Lieutenant Colonel Nick Grace, the nation’s most senior military musician, left the Royal Marines Band Service this month after more than 35 years’ distinguished service.
Like every Royal Marine musician, he joined as a bandsman. His instruments were euphonium and cello. That was in 1982, the year of the Falklands war.
In basic training his first success was to win the coveted Prince’s Badge as the best all-round musician passing for duty.
Later, he served on the Royal Yacht Britannia and in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Argus, a hospital ship during the Gulf War.
He gained a first class Bachelor of Music degree at the London College of Music and has performed at many famous places all over the world, from the Royal Albert Hall and the Cenotaph in London, Windsor Castle, Twickenham and Edinburgh Castle, to auspicious venues in Australia and New Zealand.
Lt-Col Grace’s penultimate concert was at St Mary’s Church, Fratton. It was a triumphant farewell to that great venue.
The evening’s programme was chock full of audience-pleasing music by Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schubert and Saint-Saens. Three of the works were conducted by Nick.
Others pieces came under the baton of the incoming Principal Director of Music, Lt-Col John Ridley and four sergeants on their bandmaster’s course.
Like many RM musicians before and since, John was given an entirely different instrument to learn from that on which he auditioned. He was given a bassoon to learn from scratch. He subsequently became a virtuoso on that instrument.
A full orchestra was put together for this special occasion at St Mary’s combining players from the Royal Band Portsmouth, the Band of HMS Collingwood and the renowned Countess of Wessex String Orchestra (CWSO), the Army’s newest ensemble. More than 50 musicians, including a magnificent fanfare of trumpeters and the church’s powerful organ, nearly lifted the roof off during the finale which was the thunderous Organ Symphony by Saint-Seans.
Throughout the whole evening the orchestra was led by Corporal James Sandalls, an excellent violinist from the CWSO.
As the rapturous applause died away Nick left St Mary’s rostrum for the last time.
However, his very last engagement was to conduct the Royal Band and HMS Collingwood’s Band at Portsmouth Cathedral in Old Portsmouth at the annual memorial service for all of Royal Marines bandsmen who died in both world wars and in the bombing of the RM School of Music, Deal, by the IRA in September 1989.
The cathedral was packed for that moving service. The cathedral choir and consort sang wonderfully. The fanfare of trumpets was truly magnificent and Nick conducted the assembled musicians with his customary aplomb.
Even though he has left the RM Band Service this will not be a farewell to arm-waving.
With a lifetime spent in music he’s developed an unequalled and expert portfolio in managing, conducting and developing large-scale musical events worldwide.
Without doubt, he will be much sought-after as a freelance music consultant, lecturer and conductor.
His advice to aspiring musicians who want to play, travel and enjoy sport is to go for the best job in the world with the best band service in the world.