UK Yo-Yo!

UK Yo-Yo!

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth is one of 38 trained British Army photographers.  He left a career in aviation to pursue his passion for photography; capturing everything that military life has to offer. He has recently returned from Afghanistan where he was the Task Force Helmand Photographer.

Hello again everyone. I welcome you all from somewhere over the South Atlantic Ocean. Normally I would know where I am, but this time I can only tell where I have come from and where I will end up. I say that with some certainty as I have faith in the flight crew with whom we are cruising at forty-four thousand feet, South-West towards the Falkland Islands. I have time on my hands. About six hours I reckon, so why not write a blog? Well that’s exactly what I am doing.

‘Falkland Islands?’ I hear you ask. Well I have purposely whet your whistle for a future blog, I hope. I haven’t been there yet so I can’t very well write about it at this stage. Give me a week and you may get lucky. There are 12 hours to fill on the journey home between the Ascension Islands (our refuel point) and the UK.

This blog however, is about a little game I played a few weeks ago. I liked to call it UK Yo-Yo and here’s why.

My first week back from Christmas happened to be the third week of January. As most of 1st Mechanized Brigade had been away on operations in 2013, the brigade was granted four weeks leave at Christmas. A welcomed break for most, I can tell you. My first job was helping out on an Army Photographic Selection Course, which was being held at the Defence School of Photography. I was going to be part of the Directing Staff along with Staff Sergeant ‘H’ Harlen. As it went; the selection didn’t run the entire week’s duration and I was back in the office in Tidworth by Wednesday. I was glad I had an extra two days to sift through my work emails… Honestly.

The following week is where the fun really started. I was fully booked for photography jobs; each one in another part of the country. Let me just drag it out for you.

Monday:

The 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery were having their homecoming parades scattered around their recruiting grounds. I was tasked with covering them. They happened to be Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Monday was Nottingham. I set off at ‘Sparrow’s fart’ (early enough to catch those noisy Sparrows waking from their sleep and cracking a little trump out, as we humans all do) from Aldershot and headed up the notoriously busy M1. I was early enough to miss most of the morning traffic, but what it meant was that I hit Nottingham around two and a half hours early. That didn’t bother me because I was being joined by Sergeant Paul ‘Moz’ Morrison, the York (and regional) Army Photographer.

As I arrived early I had a chance to meet the owner of a pub that overlooks the City Hall Square. I negotiated access to their fourth floor abandoned premises that sat above the pub. Although the rooms were riddled with the stench of Pigeon excrement the view was fantastic. I knew this is where I wanted to be positioned, but I couldn’t manage it because I needed to be on the square capturing the formalities and couldn’t be in two places at once. As reluctant as I was, and knowing that the other press would not have access to such a fantastic elevated position, I handed the keys over to Moz when he arrived. He looked out the window, grinned at me and I threw him a string of expletives in my mind. He knew what I knew. Those shots where going to go places!

The parade came and went, and I did my bit. I got what I could. I even managed to get a smirking Moz up in the window. He was just relaxing, as he had got what he needed. I can even hear him laughing now.

Look at how relaxed Moz is, as he knew he had gotten the goods!

Look at how relaxed Moz is (in the window), as he knew he had gotten the goods!

Meanwhile, back at ground level.

1 RHA in front of Nottingham City Hall

1 RHA in front of Nottingham City Hall

Parade over, it was time to head to a coffee shop and edit what we had. Edit done, sent out to press, and back to the M1 is was; Southbound. I was tempted to be a good sport and post some of Moz’s pictures up here, but then I thought that it would just be easier for you to do a ‘google’ search for them online. You will no doubt come across a picture of the parade snaking it’s way through the streets from an elevated position. All healthy banter aside, that’s the beauty of finding a great shooting position. If it offers something unique over what other press photographers are getting, then you have a great chance of getting it published in print, which Moz did. Well done!

Tuesday:

Tidworth this time but I had two jobs. Firstly, I was being interviewed live on BFBS Salisbury Plain about being an Army Photographer. This was hopefully going to raise the profile of our trade, and entice potential recruits to get in touch. Secondly, I was engaging my off-road driving skills and heading onto Salisbury Plain to shoot the First Fusiliers training in one of the purpose built villages.

I think the interview went well, but I was much more content with a couple of naturally lit shots of the guys.

A soldier covers his arcs during training

A soldier covers his arcs during training

A soldier gives orders over the radio

A soldier gives orders over the radio

 

Wednesday:

Another early start and this time back up the M1 to Sheffield. It was 1RHA again marching through their recruiting ground. I was shooting it on my own this time. I scoured the surrounding buildings for a vantage point, but I was hit with ‘health and safety’ a lot. You would think a ‘roughty-toughty’ soldier would be allowed to stand on a balcony without fear of purposely climbing over railings to make a jump for it, but sadly I was saved from ever having to suffer a fall. I appreciate it, Sheffield. I did however manage to find a window in a pub that was closed (for health and safety reasons) which was clean enough to shoot through to get this.

