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Rain doesn't stop army band - 90th anniversary calendar continues at Hope Gardens

Published:Wednesday | November 22, 2017 | 12:00 AMMichael Reckord
Bandmaster Paul Johnson (right) conducts the Jamaica Military Band during its concert at the Shell Bandstand, Hope Gardens, St Andrew, on Sunday.
Private J. Brown sings 'Soldier's Heart'.
Saxophonist Nicholas Laraque, a guest performer at the Jamaica Military Band concert at Hope Gardens on Sunday.
Members of the audience at the Shelol Bandstand, Hope Gardens, for Sunday's Jamaica Military Band concert.

Lounging on the grassy mounds or sitting on chairs they had carried, some 400 people (according to one official) enjoyed Sunday afternoon's concert by the Jamaica Military Band (JMB). Held at the Shell Bandstand, Hope Gardens, it was one of many in the JMB's 90th anniversary series this year.

The patrons were enjoying it until, only minutes before it was due to end, many had to dash for shelter as rain started to fall. The band continued to play and some music lovers remained dry under umbrellas.

Still to be played before the rain began were a pop item Moves Like Jagger, a ska number Don Drummond and a reggae tune, Yard Vibes. The first and last of these were arranged by JMB bandmaster Paul Johnson, who conducted for the concert. One of those watching him was the Jamaica Defence Force's (JDF) acting director of music, Albert Shaun Hird, who is already planning the band's Christmas concert, which he will conduct.

Another man watching Johnson - who earned his BMus (Hons) degree in the United Kingdom and seemed equally at ease as he conducted classical and popular pieces - was the renowned former JDF director of music, Major Joe Williams.

Williams told The Gleaner that from 1927 the JMB has been playing in parks around Jamaica. He joined the band in 1951 and, while serving as director of music for over 25 years, took it on many regional and international tours. In England, where Williams studied on a scholarship from 1965, he played at the BBC, among other places. Williams' awards include the Order of Distinction and the Silver Musgrave Medal for his contribution to music in Jamaica.

From him and the printed programme came a brief history of the JMB, a descendant of the West India Regiment (WIR), which was formed in 1795 in the Windward Islands. By 1799, there were 12 battalions of the WIR, some of which were involved in the Napoleonic wars and the Ashanti wars in West Africa from the early 19th century.

It gave its final performance as the band of the WIR during a reception at Trafalgar House in Kingston in February 1927 before the Duke and Duchess of York. In celebration of the JMB's 80th anniversary it was sent to London, England, to assist in functions at Buckingham Palace for six weeks in 2007.

The JMB's Zouave uniform (shared only with the Barbados Regiment Band) was first issued in 1858, reportedly on the instruction of Queen Victoria, who saw it worn by the French colonial troops.

Lovers of the band's music can look forward to the JDF's annual open-air carol service at Up Park Camp, beginning at 6 p.m. on December 12. The band's Christmas concert at Hope Gardens on December 17 begins at 4 p.m.