On 13th November, we had the opportunity to speak with Olivia Wild from Windology Music. In this interview, Liv shares how she was introduced to music, and some information about her time as a saxophonist with the Honourable Artillery Company.
The second part of this blog will be posted on 11th December. Make sure to keep an eye on the BBICO News Page!
Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Liv. Could you perhaps start by briefly introducing yourself to our BBICO News Readers?
I’m Olivia Wild & I’ve spent the last nine years in London as Clarinet Manager of the large Woodwind Specialist Store, Howarth of London. During that time, I’ve obviously been an active musician playing clarinet & saxophone. However, I’ve recently moved to Telford and transferred to the Band of The Mercian Regiment which is a British Army reserve band, but I was a saxophonist in the Central London based Honourable Artillery Company Band for 6 years.
Fantastic! Excited to speak with you about each of these things, and more! Would you mind going through how you originally got involved in music in the first place?
I was quite a young beginner. I was in year three when I was around seven years old that my Mom suggested I play the saxophone, which at that age, a saxophone is quite large. The case was larger than I was!
I played all through primary school, so by the time I got to secondary school, I had a good head start, which was great! Luckily, my school had, and still has, a very specialist music department. Even though it’s a school wind band, the band travelled the world, and I had really excellent playing opportunities throughout all of that time. That really gave me the springboard, I suppose, to what I do now… There was no chance I was going to go off and do anything else! After doing A levels and a degree in music in London, I stayed with the music industry and ended up working in the retail side, and I absolutely love it!
You started saxophone at seven then?
Yes, on an old Buescher Aristocrat alto, quite a nice sax these days, but at that time, I didn’t appreciate what it was. It was quite the thing to learn, however it meant that I started learning clarinet afterwards, which, in hindsight, I wish had been the other way around.
I suppose that is the more common transition, but everyone does things their own way, don’t they? Why and when did you start playing the clarinet?
I picked up the clarinet in secondary school, I just felt it was necessary to do. At that point I had no idea that I would specialise in the clarinet so much in a future career sense, in terms of advice.
Did you play anything else at all? Or stick with woodwind?
I learnt a little bit of piano, but I’m terrible at it. It wasn’t for want of trying, believe me. I studied flute for a while, but I’ve always wanted to play the cornet, but I’ve never got round to it, but that might change…
I’m curious, why have you always wanted to play cornet?
I’m a big softy for brass bands. As a woodwind player, it’s always surprising to brass players that I’m so interested in brass band repertoire. I’m just a closet brass bandy really.
I’m assuming that you did quite a lot of wind band playing throughout school and University that has lead you to where you are now?
Yes, my secondary school really had such a strong music department. The wind band would enter various competitions and festivals every year…to the point where we performed on the Carnegie Hall stage in New York twice! So, we were not your average school band to say the least, and the repertoire that we were playing then is something I’m trying to push and encourage in the right direction in my adult life. I really feel grateful for those years because without them, I wouldn’t be aware or the rich, colourful and challenging repertoire out there, that isn’t orchestral transcriptions.
It’s so important to give exposure to this genre of music. COVID aside, we need to nurture the wind-band, or any banding culture. There is a real risk of losing it. When I see all these videos of current Japanese Wind bands going for it, it’s incredible – it really brings a tear to the eye!
They really are amazing. When you know that experience you had as a child has shaped where you are today, you want to kind of give other people that opportunity too…
Exactly! As you can imagine, it was quite different going to University (I was at Goldsmith’s in London), where it certainly wasn’t bad at all, but the enthusiasm and knowledge just wasn’t there. I’ve played in many other wind bands since, I was one of the founding members of City Wind Orchestra in London in 2009. I’ve also played with several other community wind bands, and other Military Bands.
Yes, I’d love to speak about your time with the Honourable Artillery Company. How did you get involved with that? I know their standard must be up there!
It’s a very strong band. I was planning on joining the army when I was at University. I’d visited The Band of the Grenadier Guards and had spent some time with them. I was committed to join so that by the time I’d finished university, I was going to go into the regular army. At that time, I met my other half, Adrian, who was the principal tuba there at the time. It was a bit of an introduction to the Army and we got chatting and, and that’s sort of how we got together, but by the time I’d finished university he left the Army and I’d started my job at Howarth of London. So, things went in a slightly different direction, but still wanted to keep the military music element, which was important to me. We both then joined the HAC, that was about six years ago.
Would you mind explaining a little bit about the Honourable Artillery Company to our readers who may not be familiar with the regiment?
Of course, so, The HAC is the oldest regiment in the British army. It was formed by Henry VIII and has a strong connection with the Grenadier Guards. Our uniform is remarkably similar. You will see Grenadier Guards in the red tunics and Bearskins, but if we’re actually out on parade together at Buckingham palace, unless you know your uniform, it’s quite hard to distinguish between the two. The HAC do not wear a plume in the bearskin & our tunic detail are silver instead of gold. Many HAC band players come from within the Guards Division Bands, which is why it has such strong tradition and quality.
Is everyone in the HAC a reserve, or are there regulars as well?
Within the HAC Regiment there are many serving regular soldiers, but in the band we are all reservists. There’s certainly a high concentration of ex-regulars who’ve come across to the reserve. That’s because the band is in central London.
What was your role within the band?
So, I was an alto saxophonist within the band. The HAC perform regularly with everything from concerts, marching displays and ceremonial duties at Buckingham Palace. There are many smaller ensembles within the band too. The HAC orchestra provide music for dinners for the Lord Mayor of London, the saxophone quartet, brass quintet & wind trio are always busy. There are many opportunities for musicians within the band that are not doing full wind band engagements.
