Corps of Army Music Tour to Uganda – March 2015 (Part 1)

I have just returned from a 10-day Short Term Training Team (STTT) Tour of Uganda, with the Corps of Army Music (CAMUS) and would like to share my experiences with you.

Following a day’s briefing at the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall, the 7 man Team (consisting of musicians from the Bands The Prince of Wales’s Division, The King’s Division, Royal Welsh and The Royal Regiment of Scotland) flew out from Heathrow to the Capital, Kampala, where we were to be based for the duration of our stay.

The primary aim of the Tour was to provide support and training to the Ugandan Peoples’ Defence Force (UPDF) Band, assisting them in a wide range of disciplines, including music theory, performance technique as well as drill and deportment.

The UPDF Band is based in Bombo, which is an hour’s drive outside Kampala. Although it involved an early start each day, the journeys gave us a flavour of what the real Uganda looks like and was an eye-opener in terms of the local slant on driving “skills”. Thankfully my knuckles have returned to normal and aren’t white any more!!

Despite a pre-visit having taken place prior to our deployment, the UPDF Band were somewhat disorganised when we arrived on the first day, but some firm (but polite diplomacy) and flexibility from our lead Officer (Warrant Officer Class 1) Richard Burton, who is Bandmaster of the King’s Division Band, ensured that we got off to a good solid start that day.

The facilities at Bombo were basic to say the least, but the Band seemed reasonably well equipped with a variety of instruments of different quality. What was apparent however was that the vast number of the 42 musicians we were working with, had received little or no formal musical training, due to a lack of expertise and training resources, such as specialist tutors, sheet music and theory books.


The trumpets and cornets of the UPDF Band with L/Cpl. John Pearson and Cpl. Andrew Jones

Our timetable was extremely tight and our aim was to prepare the Band for an inspection 6 days later from the British Army’s Defence Attaché to Uganda, Lt. Col. Nicholls, where we would demonstrate what we had been working on.

What the Ugandans lacked in knowledge and skills, they made up for by the bucket load in terms of enthusiasm and desire to learn, this was evident by their constantly practising through their breaks and continuing long after we had gone each day!  So, despite huge odds against success, the joint efforts of the Band and the STTT tutors saw the Band perform a piece called “Sunset” (significant to Military personnel and performed at the close of day), as well as the Ugandan and UK National Anthems to a large group of Senior Ugandan Officers, plus a suitably impressed Lt. Col. Nicholls, who was staggered at the achievements of the musicians, in such a short time-frame.

2015-03-05 13.52.10

Working on drill technique with the UPDF Band

Following our demonstration to our guests, the members of the UPDF Band were eager to know when we intended to return and even asked if we could extend our visit somehow. This was the ultimate compliment that they could have paid the CAMUS Team our efforts and one that we appreciated very much indeed.


Lt. Col. Nicholls and W01 Burton with the UPDF Band members and CAMUS Team

The over-riding thought that all the members of the CAMUS Team brought away from our time in Bombo, was that with the right preparation, enthusiasm, drive and energy from all parties concerned, anything is achievable.

I very much hope that the legacy of our short time with the UPDF Band, will be that they are a stronger and more informed unit of musicians, who will go to bigger and better things over the coming months and years. One hopes we can revisit them in the not too distant future, to see and hear that progress and maybe help them develop even further.


W01 Richard Burton and S/Sgt. John McQuat putting the UPDF Band through its paces

In my next blog about my trip to Uganda, I’ll be writing about the amazing Charity, Brass for Africa. Hope you’ll come back and read it!


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