INTERVIEW: Capt. Daryl Powell prepares Band of the Royal Marines for US tour

The Band of the Royal Marines perform at the Mountbatten Festival of Music in 2013 held at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The massed bands of her majesty's Royal Marines was under the direction of Lt. Col. NJ Grace OBE BMus (Hons) FLCM LRSM Royal Marines and introduced by John Suchet. Photo courtesy of band.
The Band of the Royal Marines perform at the Mountbatten Festival of Music in 2013 held at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The massed bands of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines was under the direction of Lt. Col. NJ Grace OBE BMus (Hons) FLCM LRSM Royal Marines and introduced by John Suchet. Photo courtesy of the band.

The history of the Band of the Royal Marines is almost unparalleled throughout the world. They have been through several name changes and have earned an esteemed reputation for their musicianship and honoring of musical traditions. The precise stylings of the band members, decked out in white helmets, help bring to life both historic and contemporary songs.

The requirements for entry into the band are strict. According to press notes, most members play at least two instruments and offer their talents in several combinations, from wind band to marching band to big band. The band provides musical support to the British Navy, and several members have been deployed around the world, including to help manage the Ebola outbreak.

Captain Daryl Powell heads the band and will bring them on a North American tour this month. They will perform at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, N.J., on Sunday, Jan. 10 at 3 p.m., among many other stops throughout the United States. Joining the band will be the Pipes, Drums and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards.

Powell has had an impressive musical career, dating back to his days as a student under Phillip McCann at Birmingham Conservatorie in Birmingham, England, in the early 1990s. He has been with the Royal Marines Band Service for the past 20 years. Among his many accolades: a Silver Medal from the Worshipful Company of Musicians and an associate diploma in musical theory, criticism and literature from Trinity College London. Today, Powell’s official title is director of music of the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Portsmouth.

On the program for the North American tour will be several anthemic selections and traditional songs from Great Britain. Among them are “A Fanfare of Daffodils,” the UK national anthem, “Standard of St. George” and “Erin Shore.” Some more contemporary selections from the band and the Scots Guards include “Ice & Fire,” the theme from HBO’s Game of Thrones; “Lord of the Dance;” and “Killaloe.” Finishing out the two-act concert will be “Castell Coch,” “Merrily Danced the Quakers Wife,” “Scotland the Brave” and “A Life on the Ocean Wave.”

Recently, Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with Powell about the upcoming concerts. Questions and answers have been slightly edited for clarity and style.

What can theatergoers expect when they take in a performance of the Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards?

A really exciting and diverse show. As the title of the show suggests (“The British Isles of Wonder”), we will be showcasing music from around the British Isles; this will include many traditional elements but will also highlight the versatility of the Royal Marines Band Service (RMBS). The RMBS are renowned for precise drill and a high level of musicality whilst on parade, but the audience will also get to see some smaller groups within the display. An example of this will come during our tribute to Ireland, when we perform “Lord of the Dance” with an additional Ceilidh band. People will also be familiar with what the Pipes and Drums can do, but again the pieces we do as joint items test us all and include repertoire from the big screen.

In 2012, Edinburgh once again hosts one of the world's most spectacular entertainment events as the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo draws together a host of creative talent from four continents to pay sparkling tribute to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee and the year of Creative Scotland. Photo courtesy of the band.
In 2012, Edinburgh hosts one of the world’s most spectacular entertainment events as the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo draws together a host of creative talent from four continents to pay sparkling tribute to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee and the year of Creative Scotland. Photo courtesy of the band.

How many people go on the U.S. tour with you?

I am bringing 42 musicians, whilst there will additionally be 25 from 1st Battalion Scots Guards coming across. The audience will see a variety of combinations within this though. Sometimes, for instance, I use a marching band of 35 Royal Marines musicians, whilst at other times it is a smaller band with an additional stage band (e.g. the Ceilidh band).

In 2005, you successfully completed the Bandmasters course. How rigorous was this course? What did it entail?

It is a very rigorous course that takes a whole year to complete. It includes all academic disciplines including aural perception, harmony, arranging and composition. Additionally there is a large emphasis on conducting, which includes a series of eight concerts where you are assessed on how you rehearse and then perform a designated work.

How important is tradition and the history of the band to you?

Extremely important. The Royal Marines Band Service is very proud of its heritage and prides itself on the very fine reputation, built over many years. Within our musical programming I am careful to maintain traditional elements synonymous with the Royal Marines Band Service, whilst also adding new elements to highlight the versatility and flexibility of the modern-day band service. All our musicians are fully aware of the history of their forebears, and this is something that they are passionate about maintaining and building upon during every performance.

How often does the band rehearse? Is it a difficult commitment?

The band rehearse[s] pretty much every day that it doesn’t have a performance. During the past term we have visited Belfast, Ascension Island and Rotterdam as well as many performances in and around Scotland and the north of England. The band is always in high demand, so rehearsal time is fully utilised to meet this demand.

If I have this right, you assumed command of the band in September. What was going through your mind before entering this position?

Well, I had command of the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Portsmouth, so I was fully aware of what to expect in Scotland. We have five Royal Marines bands around the UK, and their workload is fairly similar throughout the country. The band in Scotland tends to travel a lot more than what I experienced in Portsmouth, but essentially all our musicians and buglers are trained to the same extremely high standard. So it is a fairly universal in terms of what we are expected to do.

Does your fascination with the military and music go back to when you were a young child?

Yes, I suppose it does really. I learned to play the cornet from a very young age, playing in my local brass band. Right from the outset the enjoyment I got from performing shaped my education right through to the point when I graduated from music college. As far as the military side of things goes, there is little to no military background on my side of the family; however, my wife’s father and brother both enjoyed long careers in the Royal Marines Band Service, so I suppose it was inevitable I would go that way, too. Having made that decision, I have never looked back, and it has certainly been a fantastic 20 years of my life.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Portsmouth, under the leadership of Capt. Daryl Powell, will tour the United States with the Pipes, Drums and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards. They will perform at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, N.J., on Sunday, Jan. 10. Click here for more information on tickets.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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