Sheffield City Hall, through glass

Sheffield City Hall, through glass

Parade over, images downloaded, edited, uploaded again, packed up, M1 Southbound.

Thursday:

An important part of any parade (or event for that matter) for a photographer is knowing where it will happen, which way it will go, how it will unfold and any other details which may be useful. Fortunately, the Army have a saying for such necessities:

“Time spent on recces is seldom wasted” A military cliché, but very true.

As 2 Regiment Royal Tank Regiment were planning to march through Bristol in a week’s time, I headed off to Bristol on a recce with one of the Regional Press Officers, Tammy Dixon. The Press Officers take control of the media surrounding such events and are key to understanding what’s going on. It was an early start to avoid traffic. Such is life.

We were ‘Bristol’d-and-back’ by early afternoon, which was handy. 1 RHA (who’d have guessed it) were due to parade through another UK town on Friday. Was it Bedford? Bath? Farnbourough? Nope! I wasn’t that lucky. It was Doncaster; even further North. I had a choice to make. As it was around 1500 hrs, I could go home and prepare myself for an even earlier start or make way up my favourite motorway. What to do?

Friday:

Waking up to a beautiful crisp Doncaster morning was the only choice I could make. A lazy coffee and walk into town for my breakfast meant I could do a little ‘elevated position’ recce again. Unfortunately, Doncaster had been hit with the same curse. I was to be ground level-bound again. The parade went off without a hitch and the photographs where much the same.

1 RHA at Doncaster Civic Hal

1 RHA at Doncaster Civic Hall

It was a late finish for me on Friday night. I had to head back to Tidworth to drop off the contract car, pick up my own and head back to Aldershot. In total I racked up 1380 miles in the week. Some going, I thought, but I had enjoyed seeing some towns I hadn’t visited for a few years. I was glad it was all over though…until next week. It wasn’t going to be that bad; a General planting a tree in Winchester and 2 RTR’s actual Parade in Bristol to cover.

CLF Lt Gen Carter plants a memorial tree at the Rifles RHQ

CLF Lt Gen Carter plants a memorial tree at the Rifles RHQ

2 RTR march through Bristol

2 RTR march through Bristol

So there you have it. UK Yo-Yo. Sounds fun doesn’t it?

Back to now.

Typing on an aeroplane isn’t the easiest of things to do. We still seem to be at 44000 feet. Probably a lot further South West though. Luckily I have a fellow photographer with me for company; Sergeant Russ Nolan. The other good thing about having another photographer with you is you actually get pictures of yourself, like this one he took of me working, using my new Fuji X-Pro 1. Yes, that’s right, you read that correctly. A Fuji. Well folks, as a ‘compact’ camera and a backup, this thing ‘rocks’. I will talk about it another time because now that’s two more blogs I have promised you.

me writing this blog on the way to the Falklands

Me writing this blog on the way to the Falklands

See you all on the return journey.

More TC

Read Si’s other blogs here: Life Through a Lens…

Time to switch bodies, perhaps

Time to switch bodies, perhaps

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth is one of 38 trained British Army photographers.  He left a career in aviation to pursue his passion for photography; capturing everything that military life has to offer. He has recently returned from Afghanistan where he was the Task Force Helmand Photographer.

What did I tell you? I said you wouldn’t have to wait long. I have come bouncing back after my blog-abstinence, and quite right too. I can’t have those of you who have faithfully followed me through Afghanistan fall by the wayside now, can I?

After a month off over Christmas, I have been rocket-propelled into 2014 with fury. Something happened to me over that break you know. Something that has likely changed me forever. Did I find religion? Did I see the Eighth Wonder of The World, or was I visited by a ghost? I am afraid the answer is so much simpler than that. I used a Canon…

“Arghhh”, I will hear some of you shouting at me, whilst you throw things at your laptop in disgust. Others will sit back laughing and smiling contently. Whichever you are, hear me out.

A technical epiphany

Those of you who know me, will know that I have NEVER subscribed to the Canon-Nikon argument. Each has their pros and cons, and people (except the professionals) tend to navigate towards one or the other by chance or a recommendation. For me, it was the only one I saw in a secondhand shop in Scunthorpe over twenty years ago; Tom Dennis Cameras (I think it’s still open for business).

There it was on the shelf looking at me, as I looked back with my well-earned lawn-mowing business money in hand. A simple exchange later and I was the proud teenage owner of a second-hand Nikon F90X. I learned it, I loved it and I owned it for many years to come. When the time came to change, I sold it (I wish I hadn’t now) and used what little money I got for it to part-finance a Nikon D200. It only seemed right because I had a couple of lenses and they all fitted. I was also used to the ‘buttonology’. Skipping many years and several Nikons later, I am now in possession (bought or loaned by the Army) of five professional Nikon bodies.

I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t love them. I have Nikon in my blood stream, I suppose, and that was just circumstance. I didn’t choose the brand because it was ‘the best’. As a child I never knew about cameras, and, now that the Army chooses to shoot Nikon, I have no choice but it works for me as that’s what I know.

