The oldest of all the bands of the British Army, the history of The Band of the Grenadier Guards records the entire development of military music. From its formation, the Regiment marched to the then usual accompaniment of drums and fife.
In 1685 Charles II authorised the maintenance of 12 Hautbois (an early wind instrument) and this is considered to be the beginning of the band as a distinct entity. Indeed, so significant was the King’s death for the musicians of the Grenadier Guards that from his passing until the Second World War, the bass drummer of the band wore a black armband of mourning.
From the foundation of the Grenadier Guards Band until some time in the 19th Century, the musicians numbered between twelve and nineteen, the make up being ‘one man from each company’. By 1844, this had been expanded to several musicians per company, with thirty-eight in the band by 1848. Numbers reached their peak at the end of the 1970s reaching sixty musicians. Today, the operational strength of the band is forty-nine.
Though the height of tradition, the band has adapted itself over three centuries to contemporary tastes from Bach and Handel to Wagner and Schumann, through the era of the music hall and the Jazz Age to the modern wind band music of Martin Ellerby and Phillip Sparke.
The instruments of the band have changed accordingly. French Horns first joined the band in 1725 and by 1794 the band consisted of one flute, six clarinets, three bassoons, three horns, one trumpet, bass drum, cymbals and tambourine. It was to a similar baroque ensemble that Handel presented the march ‘Scipio’, before the premier of his opera of the same name in 1726. The march can still be heard accompanying the Grenadier Guards at every Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Instruments such as the euphonium, flugel horn and saxophone were introduced as they came to prominence in the wider musical world, until by 1859 the band existed in similar form to that in which we see it today.
The band has served alongside the Regiment in conflicts throughout modern histories, playing in triumph in Paris in 1815 after Waterloo, when the first Regiment of Foot became the ‘Grenadier Guards’, and gained the now world-famous bearskins after capturing them from Napoleon’s Imperial Guard. Today the band, when mobilised, operates with the Army Medical Services in a chemical decontamination role.
Today’s band plays at the whole range of State occasions: the Changing of the Guard, State visits, investitures, banquets, and with the massed bands at the Trooping of the Colour and the Remembrance Sunday Parade. They also represent Britain and the Crown on innumerable other occasions.