The United Kingdom’s most prestigious military bands take the stage in a celebration of British pomp and circumstance.

  • Although there have been Royal Marines Bands in Scotland since the late 1930's they were classed as 'ship bands' and after the Second World War were disbanded. In 1960 a Band was formed at HMS CONDOR in Arbroath. However, the Royal Marines Band Service was rearranged and the sole remaining band in Scotland, based at HMS COCHRANE, Rosyth, was designated the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Flag Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland in 1971. In 1994 again due to the reorganisation of the Band Service, the Band's title was changed to The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Scotland. Since 1996 the Band has been accommodated in a purpose built Band Room at the Royal Naval Support Establishment HMS CALEDONIA Rosyth. Scotland Band is unique as it is the only Royal Marines Band stationed north of London. 

    In their distinguishing white helmets, Royal Marines Bands are celebrated for the quality of their music, visual grandeur and precision drill. On the concert platform they enjoy a similar reputation ensuring their continuing popularity with their audiences. The Band's repertoire includes popular classics, Big Band, stimulating contemporary works and entertaining solo features. The Corps of Drums bring movement, colour and the tradition of the ceremonial occasions integral to the Royal Marines. Most members of the Band play at least two instruments and are required to perform in wind band, marching band, big band, orchestral and dance band combinations. They also provide jazz, string and woodwind ensembles, making the Royal Marines musician one of the most versatile and adept in military music. 

    The Band travels extensively throughout Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North of England and recent travel abroad have included engagements in Norway, Gibraltar, Columbia and Dubai. Regular ceremonial duties include the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, beating retreat on Horseguards Parade, ship launches, Homecoming parades and remembrance services. The Band also performs numerous concerts through the year in support of both service and non-service charities; including Seafarers UK, the Royal Marines Charitable Trust, the Rotary Club and the Royal British Legion.

    As with all Royal Marines Bands the principal role is to provide musical support to the Naval Service, but within their secondary role the Band’s men and women undertake a variety of duties by sea and land on active service. Members of the Royal Marines Band Service have been deployed on active duty in all the major conflicts of the last century. In October 2014 members of the Scotland Band were deployed for six months on board the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ship ARGUS in support of the global effort to combat the Ebola virus.

    The Band is currently under the direction of Captain Andy Gregory RM who assumed command in September 2012.

    The development of music in the Royal Marines is inextricably linked with the evolution of British military bands. Lively airs and the beat of the drum enabled columns of marching men to keep a regular step. 

    The drum was the normal method of giving signals on the battlefield or in camp. As long ago as the days of Drake and Hawkins the drummer's rhythm would advertise the changing watches or beat the men to quarters. 

    Without doubt, groups of musicians existed in the Service before this, but in 1767 Royal Marines Divisional Bands were formed at Chatham, Plymouth, Portsmouth and Deal. 

    Today all Royal Marines Bands are required to provide every imaginable musical ensemble including orchestras and dance bands. To achieve this, most musicians, except solo specialists, are required to attain an acceptable standard on both a string and a wind instrument. 

    As a result of this special amalgam of expertise, Royal Marines musicians are regarded as one of the most versatile in the military musical world. 

    The Corps of Drums receive an equally thorough training and pride themselves on maintaining the highest standards of drill, bugling and drumming. 

    Their glittering presence at the front of all Royal Marines Bands on the march gives the bands a visual impact that is second to none.

    The Scots Guards were raised on 16th March 1642 by a Royal Commission issued by King Charles I to the 1st Marquess of Argyll, authorising him to raise a Royal Regiment of 1,500 men to be “led into our Realm of Ireland”. The regiment was intended by The King to be his Royal Guard and from this date the history of the Scots Guards begins.

    It was originally known as ‘Argyle’s Regiment’ and later renamed ‘His Majesty’s Life Guards of Foot’ by King Charles II in 1650. Under this name the regiment served in Scotland, Ireland, the Low Countries and in Spain until 1712 when both battalions were quartered in or nearby London and Queen Anne altered the name to ‘Third Regiment of Foot Guards’. 

    Since then the regiment has served in all major campaigns including Dettingen in 1743 when they defeated a far larger force of the French; this was the last occasion when a British Sovereign (King George II) personally led his army in battle. At the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 the regiment distinguished itself with its part in the defence of Hougoumont Farm, one of the epics of that great battle which finally defeated Napoleon.

    In 1832 King William IV restored the regiment with a Scottish title and for the next half-century it served as the ‘Scots Fusilier Guards’, maintaining its reputation in the Crimean War where, at the battles of Alma and Inkerman, one officer and four soldiers were awarded the newly instigated Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry. In 1877 Queen Victoria restored the earlier title of ‘Scots Guards’.

    Since that time the regiment fought in the Egyptian Campaign of 1882, the Boer War and the two World Wars. The regiment was awarded five more Victoria Crosses in the 1914-18 war.

    Since 1945 the regiment has seen active service or carried out internal operations in Malaya, Borneo, Kenya, Aden, Northern Ireland, the liberation of the Falkland Islands in 1982 and in the Gulf (1991). More recently the 1st Battalion has completed two tours of Iraq in 2004 and 2008.
    The 1st Battalion’s deployment to Afghanistan from March to October 2010 saw them, with 2,000 Afghan policemen as their partners, form the Combined Force Lashkar Gah in Helmand’s provincial capital. The Scots Guardsmen became counter insurgents par excellence. They set about getting close to their Afghan partners and through them to the Afghan people. 

    1st Battalion Scots Guards is based at Catterick in North Yorkshire as the only Foot Guards battalion which is permanently posted to an operational brigade, as an armoured infantry battalion operating out of warrior fighting vehicles. They returned to Afghanistan in October 2012 and are serving there today. 

    F Company Scots Guards is based at Wellington Barracks in London, primarily to carry out ceremonial duties, and Guardsmen are normally posted there after completing their basic training before going to the battalion. 

    In 1899 Queen Victoria presented a State Colour to the regiment at a parade of both battalions at Windsor Castle. This State Colour is only taken on parade on very special occasions in the presence of the Sovereign and was carried by the Guard of Honour found from 1st Battalion Scots Guards which greeted President Obama on his visit to Buckingham Palace in 2011.

    The origins of the Band go back to at least 1716 when they are known to have had six hautbois (an early form of oboe) together with three drummers employed as musicians, as distinct from the regimental drummers who had a military role.

    Other instruments were added and by 1783 the instrumentation had settled down to an octet of wind instruments as fixed by Frederick the Great for the bands of the Prussian Army, known as 'Harmonie Musik'. There is an account in the ‘Musical Memoirs’ of W.T. Parke, one of the leading oboe players in London during the late 18th Century, who wrote: “The bands of the three Regiments of Guards consisted in 1783 of only eight performers, two oboes, two clarinets, two horns and two bassoons. They were excellent performers on their instruments, and hired by the month, being well paid. They were not attested, and only played from the parade at the Horse Guards to St. James's Palace while the King's Guard was mounted, and back again from there to the Horse Guards”. 

    As new instruments were invented and developed, these too were added, with the major changes coming following the invention of valved brass instruments in the mid 19th Century with the later addition of the saxophones. 

    In their early days the bands were led by civilians, often foreigners, who played in the band and gave signals to the other musicians while playing. In time, serving soldiers holding the rank of serjeant were used and the practice of conducting with a baton took effect. 

    One of the early bandmasters of the Scots Fusilier Guards, Carl Boosé, led the band from 1842-1859 and was one of the most influential military musicians of the century. He founded Boosé's Military Band Journal in 1845 and the arrangements he published achieved such wide circulation that they helped standardize the instrumentation of military bands in Britain. 

    The bandmasters became warrant officers when that rank was introduced in 1881 and the ability for them to obtain commissioned rank came about from the personal intervention of Queen Victoria in 1899. 

    Following the outbreak of the First World War the music of the Guards bands played a major role in instilling a sense of patriotism to inspire and encourage young men to volunteer to enlist. The Band of the Scots Guards, under their Bandmaster, Mr. Frederick Wood, twice made visits of three months duration to the active service theatres in France and Flanders, including Ypres and the Somme, to entertain the troops of the Guards Division, playing to lift the spirits of troops returning from the front line to their rest billets. Their music served as a massive boost to morale at a time of unimaginable horror all around.