Now over the years, I have bumped into friends and photographers who have gone the Canon route. Whenever I could, I would always ask to ‘have a go’. I can tell you that, on every single occasion, I have become frustrated within minutes because it was so different to handle and operate than my native Nikon. The buttons were so different and everything was buried in menus. I liked Nikons because there was a button for everything. Inevitably, I ended up handing back the camera and thinking to myself that it was too complicated and it didn’t interest me to learn.

Moving on several years later to the stages when I was taking my photography more seriously, and my mind had started to wander towards doing it as a career. I started regularly buying photographic magazines (as you do). Wasting those three to five pounds every month on ‘mags’ that just go around in circles with the advice they give. All good stuff but, if you buy a year’s worth, you will have covered most of the basic techniques and in that second year they will be there again like a faithful dog.

Focus on Canon

What I did start to notice, from reading the magazines, were two distinct things: Firstly, and most depressingly, my photography wasn’t as good as I thought it was. The second thing was that all the pictures that I considered to have ‘amazing colour depth’, or be ‘dreamy’, were shot with a Canon. Call me what you like, but soon enough I could look at a picture and tell if it was a Canon or a Nikon image. (I am not talking about the heavily post-processed images you see.) I sat and bored friends with this notion for weeks and weeks. Some agreed with me and some said I was talking utter nonsense but, nevertheless, I was always right.

If this had have been a fluke then I would have dismissed it, but the fact that I could always do it seemed strange to me. It worried me a little. Probably because my post-processing ability wasn’t up to scratch either, and I probably thought that I would never be able to produce imagery of that quality.

As time ticked on through 2013 I just kept second-guessing imagery and occasionally ‘tweeting’ other photographers to see what camera brand they used. I suspect you know the outcome of my queries. I decided that I was on to something, but I was never going to be able to prove it because I didn’t have access to a Canon. That soon changed.

Dreamy picture

A chance social engagement gave me opportunity to catch up with a friend ‘over a few beers’ in London. He was an avid Canon-guy and the topic of my ‘findings’ came up during the drunken ramblings of the evening. Without trying to quote the conversation, he essentially offered to lend me some gear so I could have a go and see for myself. I think I sobered up instantly at the offer, as I knew I would have to remember it in the morning.

Sure enough, my friend came good to his word and a couple of months later I was in possession of a Canon 1Dx, 85mm 1.2, 24-70mm 2.8 and the 70-200mm 2.8. A formidable line-up, I am sure you would agree. I had the cameras over Christmas, which was no doubt a quiet period for him. It mattered not. I quickly got to work comparing the Nikon D4 and the Canon 1Dx. I am not talking about scientific laboratory tests here, either. I am talking about walking around my local area with the same lenses on and taking the same pictures, with a bit of comparison later on the computer.

What I should say is that, two weeks prior to receiving the camera, I downloaded the manual and studied it. I didn’t want to have this camera and spend a week getting used to it. Admittedly, it took some time and I was even a bit ‘fingers and thumbs’ with it after two weeks.

Unlike other blogs or web pages, I am not going to put up comparison images. It doesn’t matter because maybe it’s only me who can see what I am talking about. I don’t think ‘dreamy pictures’ are something you can quantify anyhow. What I will tell you is that I was very, very impressed with what that camera could do in terms of frames per second, colour and ISO range. My images didn’t seem as flat, straight off the bat, as they had done before. I was content with everything that came off the memory card.

A love affair with Nikon

You may not appreciate this, but it’s hard for me as a self-professed ‘Nikon guy’ to write such things. I should be faithful, should I not? I am guessing as the years go by, each camera manufacturer gets the edge on something. Canon friends tell me that the colour on previous models was awful, and Nikon had the edge. Well, it certainly seems like it has swung the other way for me. The trouble for me is the way it has left me feeling each time I go to shoot a job with my current gear.

When I look at images that I take, even as much as a week ago, I start to feel deflated that they just aren’t up to scratch. I know there is a better machine out there, and I just don’t have the time to always be processing hundreds of images to make them look as zesty and full of life as those images I produced over Christmas.

Go on, shout at me again. I know some of you will want to, but hey, I am only telling you the truth about how I feel, and I think you have the right to know. I will always promote Nikon for what it is , because it is an amazing bit of kit. I love my Nikon kit deep down, and I will always have a love affair with the history we have shared, but the fact still remains; If tomorrow I were not an Army Photographer, and I didn’t own a single bit of Nikon gear … I would go out and buy Canon.

1/125 @ f1.2 ISO 2000

1/125 @ f1.2 ISO 2000

 

Roger Roberts – Solo Artist.

Roger Roberts – Solo Artist.

Roger shot at f1.2 with no post-production. As I say; ‘dreamy’ (not the guy).

Roger shot at f1.2 with no post-production. As I say; ‘dreamy’ (not the guy).

More tc

Read Si’s other blogs here: Life Through a Lens…

Si’s opinions are his own and not an endorsement of the British Army. 

