Lieutenant Colonel NJ Grace
BMus(Hons) FLCM LRSM RM
Principal Director of Music Royal Marines
Following the successful operational tour by the RM Band CTCRM to Afghanistan last year, it was announced in the Operational Honours and Awards List recently that Band Sergeant Matt Weites had been awarded the ‘Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service’ (QCVS). This is an outstanding achievement for Sergeant Weites for his sterling work with the Joint Force Medical Group. He was part of the Ambulance Response Troop that assisted in transporting over 2500 casualties during the six months of their tour and it was as a result of their collective efforts that the Ambulance Response Troop was awarded the Ambulance Society’s Military award for 2011 back in November. For much of the time that Sergeant Weites was in Afghanistan, he took on the role that had previously been carried out by a Warrant Officer and demonstrated his obvious leadership qualities. This is not only a great achievement for Sergeant Weites, but a tremendous reflection on the role of the Royal Marines Band Service in the operational environment. I believe this is the first operational honour awarded to a member of the Band Service since the Second World War, unless anyone can tell me otherwise, which makes this a real milestone in our history. I am sure you will all join me in congratulating Matt on his well deserved award.
As I am writing this article, we are in the thick of rehearsals for the Mountbatten Festival of Music. This will be the 40th time the Massed Bands will have performed at the Royal Albert Hall in these concerts, which started back in 1973 with Paul Neville at the helm and have now developed into one of the major annual events for the Naval Service. Much of the success of these concerts is down to the people behind the scenes making sure all the logistics and administration for the event is done to a professional standard. Many congratulations must go to Warrant Officer Reg Sheen who has deservedly been awarded the ‘Commander-in-Chief Fleet’s Commendation’ in recognition for his work at the MFM Office. Unfortunately Dan Snow was double booked with the BBC this year, but I am delighted that the Classic FM presenter John Suchet has agreed to be our compère for the concerts. He is well known as a former ITN reporter and for reading the ‘Ten O’Clock News’, but now he can be heard each weekday morning on Classic FM. John will bring his own style to these concerts and hopefully we will get a bit more air time for Royal Marines Bands on the radio.
This year will see some of our stalwarts from the Band Service performing at the Mountbatten Festival of Music for the final time. These include Band Colour Sergeants Andy Waugh, Joe Sharp and Gary Halsey, and Band Sergeants Neil Silvester and Darren Smith, all of whom will be coming to the end of their very successful careers in the Band Service later in the year. This will also be Major Tony Smallwood’s final year as he takes early retirement to spend more time with his young family. He will be signing off in great style with one of the many arrangements that he has written for these concerts over the years by conducting his favourite arrangement called ‘Manilow’. There is one more person who is retiring after 35 years in the Band Service and that is Musician Karl Westlake. For the last 20 years Karl has taken a keen interest in the stage management side of things and has been integral to the increased professionalism and quality when staging concerts such as the Mountbatten Festival of Music. On behalf of everyone I would like to thank all our leavers for the work they have done and wish them and their families all the very best for their futures.
Although there are those who are leaving after many years service, one of the strengths of our Band Service is the number of quality young musicians who are more than ready to fill the boots of those leaving. Quite simply this is a result of the proven excellent recruiting and training regime we have at the Royal Marines School of Music. This was evident at the recent Cassell Prize competition that is now open to a public audience and held at the Millennium Hall in HMS Collingwood. Assisting me in adjudicating these young musicians were my immediate predecessor Lt Col Chris Davis OBE and the world famous trumpet player Derrick Watkins. If you do not know the name, you will have heard his playing on many film scores and especially whenever you watch any of the James Bond films. This most entertaining evening culminated with Derrick playing a duet with Band Corporal Mark Upton and the Big Band of the School of Music under the expert direction of our very own Trombone Professor Gordon Campbell. What an experience for our young musicians from the School of Music to perform with two of the most talented and respected musicians in the music industry today.
Keeping with news from the School of Music, there was one final farewell to be made this week. After 49 years and 10 months associated with the Royal Marines Band Service, literally as ‘Man and Boy’, Jon Yates has decided that it is time to finally retire from his role as the Trumpet Professor. Having joined the Band Service back in 1962 at the tender age of 14 as a Cornet and Violin player, he then became the sight and sound of the Band Service as the principal and solo Trumpet player performing numerous solos over many years, including his famous Post Horn. Since the School of Music moved to Portsmouth in 1996, Jon has been the Trumpet Professor and has had a major influence on a whole generation of trumpet players. With his wealth of experience he also took on the task of teaching Buglers, which has been a major step forward to providing them with proper expert tuition in playing the Bugle. The results have been immeasurable and will be a hard act to follow. Jon will be missed by us all and we wish him and Wendy all the very best for their future.
This is obviously a very special year with Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the Olympics.Although the Royal Marine Bands are not involved with the opening or closing ceremonies of the Olympics (which will feature the Guards Bands in the closing ceremony as the Olympic artistic director wanted the look of scarlet tunics and bearskins) our Bands will be at the rowing, hockey and the sailing events. We are also providing 15 females from the Band Service to assist with Olympic security, so at least many of our people will be able to have a unique Olympic experience. More importantly, and musically, our Bands will feature prominently at the various events celebrating Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee through May and June.
Our Portsmouth and Collingwood Bands will be the stage band for the Windsor Diamond Jubilee Pageant televised on ITV, and a week later they will be joined by the Plymouth Band for the Armed Forces Muster by Her Majesty, which will also be held at Windsor. This will be televised live on BBC 1 on Saturday 19th May and will see one of the largest gatherings of Service personnel for many years. I will have the privilege of conducting over 400 Service musicians at this event and the Drumhead Service. The Jubilee weekend at the beginning of June will see the Portsmouth Band at the Epsom Derby on Saturday 2nd June, Plymouth Band on a Thames boat for the Diamond Jubilee River Thames Pageant on Sunday 3rd June and CTCRM Band will be on the streets of London for the Thanksgiving Service and Parade on Tuesday 5th June. The Massed Bands of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines will then perform ceremonial Beating Retreat on Horse Guards Parade on Wednesday 6th and Thursday 7th June, when His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh will take the salute. Preparations for all these events have been ongoing for several months and it promises to be not only very busy, but a very exciting time for us all. Unfortunately, our Beating Retreat ceremony on Horse Guards will not be televised this year, due to the coverage of the other Jubilee events throughout the year, so the only way you will get to see it is to be there yourself.
Finally, I cast my mind back 30 years, as April 1982 will forever be in my memory in more ways than one. There is the obvious memory of seeing the Naval Task Force departing Portsmouth making their way to the South Atlantic. The Commando Forces and FOF3 Bands truly played their part as casualty handlers and provided that very important musical support to the troops on the outward and return journeys to and from the Falklands. But April 1982 was also the time when a young 17 year old lad waved goodbye to his parents on Stafford station travelling to Deal in Kent to join the Royal Marines Band Service. Little did I know at the time that 30 years later I would be stood on the stage at the Royal Albert Hall conducting the best Band Service in the world.
Last updated 17 July 2012