Here we are basking in the glory of an “outstanding” grading at the Kneller Hall Inspection in my first year as Band Sergeant Major. This would mean we would be called upon to perform in the most prestigious events in the military calendar as well as many civilian ones and our lives were to get even busier in the following year, as 1977 was the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Year. The planned Queen’s Jubilee Parade was to be the biggest ever assembly of massed bands of British Army musicians in Germany and the Queen would be there to inspect us, along with ministers and world leaders. There would be weeks of rehearsals and many hours spent on the drill square practising marching while playing our instruments. However all that was to come later in the year. The New Year of 1977 for us kicked off with the biggest Ball in my ten years of being stationed in Paderborn. That year the Reiterball, which was held in the “Paderhalle” with an audience of thousands of people, was a special occasion to mark their 1200 year celebration and riding schools from Vienna, France and England would be there as well as those from Germany.
Some of my German friends belonged to the Paderborn Riding School, and they had asked me if I had ever played “The Amboss Polka” (anvil polka).
“No, but I’ve heard it many times,” I said.
“Will you play it at the next Reiterball if we can get a Blacksmith’s anvil for you?” they asked.
“Yes,” I told them, without batting an eyelid but never having played an anvil before and not knowing what to expect.
Band Master Swift agreed we could do it, obtained the music, and rehearsals got underway without the anvil to practice on. I used two hammers and a pad to simulate the anvil during rehearsals. I felt very nervous about playing this piece in front of such a large audience. Band members ribbed me and I took it, but I was concerned, so I asked my German friends if they could get me an anvil to practice on at least once before the actual day. Unfortunately they couldn’t, so I had to wait until the very day of the performance. When we got to the Paderhalle to set up for morning rehearsals before the Ball, half a dozen men came in asking who wanted the anvil? They put it up on the stage with great difficulty as it was so heavy, and mounted it on the front of the stage. The hammers they brought had very thin handles so I had to tape them with sticky bandage tape so I could hold them and grip better. I borrowed some regimental white leather gloves to wear when holding them. I began to dread what was about to happen as we set up our instruments on stage. In the practice, I found it very difficult to control the hammers as they hit the anvil, but the workers who were listening while they were setting up the function hall applauded when we finished so I must have managed to pull it off. In all my years of playing with the band, this was the only time I was really nervous.
The evening came and the hall filled up. My German friends wished me well, saying they looked forward to hearing me playing “The Amboss Polka”. Three thousand people were watching me in deathly silence. I was right at the front of the stage. Would the two hammers stay in control? I dreaded losing a hammer while playing. I had wet the gloves they had lent me as I had been advised that this would improve their grip. With each note I played, I became more confident and it was perfect. At the end, the hall erupted with stamping and cheering. I’d never had such applause for anything I have ever done in my life. To this day I don’t know of any other band which has played this piece using a real anvil apart from the New Year’s Day Concert in Vienna. Our Dance Band started playing at 7.30p.m.and finished at 3 a.m. and each member of the Band was given a glass of champagne at the end.
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