A day without direction

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth is one of 38 trained British Army photographers.  He left a career in aviation to pursue his passion for photography; capturing everything that military life has to offer. He has recently returned from Afghanistan where he was the Task Force Helmand Photographer.

So, did you miss me?

I bet you all thought that was the last you would hear from me didn’t you? The truth is I really did go off the radar for three and a half months, but for good reason. That reason is; unwinding after a six-month tour, getting back into a routine in your personal life and home life, and taking a bunch of well deserved leave. For me, that was a lot of time off, mixed in with a few weeks in work, here and there. You know, so they didn’t forget who I was and give away my office. Uh-oh, too late. It happened. But you will all be happy to know that I now have it back.

Let me fill in a few gaps for you

Returning home after an extended period away is a strange concept for me, and many soldiers I guess. Life on Operations is simple, easy and routine. Between going to work and going to the gym, the only thing left to do is sleep.

This particular tour was so so different from the previous ones I had done. On a flying tour there is plenty of time off. You generally work a shift pattern, which means there are some days when all there is to do is watch movies or TV or Skype your wife, annoy her with emails and mooch around Facebook.

On this last tour I watched no films and no TV. I had no days off. I am certainly not complaining about it, in fact I really enjoyed it. I love my job, but it kept me working late most nights and I was usually one of the first in in the morning. I did, however, have 24/7 access to the internet. Perks of a media operations job, I guess.

But while I zoned out for 180-odd days and plunged myself into work, what, or who really suffered was my wife. Whereas before I would chat three or four times a week, (probably a lot on tour anyway) on this tour it was barely once. I was so consumed by my day-to-day routine that I forgot there was a routine happening back home that I was no longer part of.

When it was time for me to return home, I was fearful that my self-isolation would have left a void in my marriage. I count myself lucky that I have a wife who is one of the hardest working people I know. She totally understood. And, like the women of yester-year – back in the days where there were no communications from front-line troops – just managed to get on with it. For that I will be eternally grateful.

One word of advice to those who have to endure long periods of separation. Save loads, because taking your wife away to Hong Kong and Vietnam for two weeks afterwards really helps when it comes to making up for being distant whilst on tour.

The holiday with my wife wasn’t really about photography, but here is one I snuck in when she wasn’t looking.

Vietnam

When I got home, there were so many post-tour activities that I had to split my leave up into two-week chunks, and splice them into working weeks. This ensured that I was available for the larger events the Brigade was involved with.

The first of which was the Parliamentary Parade in Westminster. A selection of soldiers from within the units that make up the brigade were selected to march from Wellington Barracks, through Parliament Square and receive a ‘welcome home’ from the Prime Minister, before having reception drinks on the terrace of the Houses of Parliament. Grabbing the parade marching down the streets was easy enough, but at the point the troops wheeled into Westminster Palace there were press freelance photographers at the ready. It was unusual to see them so frantic to get the best shot; each of them barging past the other. I left them to it and headed into the courtyard, and then later into the palace itself.

Inside, it got a little more stressful for me, as I was required to capture a group shot of all the attending soldiers and a good selection of MPs, including the Prime Minister. I literally had less than ten seconds to grab the shot, and it was not easy as there were hoards of public lining up with their camera phones making it near impossible for me to get in the centre of the group. I did my best. Grabbed a couple of shots on the terrace and then it was back to Horse guards to edit.

1st Mechanized Brigade parade through London.

1st Mechanized Brigade parades through London.

Prime Minister David Cameron with members of 1 Mech Brigade.

Prime Minister David Cameron with members of 1 Mech Brigade.

Capturing the shot from three locations at the same time

The next of the 1 Brigade post-tour events was the Memorial Service, which was held at Salisbury Cathedral. This was a hugely important event for those families that had suffered loss while we were deployed on Op HERRICK 18. I was there with a fellow Army Photographer, Gaz Kendal. He was there to shoot video for the press on this occasion. We were given privileged access way up high in the roof. The problem was that I couldn’t be in two places at once. Gaz was busy filming and I needed to be on the ground capturing the essence of the service. What I didn’t need to be doing was running up and down 93 steps while the service was mid-flow.

I decided to use a technique I hadn’t tried before. Remote Camera Setup. Using a PocketWizard Plus 2 and a little lead, I positioned my camera, set it to Manual, focused and calculated the exposure. Using another PocketWizard Plu 2, fitted to the hotshoe on my camera, I was able to remotely fire the static camera each time I clicked my in-hand camera. All in all, it worked well… apart from the rookie mistake I made. It was a drab overcast day when I went into the cathedral, but as it happens; weather changes, and this time was no exception. Half way through the service the sun shone brightly through the windows effectively overexposing all  my shots from there on in. Not an error I will make again. Fortunately I was able to grab this shot:

Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral

If you look close enough, you will see me in this picture.

Whilst on the ground I was able to capture many shots using the wonderful glass-like font in the centre of the cathedral.

Reflecting in the font

Reflecting in the font

Another job I managed to squeeze in was a day out photographing the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers who were working on the Bloodhound Supersonic Car project in Bristol. I was hosted my Major Oli Morgan and his team, and introduced to the rest of the civilian workers. It was an amazing day out and I turned up with every bit of photography kit I own, and pretty much used it all in one way or another.

