In 1966 I was a member of The Royal Artillery Band stationed at Woolwich South East London. I played the Cornet/Trumpet. I was very fortunate to be in this prestigious band as most of the members were what they call Double Handed which means they are able to play two instruments a wind and a string. When I joined in 1965 I was accepted on just the one instrument, and I did not think I was very good on that.
In 1966 summer had been quite a busy time for the Band, playing at the Royal Tournament at Earls Court and the Edinburgh Tattoo, after which we all went on summer leave. On my return from leave I was told I would be attending Kneller Hall, for a 1 year pupil’s course. I was thrilled to bits to get the chance to study at this establishment, and have my first ever professional trumpet lesson. There were quite a lot of us from Woolwich starting, although I would be the only one from the Main Band. The others were from the Royal Artillery Junior Musician Troop, who had started there at the age of 15. They were all a bit disgruntled to have to do another year of lessons as they assumed now that they were 18 they would be going straight to the main band as they were now classed as men. I was elated to be there, it was a golden opportunity for me to learn and boy did I grab it with both hands. I believe there were about 200 pupils attending the 1966/67 course from all bands in the land and several from overseas including the Ghurkas, Canada and Australia.
When we arrived on our first day we were split into Four Company Bands A B C D. I was put in A company. We all had to audition for our position in the band; I was put as principal cornet of about 15 cornets. We then had to audition for Herald Fanfare Trumpets – I was accepted into the Kneller Fanfare Team, most of them were student bandmasters on a 3-4 year course I was accepted as they needed a couple of pupils to make up the numbers. Then we were placed in our positions for the full band of about 250 musicians including student bandmasters. To my surprise I was placed on the first stand of cornets next to the principal trumpet who was student Pyke. Wow top position out of 60 other cornets – thrilled or what.
I was told that I would be having trumpet lessons from Jack Macintosh – Jack was a brilliant trumpet player and a legend – and he played for the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the New Philharmonia. My first lesson – I was waiting outside the professor's bunk when he turned up on his bicycle – bent down took his bike clips off looked at me and said “Alright son, How are you?” it was as if he had known me for ages. We got on well straight from the start and I loved my lessons with him – if anyone pulled out of their lesson for any reason I would be straight there taking their place. Some of the Ghurka's found it a real strain but I loved every minute of it. The music that Jack could play on his trumpet he had amazing lip flexibility and was well known for his Cowboy Cadenzas.
Again I was lucky enough to be chosen to play in the Student No1 Band which meant many radio broadcasts conducted by Lt Col Basil Brown.
In November of that year I was very nervous I had to play Last Post and Reveille in front of the whole school. I did it thank god and it went well.
My A Company Band played at several concerts around the Richmond area including The Star & Garter and the Darby & Joan Club; these were all good experiences for the band.
Christmas was nearly here and time had just flown by my trumpet was hardly away from my lips from first thing in the morning till late at night, playing all kinds of repertoire – church music, large dance band music, brass groups, jazz, Dixie and pop you name it I had a go at it and really got involved. I could not get enough. I had to make myself put down my trumpet at 9pm so I could go and meet the lads at the pub and catch up with them (on the drinking front) we had many laughs in the Duke of Cambridge – which was the local pub just opposite the Guard Room.
When the end of January came around a film crew came to Kneller Hall for five days to film a documentary “Look at Life”. I am still waiting to see it. It would bring back such happy memories for me.
I even got into the school football team; I hadn't played since my school days. I bought my first pair of real football boots (I think they are still in the shed now) we had a good team and we managed to win the league, I've still got my medal.
Then the competitions started, first up was the Concert Band. We played Rienzi – I remember because it started with a solo trumpet and we won. Then came the Marching Display, it was the year that Sandy Shaw won the Eurovision Song Contest with Puppet on a String, so our Student Bandmaster arranged it so we could play it on our Marching Display.
May was the start of the weekly Bandstand Concerts (On The Rock) as it was called – hour upon hour would be spent rehearsing for these concerts and at the end of every month there would be a Grand Concert when a named musical celebrity was invited to conduct the large band, such names as Geoffrey Brand, Harry Mortimer and Frank Wright. On one of these concerts Gilbert Vinter would be the Conductor and I would be playing a cornet solo “Roses from Picardy”. On another occasion Derek Garside, principal cornet player for the CWS (Manchester) Band would be the guest soloist for the concert. It was my job however to play his part in all of the rehearsals for the concert. The two pieces Facilita and Cleopatra were very difficult to play but it was a great opportunity for me and I gained a great deal from the challenge. At the last Grand Concert of the year the guest Conductor was Trevor Sharpe and on this concert I was to play a solo called El Silencio, these Grand Concerts proved to be very popular and on average 4,500 people would come to listen and see the large firework displays at the end.
My year was nearly up, just one more competition; it was for the Cousins Memorial Medal.
1st Prize Pupil Henderson Gordon Highlanders 89%
2nd Prize Pupil Wood Welsh Guards 88%
3rd Prize Pupil Bilham Royal Artillery 87%
No medal for me, but I gave it my best shot. My professor of trumpet Jack Macintosh gave me a “Very Good” in my report and my Commander gave me a “very auditable result”
I had a wonderful year at Kneller Hall and I would not have missed it for the world. I loved my lessons with the legendary Jack Macintosh and did learn my rudiments of music and my scales. The year was a very rewarding experience and I met a lot of great guys and students. I guess I must have improved enough not to be posted to Larkhill or Germany RA Bands. I stayed at Woolwich for 21 years and finished my service as WO1 Band Sergeant Major and Deputy Band Master.
This article was brought to you by Thames Fanfare Brass