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The Grenadier Guards

Directors of Music


named The 1st, or Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards


The Band of The Grenadier Guards

The Grenadier Guards trace their origin back to around 1656 during Charles II's exile; when a new standing army was formed on the Restoration in 1660, it included the King's Royal Regiment of Foot Guards. From the outset, drummers were included in the establishment, the King's Company being allowed three drummers and the remaining companies two each. In October 1662 the position of drum-major was created with the pay of one shilling and sixpence per day; at the same time a single fifer was added to the establishment at one shilling a day.

In 1664, under the terms of a Royal Warrant, a musician by the name of Peter Vanhausen was engaged to instruct one man per company to play the fife. He was paid one shilling and sixpence per day, the fruits of his labour being the birth of the Grenadiers Band, generally considered to date from 1665.

A warrant signed by Charles II on 3 January 1685 authorized the maintenance of twelve hautbois in the King's Regiment of Foot Guards in London, though there seems to have been some confusion over the funding of these musicians. It was initially suggested that false names be added to the regimental roll so that the players could be given a better wage, but state papers from 1686 refer to payments being made to drummers and hautbois, implying that the crown took a direct interest in the music of the senior regiment of foot guards. Eighty years later, there is mention in official documents of the purchase of liveries for the hautbois serving with a troop of mounted Grenadiers under the Duke of Monmouth.

Gradually the instrumentation was expanded; according to St James's Evening Post two French horns were added in 1725, whilst bugle horns costing 27 were purchased in 1772.

In the mid-18th century military music was dominated by Germany, possibly thanks to the influence of the Duke of Cumberland, a man referred to by historian Fortescue as 'a soldier of the extremest German type.' From the London Evening Post of April 1749 we learn that:

On Sunday last the English Band of Music belonging to the First Regiment of Guards received their dismission to make room for a band of Germans.

The success of this musical migration is apparent from Dr Burney's Present State of Music in Germany in which he writes of his visit to Mannheim in 1772:

The first music I have heard here is military. The retreat had only drums and fifes, and in the morning there was nothing worth listening to. If I had any inclination to describe in a pompous manner merely the effects of wind instruments in martial music, there had been no occasion for me to leave London, for in St James' and in the Park every morning there is an excellent band.

By 1783 the instrumentation had settled down to that of the continental wind octet known as 'Harmonie Musik'. This comprised of two hautbois, two clarinets, two bassoons and two horns. The hautbois were the main melodic instruments, with clarinets taking a secondary role.

A decade later comes the first mention of a bandmaster. The Musical Directory, London of 1794 gives 34 Tufton Street, Westminster as the address of Mr Elrington, flute player and bandmaster of the 1st Foot Guards. The same source mentions sixteen other members of the band, five of whom had the same address. The instrumentation was one flute, six clarinets, three bassoons, three horns, one trumpet, two serpents and one drums. Another report from the era omits mention of drums but does talk of 'Turkish Music', referring to the contemporary fashion for flamboyant percussion instruments.

These instruments were played by black musicians, who, when it came to smaller items such as cymbals and tambourines, were often very young. The bass drummer, however, was invariably older with a formidable physique, as seen in the well-known lithograph by E Hull showing the big drummer of the Grenadiers in 1829.

The first bandmaster to be named in the regimental records was Mr Blaney, who was almost certainly James Blaney, a clarinetist whose name appears in The Musical Directory along with Elrington. Mr Blaney took over in 1815 whilst the Band was with the British troops during the occupation of Paris.

By 1848 the instrumentation had expanded to: 2 flutes, 1 piccolo, 3 Eb clarinets, 8 Bb clarinets, 3 bassoons, 4 French horns, a family of trumpets, 1 althorn, 3 ophicleides, 3 tambourines and drums. Later additions were saxophones, cornets, flugel horn, euphonium and bass.

In 1856 Dan Godfrey, son of Charles Godfrey of the Coldstream Guards, was appointed bandmaster. Although only 25 years of age, he had studied at the Royal Academy of Music and had the reputation of being a first class musician. He was to remain in his post for 40 years.

One of Godfrey's greatest contributions was the bringing of ever-greater audiences to military concerts, particularly with his performances in Hyde Park. He later commented on this development:

The original proposal was that we should play on a Wednesday or Saturday. I urged that it would be better for us to play on a day when as many people as possible could come and hear us, and that Sunday would be best. I gained my point. I believe about 90,000 were present the first time we played, and I shall not easily forget the cheer I got when I went to my stand.