Cpl Lisa Brooking

Cpl Lisah Brooking

An engineer cuts out part of the car’s dashboard

An engineer cuts out part of the car’s dashboard

Today’s children of a bygone era

No rest for the wicked during my weeks in work. I was straight back down to Salisbury to cover the homecoming and medals parade of 4 Rifles. They were given the freedom of the city a number of years back, so back they go, having just returned from Afghanistan to march the streets once more.

The CO 4 Rifles in front of his Battalion

The CO 4 Rifles in front of his Battalion

This next picture makes me chuckle. It is so classically British and reminds me of scenes from the world war films. Even though the children are waving their mobile phones in order to grab images of the marching soldiers, it doesn’t make it any less timeless in my eyes.

The children cheer as they watch the marching troops

The children cheer as they watch the marching troops

I am even getting lost now thinking of all the little jobs and thing that have happened since we last met.

Oh, how could I forget? The Army Photographic Competition. Here were my portfolio entries and their categories:

Portrait

Portrait

Operations

Operations

Sport

Sport

Public Relations

Public Relations

Black and White

Black and White

Equipment

Equipment

Unfortunately, I wasn’t successful in the photographic side of the competition, but for my piece on PB Sparta that I did whilst in Afghanistan I placed second, or runner-up in the multimedia category.

I made the piece to show how our soldiers relax and spend time when they are not doing one of the many tasks they have to perform whilst on operations. I was fortunate enough to bump into a Fijian soldier playing acoustic guitar and I recorded him, and put my images to his track. You can see him playing in the final image.

You can see the clip here.

That pretty much rounded off 2013 for me. I had lots of leave to take, and I took it. I squeezed in some photography jobs, holidays and Christmas and rounded it all off with a quiet New Year’s Eve with friends, in the Peak District.

2014 has started busy, too. But don’t worry. I won’t make you wait as long for my next instalment.

More TC

Read Si’s other blogs here: Life Through a Lens…

Musicians Mobilise in the Metrocentre

LCpl Damian Dunphy

LCpl Damian Dunphy

Lance Corporal Damian Dunphy is a trombonist with the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band (HC&C Band) based in Catterick. Having served such a length of time in Yorkshire Damian’s roots are well and truly established. He plays for a number of orchestras in the North East in addition to a number of brass bands, he is also the Musical Director of a local brass band and has conducted a number of other bands in the area.

The threat of a visit to Gateshead’s Metrocentre will invariably either fill your heart with joy or fill it dread, depending on your attitude to shopping and more than probably your gender.  Add to the threat the fact that the visit is in December on a Saturday and you are likely either to jump for joy or tremble in trepidation with the thoughts of the impending crowds and crushes at the tills. But……

On Saturday 7 December musicians from the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band, the Band of The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and the Royal Signals (Northern) Band were tasked to visit the Metrocentre for something far less mundane than assembling this year’s Christmas presents, this was the Corps of Army Music’s third flashmob event.

For those unfamiliar with the concept the dictionary definition for the term flashmob is as follows: “A group of people mobilized by social media to meet in a public place for the purpose of doing an unusual or entertaining activity of short duration”

Okay, granted you cannot assemble 60 musicians spontaneously via social media, indeed the events take a great deal of choreographing, but the result has the appearance of spontaneity about it.

Festive mob

Festive mob

Rehearsals

The sixty musicians, regular and reserve, met for the first time at 8am on the morning of the event. Any thoughts of grabbing a bacon butty were quickly put aside as it became clear that time was to be a bit of an issue, with the mall opening to the public at 9am. The Director of Music and Drum Major met with the film director to discuss camera angles, choreography and the overall look of the film, whilst the Band found their positions on the floor.

Drum Major Smith heads up the performance

Drum Major Smith heads up the performance

The overall shape of the Band once assembled was to be that of a Christmas tree and the best way to rehearse creating formations like this is to work backwards from the finish position.  To that end musicians were herded into position, given a marker and in some cases tape-markings were placed on the floor.

The show was to start with a soprano saxophone ‘busker’ being joined by a brass ensemble and then musicians were to emerge from various parts of the mall in an apparently random fashion before forming our Christmas tree shaped marching band.

After half an hour or so a crowd of curious and bemused Metrocentre workers had gathered to see what all the commotion was about, their elated reaction to the first run through verified that we had chosen a popular programme for the event!

The massed bands then returned to the St George’s Army Reserve Centre, in Newcastle, for a musical rehearsal and some well earned pastry based confectionery, courtesy of the Band of The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

Performance time

The performance was scheduled for peak shopping time (1pm) in an atrium in the mall. Musicians gathered together in various service bays and fire escapes out of sight of the crowds waiting for their musical cue, which was to be Lance Corporal  Andy Lightfoot on soprano saxophone playing the introduction of ‘A Winter’s Tale’.

