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A Good conversation
Colour Sergeant David Hamilton

As Mark Good finds out, the route to becoming a military musician was not a simple one for Colour Sergeant David Hamilton but he wouldn't have had it any other way.

The life of a military musician is a nomadic one.

Having readily settled into the role of Assistant Bandmaster to the Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, Colour Sergeant David Hamilton recently had to pack his kit bag and begin his next posting.

And as a proud Scotsman it was nice to be ‘home’ for a while, he admits he’s now relishing his latest opportunity in the heart of the Brecon Beacons.

“It’s in the middle of a National Park and a stone’s throw to Pen y Fan, the highest peak in South Wales. It’s an incredible backdrop. I’ve lived in urban Manchester, London and Edinburgh recently and now I’m in Brecon and it’s delightful.”

Diverse career

It’s the latest chapter in the life of an Army musician who is relishing his diverse career and increasingly busy schedule.

“We’re now getting back into the swing of things after some well-earned summer leave,” he says. “We recently completed some adventurous training - mountain biking, rock-climbing and major hill walking. Now the musical work starts and we’re looking forward to a busy autumn and festive season.

What is brilliant is that you’ll never find in the Army ‘a normal day’. As the Bandmaster – and particularly in this band where there’s no Director of Music there is so much to do and explore

What is brilliant is that you’ll never find in the Army ‘a normal day’. As the Bandmaster – and particularly in this band where there’s no Director of Music there is so much to do and explore.”

He gives some examples: “That could involve rehearsals of the full brass ensemble, quintets and small groups, or helping people prepare for their career exams. Then there is the slightly more ‘Army’ side of the role such as overseeing training and looking after recruiting for the band, so there’s no shortage of variety.”

Full in-tray

His in-tray is always full then. Recent engagements include a performance at the Welsh Senedd in Cardiff as well as helping to launch Black History Month and even taking on the role of a function band. In November they are off to Cyprus for two weeks for Remembrance events. 

“That’s what keeps you fresh in this job,” he says. “All the pomp and circumstance of a high-profile gig and then it might be an outdoor performance right in the heart of the community.”

High performance levels

Apart from the high-performance levels expected as an Army musician, there is also a necessity to stay fit to undertake an ever more demanding job whilst there is that ever more important aspect of community engagement. 

David readily acknowledges that getting his musicians out working with local bands and into schools helps others see the attractiveness of a career as an Army musician. 

David readily acknowledges that getting his musicians out working with local bands and into schools helps others see the attractiveness of a career as an Army musician. 

However, he is also keen to help support music education initiatives, especially as teachers face increased time demands in fitting music into the curriculum.

The Band of the Prince of Wales is involved in the National Music Plan for Wales in the Powys region of mid-Wales and supports local primary schools. It also recently worked with participants on the UniBrass Band Camp.

Army and community

These are the sorts of projects that David feels that are integral to the link between the Army and their community – be it in Scotland or now in Wales.

David’s career has already chalked up several moments which will live long in the memory, such as his first public engagement with the Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland for the funeral of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

David’s career has already chalked up several moments which will live long in the memory, such as his first public engagement with the Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland for the funeral of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Part of history

Looking back, he said: “That was incredible. We were at Windsor, and as Her Majesty died in Scotland our band had quite a few engagements to fulfil there before things were centred in London. It was being part of history, and I could never have imagined I would do something like that. It was high-profile, high-pressure, but it worked out.”

Another moment to cherish was a brass ensemble concert with the Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland in Edinburgh’s Canongate Kirk working with colleagues that he counts as friends. “That was full of music we wanted to play together, with great players around the stands. It was brilliant.”

Banding connection

David’s connection to the brass banding world can be traced back to Annan Town Band in Dumfries and Galloway, where his parents played, and he followed suit (eventually conducting them in 2009).

“I remember being at rehearsals when I was about four with the band getting ready for the old Forth Valley Contest. From then it was inevitable I was going to get involved somewhere along the line.”

“I remember being at rehearsals when I was about four with the band getting ready for the old Forth Valley Contest. From then it was inevitable I was going to get involved somewhere along the line.”

At secondary school, David’s playing developed, and he joined the Junior arm of what was then the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) in Glasgow.

NYBBS

He soon found himself playing with some of Scotland’s leading bands as well as the National Youth Brass Band of Scotland. There, tuba tutor Craig Anderson was among the encouraging voices who made him believe a career as a musician might be possible, whilst the great Richard Evans was also a major inspiration.

“He was the first person to put a stick in my hand,” David recalled. “I was a Bb bass player who liked to chat back a bit in rehearsals, so I think it was a bit of a punishment! That solidified what had been a tiny hankering and it all went from there.”

Boddice and bands

Alongside Craig and Richard, another major influence was Nigel Boddice MBE – a musician responsible for guiding generations of young musicians. 

“Without their guidance and support, I wouldn’t be doing this now,” he admits. “Their ability to enthuse an entire generation of young musicians was incredible – not just myself. I owe everything I’m doing now to them.”

Alongside Craig and Richard, another major influence was Nigel Boddice MBE – a musician responsible for guiding generations of young musicians. 

From those early years David has clearly embraced the opportunities that have since come his way. He’s enjoyed appointments with the likes of Camborne, Hebden Bridge and Yorkshire Imperial (above winning the Bolsover Festival of Brass title in 2016), and is a former winner of the NABBC Conductors Competition.

Conduit

“I thrive on being the conduit between the music and the musicians under my baton. I’ve always been really interested in that. I like to rehearse intensely. It’s the best part of the job.”

Although David’s route to the Army was not straightforward, he has relished the opportunities that it has brought.

Mature student

He enrolled at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) as a mature student, aged 28, being tutored by Brian Kingsley (Orchestra of Opera North), Robin Haggart (Liverpool Phil), Ewan Easton (Hallé) and Les Neish. 

From there a freelance career followed before he made the decision to head into the military.

“Part of me wishes I’d done this years ago. It’s a great, fun job. I think to myself ‘I could have had another 15 years of this’, but I’ve no regrets.

“Part of me wishes I’d done this years ago. It’s a great, fun job. I think to myself ‘I could have had another 15 years of this’, but I’ve no regrets.

When I finished at RNCM, I was playing with some pretty good orchestras fairly regularly and making inroads as a conductor in the North West, Yorkshire and in Cornwall. I’ve been able to play at the likes of the British Open and so on, so I think I’ve had the best of both worlds.

I’ve been very fortunate then – but being an Army musician is a career that I would recommend to anyone to find out more about and don’t leave it too late.”

Mark Good


The Band of the Prince of Wales is currently recruiting brass and percussion players. If you would like to hear more about a career in the Royal Corps of Army Music, go to: https://shorturl.at/byAT7

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