Behind the Lyre: Clive Reeves and the Welsh Guards Band (Part 1)

On 26th March, we had the opportunity to speak with Clive Reeves from Reeves Brass about his time serving in Her Majesty’s Welsh Guards Band. In this interview, Clive outlines the different roles within the Guards Bands, and his experience in these positions.

The second half of this blog will be posted on 17th April, so keep an eye on the BBICO News Page!


Thank you so much for taking the time to tell us a little more about your experience in military and marching bands, Clive. Would you mind introducing yourself briefly to our readers?

I am a Trombone player and Brass Teacher with over 45 years playing experience. I’ve performed all over the world while serving in Her Majesty’s Welsh Guards Band for 25 years, 20 of which were as Principal Trombone. I was also a founding member of the European Youth Orchestra and first trombone for 10 years with London Collegiate Brass.

Also, I have freelanced and been Resident Conductor of Bedford Town Brass band and have been teaching for the local music services in addition to running a Music Centre for 12 years. I actually used to teach in the afternoons when I was in the Army. 

I worked for John Marwood Wind & Brass for 4 years, and also worked as a Brass & Woodwind Manager for Arbiter. After retiring from my full-time job, I set up my own company, Reeves Brass, which I’ve traded from home for the past 10 years. And I’m still playing in a local big band, too.

Would you be able to share a little about the start of your time in Army Music?

I started playing the trombone when I was 12 years old. I left school at 15 and a half to join the Grenadier Guards as a Junior Musician at Pirbright where I completed my initial training. At the time you had to have a second instrument, and mine was the cello. After two years, I moved to Kneller Hall for further musical training, where I came 2nd in The Cousins Memorial Prize Contest for Instrumental, out of 250 musicians. It was after this training that I joined a regiment, and because The Grenadier Guards had too many trombone players, I was transferred to the Welsh Guards, where they had 14 trombonists, plus the 3 of us who had just arrived!

And could you share a little bit about your time with The Welsh Guards?

Well, I was soon promoted to the first band, also known as The Golden 25, and began playing the 1st trombone part. I played principal trombone for over 20 years in The Welsh Guards Band. I was a Band Sergeant Major for 1 year, and a senior rank for over 10 years.

Band of the Welsh Guards - September 1996
 (photo property of Clive Reeves)
Band of the Welsh Guards – September 1996
(photo property of Clive Reeves)

So, what were your main responsibilities as principal trombone?

I played a lot of solos, led a lot of the marching displays and was responsible for briefing the drum majors all the way through my career.

Would you mind explaining the different ranks in Army Music, for me and our readers?

So, today bands are around 45 musicians strong, and consist of the Director of Music, Band Sergeant Major, Assistant Band Sergeant Major, 3 Colour Sergeants, 5 Sergeants, 4 Lance Sergeants, 6 Lance Corporals and the musicians. With more rank comes more responsibility, higher pay and more privileges.

Maybe now we could discuss what some of these roles involve, and your experience in them?

…Lance Corporal?

Lance Corporals used to supervise cleaning jobs, assist with loading trucks and coordinate tasks like buses.

…Sergeants?

It used to be a real fight to get to the rank of Sergeant, as you were effectively filling dead man’s boots – people used to stay there for a long time, till they retired. I was promoted to Sergeant at the age of 25, my boss said I was the youngest Sergeant in the Army at the time! Most people served 20 years before getting to the rank of Sergeant.

In the Welsh Guards, Sergeants (which were Full Corporals in the Line Bands) had the privilege of using the Sergeant’s Mess for eating and drinking, and sometimes had their own room when staying in Barracks. Sergeant’s were very rarely asked to take rehearsals, but I used to take the Fanfare Team out (which was usually 8 or 9 men), as I was the senior man responsible. Sergeant’s would also be in charge of early morning rehearsals with skeleton bands.

Welsh Guards Band Fanfare Team (photo property of Clive Reeves)
Welsh Guards Band Fanfare Team
(photo property of Clive Reeves)

…Colour Sergeant?

