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

A very long coach trip to Germany

Army musician Lance Corporal Daniel King

Army musician Lance Corporal Daniel King

Lance Corporal Daniel King is principal clarinettist in the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals (RSIGS BAND). Here he writes about being an Army musician, a role which allows him to perform at many high-profile events across the UK and abroad.

 

Interlocking rings

During the quiet period at the beginning of the year the band takes the opportunity to learn this year’s new marching display. Throughout the period of the year the band will perform this display at beating the retreat all across the country and abroad. We have to learn the display now because if we leave it any later we will not have enough time in the working programme to fit it in.

Due to the weather it was not easy to get a rehearsal outside so the band booked the largest indoor space available on Blandford Camp. This happened to be the gymnasium floor. Although not what you would normally expect to see in a gymnasium, the band took advantage of the large floor space to rehearse the new movements. Each year the band tries and does a completely different display. If it is always the same it gets very boring.

With the Olympics this year the band attempted to create the five interlocking rings, although it didn’t quite work out on the first attempt I am sure they will find a way to incorporate the Olympics in the display. We also tried a few more movements before heading back to the band block.

The band rehearses

The band rehearses

 

A few days later we packed all our gear and headed off to Germany for a week and a bit. We departed on coach from Blandford on the Tuesday morning and after a 10-hour journey we reached Elmpt Station near Monchengladbach. The band was to be involved in a medal parade at where HRH Princess Anne was presenting the medals. I wasn’t involved in the parade so I was utilised to take photos of the band.

The day after we arrived there was a rehearsal day and the next day was the parade. I had been struggling to find something bad to say about the brass section in this blog until Musician Dan Shave handed me something on a plate! During the march off he got a little confused during the counter-march (Bless Him) and went the wrong way. To make things worse for himself, he got on the wrong foot and for the whole of the march off he was out of step. Well done Dan! We are only human and we all make mistakes sometimes.

A snowy afternoon in Germany.

A snowy afternoon in Germany.

Snowman 

On the Friday we packed up again and climbed on a very full bus. We travelled over by civilian coach with trailer but for the next part of the tour we were being looked after by the Bundeswehr (German Army), and they didn’t provide a trailer. We travelled down to Bavaria (About half an hour from Munich). We stopped at the German military hospital for our lunch on the way. This journey took about 12 hours. We were greeted when we got off the coach to freezing cold temperatures and lots of snow. On the Friday we weren’t due in work till mid-afternoon so the band made the most of the weather, some choosing to take a very scenic walk to the nearest town and the more mature of us decided to make a snowman and throw copious amounts of snow at each other…. I lost.

Homebrew

We gave a concert that evening in the nearby town of Tutzing. After the concert we were invited into the Rathaus (Town Hall) for a beer and some food. We do lots of engagements all around the world and it is always nice when you are appreciated. We are always looked after by the people of Tutzing (we have been here before), this year they gave every band member a two-litre bottle of homebrewed Bavarian beer! I can tell you all, it was beautiful. And if any people from Tutzing read this, thank you very much. The following day we did another concert this time in the town of Wörthsee. We were given a fantastic meal after the concert here as well.

 The next couple of days gave the band a chance to look at some of the beautiful scenery that Bavaria has to offer. We travelled early on the Monday morning to a small village called Ettal. Combined with the snow it makes a very beautiful picturesque village. We then travelled a little bit further to see the Neuschwanstein Castle; this was the castle that was used for the fictional country of “Vulgaria” in the film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”

On the Tuesday morning we travelled into Munich for a look around the BMW museum. When we got there we found out that they had in fact opened the museum an hour early especially so we could be given a VIP guided tour! From here we visited the Hofbrauhaus (Big brewery in Munich). The band enjoyed this very much!

The following day we packed up again and made our way back to the UK. This wasn’t a particularly fun journey due to the length of it. First was the journey back to Monchengladbach (12 hours) to change coach back to a civilian one, which was followed by the 10-hour journey back to Blandford. We arrived back at 4am on the Thursday morning and after getting home to bed around 5am, I was awoken by my daughter at 8!

