The Corps of Drums Northern Ireland

The Corps of Drums playing a march called “Gommecourt” at the Gommecourt War Cemetery, France 1999.

The Corps of Drums of Northern Ireland was formed in 1999 to play the marches that were written by those who served during the Great War of 1914-1988 or named after battlefields of that war. The membership was drawn up from flute players from other bands in Northern Ireland including Ballygowan, Ballyclare Victoria, Boveva, Castledawson, Clarke Memorial, Corcrain, Crosskeys, Killymoon, Magheraboy, Ravenhill and Donald Sloan a former member of the Ulster Amateur Flute Band, Belfast.

Their first ever public appearance together was on the 1st July 1999 at the Ulster Memorial Tower in France. The monument is a memorial to the 36th (Ulster) Division who fought on the Somme on 1st July 1916 and was the first ever divisional memorial built on the Western Front. The repertoire for this tour included many flute band marches including: Gommecourt (J. Winter), Grandcourt (W.B. Blythe, famous flute band composer & conductor), The Inniskillings (arranged by W. Douglas), White Chateau (again written by W.B. Blythe), Happy Valley (W.B. Blythe), Ypres (A. Shrimpton). As you can see they either were named after battles or names after regiments etc. The tour of the Western Front included playing at the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres and memorial services at different war cemeteries.

Their first CD ‘From the Somme to Ypres – A Musical Journey’ released in 2000.

On their return home, they decided to record a CD which included the marches they played during their tour. They called it ‘From the Somme to Ypres – A Musical Journey’. The CD was launch at the ‘House of Orange’, the old premises belonging to the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. The night was attended by Rev. Dr. Martin Smyth (Past Grand Master of Ireland). The band on the night played marches using either Boehm System flute and the old Simple System Crown AZ flutes. The recording was very successful which sold world-wide.

The Corps of Drums playing ‘1914’ in the Odyssey Arena, Belfast in 2001.

On 13th January 2001, the Odyssey Arena (now SSE Arena) in Belfast hosted a celebration of local culture on a scale never before witnessed by the public. Thousands of participants from throughout the province entertained a capacity crowd for three hours, in what was probably the largest ever display of cultural diversity in Northern Ireland. Among the participants, which included Sir James Galway and Leslie Garrett, was a flute band. This, however, was not just an ordinary flute band, but rather The Corps of Drums. Following the sound of the bugle playing the Last Post, the fifty-two strong Corps of Drums entered the arena to the sound of the stirring march ‘1914’ (a march consisting of First World War songs). There was an enthusiastic reaction to the music from the audience and before long they were clapping and singing to the familiar melodies. As the band left the arena, there was a quick dash through the corridors to re-group at the front of the stage for the finale. This involved a pipe band, the Royal Ulster Constabulary Band, the Garda Police Band, Irish folk musicians and The Corps of Drums accompanying Sir James Galway to the sound of “I’ll Tell me Ma”. The band was highly praised for its performance. Many spectators could not believe that a flute band could sound so good.

The Corps of Drums accompanying Sir James Galway in 2001.

The event was certainly a most enjoyable experience for the band members. However, the most important aspect of the performance was the fact that a diverse and inclusive audience from throughout the province was given the opportunity to encounter a flute band at its best. Such an experience can only but remove prejudice and engender respect for a vibrant and deep-rooted musical tradition.

The Corps of Drums Northern Ireland at the Ulster Memorial Tower, July 2001.

Also that year the band performed for the Royal Air Force at Belfast International Airport for the Battle of Britain celebrations. Then in July 2001 the band toured the Somme Battlefields and again in 2003 and 2006.

The Corps of Drums playing at a concert in Co. Londonderry 2005.

The band did fulfil engagements within Northern Ireland and have travelled right across the province an the Republic of Ireland. They did take part in concerts for different Royal British Legion Branches and performed with Silver bands and with the Pipes and Drums of The Royal Irish Regiment.

In the Winter of 2005, the band started recording their second CD called ‘Happy and Glorious’ which included marches named after countries which formed the old British Empire or the new Commonwealth. It included marches which have never been recorded and it sold well. It was launch in France on their last trip to the Somme Battlefields in 2006.

Various photographs of the Corps of Drums on parade in France.

The band has played on BBC Radio Ulster, and on the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS) throughout the World, they also appeared on BBC TV, French and German TV.

The Corps of Drums recording of “Le Ancre” by James McGuirk

The Corps of Drums playing “Dinah’s Delight” by W.H. Turpin.

%d bloggers like this: