Marching bands on our streets have been a common sight for as long as anyone can remember. Some have come and gone, but on the military side there have always been colourful uniforms parading the city in tuneful procession. Now, we welcome another: The Gibraltar Band and Drums Association. It seems… ‘Once a bandsman, always a bandsman’!
The music bug for some individuals, however, begins when the contents of the family biscuit tin have long been devoured. Grab a couple of drumsticks from somewhere and bash away on the noisy, empty biscuit tin, and a potential Drum Major is in the making – at the expense of irritating everyone else in the family home of course! “Well yes, I must’ve been seven or eight when I started bashing away on my biscuit tin,” Jason Walker tells me, “In later years I’d go along with my dad to the army barracks and watch him practice. He was a drummer in the Royal Gibraltar Regiment Band and later became the Drum Major leading the band.” As a teenager Jason joined the Sea Scouts Group, but always intended on becoming a band member. However, he preferred the Land Scouts kind of drumming which apparently is entirely different to the Sea Scouts band way of playing. He joined the 1st/4th Scouts and became a drummer in the group’s musical marching outfit. Substituting the biscuit tin for a `proper’ drum, his drumming career began. Drumming was certainly in the blood and from becoming a scout, Jason went on to join the RGR band as a TA soldier until he became a regular in 1988 and yes, you’ve guessed it, drumming continued.
However, life for Jason in the army was not just marching along Main Street bashing his beloved drum skins. His role in the Corps of Drums was a part-time commitment, whilst his army career progressed in a number of roles from Regimental Policeman, to a recruiting Senior Non Commissioned Officer (NCO), moving on to become Motor Transport (MT) section and Technical Store Manager and eventually retiring as a Colour Sergeant in 2010. He was forever frontline drumming through all of those years, and eventually took over Dad Robert’s job, grabbing the mace and leading the band as their Drum Major. During Jason’s army career, his drumming and Drum Major attributes have been appreciated abroad too:
“I attended the All Arms Drill Wing School of Ceremonial Course in 1994 and ended up teaching whilst there. I then returned as an instructor. That was followed by attachments to the Royal Anglians, the Scots Guards and the Army School of Drumming at Catterick for 18 months.”
Happily retired, drums and bugles have clearly continued to ring in his ears during his dreams and right through the daylight hours too no doubt. “Well for the past three or four years I’ve been toying with the idea of forming a marching band, so chatting to another army colleague – Anselmo Ochello – we decided to get the ‘drums rolling’, contacted a number of other retired army bandsmen who showed a genuine interest in the idea of starting a marching band and we got started.” The only other marching bands presently active are the RGR Band and corps of drums and the Sea Scout Band. The 1st/4th Scout band disbanded quite a few years ago (there have been attempts to re-start the group – so far unsuccessfully) and the St John Pipe and Drum band is no longer around either. GAMPA has appeared in the Three Kings’ Cavalcade with their Drum Ensemble which will no doubt develop further and that’s about as close as we’ve got to drumming bands on our streets.
Dedication and commitment from all is vital when agreeing to take on a project such as this one, so band practice – drums and bugles, as well as marching drill – are a must. You do it again, again, and again until it becomes second nature… “That’s right, we’ve been doing all of that up at the Entrenchment Block area near Lathbury Barracks, practicing our bugle marches for a number of weeks now.” In a way I suppose, it’s a little like riding a bicycle – once you’ve learned how to ride, you never forget. All the bandsmen are experienced drum and bugle players so it’s just a question of blowing off the cobwebs and getting rid of the rustiness followed by a serious regime of practice, playing and marching as you go: it’s like being back on the parade ground and the fruits of all that work will evident on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany on January 5th, when they parade up Main Street together with the other bands during the annual Three Kings’ Cavalcade event. The new marching band – `The Gibraltar Band and Drums Association’ will proudly and smartly march along, adding a welcomed new addition to the final yuletide spectacle.
So far, the above mentioned members will be joined by 15 or 16 other bandsmen including Richard Perera, Patrick Canessa, Edwin Reyes, Andrew Rowbottom, Nicky Darby, Craig Philby, Mark Alantara, and there may be others coming on board as I write. Dad Robert will be returning to the parade formation picking up the ‘long stick’ (the mace) leading the ensemble as Drum Major once again, and Jason will be thumping the ‘fat drum’, better described as the bass drum from somewhere in the middle! Their uniforms are eye-catching in Gibraltar’s red and white, shiny boots will be a must, and their head dress will be in the shape of flat caps with the castle and key crest badge embraced in a laurel leaf. All in true military tradition which is innate in the men’s psyche, having served in the Armed Forces for many years.
A couple of the band’s buglers however, have already performed at the Cross of Sacrifice playing the Last Post to commemorate the war dead on the 11th of November. It can’t be left unsaid though, that apart from the hard work put in by all, the project would not have been possible without the financial help received from the many sponsors who have contributed so generously towards the setting up of the band.*
And so we’ve broken into a new set of digits: it’s 2019 – the dawning of a new year has begun, which no doubt brings new beginnings for some, but a new marching band for all in Gibraltar to enjoy. So good luck in the Cavalcade; here’s looking forward to the next Gibraltar Band and Drum Association event!
*(Rosana Olivares (Jewel Box), Dennis Ratcliffe (D&H Ceramics), Lewis Stagnetto, B Sacarello, Matrix logistics, Ernst & Young, JBS, Arturo Lavarello, Oxy, Finsbury Trust, Swift Cleaners, BIA, Gibtelecom, Eroski, The Paint Shop, DHL.)