5am start for a Passing Out Parade at Pirbright

Army musician Lance Corporal Daniel King

Army musician Lance Corporal Daniel King

Lance Corporal Daniel King is principal clarinettist in the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals (RSIGS BAND). Here he writes about being an Army musician, a role which allows him to perform at many high-profile events across the UK and abroad.

Going back to work after a period of time on leave is always hard! I remember waking up in the morning thinking, “Do I really have to get up today?”  After hitting the snooze button on my alarm clock for the second time the wife eventually kicked me, forcing me to get up.

Arriving into work you are greeted by the familiar “smiling faces” of other band members. Although having an extended 3 weeks leave was lovely, it is always harder returning than it would be after 2 weeks leave.

Sgt Rich Evans and Musician Dan Shave annoying me with their piccolo trumpets

Sgt Rich Evans and Musician Dan Shave annoying me with their piccolo trumpets

I walked straight into the office to check the calendar for any new additions to the yearly programme. It appears that over leave a small trip to Cyprus has been added for September. This is why I love this job!

Over the next couple of weeks our Director of Music (DOM) is leaving so he will be doing his handover to the new incoming Captain Tony Adams. For the band this means we have to prepare all instruments and property for a 100% check. All the instruments are laid out to be inspected by the new DOM.

The dreaded trip to the Bandmaster’s office is greeted by a smile and a handful of paperwork. Those 3 weeks off are feeling more like a Hiatus than a holiday. I’m only joking – two handfuls! He is a brass player after all.

WO1 (BM) Troy Tayor-Smith in his office

WO1 (BM) Troy Tayor-Smith in his office

As I write this blog, band members are pottering around getting out their instruments and checking that they still work after three weeks of them being in their cases. I have my own instrument so I was able to practice over leave… Believe that and you will believe anything. No, I did play it a couple of times over leave at my local church so my lip is still good! Not everyone in the band has their own instrument so they only use Army provided ones. 

As I type, I have the piercing sound of a piccolo trumpet trying to annoy me by playing as high and loud as he possibly can!

Due to the general quiet nature of the week we like to do a bit of physical training! So on the Monday afternoon, the band go down to the all-weather court for a bit of team sports! This week we played basketball. I don’t know how we manage it but we always seem to get at least one injury during the sessions! A few stubbed fingers and a lot of aches!!

The first job of this year is not until the following Friday and that is a 5am start for a Passing Out Parade at Pirbright. So it’s best to enjoy the down-time while we can!

Pie in the face polka

Lance Corporal Daniel King is principal clarinettist in the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals (RSIGS BAND). Here he writes about being an Army musician, a role which allows him to perform at many high-profile events across the UK and abroad.

Kneller Hall

Kneller Hall

Every year military bands get tasked with a week or two at the home of Army Music, Kneller Hall. The job is to provide musical support to the school.

There are two main courses that are held at Kneller Hall. The first is the Student Bandmasters course. Future bandmasters are selected to do a 3 year course, which will qualify them to become full bandmasters of one of the regular army bands. The second course is the Foundation Course. Every musician in the British Army goes through this. When musicians complete phase 1 training they go to Kneller Hall and are brought up to the minimum level of ability for army bands. You are also taught how to march and play which I can assure you is not easy as a beginner.

The duty band has three main tasks whilst at Kneller Hall. The first is to provide a full concert band for the student bandmasters (Conducting Band). Conducting band gives the student bandmasters the opportunity to practice the skills they are taught in front of a full band, it also gives the band the opportunity to play some more musical repertoire and see what the future bandmasters are like!

The second thing we do is help out with numbers in the foundation course band. Unlike regular army bands, the foundation course is often unbalanced in the way of instrumentation, other than the obvious “too many brass”, which is a problem in every single wind band in the world in my opinion. Only a few band members are needed for this in order to help with numbers and also to sit with sections that may require a little support.

The final task we are required for is marching band. Marching and playing is a huge part of our job and is easier to learn when the band is balanced and when you have experienced players next to you to help you out.