For the occasion Lance Corporal Lightfoot was dressed as an Elf, and prior to the flashmob he was to be busking next to a Christmas tree.  Nobody had quite expected him to look so adorable, and combined with his excellent busking skills, the public were donating money quite quickly, which caught him somewhat by surprise, he hadn’t planned for that element of the event. The money will be donated to Help for Heroes the next time the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band perform for the Pheonix House Recovery Centre in Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire.

With the predictability of the rising sun the cleaners had removed the tape markings from the floor and the fact that the mall was now full of people made finding visual references a tad more difficult. It all went as planned though, and the sight of military musicians playing whilst descending an escalator will no doubt live in people’s memories for a long time.

Cpl Brown meets surprised children.

Cpl Brown meets surprised children.

Christmas

The Band performed ‘A Winter’s Tale’ and ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ both from Ian McElligot’s excellent selection simply entitled “Christmas”, to a warm and appreciative audience.  The feeling from the ‘shop floor’ was that this crowd really enjoyed the performance.

The Band left the atrium to Rodney Bashford’s march Wassail and the music and the performers disappeared as swiftly as they had arrived. They say it’s always good to leave the audience wanting more and that was definitely the case with this performance.

Following the flashmob on Saturday the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band stopped at the Metrocentre to entertain the crowds with some more music.  Whilst we performed to the public, the Army Media Team were editing the video ready for distribution.  By the time the bands had got changed and boarded the transport for home the video was already online and had already generated thousands of hits both on Facebook and YouTube. By the time the bus arrived back at Catterick the event had been shown on the local news.

Good news does indeed travel fast.

Lastly we would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas from all members of the Corps of Army Music and Army Reserve Bands.

Watch the action unfold in this video of the event: 

Visit The Corps of Army Music and learn about its role within the British Army

Army Music performs for Alan Titchmarsh

Musician Jerickson Villacarlos

Musician Jerickson Villacarlos

Musician Jerickson Villacarlos is the oboist of The Band of The Blues and Royals, one of the 22 bands in the Corps of Army Music (CAMUS).  He passed out of Phase 1 Training in Army Training Centre (ATC) Pirbright in September 2011, Phase 2 Training in the Royal Military School of Music Kneller Hall in November 2012 and completed the Household Cavalry (HCav) Mounted Dutyman Course in June 2013. Here he talks about the experience of being on the day-time TV series Alan Titchmarsh with his band.

Lights, camera, action

Within 24 hours of playing for the Soldiers’, Sailors’, Airmen’s Family Association (SSAFA) charity with the Windsor Military Wives Choir in the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch, we set off on the road with bright eyes and bushy tails.  This time, we made our way to the ITV Studios in Central London to appear on the Alan Titchmarsh Show.  The Band has appeared on TV before but this was my first to go in a TV studio. I was thrilled and full of anticipation to be involved in another unique opportunity to represent the British Army.

Maj Jason Griffiths Director of Music The Band of The Blues and Royals

Maj Jason Griffiths Director of Music The Band of The Blues and Royals

We unpacked our instruments, uniforms and other kit with the help of supporting staff from the studio. We were then led to our dressing rooms and the so-called ‘green room’ where a generous amount of refreshments of cold soft drinks, hot beverages, delicious sandwiches and a tray full of fresh fruits awaited us. Needless to say, we were very well looked after.

Not long after arriving, we touched up our uniforms; Brasso cleaned our helmets, straightened our plumes and ensured our boots, spurs and belts had that mirror shine, nothing short of the stringent standards of the Household Cavalry.  I then quickly prepared my reed and warmed up the oboe.  Soon, donning our uniforms, we descended down to the set to briefly run through our segment on the show… by ‘brief’, I mean only 10 minutes!  We stood on stage observing and awaited directions.  It was interesting to see what goes on in the a studio with staff doing their tasks adjusting lights, cameras and microphones.

Band Corporal Major Stuart Marsh on the Drum Kit

Band Corporal Major Stuart Marsh on the Drum Kit

State Trumpeters

Following a warm welcome from Alan Titchmarsh himself and the cues from the studio staff, we proceeded to record.  We prepared a piece called “Fehrbelliner Reitermarsch” featuring four of our State Trumpeters led by our Trumpet Major Phil Bishop and a piece called “Sing, Sing, Sing” featuring our soloists: Band Corporal Major Stuart Marsh on the Drum Kit, Lance Corporal of Horse Tim Garner on Alto Sax and Lance Corporal Evatt Gibson on Trombone.

Maj Jason Griffiths Director of Music The Band of The Blues and Royals talks to Alan Titchmarsh about the future of Army Music

Maj Jason Griffiths Director of Music The Band of The Blues and Royals talks to Alan Titchmarsh about the future of Army Music

After the opening, Alan chatted to the band.  The Director of Music (DOM) Major Jason Griffiths spoke about the exciting times ahead for the Corps of Army Music (CAMUS).  He told him about next year’s reorganisation and that in April 2014, CAMUS will be forming the UK’s first 3 professional Brass Bands, 3 Rock and Pop Bands and the new Corps of Army Music String orchestra.  He went on to say that the Corps is still recruiting and we need quality musicians to join us. He reminded the viewers that all instrumentalists (including guitarists, string players, vocalists as well as the standard wind instrumentalists) are encouraged to apply. 

