Warrant Officer Class One Mick Latter has been involved with Army Music for 28 years and retires in a few weeks time. Following a successful career in the bands reaching Band Sergeant Major of the Band of The Royal Logistic Corps his last role was Head of Digital and Media Engagement for Army Music. He volunteered to support this task to the continent of Africa as a performer on the French Horn and as media support officer for the deployment. As the saying goes ‘One last time with feeling’.
The Corps of Army Music recently deployed a Short Term Training Team to Africa. The aim was to supply musical training and defence diplomacy work at key events through music across a number of countries; South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe over a period of less than 2 weeks. I saw this as a personal opportunity to visit a number of countries I had yet to visit and probably a once in a lifetime experience and opportunity but it would also give me the opportunity to obtain and generate good quality media and publicity for the Corps of Army Music as it develops this area of its capability. The Corps of Army Music is directed to supply a number of Short Term Training Teams for countries around the world. Over the last 12 months we have covered Kosovo, Bosnia, Gibraltar, Bermuda, Lebanon, Ethiopia and Kuwait.
The team of 8 musicians, led by Director of Music Major Lawrence Sale, was made up from 5 other members of the Corps of Army Music and two musicians from two Army Reserve Bands; The Band of The Yorkshire Regiment and the Army Medical Services Band. Three members stayed in Johannesburg to plan for events later in the trip and 5 members that made up a brass quintet drove to Maputo in Mozambique, a 7 ½ hour drive through the stunning open plain territories of South Africa and Mozambique.
Maputo – Mozambique
We hit the city outskirts of Maputo as dusk arrived, the traffic was building up and we took our lives into our own hands as we fort our way through the chaos and mayhem of the roads of Maputo. Overloaded minibuses, open backed trucks with people on the rear sections, large heavy trucks and very little accurate road signs. At one particular junction a triple articulated lorry decided to run one of our two vehicles (the one I was in) off the road either oblivious to us or no care!
We arrived at Hotel Cardoso on the North side of the city and checked in feeling exhausted and pretty grubby after traveling by air and road for nearly 24 hours. We sat down with our hosts from the Defence Attaché’s office for South Africa, Wing Commander Cookson and his wife for a nice meal and a few light drinks before settling in for the night in very welcoming hotel beds.
Next morning the brass quintet set off to support a Queen’s Birthday Parade event at the High Commission in Maputo, hosted by the High Commissioner, Joanna Kuenssberg. The High Commissioner had invited a number of key political and business influential people to the cocktail party that was taking place in the gardens of the High Commission. We were there to supply background music and add a ‘soft approach’ influence to the event and most importantly perform the National Anthems for Mozambique and Great Britain. Staff Sergeant Ben Ruffer was in charge of music and had sourced and arranged for the quintet the Mozambique National Anthem. His research had paid off as it was the correct version and many of the guests thanked the quintet in person for a fantastic performance of their Anthem as they had heard it many times before performed in not such a professional standard.
The High Commissioner thanked the quintet after the event. She was very happy that our musical input had made a valuable contribution to the event and looked forward to future events supported by the Corps of Army Music in the years to come should we be able to do so. Lieutenant Brendan Wheeler the leader of the quintet then presented her with a Corps of Army Music plaque.
On our return to the hotel we quickly changed out of uniform and drove down to the coast to admire the Indian Ocean and taste some local food and beer. The Maputo local award winning beer is called 2M for anyone considering travelling to the area. That evening our host took us to dinner in an excellent local curry restaurant of all things to eat in Africa. Being military musicians curry is more often than not a favourite amongst all so there were no complaints and the food was indeed excellent, thank you Wing Commander Cookson.
Return to Johannesburg
Next morning was an early start, up at 5am for departure promptly at 6am as we had to make the return drive to Johannesburg, another 7 hours by car. Our next event was planned in Johannesburg at 5pm that evening so we could not afford to be late and we had to clear the city traffic before it built up with the masses arriving to take up their jobs in the city centre. First turn following the route on our Satnav led us to be facing traffic coming directly towards us on what we thought was our side of the dual carriage way. There were no signs stating no entry, one way or any other related sign but clearly in the morning the system was designed to be traffic heading in only on this particular dual carriage. After several cars flashing us and one near head on miss we soon realised we were in the wrong so quickly turned left to find an adjacent road heading in the direction we required out of town.