When I was a colour sergeant, I used to be in charge of the exports, so making lists of what was going out, and making sure that everything got there – I had to organise all of the paperwork.

…Band Sergeant Major and Assistant Band Sergeant Major?

So, bands used to have one of each, and they would both be of the same rank. The Assistant Band Sergeant Major used to deputise and was in charge of discipline and liaising with the Director of Music. Band Sergeant Majors used to have more privileges when going into a military establishment, so they might get their own room, rather than sharing a band room with 50 others. It didn’t really make a difference in civilian establishments, though.

At the 1995 Edinburgh Tattoo, our Band Sergeant Major was on a course. I was the Assistant Sergeant Major at the time, so therefore the senior man on the Edinburgh Tattoo, and the Senior Warden Officer for all of the bands. My job was to liaise with the other bands and make sure my band was looked after. I also had to resolve any issues, and complete administrative tasks, sort rotas, discipline and so on. It was a big responsibility, and in that kind of role, the buck stops with you.

BSM Clive Reeves (photo property of Clive Reeves)
BSM Clive Reeves
(photo property of Clive Reeves)

…Director of Music?

The role of the Director of Music was to pick and rehearse the music, and make sure that it was being played correctly. Directors of Music used to change every 4 or 5 years, and could stay until they were 55 of 57 years old, whilst Warrant Officers could retire at 40.

You had to be recommended to go to Kneller Hall to become a Band Master. There you would be a Student Band Master, and be trained in arranging, running a band, conducting, etc. After a 3-year course, and after lots of exams, you would eventually be posted to a Line Band anywhere in the world (my brother went to The Royal Scots). After 10 years, you could take another exam at Kneller Hall, a PSM (Pass School of Music), and if you were good enough you’d be recommended for promotion to Captain, then posted to a Staff Band where you could stay as long as you wanted. If you were good enough, you’d end up with a Guards Band.

Student Band Master Colin Reeves with L/Cpl Clive Reeves - Kneller Hall, 1975 (photo property of Clive Reeves)
Student Band Master Colin Reeves with L/Cpl Clive Reeves – Kneller Hall, 1975 (photo property of Clive Reeves)

…and did you have a Drum Major in The Guards?

Drum Majors tended to be Warrant Officers or Sergeants – it was an appointment, not a rank. The Line Bands and Regimental Bands would have a Drum Major from the band, so they would be a musician, but the Guards were completely different.

Drum Majors weren’t part of the Guards Bands, they were from the Corps of Drums. The Corps of Drums is made up of soldiers who were trained to play drums and bugles, they weren’t musicians. At Pirbright we used to get woken up at half 6 in the morning. This was usually by a trainee bugler who couldn’t play a note – we used to wake up laughing!

The Senior Man in the Corps of Drums would be the Drum Major, and they would be sent to the Guards Bands for any marching jobs. It was my responsibility to brief the Drum Major on what we were going to do. It was my job to look after the Drum Major, especially at Trooping of the Colour, where there would be 5 Drum Majors. I was the centre pin, so it was my job to make sure that 6 paces were kept between us and the Drum Major. If they were going too quick or stepping out too much, I’d have to let them know! (having done 22 years’ worth of Trooping…

Trooping of the Colour 
(photo property of Clive Reeves)
Trooping of the Colour
(photo property of Clive Reeve

…this blog will be continued on 17th April – keep an eye on the BBICO News Page!


Get Involved in ‘Behind the Lyre’

Would you be interested in sharing some of your experience working within or with a military or marching band? If so, we would love the opportunity to speak with you.

We’re looking for people from all countries, of all ages and abilities, who play all sorts of instruments! We’re also looking for those who are a little further behind the lyre. This includes educators, directors, agents responsible for sourcing musical instruments, the instrument manufacturers themselves, and many more. We would love to share your important role in military and marching music with the rest of our community.

To find out more, or to schedule an interview, please email hannah.williams@bbico.com.

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