Behind the Lyre: Clive Reeves and the Welsh Guards Band (Part 2)

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. This is the second half of the interview, in which Clive outlines how things have changed since he left British Army Music, and also shares a fantastic story from the Epsom Derby!

To read the first half of Clive’s interview, please click here.


Earlier you mentioned that you used to teach in your free afternoons when in the Army, did you have a lot of free time, and what did you do with it?

Rehearsals tended to be in the mornings, so I did use to use some of my afternoons to teach locally. I also studied part-time at Guildhall, where I received several diplomas and made many contacts – many of whom are still playing in pro orchestras now. Playing with various pro and amateur orchestras was something I did a lot of. It was originally my ambition to be a professional orchestral musician. I actually trialled with the CBSO, but realised I was probably better off in the army. As a Lance Corporal, I was earning more money than the 1st trombone!

Many of The Guards Band musicians used to play in London Shows, actually. I had to colleagues who had contracts with the Sound of Music, alongside their Army Music roles. We had a dep system within the band, and we very rarely needed a full band. Unless it was for Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Only 40 musicians were needed for Trooping the Colour. There were normally 45 in band, so we used to lend musicians to other bands, or anyone left would just be sent home.

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

Can you tell me anything about the instruments you used to use?

Today, Army musicians get issued brand-new instruments when they sign-up – like a Conn trombone or a Buffet clarinet. We used to have to buy our own instruments ourselves. For Category 3 duty jobs, such as Windsor polo, our expenses would be paid. Category 4 jobs were fully paid engagements, with expenses and a fee on top of the salaries – we were really well treated. We used to divide this money up within the band. The Band Sergeant Major and Director of Music would get more, and the rest went into the band fund for instruments. I used to liaise with a Boosey and Hawkes rep, and we used to invest in a different section each year. This was until we replaced all of the instruments in the band – most people just used their own instruments.

And did you have operational roles at all?

Well, during the Falklands war our regiment wanted to take us with them, as trained stretcher bearers, but our bosses said no. If we had been, we’d have been attached to the company that had bombs dropped on them. The band would have been a hindrance. I was in the Army for 10 years before going on the ranges. Musicians joined as musicians – we were employed by the army, under army rules, and wore army uniform, but we were musicians. 

In the late 70’s the government asked what the then 3000 bandsmen were doing, so we were trained as medical orderlies. We learnt first-aid and how to fire a weapon. Some guys had been 20 or 30 years in the Army without even holding a weapon! We were also involved in two ambulance strikes in the early 80’, and were paired off into ambulances with very little training. There were some horrendous stories, like a new recruit who was only 18 being involved in a road accident, then the lady in the ambulance giving birth – in the ambulance! The boy had just left school, bit of a shock!

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

Are there many other differences between now and when you were in The Guards Band?

We used to do a lot of engagements which are done by private groups now. TV and film recordings were also something we used to heavily involved in. I remember recording for 101 Dalmatians, but they changed the film and wanted to re-record, but the band weren’t free, so they used another band, my brother’s band actually!

Uniforms weren’t worn for rehearsals, we only wore uniforms for engagements. We used to wear civilian clothes for everything else, so jackets and a tie, or a suit and tie. Today, bands wear uniform for rehearsals, and they have to do PE in the afternoons. There would have been a mutiny if we had had that! We had a basic fitness test, but many musicians failed. If they could do their job, it wasn’t ever followed up, you were left alone. Some guys failed but could cart their tuba around Horse Guards for 6 and a half hours! Sergeant Majors from other regiments would take musicians square-bashing. They didn’t understand that bands do it differently, so I used to have to tell them!

There are far fewer bands today, just Guards Bands and Area Bands (which we used to call Staff Bands). The Line Bands used to have 25 people, Staff Bands had 35 people and the Guards Band had 50 plus. The Grenadier Guards had 104 people in their books in the 1970’s!

Another big change is that Kneller Hall is about to close, and there isn’t a band directors’ course anymore. Instead they have a senior ranks course which lasts for 1 year. Previously, if you were in a Guards Band, you would stay there until you retired. Now you can spend 2 years in one, and be moved around afterwards. Musicians aren’t members of a regiment, they’re part of Army Corps of Music now. Musicians can now stay until almost retirement age, and people can even go back in until they’re 60.

From what I’ve heard, it has changed a lot though – rehearsals in afternoons, PE instructors inside the bands themselves, and having to share practice rooms…

Massed Bands of the Household Division 1986
(photo property of Clive Reeves)
Massed Bands of the Household Division 1986
(photo property of Clive Reeves)

Finally Clive, if you could share one story from your time in the Guards Band with the readers of BBICO News, what would it be?

Well, the Guards Band used to play Epsom Derby each year. We would march down the course to the main stand, and play the National Anthem for The Queen. Half of the band would then play on the bandstand for the rest of the day. The other half would go home. We always had to make sure that we arrived in time to do this, so used to leave pretty early, the traffic was always horrendous!

One year, we had a new Director of Music, who that we didn’t need to leave so early, so told us all to go and have a coffee instead. We left later than usual, and only 1 mile away from Epsom ended up in grinding traffic. We were told that the only way through was to go across the golf course, so we all quickly got changed on the bus as we drove right across the fairway of Epsom Golf Course! (then we couldn’t get out, as the gate was too narrow for the bus, so the band had to get off and walk to the grand stand)

One of the guys lived locally, and used to meet us at the 7th furlong point. This is where we would usually march from. On this occasion, we hadn’t met there, so he ended up marching down the course by himself – singing and playing his cymbals as he went! Some stories you just couldn’t write!


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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