We located the main road out and then weaving through the traffic were on our way but with another near miss where a local minibus taxi decided to dive down the inside of us catching our driver a little off guard, but a quick swerve to the right avoided what looked like an inevitable collision, a time delay we couldn’t afford.
The drive back across 100s of miles of wilderness scattered with an occasional some town led though some beautiful scenery and landscapes and even the opportunity to spot a family of baboons who had crossed the road a little in front of us.
Rugby World Cup 2015 – 100 days to kick off
The next event, or as musicians like to call them ‘gig’, was in support of the promotion of the forthcoming 2015 Rugby World Cup which as I am sure you all know is being hosted in the UK. With the home of Army Music located at Kneller Hall, Twickenham, right next door to the Twickenham Stadium, Rugby Football Union offices and the head office for the Rugby World Cup this was an event we had to support and indeed wanted to support and a good relationship builder with communities outside of the military.
The event was held in the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and hosted by the British High Commission. A number of the South African International Rugby Squad were on hand to raise the profile of the event and our quintet added some musical colour to the evening. The team took the photo opportunity with a number of the rugby players and this included gate crashing the stage for a quick group photograph.
Moving to Pretoria
Next morning the team had to move cities to support a Dinner Night reception for the British Peace Support Team. Self-driving with the world’s worse SatNav the team moved by road from Johannesburg to Pretoria taking approximately 2 hours.
On arrival in Pretoria we settled into our third hotel and prepared our uniforms for tonight’s gig at the Pretoria Country Club.
The event was a dinner for the British Peace Support Team and guests including various Defence Attaché staff from South Africa and neighbouring countries. The Brass Quintet opened the evening, while guests drank cocktails at the entrance to the Country Club, performing a couple of pieces of music including the theme from Dambusters. The quintet were then joined by a local Bagpipe and drums group who performed the classic ‘Highland Cathedral’ tune with the quintet. This was really appreciated by the guests and the bagpipers were excellent; we only had one 5 minute rehearsal prior to performance with them!
The most important element of any dinner night in the military for the musicians is the performance of National Anthems and any after dinner music. In this case we had to perform the South African National Anthem, the British National Anthem and a rendition of Post Horn Galop performed by Staff Sergeant (Bandmaster) Ben Ruffer.
Flight to Malawi
Next morning after an early start the team had to move by air to Lilongwe in Malawi. Traffic from the city centre of Pretoria to the airport was a bit of an issue especially with our under powered 4×4 vehicles. Arriving at the airport the accompanying Defence Attaché staff organised the excess baggage allowances and we made it through customs and on to the departure gate with minutes to spare – then the flight took off late, typical. With clear skies we could see out of the windows of the plane to the African landscape below. What struck me was that it is far greener than I imagined it would be.
On arrival Major Lawrence Sale and I headed off to Recce an event while the rest of the weary team settled into hotel number four this week.
Training the Malawi Defence Force Band
Next day the team set off for the barracks in Lilongwe where one of the two Malawi Defence Force Bands are located. We were met at the rehearsal location by their director of music, Captain Levi Chisambi. Captain Chisambi was musically trained to lead the band at the Royal Military School of Music the home of British Army Music at Kneller Hall for four years and then completed a six month command course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst before returning to Malawi several years ago. I personally remember Captain Chisambi from his three year course at Kneller Hall as I was a member of the staff during his period there so it was good to catch up with an old acquaintance.
The first part of the morning was spent running a couple of pieces under the baton of Captain Chisambi so the team could hear and see what level the band was at. This is a repeat visit for the Corps of Army Music as a team had visited the band 12 months previously.
The band were able to hold a piece together and with some of the players only having started on certain instruments some weeks before the best plan of action was deemed to be to break the band down into smaller sections with each of the team members, who are specialists on their instruments, taking the Malawi musicians away to practice the music and develop key skills.
