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

Flashmob – Birmingham taken by surprise

LCpl Daniel King

LCpl Daniel King

Lance Corporal Daniel King is in the Corps of Army Music and is currently assigned to the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals. Here he writes about being part of one of the latest crazes to hit the streets – Flashmobs.

When I saw my parents last weekend I told them that I had just taken part in a “flashmob” in the centre of Birmingham. My Mum’s response was “Did they catch you this time?”. I quickly corrected her and explained that it wasn’t what it sounded like but instead a public show that is designed to be spontaneous and a surprise to passers-by.

On Saturday 21 September the Corps of Army Music gave it a go, and what a success it has proven to be.  Three bands, consisting of one regular including my band, the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals (Corps of Army Music) and two reserve bands; The Nottinghamshire Band of the Royal Engineers and the Band of The Mercian Regiment descended on Chamberlain Square in Birmingham.

For us the flashmob started on the Friday with a trip from Blandford in Dorset to RAF Cosford in the Midlands.  What would normally be a nice easy three or four-hour journey turned into a delightful seven-hour trip due to traffic on the M5. We should have arrived at Cosford for our evening meal but due to the delay missed our opportunity to eat in the facilities at the camp.

Due to my reputation of being a food lover, I was nominated to find somewhere to eat. Of course I chose curry, and according to my phone this was going to be a 1.1-mile walk from camp. This goes to prove that phones lie… 50 minutes later we had arrived at Albrighton Balti Bazaar for our evening meal. The band must have trebled the restaurant’s business for the evening!

Out of sight

The following morning the two Reserve bands arrived and the bands started to put together what was going to happen. Due to the nature of the job it is very hard to do this as you have little idea about what it is going to be like on the ground. Plan A was put in place and after a couple of hours’ rehearsal, we had lunch and got on the bus to Birmingham.

WO1 Estelle Gouws - Bandmaster of the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals

WO1 Estelle Gouws – Bandmaster of the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals

When we arrived in Birmingham, section leaders of each band went out with the Band Sergeant-Major to have a look at the area we would be performing in. This is where Plan B, C, and D were formed! The initial plan was to have the Signals band on the steps behind the fountain and the TA bands in front. Due to the size of the fountain it was decided that this would not be ideal so everyone was to form in front. We also decided to change where we would form up for the marching band part of our plan at the end of the event.

As the band hid in different corners of the square out of sight of the crowd, our performance was started by our percussionist, Musician Wayne Harvey. Dressed in overalls he wheeled a big green bin out into the middle of the square and started playing the drum rhythm to our chosen tune of Louis Prima’s “Sing Sing Sing”, which as I write already has over 5500 hits on YouTube.  He was soon joined little by little by members of the Signals Band. At the drum solo in the middle of the piece the band were joined by members of the two Reserve bands making a total of 60 Army Musicians, an impressive sound and sight. By the end of the piece the massed bands had formed into a marching band formation to finish.

Appear from nowhere

After the surprise flashmob the bands then gave a 20-minute impromptu concert before departing the square to a piece of music called Saint Louis Blues.

The crowd appeared to love the whole event and many looked genuinely surprised to suddenly see a band in uniform appearing from nowhere to entertain them. This was a fantastic event to be involved with and seeing the online success and telling my family and friends about this is great. I hope I can be involved in similar events in the future.

CAMUS flashmob

CAMUS flashmob

CAMUS flashmob

CAMUS flashmob

CAMUS flashmob

CAMUS flashmob

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