On 9th June, we had the opportunity to speak with Stu Warmington from the British Drum Company about his time serving in The Royal Marines. This is the second half of the interview, in which Stu speaks about his work with The British Drum Company, The Liberty High School Grenadier Band and the Traditional Youth Marching Band Association (TYMBA)!
To read the first half of our interview with Stu’s, please click here.
Well, thank you so much for sharing those two very different experiences – I know our readers will have thoroughly enjoyed reading about those! I would love to hear a little about your transition into the music products industry at The British Drum Company…
The good thing about it is that I’m still in a similar industry, even though I’ve left the Royal Marines. I’ve not had to change my job completely, which is why I think the transition was actually quite easy. The fact that I’m still dealing with the Royal Marines, and other military units has been really nice too.
I’ll tell you how this all came about – I was a Marching Ambassador for Premier around 2011 (ish), and this was when I met Keith Keough. Keith used to have his own drum company at the time called KD Drums. He was making a great name for himself, so much so that Premier bought KD Drums and set up the UK Manufacturing plant in Lancashire with Keith at the helm. Keith and the rest of the guys at Premier were making some incredible drums and Keith and I had been talking about designing a new marching drum. It was in July 2015 that Premier decided to close down the UK plant leaving Keith, Chris, Duncan, & Tim unemployed (Tim & Duncan had been with Keith since his KD days).
It wasn’t long before I received a call from Keith explaining his new master plan and would I be interested in heading up the Marching Division. Obviously, I jumped at the chance bearing in mind we’d already been working on stuff together. Unbeknown to me, Keith was also speaking to other people at the same time trying to get all his ducks in row so to speak. Before you knew it, the stars had all aligned and Keith was about to pull off the impossible.
He’d spoken to Al Murray, the pub landlord and self-confessed drum geek, Ian Matthews, the drummer from Kasabian and Alan Kitchen, the design engineer and myself. That was the start of what would be an amazing journey. We were later joined by the final partner, Pete Salisbury currently the drummer for The Charlatans but formally The Verve. Tim & Duncan and Chris were taken on, and immediately started work straight away as we had decided to launch the Company in September with the official launch being at the London Drum Show in November, 2 months away!!
We started off with a couple of kits and built up from there. Then we designed the Palladium hardware which would give us our own identity. It was important for us to get a brand awareness , so we spent a lot of time advertising just the logo in drum magazines. We spent a good year constantly putting that logo out, trying to get the brand onto every drummer’s social media feeds.
We started with the kits and snare drums, and then everything just snowballed. Personally, I’d really underestimated the want for British manufacturing. Honestly, it completely took me by surprise because the demand for them just went through the roof. We attended the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchandisers) shows in California, and then in 2017 we got the distribution deal with EMD Music. Their countries included United States, Canada, UK, Ireland, Germany, France, Austria, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, and Denmark.
In the background, we’d been working on the marching drums. Then we were approached by the Royal Marines about a new drum for their Corps of Drums. After prototypes and many hours testing the drums we launched the Regimental Series at their annual Mountbatten Festival of Music held at the Royal Albert Hall in 2019.
We wanted to make their drums special to them and as the inner veneer of the drum was Old English Oak we wanted to carry on that theme. As the Royal Marines are part of the Royal Navy and they play their Regimental March “Hearts of Oak” on every engagement they perform at, I decided to go down that route. After many emails and telephone calls we’d managed to achieve the impossible. Having spoken with the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth, the British Drum Co. was gifted two lumps of reclaimed wood from Admiral Lord Nelson’s Flag ship HMS Victory. We then took on the delicate task of slicing the wood and turning them into small discs. These were then crafted onto commemorative plaques and placed behind the air vent on the inside of their drums.
