‘The Rifles’ celebrate 200 years at the Royal Albert Hall

Emma Peacock

Emma Peacock

Musician Emma Peacock plays flute and piccolo in The Band and Bugles of The Rifles, Corps of Army Music.

Our biggest engagement this year (and some would say since the formation of The Rifles) was the “Swift and Bold” concert in the Royal Albert Hall. This was an amazing experience, for an amazing cause, and the result of many months of preparation.

The Big Event

The event was in aid of The Rifles charity, Care for Casualties, and was a celebration of The Rifles two hundred year history. The Massed Band and Bugles of The Rifles were playing together for the first time since formation and consisted of The Regular Band of The Rifles, made up of soldiers from the Corps of Army Music, The Territorial Salamanca Band of the 6th Battalion and The Territorial Waterloo Band of the 7thBattalion. Also joining us were two cadet bands, The Band and Bugles of the Durham ACF and The Somerset ACF Silver Bugles. Also featured in the event were The Regimental Fijian Choir, The Pipes and Drums of The Brigade of Ghurkhas, fiddle playing from Alistair Caplin and the Welsh tenor Wynne Evans, better known for his appearance in a prominent advert for a comparison website! The night was hosted by Alastair Stewart.

Swift and Bold musical extravaganza at the Royal Albert Hall

Swift and Bold musical extravaganza at the Royal Albert Hall

Swift and Bold Direction

This was a result of many months of preparation and careful organisation and this was done by our band’s Director of Music, Major Lawrence Sale. The day before the Swift and Bold concert all the bands met at Wellington Barracks to do a mass rehearsal, and for some people this was the first sight of the music! Our band were up incredibly early to get there and once in Wellington Barracks found that all the kit had to be taken down quite a few stairs and into a gym, not an easy job with some of the kit we had.

After a bit of weight lifting training (or kit shifting!) the bands finally got started and the bugles joined us. I managed to count eighty-seven buglers while rehearsing but I’m sure there were more. I was certainly glad of my ear defence as they were so loud. The Fijian choir practiced before lunch and were quite nervous as we were the first audience to hear them, but after a bit of rehearsal they were sounding good. During lunch I got quite lost in the barracks as it’s like a maze once you get inside. Eventually I had to stop and ask for directions. Luckily I got back in time for the afternoon’s rehearsals and we actually finished early. A good sign. After this was the task of taking all the kit back up the stairs and re-loading it onto the coach. By the end of the day my arm muscles were quite sore!

That night the mass of musician, buglers, pipers etc. were spread across London to different places of accommodation. The bands went to The Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall and the ladies had an interesting time trying to put badly fitting camp beds together as we were sleeping in a big hall. One of the beds took five people to put together as it was so stiff.

The stage is prepared

The next day was another early start; however I don’t think any of us minded as it was the day of the concert. After a hearty cooked breakfast we left early to get to The Royal Albert Hall, hoping to miss the traffic. However, this meant that once we got there we were too early to start setting up on the stage as the stage crew were still dealing with the lighting, so we were cooped up in our changing rooms for a bit. But once we were allowed out we swarmed the stage, setting up percussion and getting ourselves ready for a sound check. This went well, and I think it calmed a few already heightened nerves and then we had a mass photo with us all in uniform.

With the stage decked out in green, red and black it looked a great sight! There was some ‘down time’ that afternoon to relax before the concert. Many people went out into London for dinner or a little walk or to meet family pre-concert, but some just waited in. A few people even had a quick nap.

Ladies and Gentlemen – Please take your seats.

Maj Lawrence Sale and Maj Peter Clark and Maj (Retd) Roger Swift meet HRH The Countess of Wessex backstage

Maj Lawrence Sale and Maj Peter Clark and Maj (Retd) Roger Swift meet HRH The Countess of Wessex backstage

The evening approached and before we knew it, it was time to go on. As I walked onto the stage I could hear all the people in the audience and I will admit I was so nervous! This was the first time since 1983 that The Massed Bands of The Light Division (as it was known then) had been on this stage under the now retired Director of Music, Major Swift. He was a guest conductor for us that evening and still recognised a few faces in the massed band! In the audience was the Colonel-In-Chief, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, and five Royal Colonels, HRH The Duke of Kent, The Earl and Countess of Wessex and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. Also, there was my Mum and Dad so I was doubly nervous.

The National Anthem went well and as the first half progressed nerves seemed to be levelling off. As the massed bugles entered there was an excited round of applause from the audience. There were plenty of impressive solos throughout the night, with standards being set by Lance Corporal Campbell doing an oboe solo in ‘English Folk Song Suite’. The Pipes and Drums of The Brigade of Ghurkhas played very well that night too, and as they stood in front of me I had a few minutes to relax out of the audiences view.

Fijian Choir

The Rifles Fijian Choir 

A flash of light as the drums took up the beat

The second half started very atmospherically with ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ and as the drum was struck flashes of light went across the stage. This atmosphere was short lived however, as it soon broke into a big band version with some fantastic solos, including one from Musician Bushell. After a few more pieces the bugle sounded for ‘High on a Hill’. This piece was definitely well received by the audience (and on a side note this was the 56th playing of the piece this year)! I don’t think people are ever going to have had enough of it!

The guest soloist Wynne Evans came sung ‘Love Farewell’. Despite him being under the weather it still sounded amazing. Then came the big piece of the night, well for me anyway! We played ‘Peninsula’, composed by Ian McElligott, who was in the audience. The first movement came and went with no mistakes and then it was the moment I had been dreading/anticipating/looking forward to. Half way through this movement was a very prominent piccolo solo that I was playing…. and luckily all the practice paid off and it went well! I was so relieved.

‘No More Parades’ by  the Lone Bugler

The Lone Buglar

The Lone Buglar

After this was the final piece. Everyone who had performed that night came back onto the stage and Charlotte Collier sang ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and ‘Rule Britannia’. There was a lot of singing along and swaying and then fireworks and streamers shot round the room and across the stage. The concert ended in traditional style with the regimental march, ‘Mechanised Infantry’, being played and then a lone bugler playing ‘No More Parades’.

The night was probably the highlight of my army career so far and was so enjoyable. It was an amazing experience that I will probably never get to repeat but I will always remember. Despite this I’m glad to be now going on leave as I think my ears need a rest from buglers and my nerves need time to settle again!

6 thoughts on “‘The Rifles’ celebrate 200 years at the Royal Albert Hall

  1. … and from one very proud Dad who was sat in the audience, this was one night I will always remember. I do not have a forces background, but for this one evening I felt like an honorary Rifleman.
    I had every confidence that you would hit every note of your solo spot on and was not disappointed.
    Very proud of you!


  2. Could you please post more photos of the Countess of Wessex at this event? I think she is wearing a pair of earrings that HM Queen Elizabeth II has previously worn. I would love to get confirmation by seeing another picture of the Countess. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.


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