WINTER brings an end to on-the-road activity for most bands, with a few exceptions; but practices, indoor concerts and social occasions and many different types of fundraising are still ongoing as preparations are made for the 2013 band season
Instruments are being maintained and polished, in many cases new instruments and new uniforms are being unpacked. New music is being written and developed, while new blood is being recruited to start on the long road to perfecting the musical skills required to be a member of any respectable marching band.
There are still several major highlights for the band fraternity, however, with this month’s Festival of Marching Bands among them.
The Ulster Bands Forum and Belfast News Letter Festival of Marching Bands in the Ulster Hall is now into its fourth year, and has proved a great addition to the Ulster Band calendar.
So far 32 bands from across the length and breadth of Northern Ireland have taken part, representing all of the different styles of marching band music in the country.
This year yet another eight bands have been chosen to perform, with another great musical mixture.
In this year of remembering back to the Ulster Covenant it is most relevant that the evening will see its first cross-border band participate. Drum Accordion Band are based in the village of Drum in Co Monaghan, originally established in 1958, and it has been performing continually and widely ever since.
With a current membership of 25 people, three of the band’s original members are still to be found in the ranks and their youngest member is just six years of age.
It comprises a mix of men, women and children, and with the help of funding for tuition through the Ulster-Scots Agency for both accordion players and drummers, their repertoire and standards have been improving constantly. An important event in the band’s calendar is its annual procession, known locally as a ‘picnic’, held faithfully each July.
This event has gone from strength to strength and attracts bands from right across Ulster. Their repertoire includes gospel pieces, traditional marches and Scottish airs, with the emphasis on musicality, songs that are enjoyable to play, and tunes that are easily recognisable and much-loved by listeners.
From north Antrim come one of the most distinctive blood and thunder bands in the country, the Cloughmills Crown Defenders Flute. Formed in the village of Cloughmills in 1987, the band were determined to begin at a high level, and with this in mind put in a long winter of practising and fundraising to ensure they were ready for their first parade in 1988.
After the first few meetings a decision was made on the colour and style of their new uniform. The colours blue and grey were adopted, with the uniform being predominantly grey with blue trimmings, a basic combination still used today.
In 2012 the band had their largest ever parade where a total of 70 bands were in attendance from right across Northern Ireland. Membership has varied slightly over the years: in the mid-1990s the band numbered around 20 people, with membership rising to 50 people by 2010.
Plans are underway to increase their repertoire and Cloughmills Crown Defenders are determined to make the next 25 years as enjoyable as the last.
The festival has featured an incredible array of melody flute talent in its first three years, and this year hopes to proudly continue that trend.
Formed in 1968 in east Belfast, the Pride of the Raven Flute Band have established themselves as instantly recognisable as a melody band in a traditional style, incredibly distinctive in both their music and their chrome-plated Royal Scotsman side drums used since early in their formation. The band is in strong support of all the Loyal Orders, although additionally strong links have been established over recent years with the Ulster Special Constabulary Association and the Irish Guards Association. The band accepted invitations to carry the standards of the Ulster Special Constabulary and the Ulster Defence Regiment with fully uniformed standard bearers.
The band takes particular pleasure in their charity work and is recognised throughout the Province as one of its most prolific fundraising bodies.
It is an achievement the members are particularly proud of that after several years of events, they are currently approaching a collective figure of £100,000 donated to various worthy causes.
n Tickets are still available for this year’s concert, with it promising to be an excellent evening of entertainment.
The doors open at 6.30pm with a 7.30pm start, and with an approximate finishing time of 10pm, it is an ideal occasion to bring children along.
The compere for this year’s event is the ever popular William Caulfield. Tickets are available directly through the Ulster Hall box office.
n Drumbeat will be running right through the winter months, and if you would like to publicise any events related to the Ulster Marching Band community call Quincey on 07835624221 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. All contributions welcome. Drum Beat would particularly welcome band histories and details of band practices from across the Province.