Do you just play saxophone with the HAC? Or do you ever have to play clarinet?
It was mainly on saxophone, but I played clarinet in the orchestra for a while. I’ve actually recently joined the Band of the Mercian Regiment, so I’m actually playing in the clarinet section more.
What’s the commitment for you, considering you also have a full-time job alongside this?
In the Army Reserve, there’s a minimum commitment of 28 days a year. To be honest, the amount of work that the HAC do, it’s very easy to surpass those days. Your rehearsal evenings, for example, would equate to a quarter day, whilst a Changing of the Guard, for example, would count as a full day’s training. It’s very easy to rack up days! It’s hard work and challenging to balance it with a full-time job, but it’s such a rewarding playing experience and such a friendly environment that you’re willing to be there!
I can imagine! Do you have an operational role alongside playing duties?
We mainly support public ceremonial events in London, but should the eventuality arise, we would be used in a medical capacity. There are plenty of opportunities for members of the band if they wish to be more involved with the regiment and wider army in general.
I imagine that very much varies on what you do alongside your reservist work. I don’t know how you fit it all in, Liv, it’s amazing! What kind of training do you have and what does the application process look like?
As an army reservist, you must do all of the same training as a regular soldier does, just in a more condensed fashion. You are still are expected to be of the same calibre as a soldier, but as a musician. It can be quite a culture shock if you’re more interested in the musical side rather then the ‘green’ side of the military. You’ve really got to get your head round getting dirty in the mud, whilst putting your clarinet aside for a moment!
I did my basic training at ATC Pirbright, which is a main training establishment for the British Army. You spend some time there, taking weapon handling tests and learning the laws related to being a soldier, and how that is applied in the field. You’re amongst non-musicians, with soldiers involved in a variety of trades including logistics to dentistry to artillery…there will be people from all walks of life in the army when you’re on basic training.
It must be really interesting to meet people from different backgrounds going on to do different things…
It makes it easier for people to focus on the basic soldiering side of the training. Everyone is so different that the common connection with us all is working as a team
How long is the training process itself?
If you do your training with the HAC Regiment, there is a number of weekends spread across six months. I did the consolidated course, which is two full weeks plus additional training. I don’t wish to sound like the shortened course was easy though.
Not at all, I’m sure it’s very intense!
Yes, the consolidated courses is very intense!
So, is the idea that the weekend courses allow for people who have a full-time Monday to Friday jobs to train on their weekend days off?
Exactly, but in the lead up to that main basic training, there are many evenings where you have to attend and learn about various different aspects of the army beforehand. It’s quite extensive really.
There must be loads to learn, and I imagine it often feels like a different world?
It is a very different world, and it’s very clear to see why it takes a bit of adjustment when people who’ve been in the army all their life, leave. A sense of institution is not a bad thing, so having that balance between a civilian and a military life is really nice to have. You do gain valuable skills that make you a more well-rounded individual – skills that you use in everyday life that make you work more efficiently.
Do you have any particular highlights from your time with the Honourable Artillery Company?
There are so many. Changing the Guard was a big one for me because, it makes your family proud, doesn’t it? To march down the Mall towards the Palace, to march through those gates in full ceremonial uniform with shined bulled boots and the full sound of the band…it’s such a special feeling and, I’ll never forget that. The trips that the band do are varied and quite exciting. In 2017 we travelled to Los Angeles in the USA for a 10 day tour. We performed a marching display on the deck of The Aircraft carrier USS Midway which was exciting.
We also ended up providing support for LA Pride, which fell at the same time. British Army Bands have been involved in pride parades in London, so to do it in LA, which is really quite the contrast, was very exciting! We spent an entire day driving around afterwards, trying to find the Hollywood sign so that we could have a photo to mark that we had been there!
The main reason for going to the USA was to work alongside the HAC regiment. We travelled to Camp Roberts, California, which is basically a desert training ground and an extremely hot environment. To stand there in the Californian desert wearing a red tunic and bearskin was character building!
Did you find the Hollywood sign in the end?
We did eventually, it’s harder to find than you think, particularly when we had three mini-buses full of a band, half dressed in uniform going; “Have we found it yet?”. The main engagement the band attended over the last few years has been in Sonderborg, Denmark for the Ringriding Festival. That’s a really great week. We essentially march hundreds of horses and riders from the bottom of the town up to the top. We also perform on the final night in a tattoo which we take part in with other bands from various different parts of Europe, like Bulgaria or Finland .
It must be fascinating to see the different styles of playing, marching, and I suppose the uniform too!
Absolutely. There is always a headdress swapping event, a great photo opportunity! Last year there was a German marching display band, not military, but of the same musical calibre. They were running around the stadium, doing all these fancy things and we were just stood there thinking; “Hmmm, something for us to work on”. We very much, provide some traditional military “red noise”, perform a respectable marching display, and then go on our way in true British fashion.
Fantastic. You’ve mentioned that you’ve recently transferred from the HAC to the Mercian Regiment?
Yes this has literally just happened. I only had my first rehearsal a few weeks ago, but the band is a culmination of the Cheshire the Worcester & Sherwood Foresters and the Staffordshire regiment. They are all Infantry Regiments that were amalgamated over the years.
I’m sure your colleagues at the Honourable Artillery Company will miss you very much…
Yes, and I’m going to miss them. It’s such a family environment, everyone knows each other and trusts each other. So it’ll be different to move into another band, with a very different set of challenges. It’s amazing how many people you will actually know already when transferring between bands, particularly from Adrian’s point of view, as an ex-regular army musician. In my first rehearsal the other week, I recognised people I’ve known for years. It’s gone full circle!
…this blog will be continued on 11th December – keep an eye on the BBICO News Page!
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