“Way out West”

Two musicians local to Portsmouth are currently performing with a top band in the West of England. Mitch Rock (24) from Fareham and Sam Firth (21) from Waltham Chase are both Musicians with the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines based at the Commando Training Centre, Lympstone in Devon. Sam plays French horn while Mitch plays oboe.

Sam, who is working towards his ABRSM diploma, has just completed two and a half years at the RM School of Music in Portsmouth. The Commando Training Centre Band is his first posting.

On graduating with Grade 8 with distinction from the RM School of Music, Mitch was assigned to the Royal Band in Portsmouth, followed by a posting to the Plymouth Band and then on to the CTC Band.

Holidaymakers strolled along the promenade on a bright and breezy afternoon. Boats with tan sails cruised up and down the estuary of the River Exe by the pretty seaside town of Exmouth. In Exmouth Pavilion on the seafront, the CTC Band, were hard at work carrying out their all-important sound checks. Brass and woodwind had to be balanced with amplified instruments like electric bass and so forth.

Sources close to the CTC Band secretly confided that they were cock-a-hoop at winning the inter-band rugby competition the previous weekend. Thankfully, neither a broken nose, black eye nor a cauliflower ear was to be seen.

Later, the Pavilion was full for the evening performance. Many of the audience were elderly. Quite a few sported the RM regimental tie. As the National Anthem was played at the outset of the performance everyone proudly stood up and sang. These were not mere music fans, they were staunch supporters, loyal to Queen and country, the Royal Marines and their world-famous musicians.

The programme did not disappoint. The theme was cartoon and film music; a clever idea. John Williams Symphonic Marches opened the show and members of the Corps of Drums followed up with a spectacular tattoo.

There were four dazzling soloists throughout the evening. Musician Ruben Hanna on flute delighted the audience with his rendition of Bizet’s Carmen Fantasia.

The plaintive tones of Musician Mitch Rock’s oboe brought Morricone’s La Califfa to life. La Califfa is a lesser known work but every bit as good as Gabriel’s Oboe.
Musician Adam Gore’s played the Boatman’s Ballad on flugelhorn. The mellow sound he produced on this somewhat underrated instrument was first class.
Corporal Dan Francis’ xylophone solo of Robbin’ Harry by Inns was showy and note-perfect: a combination of qualities hard to achieve.

Bergson’s Norwegian Pirate, Alford’s Great Little Army plus music from Alice in Wonderland, Enchanted, On the Shoulders of Giants and other film scores combined to make a great evening’s entertainment.

The Evening Hymn from the opera Hansel and Gretel by Engelburt Humperdinck was tender and solemn.

The conductors for the evening were Captain Sam Hairsine and Warrant Officer Bandmaster Julian Cook. Both are known to be outstanding instrumental musicians in their own right.

After the applause died down and the concert was over, Lt Colonel John Ridley, the Principal Director of Music, congratulated the musicians on a fine performance.

As a young man Lt Col Ridley auditioned on an altogether different instrument but was given the bassoon to play. Former colleagues say that he became a something of a virtuoso. Four years ago Musician Mitch Rock auditioned on violin and was accepted into the Band Service but was introduced to the oboe. Judging by his playing, like Lt Col Ridley before him, he has really taken to the instrument to which he was assigned.

Anyone on holiday in the West Country should make a point of taking in the CTC Band’s Beating Retreat on the Strand Gardens, Exmouth on Thursday 27 June at 7.00 pm. It’ll be good.

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