Musician Keith’s fanfare role at Royal occasions

Keith Cowley today
Keith Cowley today
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I magine joining the army as a musician and ending up playing at a Royal birthday celebration and a Royal wedding.

This is exactly what happened to Keith Cowley, originally from Bristol but now of Whiteley, near Fareham.

Keith Cowley as a student bandmaster at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on July 29 1981

Keith Cowley as a student bandmaster at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on July 29 1981

Keith joined the Royal Artillery in 1970 as a musician. His instrument was the trombone, which he was already proficient at as he’d been playing since the age of seven.

Keith attended the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall near Twickenham, where all army musicians still attend to learn their trade.

For a year in 1972-73 he attended a course to become a master of his instrument and then returned to Kneller Hall as a student bandmaster.

In 1977 Keith played at Wembley stadium in The Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebration.

The army keeps a roster of musicians who can play the fanfare trumpet, which Keith tells me has the same mouthpiece as a trombone.

On August 4, 1980 Keith was among musicians selected to play at St Paul’s Cathedral in London for a celebration of the 80th birthday of the Queen Mother.

Keith thought this might be the pinnacle of his career. But just 11 months later, on July 29, 1981, he was among the eight fanfare trumpeters who played, again at St Paul’s, at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.

Keith told me that they all left Kneller Hall in a minibus and had to be at St Paul’s by 7.30am as all the roads in the area were to be closed off.

Located close to the organ and above the choir, the eight trumpeters were about 20ft from the altar and had a full view of the wedding service (whereas the majority of guests had a view of the couple’s backs).

When Diana entered St Paul’s to so many cheers, the fanfare Trumpet Voluntary sounded out. During the service several other fanfares were played.

The overall man in charge was Sir David Willcocks from the Royal College of Music.

After the ceremony, at about 12.30pm, all the trumpeters got back in the minibus and drove to Twickenham.

A month later Keith was promoted to bandmaster and joined the Worcester and Sherwood Foresters Regiment, now part of the Mercian regiment. He answered to the commanding officer and was in charge of training, discipline, welfare and 101 other things.

He travelled the world with the regiment, going to countries including Australia, Canada, Norway and Italy.

In Australia he was involved with a job-swap and lived in Melbourne for four months.

Retiring from the service in 1992 as a Warrant Officer Class 1, he put down his instrument and has not played since. He ran a fish and chip shop for several years and is now a taxi driver in Portsmouth.