1st Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteers Corps of Drums

The 2011 Malta Military Tattoo

 

Mike Boxall

Malta – Island of Mysteries

The 1st Cinque Ports R.V. Corps of Drums

at The 8th Malta Military Tattoo

 

Malta, the Mediterranean meeting place of European, Middle Eastern and North African cultures, has long been an island of mystery. From the strange elongated human skulls found in prehistoric temples there to the unexplained disappearance of 30 students exploring one of the island’s complexes of caves and tunnels, mysteries abound on this ancient isle.

 

On our visit to take part in the 8th Malta Military Tattoo, we too encountered our share of mystery on the historic island. How could the brown sauce at breakfast taste of chocolate? How could a mobile phone dumped in a sewer still work? And how could a Corps of 24 make an unseen arena entrance in pitch darkness with all the lights on?

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These Maltese mysteries reach to far-off Franconia where the Directors of the Lowenbrau Brewery can’t work out how one small bar in Malta could have smashed the whole island’s six-month sales targets for their beer in four nights. Though that’s one mystery that we could explain…

 

Having done our bit to help Peppi smash his sales targets the night before, we arrived bright-eyed for the Tattoo practice on the Friday. Surrounded in the the Malta Fairs and Conventions Centre by white

 

 

T-shirted ‘Pulizija’ from the local Police Band and Precision Drill Team, and haunted by the distant but ever-present wail of bagpipes, we formed up ready for our ’30 minutes’ practice time in the arena.

After running through our routine once (14 minutes tops) we were ushered out and the Pulizija Precision Drill Team took over. The Drum Major was sure we hadn’t given a completely flawless performance. So out into the sunshine we went to practice stepping off, staff halts, bugles up, bugles down, flutes up, flutes down, etc., etc.

 

Over an hour later we returned to the arena to find the Precision Drill Team still in their ’30 minutes’ practice time - another Malta mystery. The afternoon session saw selected members of the Corps practising the Massed Bands Entrance while the ‘un-selected’ ones watched from the cheap seats.

 

Everyone ‘did their own thing’ on Saturday - visiting Valletta, visiting St. Julian’s Bay, visiting Peppi’s – but at some stage we all did a bit of last minute kit polishing ready for our first performance that night.

Backstage at the arena that evening was a sea of uniforms. The English contingent – the Cambridgeshire ACF Corps of Drums and us – in scarlet tunics, the Maltese Army and Police in ‘Royal Marines’ style blues and white Wolseley pattern pith helmets, Maltese Scouts in khaki with green berets, the Polish Armed Forces Band resplendent in square topped Czapka caps, white Sam Browne style belts and spats, and eight pipe bands in every form of Scottish dress known to man. A stirring sight!

 

After the Massed Bands introduction, playing Kenneth Alford’s Colonel Bogey and Abe Holzmann’s Blaze Away, the Cambridgeshire ACF Corps of Drums were the first group on. They gave a spirited performance of bugle and flute marches and a drum beating. Then it was our turn.

We’d been assured that we’d enter in complete darkness, so the screen lifted and we shuffled into our start position – in full view of the 2,000 strong audience in the brightly lit arena! As the Drum Major made a mental note never to trust a lighting guy again the first notes of our bugle fanfare introduction (Drum Major Joseph Winter’s Westminster) rang out.

 

A short drum beating brought our bugles down and flutes up for an advance in slow time to the Irish air King of the Fairies. We finished ‘the Fairies’ halted in the centre of the arena before beginning the quick march Euterpe by S.R.Clark.

 

During Euterpe we split for a ‘bomb-burst’, re-forming and halting to play a Songs of the First World War medley arranged by Laurie Johnson. This, and The Londoner medley arranged by Jack Wallace that followed it, saw us circling the area in single file in alternate directions and then re-forming.

 

Our allotted 12 minutes ended with The Jigs, arranged by Drum Major Reynold Harry Trussler, played through once with solos alternating with the full Corps then with the tempo steadily increasing to end in a blur of fingers and gasps of breath.

 

After a gratifying response from the audience we marched off to William Ward-Higgs’ Sussex by the Sea and the march adopted by The Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteer Corps in 1880, Let the Hills Resound by Henry Brinley Richards

 

Being second on meant we could now enjoy watching the rest of the Tattoo on the backstage screen. A local gymnastics display team was followed, after the interval, by the eight pipe bands filling the arena with their horrible unique music.

 

The Malta Police Precision Drill Team then thrust, waved and threw fixed-bayonet Lee Enfield 303s in an anxiety-making display followed by a more soothing performance from the 57-strong Malta Police Force Band.  

 

The General Jozef Wybicki Polish Armed Forces Band who’d been flown in that morning strapped to the wings of an old Antonov biplane (allegedly), was followed by The Armed Forces of Malta Band. We then formed up to follow the Police Precision Drill Team on for the Grand Finale.

The singing of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and the Maltese National Anthem brought a varied evening of military music and display to a close. After a short wait for our bus to arrive, it couldn’t have been more than an hour late, we made it back to Peppi’s for a restorative libation or three.

 

On the second evening our ‘media ops’ volunteer, Allison Thackery, was on hand with her camera to take some group photos and record our performance in the arena. Those of us who were veterans of the Corps of Drums Society tour of 2003 have some uncomfortable memories of group photo taking on Malta, but this session was mercifully much shorter and not in the full heat of the sun so the amount of grumbling in the ranks was much reduced.

 

We began our Sunday performance by playing our bugle fanfare at the halt as the entry screen rose – no shuffling on ‘in complete darkness’ this time! It seemed to me that this was our best run through the routine yet, although I’m sure when we see the video there’ll be some points to raise the Drum Major’s blood pressure.

 

When the Tattoo ended and the public had left, we re-formed in the arena to receive the organisers’ thanks and a presentation Malta Tattoo acrylic glass trophy. We marched off, with our slouch hats at their jauntiest angle, playing The British Grenadiers.

 

With an 0630 start on the following morning to catch our Air Malta flight back, a final group appearance at Peppi’s was scratched. Though a few hardy souls did their final bit to smash the Lowenbrau sales targets.

 

And so before dawn, a little bleary-eyed, we said goodbye to the Island of Mystery. This had been our first Tattoo appearance as The Cinque Ports R.V. Corps of Drums and we’d all greatly appreciated the wonderful hospitality and backstage camaraderie that the Malta Tattoo provided.  

(more pictures at Page: Malta Military Tattoo )