Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Ravenhill Defenders Flute Band

1972 - At the age of eight years old the Orange Order marching season in July and August inspired me and my friends to form our own flute band. This band was to be known as the ‘Ravenhill Defenders Flute Band’. We had volunteers in the form of me, Marty, Smicker, and Jim-Rib. Smicker and I were to be on flutes and because Marty already carried the banner string in his father’s Orange Lodge on the real twelfth of July parade he was to carry the banner of the ‘Ravenhill Defenders Flute Band’. Jim-Rib played drums in the local Boys’ Brigade band. He was to be our drummer. ‘Jim-Rib’ was an abbreviation of his full nick-name of ‘Jimmy-Ribshite’, gained because he was so skinny.

We had our line up for our band of loyalist marching heroes. All we needed were the instruments, the banner and the marching regalia.

Marty stole a white bed sheet from his mother and two brush poles. These were to be made into our banner. With a tin of black paint and a brush nicked from one of our fathers we carefully painted ‘Ravenhill Defenders Flute Band’ onto the sheet. We then painted a very dodgy primary-school-style drawing of King Billy astride his white horse. The sheet was spread it out in my back yard to bake dry in the glorious summer sun.

Jim-Rib appeared with a big empty paint tin turned upside down with a string attached to it around his neck – the perfect drum. We were getting somewhere now! We nailed the bed sheet banner onto two brush poles and stood back and admired our work. There was however one major obstacle. We were creating a flute band yet none of us could actually play flute or even had one. We decided that we would all simply sing the tunes out loud using the letter ‘D’. Therefore ‘The Sash’ was all in ‘the key of D’ resulting in “Dee-dee-deeeeeeee-dee-dee-dee-deeeeeeeeeee-dee-dee…” Perfect.

For the parade Marty borrowed his father’s real Orange Sash to wear and the rest of us had to make our own from any material we could find. The ‘Ravenhill Defenders Flute Band’ was now ready to hold its very first parade.

We assembled and took our places in the middle of the road and Jim-Rib loudly struck up the first drum-roll. We were off on our grand parade. Marching up the middle of the street we would occasionally have to disperse from angry car-drivers being held up by our defiant parade. We would move amidst shouts of, “Get off the bloody road ya wee buggers!” Once the cars had passed we would go back out into the middle of the street and recommence our proud march. We sang Orange marching tunes, “dee-dee-dee-ing” proudly and banging paint tins. Marty was at the front carrying the bed-sheet banner. Our musicality was nil but our spirit and passion was immense.

This is what we did. We played at being Loyalist flute bands. It was working-class Belfast in 1972 in the middle of the Orange Order marching season. This was our world...

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