The producers were happy with the set.  We exited stage left and packed to return to Windsor.  Certainly, it has been an insightful event for me to see what goes on behind the scenes of a TV show.

Tenor Sax

Back in Windsor, we returned to the practice room the following day to prepare for the upcoming Festival of Remembrance.  We provided musical support for the several events and the Remembrance Service in the Garrison Church in Windsor, as well as playing in aid of the Poppy Appeal for the Royal British Legion in three London Railway stations in the same week.  In addition, I especially enjoyed the Lord Mayor’s Show on the 9th of November. We wear State Dress, I played Tenor Sax on one of the many iconic steeds of the Household Cavalry in the City of London.

The variety of events I have been fortunate to participate in as a musician in CAMUS has certainly been very interesting and rewarding… and I have only been in for about six months!  I’m looking forward to what is in store for me for the future.

Learn more about the Corps of Army Music

Playing with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Lance Sergeant John Storey

Lance Sergeant John Storey

Lance Sergeant John Storey is the principal Euphonium player in the Band of the Coldstream Guards, Corps of Army Music. Here he talks about the excitement and privilege and some of the hurdles he had to overcome to perform with the world famous Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

From Sappora to Sloane Square

Over the last 15 years as Principal Euphonium in the Band of the Coldstream Guards, I have been privileged to travel the world and play at great venues with amazing musicians. October 2013 was the time for the Red Machine to make its regular concert tour of Japan.  But……

Three weeks before we were due to leave, I received an email from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO), one of the most famous orchestras in the world, asking if I would be interested in playing with them at the famous Cadogon Hall in Chelsea. I was flattered and excited about the offer to swap the bearskin for Black Tie and jumped at the chance.

After accepting the gig I started to panic. The concert was two days after we were due to get back from Japan. Would I be able to practice? Would I be able to get my instruments back in time? What was I thinking?

I arrived in Japan with a large silent brass mute hidden in my suitcase. This enables brass instrumentalists to play normally while controlling the sound output to headphones. The trouble was the size and weight of the equipment left me a little short on other luggage. Who needs more than two pairs of trousers and one going out shirt?

The tour was pretty hectic and I had to be inventive. I practised in hotel rooms, swapped sushi for scales and ditched chicken Katsu for Cadenzas. One night, I even lay awake playing the music over and over in my head.

Lance Sergeant John Storey sits poised with his Euphonium on the left of the stage

Lance Sergeant John Storey sits poised with his Euphonium on the left of the stage

The concert

Lance Sergeant John Storey performing on the trombone with other brass players of the RPO

Lance Sergeant John Storey performing on the trombone with other brass players of the RPO

The two weeks in Japan flew by. In what seemed like a whirlwind, I was no longer on stage with my trusty band colleagues and old friends. I was rehearsing in a church in Blackheath with a group of other people, mostly strangers. There was no time to think about the things that had worried me up until now.

Before I knew it, the gig was over! I loved every minute of it and was touched by how many people from the band came out to show their support. After a few drinks with old friends, the adrenaline levels fell and I finally got to catch up on the jet lag my body had been so desperately fighting. It had been little over 48 hours since I landed at Heathrow.

I was asked to use this article to reflect on how preparing for and playing on stage with the RPO made me feel. Was I nervous? Did I get a real buzz?  Did I feel proud? The answer to all is undoubtedly, yes!

However, this is not the time to rest on one’s laurels. I am back with my band to prepare for the most important gig of all. It is the one that after 15 years leaves a lump in my throat, sends shivers down my spine and makes me so proud to be a member of the Corps of Army Music – the National Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph, London.

Never the twain shall meet: writer’s block comes into focus

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

Corporal Si Longworth is one of 38 trained British Army photographers.  He left a career in aviation to pursue his passion for photography; capturing everything that military life has to offer. He is currently in Afghanistan as the Task Force Helmand Photographer on Op HERRICK 18.

Hello, it’s been a while

Why? Well to be perfectly honest, I lost my way, but not in the geographical sense. Had you been serving in Camp Bastion for the past couple of months, you wouldn’t have seen me aimlessly wandering around the camp. I am quite content with my ability to read cartography. It was for a different reason, and although I have spent this last month and a half trying to work out why, maybe I can write it all down and see if it makes sense to you.

I finished my time with Capt Mau Gris and the Baz duo and headed  back to the UK for Rest and Recuperation (R&R). My time at home with my wife is probably worthy of a separate blog altogether. It was always my intention to write about R&R and what I did etc. But, having been stuck with what I can only describe as ‘bloggers block’ and watched two great bloggers write about theirs, I now feel it would be time wasted.