In August last year, alongside our newly appointed International Marching Specialist Jim Kilpatrick MBE, we launched the Axial Series which is our range of pipe band drums. The Axial Series is not your normal looking pipe band drum but we wanted to make a drum that stood out and people would know that it was a BDC drum – even from a distance. The innovation within both the Axial & Regimental series drums are quite something else. The Axial drums have gone down extremely well but unfortunately, due to COVID-19 all competitions have been cancelled this year. We’ll have to wait until next year to see our drums in action – including being played by British Drum Co endorsees Grade 1 Pipe Band Glasgow Police.
So, that’s the Regimental & Axial Series taken care of. The next step is Drum Corps. It’s not so big in the UK but outside the UK, especially in USA, it’s a huge market. So, that’s what we’re currently working on in the background at the moment.
Speaking of America, I was hoping to ask you about your role as the Percussion Advisor for The Liberty High School Grenadier Band…
Yeah, I’ll give you a little run down on them. The school was opened in 1922, so it will celebrate its 100th Anniversary in a couple of years. It’s in a little town called Bethlehem in Pennsylvania. It’s quite a quaint town with such a great community, but everybody knows the band! I love the town and the band parents. It’s quite strange to walk down the street in a different country where people know who you are.
The Liberty High School Grenadier Band takes their style from the Coldstream Guards. They have a mixture of real and faux bearskins. Their tunics are made at Kashket’s and Partners of London who also make the uniforms for the Household Division.
The school is huge, with around 4000 students, and the band can range from anywhere between 260 and 320 members. I was approached by Kevin Long, the Band Director, in 2014 on LinkedIn. He said; “We’ve got some percussionists, but we’d like to try make them into a Royal Marine style Corps of Drums. Is this something you’d be interested in?” If I’m being completely honest I’d never heard of the band before so I searched them on YouTube, and thought; “Wow! Yeah, I can work with this!”
I went across for the first time in 2014, and I’ve been going across every summer since then. I only get them for a week, and I get a brand-new intake of kids who I’ve never seen before each year. We only get the students for four years, so I’ll get a mix of kids I’ve taught for 3 years and some who are in their first year of high school who haven’t played before.
So, in that one week, I’ve got to implement an infrastructure that works and they can continue to use when I go back to the UK. It can be difficult as some people have never worn a drum before, some have never played traditional grip and most have never even heard of stick-work. That’s a bit of a hurdle, especially if you’re trying to teach them to do off-beat stick-work when they’re marching on the beat!
During the week, I teach grip techniques, stick-work, stick-work routines, music for their new field show, drummers drill, plus all the music for their PEP games. To top it all off I also need to teach them a new drum display. That’s quite a lot to achieve in just 5 days. The students will carry on polishing what they’ve learnt the following week after I’ve gone. It will then be ready to use throughout their field shows for the year. The band’s no different than a normal high school band. They still do the half time field shows, but they use British Army drill -it’s incredible. They don’t use any march cards, they just commit it all to memory.
I was reading quite a bit about them, and saw that they’ve been to Pearl Harbor three times!
Yes, their last two visits there were for the 65th and 70th anniversaries. They do so much – they were in Harry Truman’s inaugural parade, Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena Disneyland, Hollywood Christmas parade to name but a few. I was hoping we could get them to come across to the UK in 2022/23 to coincide with the 100th Anniversary of the school. They’ve been across before and even recorded a few CD’s with the Coldstream Guards. It would be nice to see them back over here at some point.
Well, hopefully the current situation will be sorted by then, and there will be no problems with coming over here!
Now, for something on this side of the pond, you’re also president of the Traditional Youth Marching Band Association (TYMBA)?
Yes I am. TYMBA was formed in 1983 by a group of enthusiasts who felt there was a need for an organisation to cater specifically for youth bands, which promotes a traditional British image and adopt a British military style of drill.
For close to nearly 40 years TYMBA has been the home of the traditional youth marching band movement across the UK. Through training, competitions and other events we work to advance the education of young people through music. TYMBA is very much aimed at your military style bands, so Army, Air and Sea Cadets as well as Youth bands and Girls & Boys Brigades.