As an extra task during the week, on the Thursday night the band provided a band for the dining out of the Commandant of Kneller Hall, Colonel Cuthbert-Brown CBE. A small 18 piece played in Student Bandmasters’, Sergeants’ and Warrant Officers’ messes. The band was conducted by Student Bandmaster Estelle Gouws. During the dinner we played pieces such as, Les Miserables, Vocalise (Featuring an oboe soloist from the foundation course, I can’t remember his name!) and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Pie in the face polka

For the after dinner entertainment Musician Jo Nethercott and myself performed a clarinet duet called “Pie in the face polka”. We both dressed up in German outfits and played around the tables and drank the guests’ port whilst we were resting. It was our first performance of the duet and it proved to be very popular, so my hopes of burning the outfit were very quickly dashed. Musician Dan Shave then played a solo, Virtuosity, and he even hit the high note at the end which was a novelty.

On the Friday night eight members of the band stayed behind to help the foundation course as they played for Richmond Upon Thames’ Christmas Lights Ceremony. This involved a small march through town then we played carols and Christmas songs on Richmond green. I have to admit… it was pretty cold!

And then a well-earned rest………………………….

Musician on the steps

Lance Corporal Daniel King is principal clarinettist in the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals (RSIGS BAND). Here he writes about being an Army musician, a role which allows him to perform at many high-profile events across the UK and abroad.

Army musician Lance Corporal Daniel King
Army musician Lance Corporal Daniel King.

Within the UK many important musical jobs take place at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. During the last week of September the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals, of which I am principle clarinettist, performed on the steps there. The occasion was the Territorial Army Commissioning parade (Sandhurst has a long-standing tradition of producing the best and this was no exception).

We, along with a few members of the Band of the Light Cavalry, arrived at Sandhurst on Wednesday lunchtime and wasted no time by going straight out to practice on the steps of Old College where the parade would take place. For a fair few of the band, it was their first experience of marching up and down steps whilst playing and luckily it was picked up fairly quickly and with no injuries!

Sandhurst had decided the previous week to go into long sleeve order, so the band were on the steps in barrack dress complete with woolly jumper. To say we were hot was an understatement! For the duration of all the rehearsals over the following days we never received the delights of  shade due to the positioning of old college. For those of you who were not in the UK, this last week was the hottest end of a September for over 100 years with highs of 29C  (84F).

Due to the amount of work during the summer season the band had no problems with this. The soldiers however….. did! No fewer than four soldiers on parade were drilled by the Academy Sergeant Major to ensure that they didn’t faint!

Royal Signals band at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

Royal Signals band at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

Begone Dull Care…

On the day of the parade it got just that little bit hotter. We started the day with the commissioning service in the Academy chapel. The acoustics in this church are fantastic and it is a thoroughly enjoyable place to play in. You need so little effort to produce a stunning sound.

On completion of the service, it was a fairly quick turnaround ready to march on parade.

With the band ready, the troops formed up behind us awaiting the Academy Sergeant Major’s commands to get on parade. We stepped off in quick time leading the troops on to the square where we broke off and marched up the steps. For all the rehearsals so far we had been wearing normal shoes but for the parade we wear spurs. Before the parade, bets were made on who was going to trip down the steps. My money was on our first cornet player but he stayed on both feet!

The parade continued with the adjutant coming on to parade and finally the inspecting officer. Due to the high status of this parade, HRH Prince Edward The Earl of Wessex was in attendance. After inspecting the troops and the band he gave a speech. To finish the parade the band marched off the steps and formed up just to the side so that the troops could slow march up the steps to the music ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ to receive their commission. With the new officers in the building the band marched off the parade square to the Corps of Army Music March and our own, ‘Begone Dull Care’.

As well as providing music for the parade the band provided musical support for the commissioning dinner on the Thursday night. A brass quintet played during the dinner and the rest of the band joined in for a cabaret marching display at the end of the dinner. The band entertained the dinner with pieces featuring the Post Horns, the Lord of the Dance and finally another piece featuring the less musical trombones (I’m a woodwind player and the rivalry runs deep with the brass). We finished with the regimental marches of those dining.

To conclude, this was a very good experience for the band especially some of the younger members.