However it seems every cloud has a silver lining and in this case a logistics problem beyond the Band’s control meant that the Band were unable to carry out the drills in a CS gas environment. As you might imagine I breathed a very deep sigh of relief through my respirator!
Delicacy of ‘range stew’
Following more Military training, including weapon handling tests, the Band departed early on Friday morning for the firing ranges to take their Annual Personal Weapons Tests. Range days are seldom conducted in warm weather and this day was no exception. The Band were somewhat buoyed by the provision of ‘range stew’. Range stew is a delicacy provided primarily by Military chefs in a large thermos flask, known as a Norwegian. The contents of the stew are a closely guarded secret and it is widely believed that to give any stew a name might constrain the chef to such an extent as to render its production worthless. On this occasion the range stew very clearly resembled a curry! With the weapons tests in the bag and on full stomachs the Band returned weapons to the armoury before retiring for a well-earned weekend off.
With the ‘green kit’ back in our lockers the following week the instrument store re-opened as the Band resumed musical activities, this time in liaison with local musical youths. A number of local schools’ music departments along with their students were invited to our facilities on Tuesday to participate in an open day. They were given the chance to hear the Band perform before taking seats within the Band for a morning workshop, followed by a spot of marching band outside.
On Thursday, third year students from Durham University under the direction of Mr Ray Farr visited the Band with a number of symphonic wind band arrangements that they had prepared as part of their studies. The day provided an opportunity for the students to directly observe their work in performance and for Mr Farr and the Band to provide the odd critique on their arrangement techniques.
Both days gave the Band an opportunity to communicate with young musicians, some at school potentially considering further musical study and some at the end of their musical study considering opportunities for a musical career. The Band regularly hold open days and workshops, and members of the Band visit music centres and universities where possible to offer advice on career opportunities.
Anybody between the ages of 17 and 36 considering a career in music can contact the Band on 01748 872278, we will ensure that you are given advice and possibly opportunities to visit a Band near to your location.