The annual Scarlet and Gold concert in London is one of the main features of the British Army Music calendar, offering a high-profile public showcase for musicians. Here, trumpeter Ben Smith invites us behind the scenes of the 2021 event, one of many opportunities for performers in the armed forces.
I’m Ben, a trumpet player currently serving in the Band of the Welsh Guards, one of the iconic ensembles that form the Bands of the Household Division in the British Army. The band is most widely recognised for its musical role in the Changing of the Guard in London, as well as the many other high-profile engagements associated with British Army Music.
Recently, I had the pleasure of performing as a featured soloist in ‘Scarlet & Gold’, a concert hosted by the Bands of the Household Division at Cadogan Hall in London, where some of the finest musicians from across the Bands of the Household Division join forces to put on a diverse range of music to showcase the various talents within British Army Music.
This year was no exception. On 24 and 25 November 2021, the Household Division hosted two different programmes of music. The first night took us on a journey across Planet Earth featuring some of the most heartwarming music from the big screen, and the second night celebrated and featured the soldiers and musicians of the Household Division, including the finest military marches and patriotic anthems.
Putting together a concert on this scale is no small feat, requiring the co-ordination of personnel from the five Footguards Bands, members of the Band of the Household Cavalry, and the Countess of Wessex String Orchestra. In addition to the main band, there were numerous solo performers on a range of instruments, the Fanfare Trumpeters of the Household Division, an in-house tech team, ushers, hosts for the VIP attendees and even a guest performance from the fabulous tenor Mike Bradley.
Due to the ever-present demands on the Bands of the Household Division throughout November – including Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph, the annual Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall and of course the ongoing Guard Changes – the window for rehearsing the concert was relatively small. This is where the band relies on the professionalism of the selected individuals to take time from their busy schedules to prepare their music independently so that come rehearsal time, we are essentially ‘tidying’ the music, rather than learning it. For me as a soloist, it meant six weeks of repetitive practice to memorise my solos and make sure I wouldn’t forget them on the day.
For many in the band, this concert marked one of the first opportunities since before the pandemic to perform for a live audience in a concert setting, a wonderful experience after the challenges we’ve all faced over the past 18 months. For me, however, it was a pivotal milestone in my musical career, as I have spent the last few years transitioning from living on the East coast of Australia to a life in the United Kingdom.
Having previously served as a Jazz Specialist in the Royal Australian Navy Band, I was no stranger to performing solos, but the process of moving abroad combined with the impact of Covid-19 meant that it had been almost three years since I had done so. As a result, the biggest challenge for me was not knowing how my nerves would play into the equation on the night. Fortunately, my choice to over-prepare allowed my muscle memory to do the work for me, and, on the whole, I was delighted with the outcome of the performance.
The training and support provided within British Army Music is second to none, and as a representative of the Commonwealth it has been wonderful for me to have the opportunity to see the differences and similarities of military service between Australia and the UK. I have previously worked as a cruise ship musician, a freelance performer and as a peripatetic tutor in schools, but nothing else has provided me with the job security, musical satisfaction and pride that I have felt while serving in Military Bands.
Other military career highlights for me include Anzac services in France and Turkey, twice performing the Last Post in the largest stadium in the Southern Hemisphere, military tattoos in Melbourne, Australia, and Nanchang, China, playing Big Band music inside Buckingham Palace for the VE75 commemorations, the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Parade at Windsor Castle, and most recently the Remembrance Service at the Cenotaph, London.
About the author
Originally from Melbourne in Australia, Ben Smith currently serves as a trumpeter in the Band of the Welsh Guards in London, part of British Army Music.
He completed a Bachelor of Jazz Performance at the prestigious Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in 2008, and subsequently worked for many years as a freelance performer and peripatetic tutor in schools.
In 2011 Ben completed a contract with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines as a musician, shortly followed by six years’ service as a Jazz Specialist in the Royal Australian Navy Band.
In 2019 he relocated to the United Kingdom, joining the British Army in February 2020. He currently lives in Twickenham with his wife and two young daughters