It was set up during a time when there were lots of bands and they all competed. Obviously, the number of bands have dwindled down over the years, but even now they still compete in band competitions. There’s a league system with different classes depending on how good your band is. However, it’s not just about the competitions, we’re trying to focus on the educations side as well. We’ve been working closely with the Royal Marines Band Service where we’ve managed to secure them tickets to see the Royal Marines perform at events. Events such as the Mountbatten Festival of Music, Beat Retreat on Horse Guards Parade, Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. They’ve also spent days at The Royal Marines School of Music receiving tuition.
Last year, we had the National Competition down in Portsmouth. It’s normally just a one-day event, but this time we spread it across the whole weekend. They were accommodated on HMS Bristol; The Bristol was decommissioned 1991 and became the training ship located at the shore establishment HMS Excellent. Bristol is permanently berthed at Whale Island, Portsmouth. It’s primarily used as a training ship and accommodation ship for Royal Naval personnel and youth organisations
On the Saturday, they received tuition from the Royal Marines Band Service, took part in masterclasses, and performed displays for the Royal Marines Instructors to tweak and advise them on how they can enhance their displays ready for the competition. The competition itself was on the Sunday, which finished off the weekend. With the help of Bugle Major Piner RM and other Instructors, the weekend was a complete success and hopefully the start of something new.
What an amazing experience for them!
I mean, just seeing the Royal Marines, they just absolutely loved it! The more we can interact with them, the better. I know some bands already work with The Household Division. Some have worked with the Band of the Parachute Regiment. These kids are the future of military bands; we need to be interacting with them as much as possible. The marching band scene is (especially in England) dying away. At some point, they’re going to struggle to get people to join the forces. So, the sooner we can interact and educate the better it will be for the Armed Forces.
I don’t know if you were aware, but in Northern Ireland, there are over 700 marching bands! Most people don’t know this, but there are basically five types of bands. You’ve got:
- silver bands (basically brass bands with silver instruments)
- pipe bands
- accordion bands (bands of accordions with generally a couple of drummers and a bass drum at the back)
- flute melody bands (marching flutes and traditional drums – playing the usual marches you’d expect any military band to but played on flutes)
- first flute bands (the same as flute melody bands, but they play with a more intense energy, loud playing of the flutes is a prerequisite and most importantly the loudest bass drum you’ve ever heard)
It’s amazing, I went over there during their marching season, and it’s insane! The bands can parade between 3-5 times a week across numerous towns in their areas. You’ll not believe this but I’m not lying, I went to a parade and stood in the same position and watched every band come past that was involved in this parade. I was there for 5 hours! There were 72 bands in this parade! I really enjoy going across to watch the bands as there’s so many different styles. I’m a massive fan of the marching arts and this is just another style that I find fascinating.
Sounds incredible. It’s so interesting how it varies across different countries as well…
Yeah, there’s still a big military band presence in all of the Commonwealth countries. I’ve been asked, not too long ago, about going across and teaching to some of these in various countries such as Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia. It’s amazing that these little units all over the world still adopt the traditional British military style.
Over the years I’ve worked with many of the TYMBA bands but I’ve also taught a band out in Northern Ireland – they look just like Marines! You could just put their drummers in with the Royal Marines, nobody would be able to tell, they’re incredible. It’s all about having that knowledge. Most people could probably attempt stick work, but it’s knowing the little snippets of information that most people don’t know that makes all the difference. It’s exactly the same as what I have done with the Liberty High School Grenadiers. I try and go to as many bands as I can, but it’s getting harder now that I’ve got to work probably for a living. It was a lot easier to do when I was in the Royal Marines!! hahaha
Speaking of finding the time to visit all these bands whilst juggling your work with the British Drum Company…that seems a good note to end on! Thank you so much for agreeing to do this Stu, and for giving up so much of your valuable time. You’ve provided so much incredible insight that we can’t wait to share with our BBICO News readers!
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 email@example.com.