An hour later the band reformed to see if any progress had been made, remembering that in some cases the musicians had only been learning their instruments for a few weeks! The Band then performed the three pieces under the batons of Major Lawrence Sale, Lieutenant Brendan Wheeler and again Captain Chisambi. The Band performed ‘I Know Him So Well, Serenade and Scarborough Fair’ which was an arrangement by Captain Chisambi.
After lunch the band and the team took to the main square and under the direction of Staff Sergeant (Drum Major) Shaun James (who by this stage had been nick named ‘Susat’ after the British Army’s rifle optical sight due to his shocking reading glasses) of the Army Medical Services Band undertook some drill and marching band practice. The temperature was in the high 20’s but this did not seem to bother the Malawi band some of which had jumpers on! Staff Sergeant James added a degree of humour to the training with the threat of a late night drill session with him at 2300hrs for all those you could not comply with his orders and instruction.
The rehearsal included marching the band as a whole on parade and to help demonstrate the drill movements required to change direction and halt five of the team formed the front line of the band and led in the early part of the rehearsals. The Band learnt quickly and very soon a marked improvement could be seen. Finally the band performed on the march with music and without members of our team leading the way. By the way Staff Sergeant James did not order anyone back for late night drill sessions on this occasion.
After marching band the team’s brass quintet gave a short recital to demonstrate some of the performance points we had given during the day. This was concluded with a performance of the Malawi National Anthem with the quintet playing and all the Malawi band singing, quite a sound.
The Band were excited to have us training them and the end of the day was a frenzy of thanks and many photographs taken and new friendships made. Strange thing was we are due back there in two days so we could expect much of the same excited enthusiasm. But we enjoyed it and were keen to return.
Return to Training
Two days after our first visit to the Malawi Defence Force Band the team returned to continue the training programme and help develop the musical capability of the band.
We started again in the practice room this time with two new pieces and the under the direction of Lieutenant Wheeler and it was soon apparent the Malawi Defence Force Musicians were learning very fast, a good sign that they were taking on board what we were teaching them.
We also took the opportunity to meet and talk to several senior Officers of the Malawi Defence Force and discuss future possible plans to assist the band and how they could help the band develop with small investments.
We concluded the training with a further marching band session once again under the direction of our very own Drum Major Shaun ‘Susat’ James, but this time the Malawi Defence Band Drum Major led the band. She soon took on board the advice and guidance given to her and the bands drill and movement across the parade square was improving all the time. Training with the Band was very rewarding and all the team members hoped to be able to return to Malawi in the future.
Cocktails at the British High Commission
Some 500 guests were invited to this event hosted by the British High Commissioner and the teams brass quintet was lined up to support the event and our very own one man band saxophonist Staff Sergeant Shaun James and his backing tracks. After the cocktail party a local band had been booked to supply music for select guests including the team. Members of our team even joined in with the band. Major Sale our resident drummer was soon leading the rhythm section and clearly enjoying the moment on stage as a performer.
Now to Harare in Zimbabwe
After a 10 hour drive in three vehicles to Harare in Zimbabwe the band settled into the hotel for the night. The drive was an experience; poor roads, long winded boarded controls (my passport now has more stamps in it than I ever thought I would see being a European), various animals from chickens to cattle stepping out in the road. There were a large number of locals walking from one village to another or in some cases cycling what seemed to be extremely long distances. On coming very large trucks were also a concern and at times we had to take evasive measures to avoid them including leaving the road completely at about 60mph as we came round a corner to find several very wide loads coming towards us spread over both lanes. Anyway we made it safe and sound and in one piece.
The next morning the team visited Wild is Life Animal Sanctuary just outside Harare. This place is magical, more like a personal home with many endangered species roaming freely. More dangerous ones like lions were behind wire but you could get right up next to them. The sign clearly said we cannot rescue your fingers from the lions but we all came away with them all intact, I think. Other animals at the sanctuary included a baby elephant called Moyo who had a dog and a sheep for companionship. Moyo was introduced to us in person and loved you to blow down his trunk. We were warned though that he could if he wished knock you over and if you put your fingers in this mouth it would be like slamming your fingers in a heavy door. There were also a number of really friendly giraffes and baby giraffes which you could hand feed.