In the summer of 1872, the Band visited the United States to take part in the International Peace Jubilee, held in Boston. This was the first time that a British army band had toured abroad and it took a debate in parliament to sanction the visit. The other guest band was that of the German Grenadier Regiment.

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On the occasion of Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1887, the Queen had Dan Godfrey gazetted as a Lieutenant, the first bandmaster in the British army to be commissioned, albeit with an honorary title. The following decade Dan Godfrey finally retired and was replaced by Mr Albert Williams of the Royal Marine Artillery Band. Although very much a product of the Army - having joined as a boy knowing virtually nothing about music - Mr Williams had already passed the examination of Bachelor of Music at Oxford University and was later awarded a Doctorate of Music. On this occasion, in 1906, the entire Grenadier Guards Band travelled to Oxford at their own expense to witness the ceremony of the conferring of the degree, and to hear the Vice-Chancellor comment, 'I understand that you are a pioneer in the army in regard to the degree of Doctor of Music. I hope it will bear the fruit it deserves.'

Dr Albert Williams
Dr Albert Williams

In 1904 the Band once more visited the United States, this time extending the tour to include Canada. In 1919 the Band was in Canada again for the Canadian National Exhibition, where a fellow visitor was His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales.

After 44 years in the service, Dr Williams retired in 1921 in the rank of Captain. The King received him in audience and conferred upon him the honour of the Royal Victorian Order. In 1922 the Worshipful Company of Musicians made a presentation at which Sir Dan Godfrey, son of the previous incumbent and conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, offered high praise: 'Dr Williams was a musician of such culture as had never before occupied the position of Director of Music of the British Army.'

His successor was George Miller who had been bandmaster of the 1st Life Guards since 1908. He was the son of Major George Miller, formerly bandmaster of the Royal Marines, Portsmouth, and grandson of Bandmaster George Miller of the Manchester Regiment.

In 1931, the Band made an extremely successful tour of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. The Band had prepared by learning several Boer folk songs, a gesture that greatly impressed the South Africans.

Prior to the Second World War, the uniform of the Grenadiers Band had a distinctive feature commemorating King Charles II. A dark blue cloth went half round the arm and was a relic of the old mourning band worn for Charles II who instituted the hautbois. A further distinctive feature of foot guards' uniforms which has survived is the grouping of the buttons on the front of their tunics: the Grenadiers being the senior are normally spaced, Coldstreamers grouped in twos, Scots in threes, Irish in fours and the Welsh in fives.

During the war years, the Band gave many concerts to boost morale and also to raise funds for the war effort. In 1944 the bandsmen entertained the troops in Europe and North Africa. It was in Italy in July of that year that they played for King George VI, an occasion described in a soldier's letter home:

We were lucky, as the Indians fought a good little battle about six miles away. He had a wonderful view, first from an OP [observation post] in Arezzo and then from his bath, while the Grenadier band played just behind his caravan. He was thrilled. Few Kings these days can have watched a battle from his bath to the strains of martial music by his own guards. (Eric Morris, Circles of Hell: The War in Italy 1943-45)

Such is the popularity of the Guards in the USA that during a short tour in the autumn of 1971, Mayor Richard Martin of New London, Connecticut designated 30 September, 'Grenadier Guards Band Day'. Six years later the Band, accompanied by the pipes, drums and dancers of the Scots Guards, covered another 18,000 miles touring the States, and ten years after that it returned again, this time with the pipes and drums of The Gordon Highlanders, on a 75-day, 64 city tour.

1985 was the tercentenary of the Band and amongst the many engagements was a visit to the 2nd Battalion in Belize. The Band travelled to Punta Gorda to visit part of the Battalion at Salamanca, and then into the jungle to play to a tribe descended from the ancient Maya Indian civilization. At the beginning of March, it flew out to Australia for a six-week tour that was to encompass the Melbourne Military Tattoo (which formed part of the celebrations for the 150th Anniversary of State of Victoria) and concerts in Townsville, Roakhampton and Brisbane in Queensland. In October a Tercentenary Concert was given at the Royal Albert Hall. On this occasion, guest conductors were Lt-Col Fred Harris (who had retired in 1960 and was aged 85) and Lt-Col Rodney Bashford.

In 1989, the Band were in France and Spain, and in 1991 18 musicians toured Osaka, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore. This latter tour featured a period ensemble, with musicians dressed in 18th century costume - a highly popular item in the Band's performances in recent years.

Fred Harris
Major F Harris

adapted from
The History of British Military Bands,
Volume Two: Guards & Infantry

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Bandmasters & Directors of Music of The Grenadier Guards
Trooping the Colour 2001
Band Histories