    During the Second World War, the bands once again found themselves visiting Guards regiments in many theatres of war in Europe and North Africa, while the musicians’ time back in London was used to boost morale during the daytime whilst being utilised for fire-watching duties at night.

    In more recent times, the Band of the Scots Guards was deployed on active service as medical assistants during the first Gulf war to liberate Kuwait in 1990/91, carrying out a wide range of duties while attached to the various departments of 33 General Hospital based in Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia. 

    In 2011 the band was accorded a unique honour for a military band when its fanfare trumpeters were invited to join forces with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the prestigious ‘Last Night of the Proms’ concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, playing ‘Musica Benevolens’, which was especially composed for the event by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the Master of the Queen’s Musick.

    As well as their role on ceremonial occasions, in the days before the wireless and the gramophone, it was the military bands that took music to the masses. Most people could not afford to pay to hear the orchestras in the concert halls but they could enjoy the very best of the classical repertoire, including selections from the latest operas, listening to the band in their local park or at the seaside. Many thousands of people would gather in London’s Royal Parks to hear the music of the Guards bands playing on the bandstands. Since the development of recorded sound, the band has made numerous recordings from the eras of cylinders in the early twentieth century, through 78s, LPs, EPs, cassettes and compact-discs. 

    The band has a current establishment of 43 musicians and their principal duty today remains the same as it was in 1716, to play the men who are to form the Queen’s Guard to Buckingham Palace, provide music while the sentries are changed and finally march the Old Guard back to their barracks.

    The Band of the Scots Guards has toured extensively, representing the United Kingdom on countless occasions throughout the world, promoting the very best of British. Its sight and sound is one of the great iconic images of the nation.

    The Bands of the Guards have been visiting North America ever since the Band of the Grenadier Guards played at Boston in 1872. 

    The regular ‘coast to coast’ tours by British bands started in 1955 with a visit by the Band of the Scots Guards with the Pipes and Drums of the 1st and 2nd Battalions Scots Guards. They were under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel Sam Rhodes who composed the fanfare which opened the show, after which the Pipes and Drums, with their Highland Dancers, alternated with the Regimental Band with marching displays in slow and quick time: Golden Spurs, Old Comrades, Moray Firth and Kansas City Star being amongst the titles. 

    The Highland Fling, the Sword Dance and Highland Broadswords were danced to tunes with titles reflecting Scotland’s great landscapes – Leaving Port Askaig, Aspen Bank and Reel of Tulloch. The second half of the display featured the band playing music from the classical repertoire including Tchaikowsky’s stirring ‘March Slav’, Verdi’s overture to ‘Sicilian Vespers’ plus a Fantasia on Scottish Melodies, as well as cornet solos and duets. 

    The next tour came in 1957 with a visit by the Band, Pipes and Drums of 1st Battalion The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment). It is this regiment who, with the Scots Guards, have proved to be amongst the most popular with American audiences and these are the two regiments you will see tonight. 

    It was the next visit of The Black Watch in 1963 which proved particularly poignant as it included a special performance at the White House on 13th November for President Kennedy and his family, along with a number of invited school children. This took place just nine days before his assassination and, remembering the President’s affection for their music, his widow specially requested that pipers from The Black Watch should break from their tour to take part in his funeral procession.

    During the 1960s some of the visits effectively became touring versions of the Royal Tournament (held at London’s Earl’s Court) and the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. The British Tournament and Tattoo in 1960 featured Bands of the Royal Marines and Royal Air Force, along with four Scottish pipe bands, whereas in 1965 the visit by the Royal Marines School of Music with the Pipes and Drums of the Royal Scots Greys and the Scots Guards very much mirrored their performances at Edinburgh during the previous month.

    In similar vein was the Scottish Military Tattoo held at Wolf Trap in New York State in 1976 to mark the bicentenary, with a number of bands, including the Scots Guards and Black Watch, playing to capacity audiences for fifteen days. There was a fair amount of amusement in the press as the two Directors of Music for the tour had the appropriately musical names of Lieutenant Colonel Sharpe and Captain Beat!

