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Byron Shire
May 23, 2024

Veteran big band sounds coming to Ballina

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RAN Veterans Band. Photo supplied.

The Royal Australian Navy Veterans Band is coming to Ballina RSL on Thursday, with a concert raising funds for the Northern Rivers Flood Relief Fund, by donation. They will be joined by the Royal Australian Navy Band, from Sydney, for what will be a big sound in a great cause.

Ralph Daines is one of the organisers of the concert, and has travelled up from Port Macquarie to prepare for the show. He will be joined by 80 musicians who are coning from far and wide to commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day, which is also on Thursday 18 August.

Mr Daines told The Echo the RAN Veterans Band began in 2000. ‘A few guys from the Navy Band Association thought we’d see if enough people were interested to march on Anzac Day in Sydney,’ he said. ’73 people turned up at Victoria Barracks!’

After rehearsing and then playing in the march that year, the new band was off and running, with a changing roster of members.

Mr Daines says they played at Anzac Day marches around Australia for the next few years, then began performing overseas. Transforming into a concert band, they played in Singapore, Noumea, Malaysia and Thursday Island, as well as cruise ships and cities across Australia.

Ralph Daines playing clarinet with the RAN Veterans Band. Photo supplied.

He explained that these days, not all the band members are ex-navy people, but members of the Royal Australian Navy Band Association still form the core group.

‘They’re entitled to a spot in the band, whether they’re one-legged or whatever, there’s no standard of music required.

‘If they were in the band, they can play in the band forever. But then what happens, I sit down with the players that I’ve got on paper and say, “Well, you know, I’m missing a trumpet player, or I’m missing a couple of clarinets. I need a tuba.”

‘And so we start asking around.’ Mr Daines said. Many members are now drawn from old Army and RAAF bands. ‘We’ve never had the same band twice.’

A self-funded proposition

Ralph Daines says the band receives no funding at all. ‘The guys pay their own airfares, they pay their own everything, accommodation. I work with my wife chasing up businesses, trying to get some donations to help us out. That was okay in the early days, but then COVID came along and everything stopped.’

Part of the RAN Veterans Band in action. Photo supplied.

With members geographically separated, Mr Daines said rehearsing and getting to shows was always complicated, but the band always found a way.

‘The guys themselves just foot the bill,’ he said.

Mr Daines is a Vietnam veteran himself, and says he was part of the first Navy band ever to go to war on land. ‘We were in Vietnam and we did concerts all over the place,’ he remembers.

There are five members of the current band who went to war in 1970. ‘The oldest is our former band master who was then Director of Music, and he’s 87. And he’s still playing. Just one of the boys. We don’t have rank. Everyone’s equal.’

There will be two opportunities to see the Veterans Band in action on Thursday, in the morning at the Remembrance Service near Ballina RSL, and then inside the club at 3pm for the big concert.

Does role does music play in the lives of the band members?

Ralph Daines says, ‘The thing about music is that you can play for ever and ever and ever.’ He said that as band-members become older, in many cases the band becomes more important to them.

RAN Veterans Band, performing in PNG. Photo supplied.

‘On a number of occasions now, people that were dying of cancer, that knew it was their last effort to do something, have come along for the last hurrah,’ he said.

‘In Singapore, we had one chap who knew he was dying. He came over and did all the concerts with us and the Anzac service and came home. Then a few months later, he passed. We’ve had that happen a number of times.

‘Also there was one guy that played trombone, and he had a stroke and couldn’t play the trombone anymore. So we put him on tambourine. We do things like that… we let people play the best they can, cover around them and let them enjoy themselves.’

This week Mr Daines will be playing clarinet in the band, with Tasmanian Chief Petty Officer Brian Ellis conducting. ‘He went with us to Malaysia in 2019. He did  a great job.’

A very big band

Joining the veterans on stage this week will be the current Royal Australian Navy Band, who are coming up from Sydney, including musicians who were part of the flood relief and cleanup efforts in the Northern Rivers earlier this year.

Ralph Daines says the combined bands are going to rehearse all day on Wednesday, ready to sound magnificent on Thursday. The bands are going to be swapping repertoire, with a mixture of new and old favourites, including material from Jersey Boys and Elton John.

Ralph Daines and the RAN Veterans Band, performing in PNG. Photo supplied.

He said on Thursday afternooon the Veterans Band will play first, then the Navy Band will do a set, then there will be an interval, then the combined bands will perform together, with 80 players on stage.

‘The Director of Music of Navy has said she wants them to mix and mingle with my guys, and learn what we used to go through and what it was like back then,’ said Mr Daines. ‘It’s a great pathway for musicians to continue playing.’

Unlike the past, these days there are also women musicians in the Veterans Band, including players of the flute, oboe and French horn. Mr Daines says partners and wives are also a crucial part of keeping the band on the road.

RAN Veterans Band. Photo supplied.

He says they are always on the lookout for new musicians.

Interested people can find out more at the website for the Royal Australian Navy Band Association, and the Veterans Band Facebook group.

Doors open for the all-ages concert on Thursday at 2.30pm, with the show starting at 3pm. More information is available from the Ballina RSL.

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