The Band of The Royal Air Force College
Director of Music: Squadron Leader Chris Weldon LRSM ALCM RAF
Bandmaster: Warrant Officer Gary Stevens BA LRSM Dip Mus (Open)
Band Sergeant: Flight Sergeant Ian Laidler GDLM, LRSM
Drum Major: Chief Technician Simon Carter LLCM
During the First World War Cranwell was the base of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) Training Establishment, HMS Daedalus. A strong musical tradition was quickly established on the station and the first recorded concert by a volunteer orchestra took place in November 1917, conducted by Petty Officer B J Hales. In 1918 the RNAS became part of the newly formed Royal Air Force with flying training continuing at Cranwell, along with the activities of a volunteer brass band and an orchestra. On 5th February 1920 Cranwell was formally accepted into the Royal Air Force, a day which is celebrated annually as Founder’s Day. The Band of the Royal Air Force College, one of the first two permanent RAF staff or professional bands, was established two months later. The first Bandmaster was Warrant Officer A E Halford, who had been Bandmaster of the First Battalion of the King's Regiment. It would appear that at the time of his transfer he upset the Colonel of his old Regiment by persuading several of the Regimental Bandsmen to join him at Cranwell. Drafting a number of musicians from RAF Uxbridge, who were certified ‘free from infection and fit to travel’, quickly averted this problem, the Colonel was placated and the The Band of the Royal Air Force College began it’s life with twenty five musicians.
The Band was initially formed to support RAF College functions, which included weekly dining-in-nights, daily parades and Sunday Church Parades, a custom that continued until the late sixties. The combination of early morning parades and late dining-in nights afforded little opportunity to perform away from the RAF College, the only break from this routine being the summer months when the Band would tour seaside resorts to perform public concerts. During such a tour in 1923 the Band travelled to Wales and became the first military Band to broadcast on BBC Cardiff. Over the next few years, through a number of similar broadcasts from other regional radio stations, the Band became well known to a much wider audience. Warrant Officer Halford retired in 1932 claiming to be the only person ever to have conducted a military band in an airship! During this early part of the Band’s history, affairs of State figured prominently with the coronation of King George VI being the most notable event.
On declaration of World War II the Band was playing on Plymouth Hoe under the direction of the legendary Wing Commander George Sims, composer of the 'RAF College March' and the man responsible for the changes which led to RAF Music Services becoming the force it is today. The war changed the entire role of the Band, which, although still committed to the RAF College, was also tasked with providing entertainment for all the RAF bases in Northern England. This was interspersed with lengthy detachments to London, where they were required for morale boosting marches through recently bombed areas. A six month tour with the British Expeditionary Force in France was planned but had to be cancelled when the advance of German forces forced the evacuation of musicians from The Central Band of the Royal Air Force, deployed as the first BEF Band, who escaped via Boulogne shortly before its capture.
The Band continued to perform throughout the post war years taking part in the Funeral of King George VI and the subsequent Coronation of our present Queen. In 1950 it was decided that the Band should be the first to have a Corps of Drums and the RAF College provided £300 for the purchase of instruments. Five extra musicians were employed taking the Band from twenty-five to thirty members. However as the Band’s official establishment did not allow for a Corps of Drums the new musicians were all wind players who, as so often in the armed forces, were expected to double as drummers whenever the occasion called for it. Unsurprisingly this arrangement was never really successful but continued for twenty years until a formal request to establish a Corps of Drums for every RAF Band was turned down by the MOD. During the 1960’s the Band gradually performed an increasing number of engagements away from the RAF College with regular appearances in the Royal Tournament and The Edinburgh Tattoo joining the usual summer concerts. In 1973 the administration and control of all Royal Air Force Bands passed to the Ministry of Defence and the RAF College lost its direct control of the Band which bares its name. RAF Music Services was subsequently reduced to five bands with the closing of the many bands posted to places such as Cyprus and Singapore, necessitating more frequent and prolonged excursions away from home. Overseas visits to Canada, Cyprus, Germany, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, USA, Falklands Islands, Poland, Hungary and Israel have featured in the Band's itinerary, presenting a greater challenge to the flexibility and adaptability of today's RAF musicians.
The Band of the RAF College Today
The Band of the RAF College undertook a wide variety of engagements in what was a very busy year in 2011, not only with all the regular engagements but also with the 90th Anniversary of the Royal British Legion, taking the Band to various venues around the country to perform.
The start of 2011 saw the Band travelling to various schools from those in the local area and as far afield as Scotland performing to the younger generation, to promote RAF Music Services and recruitment within the RAF.
Concerts have been performed up and down the country by the full Military Band and also by RAF Swing Wing, the Big Band of the Band of the RAF College. The monies raised going to charities such as RAFA, the Benevolent Fund, Help For Heroes and local station charities.
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The 90th Anniversary of the Royal British Legion took the Band to Southwell Minister, Lichfield, Oakham and Congleton, followed by a D-Day celebration concert in Wigan.
RAF Swing Wing performed many engagements throughout the year, a highlight of which was performing alongside renowned London based trumpeter Andy Greenwood at Spalding which was so well received that Andy agreed to work with the Band again later in the year at a concert in Lincoln.
A highlight of the summer season for the Band was to perform at ‘Anthems in the Park’, a concert which took place in front of College Hall at Cranwell and saw the Band share the stage with the legendary Queen guitarist Brian May and singer Kerry Ellis. The concert was attended by thousands of people on a warm sunny evening and with a fantastic fireworks display to finish the event it will be remembered for a long time to come by the Band.
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Other large scale concerts have included the annual Massed Bands tour ‘The RAF In Concert’ working alongside our peers from the other RAF Bands in some of the finest concert halls in the country such as The Sage, Gateshead; Symphony Hall, Birmingham; Manchester Bridgewater Hall and closer to home Nottingham Royal Concert Hall.
As with every year September saw the Band cover many hundreds of miles taking part in Battle Of Britain ceremonies at RAF stations up and down the country.
For Remembrance Day the Band travel to Sunderland, taking part in a memorable evening concert with other Bands where all forces joined to commemorate the fallen. The following day the Band had the privilege of being part of one of the largest Remembrance Day services and parades outside of London marching through the city with over 400 serving members of the armed forces and 100 members of the emergency services.
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The year ended with the annual Christmas concerts at Whittle Hall, Cranwell’s very own concert venue, a Homecoming Parade at RAF Marham and finally a Passing out Parade at RAF Honington before a well deserved break.
2012 began with the annual Schools Liaison Concerts around the Midlands and the Bands Dance Band ‘Cover Notes’ performing at Headley Court, entertaining personnel from all three services who are undergoing rehabilitation.
The Band is now busy preparing for the rest of the year celebrating the Queens Jubilee, Freedom and Armed forces Day parades, Graduations, Battle of Britain events and the Massed Bands Concert Tour, and with an trip to Cyprus coming up in May the Band is looking forward to yet another varied and exciting year.