    In 1968 ‘The Queen’s Guards’ was particularly ambitious as it featured a mounted band and musical ride from the Household Cavalry as well as pipes and drums and drill displays. This took place over a much shorter period in just one location but the Household Cavalry returned in 1995 to undertake the full tour but, this time, without their horses.

    The five bands of the Foot Guards now normally take their turn for the tour, along with Pipes and Drums from one of the Scottish regiments. This is the fifth of the long tours made by the Band of the Scots Guards, two of which were with their own regiment’s Pipes and Drums and two with The Black Watch. 

    For the Pipes and Drums of The Black Watch this is their twelfth tour, having been accompanied by their own band on four occasions (prior to its disbandment in 1993) and on others by the Royal Marines, Household Cavalry, Coldstream Guards, Welsh Guards and The Prince of Wales’s Division.


    The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment)
    The Royal Scots Fusiliers
    The King’s Own Scottish Borderers
    The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
    The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment)
    The Highland Light Infantry (City of Glasgow Regiment)
    Seaforth Highlanders (Ross–shire Buffs, The Duke of Albany's)
    The Gordon Highlanders
    The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders
    The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (Princess Louise’s)

    The historic Scottish infantry regiments had a proud history and occupied a distinguished and much loved place in Scotland’s heritage. The oldest of them, The Royal Scots, traced its history back to 1633 and was the 1st of Foot and the senior infantry regiment of the line. It was known as Pontius Pilate’s Bodyguard, a nickname given to them sarcastically by the French but borne with great pride over the centuries. 

    The Royal Scots Fusiliers amalgamated with The Highland Light Infantry in 1959 to form The Royal Highland Fusiliers (Princess Margaret’s Own Glasgow and Ayrshire Regiment).

    The Seaforth Highlanders amalgamated with The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders in 1961 to form the Queen’s Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Camerons). They were further amalgamated in 1994 with The Gordon Highlanders to form The Highlanders (Seaforth, Gordons and Camerons).

    The Cameronians chose to disband in 1968 rather than amalgamate with another regiment which would have resulted in a dilution of their unique traditions.

    On 28 March 2006 all the Scottish Infantry regiments were combined as The Royal Regiment of Scotland. The new regiment consists of five regular battalions and two battalions of Territorial Army.

    The regiment now wears a common uniform, including kilts of Government tartan, although each battalion can be distinguished by the colour of the feathers worn in the Tam o' Shanter headdress. The pipes and drums of each battalion continue to wear the ceremonial uniforms and tartans of their former regiments in order to retain an element of their individual identity.

    The regimental cap badge was designed by a number of serving and retired officers with advice from the Lord Lyon King of Arms and incorporates the two national symbols, the Lion Rampart and the Saltire of St Andrew. As a Royal regiment, the badge is surmounted by a crown, in this case the Crown of Scotland, and bears the regiment's motto, Nemo Me Impune Lacessit (No One Provokes Me With Impunity) which is the motto of the Order of the Thistle, Scotland's highest order of chivalry.

    The regiment normally provides the manpower for the ceremonial events in Scotland, finding Guards of Honour for Her Majesty The Queen at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh (her official Scottish residence) and at Balmoral Castle (her summer holiday home). Later this year the regiment will once again provide ceremonial sentries to guard Edinburgh Castle, reinstating a long tradition which lapsed in 2002.

    The plans to amalgamate the historic Scottish regiments attracted considerable opposition and, as a compromise, the regiments retained their former names as their primary identifier, with the battalion number as a subtitle. Thus the men you see today are from The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, abbreviated as 3 SCOTS. Its primary recruiting areas are in Fife, Dundee, Angus and Perth and Kinross, with the headquarters and museum located at Balhousie Castle in Perth. 

    The battalion was permitted to retain its most famous distinction, the red hackle worn on the Tam o'Shanter. The red hackle worn in the feather bonnets was originally issued in 1795 and legend has it that they were originally made from feathers dipped in the blood of the enemy.

