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RAF 100 Centenary Gala

Massed Bands of the Royal Air Force
Conductor: Wing Commander Piers Morrell
Royal Albert Hall
Saturday 31st March

The Royal Albert Hall was the fitting venue for this Royal Air Force Charitable Trust Gala Concert produced in partnership with the BBC.

Slickly presented by Carol Vorderman and Dan Snow, it included evocative archive footage of the service from its earliest pioneering days to the hi-tech present, together with interviews with active personnel and those who had served in various operations.

Coolly controlled

The stage band was more than a hundred strong; drawn from the Central Band, The Band of the Royal Air Force College and the Band of the Royal Air Force Regiment, together with string players from the Salon Orchestra, a seven-strong fanfare team, and the Squadronaires – all coolly controlled by Principal Director of Music, Wing Commander Piers Morrell. 

With such musical forces available, you would have hoped to have heard some substantial items, but unfortunately, this fine ensemble was largely confined to providing background music and accompaniment for the various guest stars.

Spirited

The opening fanfare and National Anthem was followed by a spirited '633 Squadron', before extracts came from from 'Holyrood', 'The Dambusters' and 'Out of the Blue', to accompany the drill display by the Queen's Colour Squadron. 'Songs of the Early Airmen' and the 'Elegy of the RAF March Past' were used as incidental music whilst the band accompanied vocal trio Blake in 'I Vow to Thee, My Country'.

Following the 'Battle of Britain March' an abridged version of 'Into the Skies' arranged by Philip Lawrence was the most substantial item on the programme. 

With such musical forces available, you would have hoped to have heard some substantial items, but unfortunately, this fine ensemble was largely confined to providing background music and accompaniment for the various guest stars.

Guest stars

The Squadronaires opened the second half with 'In the Mood', although some may have preferred the Glenn Miller version, before backing Alexandra Burke in 'Come Fly With Me'. Other items played were 'Gabriel's Oboe', 'Born to Fly' (accompanying Tom Fetcher and Danny Jones) and 'Summon the Heroes', played as past and serving RAF personnel were recognised. 

The event closed with all the guest stars returning to the stage for 'A Sky Full of Stars' to round off an enjoyable evening in many ways, but a lost opportunity as far as the music-making was perhaps concerned.

Peter Bale



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Phil Lawrence

ARCM PGRNCM MFTCL ARCM B.Mus.
Composer and conductor