My Life in the Royal Marines Band Service - Circa 1947-1968

by Michael G. Hutton

The Bandmaster of the Staff Band was David Woods a very talented musician who I think was the youngest ever Bandmaster in the Marines at 24. I learnt a great deal from him about performing on both instruments especially the Euphonium. On one occasion during a recording session in London we were performing a particular piece with a very difficult Euphonium Solo and although I had been practicing this section for some time I was making mistakes and fluffing top notes. The record producer decided it was time for a break so we all breezed of to the pub for a sandwich and a beer. During this interval David took me to one side and offered me a 'steady the nerves tablet'! saying it would help relax me for the next session. Back in the studio I played everything perfectly and got a recommend from Sir Vivian and the EMI boss. On the coach back to Deal, David told me the pill was just a sweet! I have never suffered from performance nerves since.

My best mate at that time was Ron Champion, principal Trombone in the band a very fine player who some years later transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force Band where he was one of their leading musicians till his retirement. We were both very keen on getting involved in any musical activities around the county and as there were Theatre's all over the south coast, both of us were playing in pit-orchestras either in Folkestone, Margate, Ramsgate, Whitstable or Canterbury from time to time.

I taught myself the Double Bass so played that or the 'Cello in pit orchestras and the Bass for as many dance gigs as I could fit in. Along with quite a few guys in the band we had both bought motor bikes and formed a sort of 'Motor Cycle Club' attending the circuit at Brands Hatch on race meetings, but mainly using the bikes to get us to and from gigs. I had a Triumph Speed Twin to start with which was quite a powerful machine for a beginner, but within two years I had changed bikes three times ending up with a motor cycle and side car which was very useful for the two of us to get around, Ron on the back and 'Cello and Trombone in the side car! I had had some driving lessons when in Malta and I do remember the instructor telling me when approaching one of the only two roundabouts on the island 'If there's no one there you can go either way round'! I took both bike and car tests in Canterbury during 54 and managed to pass both first time.

All the single guys in the band lived in good accommodation in North Barracks and we used the 'Globe Theatre' (our own Theatre within the barracks) for concerts and variety shows to entertain the service personnel and the locals. Ron (Trombone) Benny Goodman (Horn) Denis Ovenden (Bassoon) and myself ('Cello) played in local Operatic Society pit orchestra's around the county. Denis met and married Masie from the Dover society and Benny was courting Valerie from the same group and that is where I first met my future wife Rhoda.

We're now up to 1957 and most of that year the band was very busy with engagements in Europe (Amsterdam, Cologne, Berlin and Paris to name a few) the USA and Canada as well as normal RM duties in the UK. There was time for courting of course and I met all Rhoda's family and got on particularly well with her dad who was a walking encyclopaedia of knowledge about Dover, the Castle and anything to do with the two world wars. As a boy he had been on the top of Dover cliffs when the French aviation ace Bleriot landed in the first flight across the English Channel. He showed me round the gun batteries on the Dover heights before they were dismantled, particularly the one where he had been a member during the last war. I also remember taking him up on the cliffs when the film 'Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines' was being made and he spent most of the time telling us that the planes being used in the film were nothing like the original ones used in the first world war!

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