Band perceptions - the myth and the reality

This is the first part of an article that was produced by Valerie Quinn Chairperson of the Confederation of Ulster Bands and has been reproduced by the North Antrim Bands Forum.

Band perceptions and myths…And the reality.

There are numerous myths & perceptions surrounding marching bands in Northern Ireland. For the non-participant often the only time marching bands are mentioned in the media is negative, very rarely are the positive or wide ranging aspects of the sector highlighted. The challenge of course for those involved, is explaining how far removed these perceptions are from the reality and day-to-day membership of a marching band.

What being in a marching band involves.

Contrary to popular myth you don’t just turn up on the twelfth of July and decide you want to walk. Bands tend to practise 11-12 months of the year, normally once per week, often twice. Most band captains have the simple rule ‘if you’re not up to scratch, you don’t get walking’. So not only do you attend band practise, there will be considerable practising done at home in your own time. The band will provide you with an instrument, the music to learn from as well as providing free of charge the tuition required to master your instrument of choice. This is a significant outlay on the bands behalf in terms of time as well as finance, as it can sometimes take as long as a year before a new member is ready to take part in parades. And when you consider flutes can range in price from £350 each, accordions from £1600, bagpipes from £1500 and drums from £400, this is viewed as a long-term investment by the band. Separate drill practises will be held to ensure that you not only sound good but you look good too. Many bands will have their drill perfected to military standards with halts, marking time etc. all crucial elements of their performance. Members take great pride before parades in ensuring their uniform is immaculate, shoes are polished to a high shine and their hat peaks smear free. Much attention to detail is paid to a bands appearance with sometimes tens of thousands spent on uniforms and many bands are now bulk-buying footwear to ensure their look on parade is as identical as possible.

The media sometimes refer to July as the ‘marching season’, but for bands and their members there really is no definable time of the year were activities ease. Band processions take place from March right through to September, with many indoor events occurring during the other 5 months. Participating in 50-70 parades is not uncommon for many bands, along with perhaps 20-30 indoor events.

All of this involves commitment from the member, and even more-so from the officers helping to run the band. Accurate record-keeping, accounts and policies are all required to make the band run smoothly and many band captains will compare running a band to running a small business rather than a hobby.

The North Antrim Bands Forum is now working across the Council areas of Ballymoney and Moyle and in the forthcoming months will be organising events and training for members.

A number of parades of bands involved in the development of the Forum are upcoming including Mosside Accordion and Pride of the Park Flute Armoy are at the end of the month. In July the Giants Causeway Flute Bushmills, Dunaghy Flute and Dunloy Accordion will host their parades and Cloughmills Crown Defenders Flute, Ballymaconnelly Flute Rasharkin and Drumaheagles Flute are in August.

‘Information on the Forum will be available at forthcoming local parades or can be provided by emailing