The Band of the Grenadier Guards is one of the world’s premier military bands and has a long and distinguished history. It is one of the oldest and most famous military bands in the world with a vast and illustrious history dating back over 300 years.
It was formed under the rule of King Charles II on his return to power from exile. King Charles II restored not only the Monarchy to England but also the patronage of the arts, not least by laying the foundations of the Band of the Grenadier Guards. The first mention of music in the Regiment is a Royal Warrant issued by King Charles II in 1685, the year of the birth of Bach and Handel, authorising the maintenance of twelve Hautbois in the King’s Regiment of Foot Guards in London.
The death of King Charles II in 1685 was so significant for the band that until the Second World War, the Bass Drummer (known officially as The Regimental Timebeater), wore a black armband in mourning of the king’s death
The Regiment’s music was then gradually expanded by the addition of other instrumentalists; three more Hautbois were added in 1699 and two French Horns in 1725, according to the St James’s Evening Post, Bugle Horns costing £27 were added in 1772.
By 1783 the Band had attained the perfect balance of two Oboes, two Clarinets, two Horns and two Bassoons – a mere eight players. But the strength of the Band increased rapidly in the latter part of the 18th Century so that in 1794 it is recorded as comprising one Flute, six Clarinets, three Bassoons, three Horns, one Trumpet, two Serpents and ‘Turkish Music’. (This being Negro time-beaters who played the Bass Drum, Cymbals and Tambourine).
In the 19th Century, many notable changes took place as new instruments and techniques were invented; in 1848 the Band listed two Flutes, one Piccolo, three Eb Clarinets, eight Bb Clarinets, three Bassoons, four French Horns, a family of Trumpets, one Althorn, three Tambourines, two Ophicleides and Drums. Still later were added Cornets, Bass, Euphonium, Flugel Horn and Saxophones and by 1858 the Band must have sounded much as it does today.
The Band of the Grenadier Guards has been filling the streets of London with pomp and ceremony for over three centuries and is a truly historic sight and sound. The Band has served 15 monarchs over 326 years with dedication and pride and it has been present at all the major royal occasions: births, coronations, weddings and funerals. The Band has been a witness to all London’s key historic events, both tragic and joyful; it raised morale during the darkest hours of the Second World War and its uplifting music ushered in a new beginning at the coronation of the present queen.
The “British Grenadiers March” is one of the most recognisable and memorable tunes in the world and is part of Britain’s musical heritage. One of the band’s admirers during the 18th century was George Frideric Handel – so much so that he presented the march from Scipio to the regiment before including it in his opera of that name when it was first performed in 1726. George II gave Handel the task of re-scoring the Music for the Royal Fireworks, most commonly performed with strings, for the king’s own musicians, who were wind players from his foot guards. Handel would have undoubtedly come into contact with musicians from the Grenadier Guards during the first performance at Vauxhall Gardens in 1749.
During its long history, the Band has made many tours abroad including USA and Canada, France, Italy and North Africa, Gibraltar, Australia, New Zealand, Holland, Germany, Switzerland and many short visits to France and Belgium.
The Band is permanently based at Wellington Barracks, London, from where it can provide musical support to the British Army primarily through participation in State and Ceremonial occasions including The Queen’s Birthday Parade, the daily Guard Mounting Ceremony in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace, at Investitures, State Banquets, State Visits and many of Her Majesty’s engagements at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and elsewhere. The band also performs at other non-military events such as Henley Regatta, Royal Ascot, the FA Cup Final and international rugby matches and opened the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. The Band of the Grenadier Guards also visits schools to take part in musical concerts and workshops.
The Band shares these duties with the Bands of the other Foot Guards Regiments – and together these form the ‘Massed Bands’ for The Queen’s Birthday Parade and other ceremonial occasions on Horse Guards Parade in London.
The Band is formed with male and female musicians who could also provide other ensembles such as a concert band, a marching band, an orchestra, a dance band, or a fanfare of trumpets.
Although the Band is permitted to tour abroad, to broadcast, to make records and to undertake private engagements its main function is that of a Regimental Band.
In the event of war, the whole Band provides essential war-time reinforcements as medical orderlies.
Whilst, until “Options for Change” defence reviews in the 1990s, it was previously an integral part of the Regiment, the band is now one of just 14 remaining military bands that form The Royal Corps of Army Music (CAMUS), now the newest and most junior Corps of the British Army dedicated to the provision and promotion of military music.