We speak to the new Principal Director of Music of the Royal Marines Band Service, Lieutenant Colonel Jon Ridley, about his love of music, his beloved Leicester City FC and this year’s magnificent Beating Retreat concert at London’s Horse Guards Parade.
Like many lads who grew up in Leicestershire, Lt Col Jon Ridley once dreamed of playing for his favourite football team, Leicester City. Unfortunately, the new Principal Director of the Royal Marines Band conceded early that perhaps playing for City, “wasn’t meant to be” and instead began focussing his attention on his other passion – music.
His decision to not pursue a career football has most certainly been the Royal Marines Band’s gain. Lt Col Ridley became interested in music at just 6 years old and joined the ‘Toy Soldiers Marching Band’ where he learnt to play his first instrument, the trumpet. After many years of honing his ability, Lt Col Ridley signed up to the RM Band Service at 17 years-old after visiting the Marines stand at a careers evening. Recalling the evening, he said: “I initially visited the Army stand and expressed that my interests were music and sport. I also walked along to the Navy stand and asked if they had any bands too.
“I then went home and asked my dad whether I should join the Army or the RM (he was ex-Royal Artillery). He told me the RM are the best at everything and to go for them.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Lt Col Ridley officially joined up in 1989 and began by retraining on the bassoon. His career has since seen many highlights which include achieving a Master’s degree in Music from the Royal Northern College of Music and last year being promoted to the role of Principal Director of the RM Band Service.
For every high, there’s often a low, and this was, unfortunately, true for Lt Col Ridley who was involved in two traumatic life events. He explains:
“I was at Deal for the IRA bombing in 1989 and it was the worst day of my life.”
The bombing in 1989 was a targeted attack by the IRA which killed eleven Royal Marines at the Royal Marines School of Music in Deal, Kent.
He continued: “I was also on the coach that crashed on the M4 in 1994 with the Plymouth Band on board.” The accident subsequently killed one person and seriously injured many others.
After two such terrible events occurring so early in his career, it’s remarkable that LT Col Ridley has been able to forge such an established career through such adversity. This alone speaks to the perseverance and strength of character that it takes to be in the service.
Today, he has hit the ground running in his new role as Principal Director of Music for the RM Band Service. Having taken over from former Director, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Grace, last year, Lt Col Ridley is now relishing the challenge of his new role.
He explained: “I learned of the appointment on April 17 and immediately began preparing for the Mountbatten Festival, which has to be planned a year in advance. It is fair to say that, despite working alongside Nick for many years, you cannot really fully appreciate the role of PDM until you are in it.
“It brings a great deal of responsibility but, in turn, a great deal of reward. Always in the back of my mind is how to best represent the men and women of the RMBS, and equally, how to best represent the RMBS to everyone else.”
One of Colonel Ridley’s next big challenges with the RMBS will be the iconic Beating Retreat performance at London’s Horse Guards Parade in May. The world-renowned Beating Retreat is a superior demonstration of the Massed Bands of the Royal Marines and is a magnificent pageant of military music, precision drill and colour.
Describing the upcoming performance, he said:
“There will be the traditional marching displays from the Massed Bands and both drum beatings and spectacular drum display from the Corps of Drum. The music will range from both traditional and newly composed marches to a WW1 centenary tribute in the finale.”
Lt Col Ridley continued: “There are some exciting solos, drumming features for the Corps of Drums and a pop music suite entitled ‘Spectrum’, amongst what I hope will be an inspiring and enjoyable programme.”
Not only a musical and visually spectacular, but Beating Retreat is also a chance for the audience to support the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity – the principal charity of the Naval service.
As an experienced member of the RM Band Service and now Principal Director, Lt Col Ridley understands how important it is to support the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity. He explained:
“The relationship between the RNRMC and the band service is an important one. This Beating Retreat performance is a magnificent way for people to demonstrate their support for the principal charity of the Royal Navy.”
Continuing, he said: “The money raised through ticket sales will, in a very real way, help those across the fleet who are either suffering or just need practical support to help make life feel a little better. The RNRMC exists to do that, during service and throughout life.”
Lt Col Jon Ridley will lead the Massed Bands of the Royal Marines on the 30th and 31st of May 2018 during their performance of Beating Retreat at London’s Horse Guards Parade.
Concluding, Lt Col Ridley remarked: “The Band Service is blessed with hugely talented people and I hope to be able to continue my predecessors’ fine work in utilising this talent and, in turn, placing the Band Service at the forefront of military music both at home and abroad. Importantly, I also hope that we can have some fun along the way!”