What I do want to say that if you ever book a holiday to the South of France, and decide to locate yourself around the Ardeche River valley; picturing tranquil paddles down a lazy river, with nothing but peace and quiet, may I recommend un-booking and instead, head for the summer mountains of Switzerland. In particular, Nedez.  I will save you the disappointment of sharing the river with hundreds and hundreds of other tourists. Even better; whilst I have slipped into R&R mode. If you do find yourself in Nedez during the summer season, I HIGHLY recommend visiting what my mind has decided to call ‘Chalet Paradise’ but what is actually called, Chalet Grand Loupe, run by Steve and Karen Allen, two British Ex Pats who have set up and will host you beyond expectation.  They couldn’t do enough for my wife and me; turning twisty river hell into one of the most enjoyable holidays in a while, and for that I will thank them eternally. Steve, Karen, we will return, I promise you!

France and Swizerland

France and Swizerland

l seem to have gone off-piste

So, I return to Afghanistan, supposedly recharged and ready to push out the final stretch, but in all honesty having to leave home again was quite difficult. I knew I only had a month to do, but I was already feeling the burden. Two things made matters worse. Firstly the brigade headquarters had moved to Bastion while I was away. My own quiet office space had been replaced with an open plan situation that I was just not ready for. 180 people buzzing about, 130 phones ringing. It was going to take some getting used to. The second thing that didn’t help, and the thing I will never forgive myself for, is that while I was away, I had suffered irretrievable data loss from my master hard drive. The real stinger to the story is that because I was so busy before going home, I hadn’t managed to back it all up. I lost 40 per cent of what I had taken, including all the work for the CCT. I worked hard to try and retrieve pictures from clients of the jobs I had done, and using recovery software for my memory cards but in the end I was down images, and down in the dumps. I have learnt the hard way what it means to lose hard work, and suffice to say that my electronic work flow now includes two hard drives and online storage. I don’t want to ever be caught out again.

Long working days, long editing nights

With the loss of some of my favourite work coupled with post R&R blues, I wasn’t firing on all cylinders, and I think my boss, Capt DJ, sensed this. He knew what to do. Get me back out on the road and make me take pictures. He knew that I needed to start building up my library again, and soon. So it was. I was booked on a ’round-robbin’ of Helmand, two days after landing from my leave. Bouncing from one base to the next and capturing what I could in short spaces of time kept me the right kind of busy and images started to build again quickly. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t the medicine I needed. I soon got back into the swing of it. I snapped, I interviewed and I wrote the interviews up. I tried to keep engaged with my followers on twitter, and their support of my images kept my spirits up. The only problem was now, I just couldn’t settle down to write my blog.

The weeks passed, and as my six-month tour drew closer and closer to the end, the jobs started ramping up. Whether it be requests for photos I had taken or end of tour photographs for squadrons and regiments, it all added to long working days and long editing nights. There was no way I was going to have peace for long enough to write this blog. Even Captain Sophie Whitaker, who’s job required her to walk past my desk over 50 times a day, and who’s constant prompting about my blog couldn’t get me inspired.

So where did this leave me?

Well, 45 minutes ago I boarded a C17 aircraft at midnight on my final day in Afghanistan. Whilst probably 95 per cent of other passengers sleep around me, I am writing this blog… Peace at last. I regret having kept you waiting this long.

What has been the theme of this blog? Well I think it is a reminder that we are all human. We have ups and downs, but we get there in the end. I don’t know what it was that prevented the small creative part of my brain from putting pen to paper for so long. Different things in different ways affect us all, I guess.

So, after all that, was my last six weeks worth it? Well, you decide.

Here is a short summary, in pictures.

An Apache Pilot stands in front of his machine

An Apache Pilot stands in front of his machine

A Landing Point Commander shields himself from the downwash of a Chinook

A Landing Point Commander shields himself from the downwash of a Chinook

An RAF Crewman keeps watch from the tail of a Chinook

An RAF Crewman keeps watch from the tail of a Chinook

A Royal Military Policewoman receives an award from the ANSF and celebrates in the usual Afghan manner

A Royal Military Policewoman receives an award from the ANSF and celebrates in the usual Afghan manner

A Proud Afghan National Policeman smiles for the camera

A Proud Afghan National Policeman smiles for the camera

Soldiers in FOB Ouellette play cards by torchlight under the night sky

Soldiers in FOB Ouellette play cards by torchlight under the night sky

Snipers keep watch over a patrol

Snipers keep watch over a patrol

A Chinook departs Camp Bastion under a setting sun

A Chinook departs Camp Bastion under a setting sun

Is this the end of my blog? Don’t be silly: the journey has just begun. I promised you in my first blog that it was a journey we would take together. I will remain an Army Photographer for the next five years. For the next year, I will remain in Wiltshire, but then who knows. What I do know though, is that if you remain faithful to me, I won’t let you down. Lets get through the next five years of photographic ups and downs together. Times may be tough, but that’s life, is it not?

Thank you for all your support over the last six months, but here’s to the future…

The author on his last day in Afghanistan

Me on my last day in Afghanistan – by Capt Dalzel-Job

More tc

More tc.

Read Si’s other blogs here: Life Through a Lens…