The Irish Guards was formed on 1st April 1900 as Queen Victoria’s way of commemorating the bravery shown by the many Irish regiments which fought in the South African wars. Fittingly, the regimental band made its first major public appearance on 12th June 1901 when King Edward VII presented medals from that campaign on Horse Guards Parade.
The first bandmaster was Mr. Charles Hassell and the band quickly gained a reputation for excellence as evidenced by the glowing press reports in 1905 from what turned out to be the first of many tours of Canada. The citizens of Toronto were so impressed with its performance that they presented the band with an ornate silver cup, which to this day remains one of its cherished possessions.
The band’s earliest known recording was made on an Edison cylinder in July 1912 and it made numerous 78rpm gramophones from later that year, progressing through EPs, LPs, cassettes and compact discs. It is believed to be the very first military band to broadcast, the programme going out ‘live’ on the 23rd January 1923 on the 2LO station. In the 1953 it was chosen to give the UK premier performance of Paul Hindemith’s ‘Symphony for Concert Band’.
The band has also made numerous appearances on television and in a number of films including The Prince and the Showgirl, The Ipcress File, and Oh! What a Lovely War, as well as being engaged to whistle Colonel Bogey for the soundtrack of The Bridge on the River Kwai.
A number of former Band members have continued their careers with national orchestras, including the Hallé, the BBC Symphony and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Two former Directors of Music, Major George Willcocks and Lt Col ‘Jiggs’ Jaeger also conducted the Black Dyke Mills Band at the National Brass Band Championships.
Over the years the band has toured extensively, including a visit to Japan in 1972, where it was accorded the honour of being the first foreign band ever to play in the Imperial Palace in the presence of the Empress and the two Crown Princesses. In 2010 it undertook an eleven week coast-to-coast tour of North America.
In 1948, the band travelled to Palestine to support the Guards battalions involved in the troubles and, sadly, Lance Corporal Ted Jones was shot and killed when the band was ambushed. Three members of the band served in the first Gulf war of 1990/91, and in June 1999 the band deployed to Kosovo as part of a NATO peacekeeping force.
During 2012 the band was at the forefront of the celebrations to mark the Diamond Jubilee, including the Armed Forces Muster at Windsor and playing in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace on Jubilee Day itself. The band was also involved in the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games.