He says: ‘It's nice to be back. Last year we managed to do a really successful advent calendar across all our social media that went really well – it reached millions of people and we had people like Pixie Lott in it, Bear Grylls, and all that, so we made all of that provision last year to stay engaged with our audience.
‘But it's not the same is it as being back on the stage and doing a concert for what is all intents and purposes our home audience. We're looking forward to it.’
The Royal Marines School of Music is at HMS Nelson – and the service’s headquarters is at HMS Excellent on Whale Island. The concert will feature the HMS Collingwood and Portsmouth bands playing together.
The service has continued training and practicing throughout the pandemic, even if they’ve had to change things.
‘There's been a lot of difficulties,’ says Neville, ‘but none that have been insurmountable. Credit to the school of music that have carried on delivering training throughout, it was their bubble, so it's had no impact on training, which is great.
‘Practising was really difficult though. We had a lot of additional guidelines, like we had to increase distancing, even in marching displays when we got back to doing that. We had to widen the distances between people out on parade – before, it was two paces apart and that had to go up to three paces apart.
‘We also weren't allowed to counter-march – where we turn around and go back on ourselves because that would mean we were too close together, so we had to change the way we do it.’
One of the bands’ biggest events of the year is the Mountbatten Festival of Music at The Royal Albert Hall.
It went ahead this year – but when it took place back in April the bands performed to an empty hall because of Covid restrictions. It was broadcast live on YouTube.
‘What we've tried to do throughout it all is look at opportunities rather than problems, so the nice thing about that, although we had no audience, it meant we could use the arena floor, we could use the stalls.
‘Because of the regulations we couldn't have as many people on stage as usual by any stretch of the imagination, but we could space other groups out, so we had our string players and our choir up in the boxes – it looked a bit like The Muppets!
The corps’ drums were able to go up and down and use the whole arena and across the whole width of the Royal Albert Hall.
‘To have the full run of the place and do whatever we wanted – it's such a big gig for us, it's the big one of the year when we have the chance to get three or four of the five bands together, and no other branch of the armed forces music can sell out the Royal Albert Hall for three concerts on the bounce like we do.’
However, they also had other duties to carry out.
‘But of course we're not just musicians – we've had guys working in Bournemouth, Bath, and the Exeter Nightingale hospitals, so they were out there supporting the NHS, and helping them out with day-to-day tasks.
‘They've been heavily involved with the vaccine rollout – we've had members of different bands out giving vaccines.
‘And then when there was that petrol problem, we had guys away being drivers and drivers' mates.
‘It's been a busy time, so perhaps the music, and the concerts in particular went on the backburner for a while, but we've been busy, with the navy and the government's response to the Covid problem.’
For those who don’t know, what can they expect from the Christmas concert?
‘We like to have fun on the stage as well. If we're enjoying ourselves, hopefully the audience is enjoying themselves as well.
‘It's called the Christmas Spectacular for a reason, so there will be plenty of Christmas stuff in there – there'll be solo items, there'll be vocals, there'll be music from the films, there'll be the marches you'd expect from a military band, but there'll be that Christmas tinge to it all.
‘“Something for everyone” is what we try to get across, come and enjoy Christmas with us – we'll leave you feeling festive.
The Massed Bands of The Royal Marines Christmas Spectacular takes place at Portsmouth Guildhall on Wednesday, December 15. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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