ENGLAND SUPPORTERS BAND
INTERVIEW WITH BAND LEADER JOHN HEMMINGHAM
Sports fans will certainly be aware of the pulsating ‘boomta boomta’ drum beat, trumpet trills and trombone parps, that are heard at many competitive events around the world, especially at football matches, in a live situation or on TV.
We can narrow that down a little further, England football matches to be precise, they are in fact, the official, and now legendary, England Supporters Band, fronted by band leader John Hemmingham. Using modern technology, Fusion paid a visit to John via Skype, witnessing an office that rather resembled an explosion in a paper mill.
“Hi”, says John, “Sorry about my untidy desk, I’m in the middle of running through all the football fixtures for 2015, I also have the job of organising all the transport, flights and hotels for our home and away matches, it’s just gone crazy. It’s not just football, we also play at all the Leeds Rhino matches, Great Britain Hockey Championships, Olympic events around the world, all the Ricky Hatton boxing matches in Las Vegas, George Groves boxing and UK Snooker Championships, it just keeps going and the work just pours in. Some events you would think a brass band with drums wouldn’t fit in but it does, this includes pantomimes and even a French cookery TV show in France called Bocuse D’or.”
How do you fit this in with everyday life?
“Well, as you can see here, this has become my everyday life. When I was organising the schedule for the band to play at the South Africa World Cup in 2010, it hit me that we just had too much happening and I had to make the choice, the band or my job.
I sat back and thought, I love travelling the world making people smile, playing trumpet as a professional and full time, so you can guess which one I chose. I took a massive drop in wages, we still don’t get paid for England matches, so we are always looking for sponsors, Pukka Pies have covered some of the costs, and none of the band went hungry as they often turned up with 150 pies!”
Dare we ask the question, how and when did it all start?
“That in itself has become a famous question,” John laughs out loud, “I’ll try and keep it short. It all started out as just a fun thing, but let’s just go way back here for a second to when I was the bugle player in the cubs, then keep puffing into the Scout band, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Suddenly I’m 20, and I’ve bought myself a decent bugle for Christmas. Pals knew I could make a decent noise, so they asked me to take it to the next Sheffield Wednesday football match which was our local team, playing Everton way back in 1993.
I kept it under my jumper until ten minutes before the end when we were winning two nil, and the boys told me to get it out and give it a blast. I gave it all I had and played the fanfare to Verdi’s Aida, which is Sheffield Wednesday’s celebratory song, the crowd went mad. It just took off, and I went to every match accumulating brass players along the way.
Three years later, we got called up to play for England, since then, we have literally travelled the world as The Official England Supporters Band, and we’ve not missed one single competitive match since that call in ’96. This includes 5 World Cups, 4 European Championships in well over 150 countries.
The band consists of around 20 members that drift in and out, as not everyone can travel the world at the same time to various events. So we have 8 hardcore players that include Krysta Johnson who is currently our only female member, the comedian Bernie Clifton who still runs about on his famous ostrich whilst playing trombone, Ian Weston on tuba, while Ben Senior and James Holmes are responsible for the thumping drums you hear on TV during the matches, and of course myself on trumpet.
We agreed that five is the lowest number of members to perform as a band. This can of course escalate to twenty plus, but we really need at least five to make enough noise, two trumpets, two euphoniums and a drum would be the minimum, if not, it can be really heavy on the lips which at any point might dry up and give up. We can certainly raise the roof, I can’t remember a time when we’ve been drowned out by any opposition, especially away games where the England supporters take pride in being louder than anyone else, and so do we of course as we are the mantle for their voices, I can recall particularly in Italy and France where we really outshone any opposition.”
Are you all classically trained and accomplished players, and how do you find time to rehearse?
“We certainly are all accomplished players, although only a few of us are trained musicians, these would be the players who are with us from the Salvation Army bands, like the euphonium players. In reality, we are only looking at creating songs as a band and, as loud as possible to be heard over the crowd, as nobody is really listening to the quality.
For the England football home games, we always set up at the back of the stadium which is ideal for the sound to carry over the heads of the crowd so they can all join in.
We also pride ourselves on the fact that we don’t rehearse. We believe it all has to be spontaneous and straight from the heart and if it’s a little rough around the edges it doesn’t matter. We always say that nobody judges the guys singing out there on the terraces, they are not Pavarotti, nor are we the Halle Orchestra, it’s all good sing-along fun. We have about 150 songs we can thrash out, but When The Saints Go Marching In, Self Preservation Society, Rule Britannia and the ever popular theme from the film The Great Escape are the classics we are associated with.
The band was asked to play Self Preservation Society at the actor Michael Caine’s birthday party a while ago at China White’s Club in London. This song was the theme to the original film The Italian Job, in which Michael starred. On the day we had to wait outside for three hours in the cold as he was being interviewed for TV. We froze, which I think numbed our brains, and as we burst in to the party, half of us played the song while the rest played The Great Escape theme, the look on Michaels face was a picture.
The band get to play at a host of celebrity parties and TV shows as well as sporting events and we’ve met some wonderful people, including working at TFI Friday, Soccer AM, Danny Baker’s Show, This Is Your Life, They, Think It’s All Over and so many more.
We also released our own England Supporters Band official single called This is The Big One to coincide with the England football team at the Brazilian World Cup in 2014. The scenery for the video was shot in Rio, then we added all the band members dancing with a green-screen above a pub in Sheffield. I think it’s pretty good, you can see it on our web site. We all thought that this was really going to be the big one, but as is the case with most World Cup records, if the team don’t perform that well, as England didn’t, the record doesn’t have much chance of being a hit.”
With so much coverage worldwide, would you say that the band is influencing a younger generation to learn to play a brass instrument?
“Yes, I believe we are. We’ve talked to parents who say all their kids have ever want to do is play a brass instrument when they see a football or rugby match on the TV. Some of our younger members say they’ve never known any different as they grew up in the 90’s, listening to us at local matches and again, seeing and hearing us on the TV, we’ve certainly created a lot of fun for young brass players.
We also spread the good will within school visits, meeting up with a named player where they have a question and answer session with the kids in the classrooms. To keep the fun going, Bernie Clifton will thrash around the playground on his ostrich playing trumpet, which is hilarious. Bernie is allowed to do that, it’s what he does, he’s been a professional children’s entertainer for 50 years.
The band also works with schools abroad, where we team up with Fan Friendly and visit schools in a host of countries like Poland or Belarus for example, it’s just great to see the youngster’s happy, singing along and doing the conga. It’s just great fun and we love it.
And of course when the band travel, we know our brass instruments are heavily protected in the Fusion gig bags, of which we have quite a selection and the band members love them. They’re tough but also light weight and less cumbersome than others and a lot more versatile with so many pockets. Previously we would have to double up with an instrument bag and an overnight bag, but with a Fusion bag it all goes into one, so we are really pleased with Fusion.
What could be better than getting everybody singing by playing the instruments that we love, and at the same time encouraging players both within music and sport, to do a little better than they would otherwise?
For more information on the Official England Supporter’s Band visit: www.englandband.com
Interview by Lars Mullen
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