Other big cats you could get up close and personal to included two cheetahs who contently laid just a couple of metres from us with their keepers purring away like a domestic cat.
Their sanctuary’s pride and joy is a rare Pangolin, a strange creature with large scales on its back who lives solely on ants. This animal is so rare and valuable that it is cared for 24 hours a day and when it goes off to hunt for ants up to 8 hours a day a keeper carries it and when stands by it at all times. The relationship between the Pangolin and the keeper is clear to see.
Back to music supporting UK influence and business
The next musical event we were supporting was at the British High Commission Residency in Harare. The event was another Queen’s Birthday parade cocktail party in the stunning grounds of the home. Hosted by the British High Commissioner who had recently had an audience with the Queen in London this was major event for UK diplomacy and relationship building in Zimbabwe. This was also the first time in over 12 years or more that British Soldiers had undertaken any activity in Zimbabwe. It was originally planned that our team would be engaged with community activity and training of Musicians in the Zimbabwe Army but due to political reasons this had not been secured but the British Defence Attaché was fairly confident that the bridges may have now been developed to encourage engagement for future years.
The Brass Quintet’s major task at this event was as usual to entertain guests, network and encourage defence engagement at the lowest level and perform the National Anthems. The unusual element of the Anthems this time was we were to perform them with choir of approximately 20 members of staff of the British High Commission in Harare. The choir members were all amateur singers and had come together about 2 months ago and along with our quintet did a sterling job.
Return to Johannesburg
The next day the team left the hotel early for the Harare airport for a return flight to Johannesburg. We boarded a small plane with only 30 seats and wondered if all our equipment had actually fitted in the hold. We joked with Major Sale about the Drum Major’s Mace and box which is over 7 feet long was strapped to the wing or roof of the plane; Major Sale is not a good air traveller so this may not have helped.
We were on a tight schedule today and it was going to be a long day. Major Sale had met a lady on the flight over who worked at a charity in Johannesburg called Children of Fire. This charity looks after badly burned children many of which the families are unable to care for or their injuries are so live threatening they could not possibly continue to live in some of the poor conditions many South Africans live in in the various shanty towns. The children were often injured from house fires but in some cases deliberately burnt.
Lieutenant Wheeler led the Brass Quintet as we played various pieces of music for them and demonstrated the instruments which included getting the children involved. On hand again was our very own saxophonist Sergeant James who the children played as he performed several famous pop ballads.
At the end of the performance we mixed and chatted with the children and Sergeant Marsden of the Band of the Yorkshire Regiment an Army Reserve Band had many of children intrigued by his Tuba, the largest instrument within the team. The Children had also made various British Patriotic Cakes for us to eat including enormous doughnuts with Union Jack flag designed icing. In a small way we hoped make their lives a little happier if only for a brief time.
Final show in Johannesburg
This was to be my final gig in the Corps of Army Music after 28 years, supporting a Dinner to mark the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.
The dinner started with a speech about the actual battle of Waterloo and then we performed a number of pieces of music with various European and British famous pieces of music to suite the theme of the dinner.
At end of the Dinner we performed the famous Post Horn Galop, due to the misplacement of the actual post horn it looked at one point that we would not be able to perform the tune. But the event was being held in Light Horse Regiment HQ in Johannesburg and the building was home to a military music museum and Sergeant Ruffer spied something that would suit his needs the bell section of a fanfare trumpet.
At the end of the dinner I was mentioned and thanked in the speech for my service to Army Music for the last 28 years and the fact that during this tour I had been notified that I was to receive the Meritorious Service Medal something I never expected to receive and I am extremely proud to be receiving.
The musicians with me on this epic trip had one last touch to mark my last musical event in the Corps of Army Music and they struck up with the tune Auld Lang Syne, it seemed I had slightly hijacked the end of the dinner!
I am not quite leaving the Army as I am I am joining the Army Reserves as a Digital and Media Specialist later this year with the newly formed 77x Brigade, something I am very much looking forward to. So I may be writing further articles and blogs in the years to come for the British Army as I continue to travel around the world.
Find out more about a career in Army Music on our website: www.army.mod.uk/music