    The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) fought in almost every theatre of every campaign in which the British Army has been involved. It was formed in 1725 as six independent companies to calm the troubled Highlands of Scotland during the period between the Jacobite risings and was established as a regiment of foot in 1739.

    The source of the regiment's name is uncertain but the government issue tartan they were required to wear was dark and that may have contributed to the name they were given locally which was Am Frieceadan Dubh (which in Gaelic means the Black Watch). It is also a possibility that the name was given by those who claimed the Watch had ‘black hearts’ for siding with the “enemies of true Highland spirit”.

    The regiment saw its first foreign service in 1745 at the Battle of Fontenoy in Flanders. In 1758 it fought against the French at Ticonderoga, 220 miles north of New York after which an officer wrote “I have seen men behave with courage and resolution before now but so much determined bravery can hardly be equalled”.

    The Black Watch has since stood with their North American cousins in many conflicts including the Western Front in World War One, where the fearsome reputation of these kilted soldiers led to them acquiring the nickname ‘Ladies from Hell’ (Die Damen aus der Hölle) from the German troops that faced them in the trenches.

    They continued this alliance with the advance through Europe during World War Two, in Korea at the Battle of the Hook and more recently in Iraq. The Black Watch served on Operation Iraqui Freedom 1 in 2003 and were the lead battlegroup in the assault on Basra. 

    During the 2003 Iraq War, the Black Watch fought during Operation Telic in the initial attack on Basra, and during its deployment the unit suffered a single fatality. The following year, the Black Watch was dispatched to Iraq again, as part of 4 (Armoured) Brigade and was at the centre of political controversy after the United States Army requested British forces to be moved further north outside of the British-controlled Multi-National Division (South East), in order to replace forces temporarily redeployed for the Second Battle of Fallujah. Despite objections in Parliament, the deployment went ahead. Based at Camp Dogwood, located between Fallujah and Karbala, in an area later dubbed the "Triangle of Death", the Black Watch came under sustained insurgent attack from mortars and rockets. 

    In November 2004 they reinforced the 1st United States Marine Division to the south of Fallujah and spent a torrid period amongst the bombs and rockets in support of their American allies.

    The Black Watch was the last British military unit to leave Hong Kong in 1997, and it played a prominent role in the handover ceremony which took place in torrential rain with music from massed bands which included the Scots Guards.

    The battalion currently serves within 19 Light Brigade and is based in Fort George near Inverness, which overlooks the beautiful Moray Firth in the north of Scotland. It has recently returned from a successful deployment in the Nad-e-Ali district of Helmand Province as part of 20 Armoured Brigade. This was the battalion’s second tour of Afghanistan; the first was in 2009 when they were deployed in an air assault role based at Kandahar.

    The sound of the pipes has long instilled a great sense of pride and passion which has both inspired Scottish soldiers in the heat of battle and driven fear into the enemy as the kilted highlanders advanced towards them. The effect that the pipes had on the highland warriors was such that they were banned following the Jacobite Rising by the supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. Equally, there are few more haunting and evocative sounds than a lament played on the pipes at times of mourning and remembrance. 

    The pipes had long been a source of entertainment to the clans and as many of the Highland regiments were formed on that basis it was natural that the pipes were incorporated into the regiments. 

    The music of the Pipes and Drums is integral to the way of life in a Scottish infantry regiment and every company within the battalion has its own particular pipe tune. There are also specific tunes for the morning and evening and for Commanding Officer's interviews. 

    The Pipes and Drums take part in the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo on a regular basis whenever their operational commitments permit. In 2003 the Tattoo took place very shortly after the battalion returned from its much publicised operations in Iraq and the pipers and drummers postponed their leave to take part. They wore their desert combat uniforms and marched on to join the remainder if the pipes and drums playing the regimental march, Highland Laddie, to a tremendous reception from the audience at every performance. 

    The Pipes and Drums have always been an integral part of the battalion and their current operational role is as the Machine Gun Platoon mounted in 4 x 4 vehicles. The pipers wear the Royal Stewart tartan and feather bonnets.