In September 1966 I was 13 in Grade 8 and doing my homework when I heard an ad for the Beefeater Band looking for new members on CFUN radio. I had only recently started playing trombone in the school band and I asked my mom if I could join as our next door neighbors boy was already a member. We had an appointment to meet Mr. Olson and mom drove me down. We met Mr. Olson and he asked me if I would play a B flat scale. I of course muddled my way through it and afterwards he said I could join and begin in the C band. Mom told me after that she was thinking at the time “My gosh how will he know a B flat scale?” She was relieved to know I did know the scale. In those days I seem to recall there was a C band, a B band, and the A concert band. During football season the A and B band were combined to be the Beefeater marching band.
I also went to all the rehearsals and lessons offered by Mr. Olson and practiced hard so that I could move up to the B band. This would also have been the first time I participated in a massed band concert that was held at the Queen Elizabeth playhouse or the theatre. I don’t remember which. It was also the first time I remember the thrill of sitting on stage when the curtains opened and we could see the crowd. It was absolutely exhilarating.
With lots of practice and taking my trombone on family vacations I eventually progressed to the B band and was then part of the B.C. Lions football game half time shows. It was tough to learn to march and play the trombone at the same time while simultaneously keeping in a straight line and staying directly behind the person in front of you and especially not dropping anything. If your music booklet happened to come off your instrument you were to leave it and someone at the end of the line would pick it up and either hold it or send it up when there was a break. This was especially true during parades. So here you are swinging your instrument in time with the others, trying to stay in line. Trying desperately to stay in step and remembering to play. God forbid you played a wrong note and you were within hearing distance of Mr. Olson. He would give you a dirty look. During practices Doug Atkins, the drum major would come by and if you weren’t lifting your feet high enough would crack you on the ankle with his Mace or scream into your ear! And we kept coming back! Luckily I was fairly coordinated so I didn’t get a lot of hassle though my section leader would at times yell at us.
I believe we used to practice in the parking lot beside Empire Stadium. When we were practicing for the tattoo show leading up to the 69 British tour, Mr. Olson had us practice on the part of the parking lot that was inclined as the esplanade at Edinburgh castle is also on an incline.
1969 Edinburgh Tattoo
I was lucky that my first trip was to Europe and the Edinburgh Tattoo in 1969. We flew Pacific Western Airlines on their 767 charter flight service. We stopped in either Iceland or Greenland for fuel on the way over. I believe we also stopped in Prestwick to drop passengers off and then flew on to Gatwick airport.
We stayed in London for a few days and then headed over to Europe. I remember the cockroaches in our hotel room in Paris and having to change hotels. I think we slept with the lights on that night.
In Edinburgh we stayed at the University dormitory. We may have had our own rooms. I remember we practiced a lot. When the tattoo finally started it seemed like we would have a good practice and then a not so good performance that evening. Or it would be the other way around. Either way I remember Mr.Olson yelling at us to get it together. The crowds absolutely loved us. They were always asking us to autograph their programs. We recorded the music for the tattoo and also recorded an album of our own songs with the assistance of the conductor from the Royal Marines.
On the last night of the tattoo during the finale, tradition apparently is that we were supposed to roll an English penny down the Esplanade during the lone piper segment when a single bagpiper stands atop the castle. The piper started playing and we all rolled our pennies.
After so many days away from home some of us I’m sure were getting a bit homesick. I saw a lot of band members’ call home so thought I would do the same thing. After my mom accepted the collect call from me her first question was why are you calling? I said everyone was calling home. She said “it’s expensive don’t call home”. I did receive lots of mail from mom and Grandma.