The Royal Artillery Band - 01980 650814

The official Facebook page for The Royal Artillery Band, part of the Corps of Army Music, British Army.

Although many regiments had bands of sorts for marching and parade purposes, it was during the Seven Years War (1756-63) that the Officers of the Royal Artillery serving in Germany, felt that they wanted a ‘more musical’ combination to play on social occasions.

It was during the six months at Minden, and at the instigation of Captain William Phillips, that the Royal Artillery Band and Orchestra was formed. He had the Articles of Agreement drawn up so that the original eight musicians could be engaged to provide the Regiment’s Music. The nine original Articles were written in both English and German, the first Article reads: ‘The Band to consist of eight men, who must also be capable to play upon the violoncello, bass, violin and flute, as other common instruments.’

The Musicians were capable of performing as a parade band or orchestra as required, a double-handed tradition, which was maintained until 2014, when the band relocated to Tidworth and a dedicated String Orchestras was commissioned in Woolwich. With the signing of the Peace of Paris in 1763, the British Troops were withdrawn from Germany and the newly-formed Band and Orchestra returned with the regiment to Woolwich (where the Band was stationed for some 250 years until April 2014), making The Royal Artillery Orchestra the oldest established Orchestra in Great Britain.

One of the most drastic changes happened in 1801, when the Royal Irish Artillery Band was amalgamated with the Royal Artillery Band, and the number of personnel increased to 22. In 1810 the then Master Musician, George McKenzie (1810-45) being a Leader Violinist devoted a lot of attention to the Orchestra, which he brought to a high state of efficiency, and he may fairly be claimed as the father of the Orchestra.

Sometime between 1810 and 1815 the famed Royal Artillery Concerts began, they were to become a regular feature of London musical life for well over a century. It was the dawning of a great musical organisation, an Orchestra of unsurpassed ability, even in those days. It soon grew in size, to around 40 and in musical excellence during the following decades. After McKenzie, came the reigns of Master Musicians; William Collins (1845-54), James Smyth (1854-81) and Albert Mansfield (1880-81).

Under Smyth many first performances were given. The most notable of these, in 1868, was the overture to Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, which was not performed by the Philharmonic Orchestra until 1882.

The programmes of this period contained the symphonies of Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Spohr and Schumann. Following Albert Mansfield came the man whose brilliance was to lead the Band, or more specifically the Orchestra, to its most celebrated heights, Ladislao Zavertal (1881-1906).

Under his leadership, the 88 person strong Orchestra attracted audiences and distinguished guests from all over London to winter concerts in Woolwich. Such was the orchestra’s standard of performance that on a number of occasions Queen Victoria, who was a very competent musician herself, engaged the Orchestra by Royal Command to play during and after state banquets. The Royal Artillery Mess at Larkhill still holds the baton that Zavertal used on another special Royal Performance for the monarch.

The Band and Orchestra had many famous admirers; not least amongst these were Sir Edward Elgar and Sir Edward German. Each had good reason to thank Zavertal (as well as other contemporary champions of British music of that era) for he had performed their works whilst they were still in relative obscurity. There were many other composers whose works were first brought to notice in Britain through interpretations by Zavertal. Smetana’s Overture to Prodana Nevesta and other excerpts from this opera and Vitava are typical examples.

Zavertal was also good friends with Anton Dvorak, who visited Woolwich and the Orchestra’s rehearsal room a number of times to try out his pieces, and it is highly likely that the Royal Artillery Orchestra first played Dvorak’s New World Symphony. Not content with this, Zavertal sought a yet wider audience, organising a series of concerts in London, at the Albert Hall, the Queen’s Hall and St James’s Hall.

Over the years, countless musicians from the Royal Artillery Band and Orchestra, particularly from around the 1950s, have taken their place in the higher echelons of the music world. Notably Guitarist Julian Bream, French Horn players Alan Civil and Denzil Floyd, plus composers Harrison Birtwistle and Gordon Langford. Some of the fine Orchestras in the country and pit bands of shows (some of them in the West End), have been graced by many past and present members of the Royal Artillery band, even up to this day. The Band and Orchestra has toured with Sir Harry Secombe, Anne Shelton and Semprini, accompanied world class soloists such as Nigel Kennedy, Stephen Isserlis, Carlos Bonnell, David Russell, John Ogden and more recently Hayley Westenra in a showcase concert at Salisbury Cathedral.
The Band continues to perform around the world supporting the Royal Regiment of Artillery and the wider Armed Forces. The Band has also played in different parts of the world; New Zealand, America, France, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, Africa, Switzerland, China and more recently Russia representing Great Britain in the 2011 Moscow Tattoo. The most recent trip was to India in support of UK Defence diplomacy in 2014.

The Royal Artillery Band has now relocated to Tidworth Garrison as part of the restructuring of Army Music (FAM2020)

The Royal Artillery Band (now classed as a Multi Capability Band – MCB) is proud to continue the many musical traditions of over 300 years in the history of British military music and is also keen to broaden its appeal through its musical diversity. From within its number, the band is also able to provide a number of smaller ensembles including a Pop Group, Rock Band, Jazz Combo, Big Band, Brass & Wind Quintets and Saxophone & Clarinet Quartets.

The Band are ideally located to serve the Army and community in the South West.

Tags: Government Organization

Address & Contact

HQ TNB, Jallalabad Barracks
South Tidworth
01980 650814
Government Organization

Map & Directions

Join on Facebook