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

University challenge leads to Remembrance time

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, 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.

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.

University challenge

The Band has recently been fostering links with music departments in local universities in order to demonstrate the capabilities of the Corps of Army Music and to assist the music students with workshops. We have been giving lunchtime recitals in Durham Cathedral, York St John University and we have further events with Newcastle University coming up.

The Band at York St John University

The Band at York St John University

The lunchtime recital in Durham Cathedral delighted of audiences young and old, many of whom relished the chance to enjoy a free concert just as they happened to be visiting the Cathedral. A varied programme ranging from Reed’s Festive Overture through to John William’s Star Wars via some varied and stylish repertoire including a fantastic contemplative arrangement of John Lennon’s Imagine ensured the audience enjoyed the event.

The Band set up for a lunchtime recital at Durham Cathedral

The Band setting up for a lunchtime recital at Durham Cathedral

The performance at York St John drew a capacity crowd of students. The academic staff remarked admirably on the standard of the Band and how thrilled they were to have such a partnership in place. The concert band performance was followed by a careers presentation and a ten-piece brass ensemble demonstration with an hour-long workshop. It was educating and entertaining at the same time.

At Newcastle University the students provided their own compositions for the Band, who performed them whilst the Bandmaster provided a workshop on composing and arranging for a military band. The experience was clearly quite new for the students who seem generally to have had more experience composing and arranging for orchestral ensembles.

The response from the students from all three universities has already proved to be highly positive with projects planned to link in directly with academic studies.  Indeed, in the spring, we will be working with composers and conductors from Newcastle University to select students for performance in front of their peers, very exciting for all involved.

Remembrance Time

Birmingham Remembrance Day

Birmingham Remembrance Day

As ever at this time of year the band have been involved with a number of Remembrance events, including a series of concerts arranged in aid of both ABF The Soldiers’ Charity and the Royal British Legion. The concerts have been narrated by Alisdair Hutton, the voice of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, featured vocal soloists, choirs (including the original WAGS Choir, Catterick Garrison), standard bearers, cadets and pipers.  The culmination of the concerts was on Saturday 1oth November with a spectacular Festival of Remembrance held in the magnificent splendour of Durham Cathedral.  As the last post sounded and the piper played a lament thousands of poppies fell on the Band as the assembled audience and cast sat in dignified silence to honour the fallen.

Birmingham Remembrance Day

Birmingham Remembrance Day

Bright and early the following morning the Band were en route to Birmingham to take part in the city’s Remembrance parade.  This is something of a diary change for the band who normally take part in the parade in nearby York. When we arrived we found that we were to be sharing the musical workload with a local Salvation Army Band and a band from the local Fire and Rescue Services, which gave the band a brief chance to appreciate the musical efforts of others amidst the bright sunshine of this crisp November morning.

The Band in Barnsley

The Band in Barnsley

 

Tuesday 13th saw the band travel to Barnsley in South Yorkshire to perform in support of The Light Dragoons who were welcomed to the city following their recent deployment to Afghanistan.  A warm Yorkshire welcome was afforded to the Regiment as the temperature of the Band was lifted somewhat negotiating the steep terrain!

With our feet back in our very own North Yorkshire on Wednesday 15th November, the Band took part in the Royal Gun Salute in York to celebrate the birthday of HRH The Prince of Wales.  There are six such salutes every year and the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band generally perform at them all whilst in station.

As I write, and with no let up in tempo, we are travelling on a very full bus to Cambrai, France, where we will be participating in a number of remembrance events with The Royal Tank Regiment, one of our affiliated Regiments.

Historical steps: Sandhurst and speed marching

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, 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.

Relocaton, relocation

The Band have recently been relocated from our native North Yorkshire down to the sunny Surrey, where we have been employed as the residential Band for the Royal Military Academy (RMA) Sandhurst.  In years gone by the Academy had its own resident band known as the RMAS Band Corps.  The Band Corps was disbanded in 1984 as part of a strategic defence review which also saw many of the Army’s then Regimental Bands reduced in size from 35 to 21 performers.  Since 1984 the resident band position at Sandhurst has been rotated amongst the bands of the Army and since 1994 the Bands of the Corps of Army Music have undertaken the task in rotation.

RMA Sandhurst is where all British Army officers are trained prior to taking up commissions within their relevant arms and Corps.  The camp comprises a number of buildings prized for their architectural beauty and the whole place has an air of history about it which give the place something of a timeless quality.

Sandhurst Old College

Sandhurst Old College

The duties of any musician as part of a residential band at Sandhurst are to support the officer cadets, both on parade and at dinner nights and social functions, all of which are imperative to provide a  grounding for the future officers of the British Army.  Your author’s first visit to Sandhurst was in 1993 when Bands served a full term (three and a half months) on each visit.  In those days the British Army had 69 Bands and could easily provide the manpower for such deployments.  As times have progressed the  deployment of the Bands of the Corps of Army Music has changed somewhat, with Bands covering shorter spells on a more frequent basis.

Tradition still going strong

The Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band have been the resident Band at Sandhurst just once before.  On that occasion in 2006 the Band was newly formed and served a seven week term at RMAS.  The seven week tour was at the end of term and the Band had the honour to perform at the Sovereign’s Parade for the graduation of Prince William, an event which gave both RMAS and the Band global media coverage.

Anyway, with our feet on the ground the Band arrived on Sunday to unload our associated freight into the “Sullivan” Band block at RMAS.  In times gone by the resident Band have spent many hours travelling between accommodation, practice facilities and messes. Fortunately these days all three are very close so unloading the equipment was a relatively simple task.  Having allocated the relevant storage spaces to the relevant departments the Band met on Monday morning for a full band rehearsal.  On this occasion the band had to organise after dinner events for the various officer’s mess engagements on the immediate calendar.  A quick look at the schedule revealed that we had a number of forthcoming dinner nights, which invariably comprise a quintet performance through the dinner followed by after dinner entertainment provided by a small marching Band with the odd cabaret item thrown in.

Prior to the creation of Regimental Military Bands the officers of a Regiment would club together to employ civilian musicians, normally around eight in number; their primary task would be to entertain the officers before, during and after dinner.  Nearly 200 years further down the line the tradition is still going strong, Bands of the Corps of Army Music still regularly perform for dinner nights in messes all across the Forces world. Whilst the after dinner music is often a matter of the personal taste of the Director of Music, the formula is probably not.  The Band march into a dimly lit room and deafen a number of unsuspecting guests in a grand twist on the Victorian concept of ‘parlour music’!

The Band normally then find an area of the room, often the darkest area to add to the complexity of producing the music, and perform a number of solo items for the utterly startled, and hopefully delighted dinner guests.  Such displays of pageantry often find favour with more relaxed and lubricated audiences; however in the stoic atmosphere of a Sandhurst dinner night it is sometimes clear that the officer cadets are unsure as to how to react.  A trait which invariably disappears upon graduation from Sandhurst!

Whilst on tour the Band also performed for the Commandant’s Sovereign’s Parade music review.  This is the process whereby the music for the end of term Sovereign’s Parade is chosen and it is held in the nearby Woolwich Hall.  There is something of a gladiatorial quality about the process as the Commandant, seated directly in front of the Band gives either the thumbs up or the thumbs down to each piece of music.  Fortunately the Band always have alternative music available so that on the odd occasion that a piece gets the thumbs down a replacement is immediately at hand.

Members of the band training for an AFT

Members of the band training for an AFT

New members

When not employed musically the Band maintained imperative admin tasks and continued training for both PFTs (Personal Fitness Tests) and AFTs (Army Fitness Tests).  For the uninitiated a PFT comprises a fixed number of press ups and sit ups and a 1.5 mile run, to be undertaken within a set time (which varies with age); an AFT is an eight mile speed march (or tab) to be completed carrying weapons and with a weighted Bergen.  Members of the Band completed both in unseasonably warm March weather, needless to say there was a run on foot treatments and blister plasters at the local supermarket during our stop at Sandhurst.

New members

New members

On return from our short tour of Sandhurst the Band were delighted to welcome a number of new members who have been posted from Bands across the Corps of Army Music to bolster our numbers.  We look forward to performing at full strength once more and hope that all new members will be very happy in beautiful North Yorkshire.

From music to military training tests (MATTs)

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, 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.

Soldiers first

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’!

DMaj A Smith

DMaj A Smith

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!

WO2 Rigdewell, Captain Johnson, Sgt Southorn

WO2 Rigdewell, Captain Johnson, Sgt Southorn

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.

Young musicians

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.