A Great British Institution

I wrote the title ‘A Great British Institution’ in part to shock and surprise, but also to tell a truth.

The institution I am talking about is the Royal Marines Band.

As a lefty, I’ve been naturally suspicious of militarism, pomp and pageantry and all the rest. But checking out the the Royal Marines Band online has helped to shift my thinking, and I think what they do is worth highlighting.

I would like to blather on about why, but it’s probably best to let you judge for yourself.

I've got three videos to check out. They are:

1) The Massed Bands of H.M. Royal Marines on Birdcage Walk in London on 4th June 2014. This shows how good they are: a stunning look and sound, helped by a little birdsong on the way (9 mins long)

2) A wonderful street parade in Basel, Switzerland, on 27th July 2013 - massed crowds, in blazing heat; they put on a terrific show (18 mins long)

3) In the same Basel Tattoo: the day performance in the arena on 25th July 2013; includes a great rendition of Rod Stewart's 'Sailing' and the famous 'drumline' (15 mins including other bands joining):

For lefties like me, the sounds and the symbols – for example the colonial-style helmets – may grate and alienate, but against this are a few considerations:

1) They are bloody good. They make a great sound and have terrific discipline and co-ordination;

2) Our armed forces are no longer a colonial force. They do what the government tells them to do, and if that means fighting for women’s rights in Afghanistan, that’s what they do;

3) There are a lot of women in the Royal Marines Band and other military bands. They do not seem to hold many senior positions yet, but there is certainly potential there.

The lack of ethnic minorities is perhaps a concern. But I would rather the bands play and do their thing well, and attract people in by doing that.

Once you start privileging attributes other than standards, standards will probably slip. The Royal Marines Band is perhaps the best of its kind in the world. I'm thinking we would do better to emphasise that these bands and the military behind them represent the whole of Britain. There should be no closed shops and no favouritism.

But we should do what we can to make people welcome, not least because institutions can become set in their ways, alienating those who are not used to their particular cultures. 

For more on not dissimilar themes, see Britain - society and economy page


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