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By Stephen Misson, Secretary & Treasurer

Sunday the 7th March 2004 saw the annual gathering of no less than 120 ex Royal Marines musicians in the Winter Gardens, Margate to present yet another concert for which the main beneficiary is always the Royal Marines Band Benevolent Fund.

It is well known that the concerts started as a direct result of the 1989 bombing of the Deal barracks in which eleven young and talented musicians lost their lives. At the October Reunion that year the suggestion was made that by presenting a concert, us retired, some long since retired, ex musicians could contribute towards the disaster fund in a practical manner; one that we have become accustomed too during our service.

The first rehearsal in East Barracks Concert Hall saw a gathering of some 55 ex-bandies, all wondering what it would sound like. This was, indeed, untrodden territory! The band struck up with Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever after which there were some quite characteristic smiling faces. This wasn't too bad; in fact, all considering, this was B***** good!

The 70 and over section !
Click on picture to see an enhanced view
The first concert, under the direction of former Principal Director of Music Lt Col Paul Neville was always going to be a sell out, such was the depth of feeling at that time. The people of East Kent have always been partisan to the Royal Marines Band and this was a way for them to also contribute. 120 musicians crammed onto the Winter Gardens' stage to witness this electrifying event. The thing was, and still is, the audience didn't know, and neither did the band, if we were to pull off this stunt, as stunt it was, to a large degree. Could it be that so many musicians, some whom had not touched their instruments for a good many years, could produce a coherent concert with only one rehearsal? The answer was a definite "Yes"; the Royal Marines had trained them well and the result was plain to see and hear by the audience's reaction. It was the atmosphere that was largely responsible; 120 musicians who are now able to call their boss "Paul" instead of "Sir" (but that did take a bit of getting used to - our training again) and who had learned how to answer back! Nevertheless discipline was maintained to a well above acceptable standard and it was fantastic to see an audience of 1,350 people rise to their feet in appreciation.

We were able to donate £7,000 to the disaster fund, which doubled our feel-good factor. The decision was instantly made; a band this good, with such a captive audience simply could not be consigned to a one-off performance. We had to do it again - so we did; and now fourteen years and fifteen concerts later we still meet for 'the other reunion'. This year there were some new faces but largely the band remains as it was originally contrived with some travelling a great distance for this one night. To mention a few, we were pleased to welcome Tim Smye-Rumsby from Dumfermline, Edwin Musquetier (an honorary member from the Dutch Marines) from the Netherlands and Michael Trevis from Australia. Our thanks must go out to them and everyone who gives up their Sunday, travelling at their own expense, some paying for their own accommodation and willing to undertake a gruelling afternoon rehearsal before indulging in a family buffet (well, you have to have some time to chat to old friends) and then having the stamina to play through a long and tiring concert.

We were doubly pleased to have the pleasure of the company of Major Andy Thornhill who was present to receive a cheque for £5,000 for the Royal Marines Band Benevolent Fund not content to sit and listen he brought his trombone and sight-read the whole programme. We venture to think he enjoyed the experience.

Other sums of money donated were Make-A-Wish Foundation UK (£250), Pilgrims Hospices in East Kent (£250), Deal Social Club for the Blind (£250), Hearing Dogs for Deaf People (£500), St, David's Foundation Hospice Care (£500), Elimination of Leukaemia Fund (£750) and an increase to the annual donation to the Deal Memorial Bandstand Trust of £2,000 making a total this year of £9,500 and a fantastic overall total of £118600, £60,000 of it going to the Royal Marines Band Benevolent Fund. It is indeed heartening to know that our efforts are so rewarding; the band's motto being "Ex-Royal Marines Musicians Giving Something Back".

The music was a mixture of marches, characteristic pieces, overtures, big band selections and solo items. Amongst the latter were the seven-piece piccolo section's rendering of Bo'sun's Fancy, an arrangement of the theme of Captain Pugwash combined with the traditional song Portsmouth. The entire clarinet section joined in the yodelling imitation in Paul Neville's composition Tyrolean Polka and Graham Harvey amused the audience with his rendition of The Acrobat. Of particular note was the xylophone duet The Two Imps that had twice the amount of musicians in the guise of Dave White, Russ Davies, Alan Webb and Denis Marsh. They called themselves 'The Class of 63' because this was the first time they had played together since that year when they were under training at the Deal School of Music. The concert concluded with Mike Scurfield leading the audience in Singalong and then, after the presentations, a military band arrangement of Jean Sibelius' Finlandia.

It was evident that the concert was well received and it is heartening to know that after fifteen years the concert is still a sell-out. We were saddened to learn that three members of the band had passed away since the 2003 concert but this underlines the fact that we are increasingly 'getting on' and there is a need to recruit younger members. The oldest player on stage was Jerry Judge on euphonium, a tender age of 84 and still note perfect. Of the statistics read out by Paul Neville during the evening the most startling was that the average age of the band is 60 years, the combined age being 6865 years and with a total of just over 2000 years service in the Royal Marines Band Service.

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