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My Old Man said 'follow the band...'
An interview with Iain McAfee of the Ulster Bands Association.
Ulster’s marching bands have received a lot of bad publicity.
They have been accused of trouble-making, trampling over people’s
rights, and various forms of anti-social behaviour.
Some criticism has been deserved, but much of it has been very unfair –
if not maliciously and politically motivated.
Clearly, something needs to be done to set things straight.
is the thinking of the Ulster
an umbrella group for marching bands. The
Association held a conference late last year in Broughshane to examine the
future of such bands in the twenty-first century in the face of many challenges.
Speakers at the conference came from the Ulster-Scots Agency, the Grand Orange
Lodge of Ireland, the PSNI Parade Liaison Officer and Diversity Challenge.
Ulster Bands Association is not going to allow marching bands and their culture
and traditions to be put down any longer. They
are not resigned to hiding in cultural ghettoes or to moan to one-another about
not being understood, nor will they bury their heads in the sand and pretend
that everything is all right and any problems are always someone else’s fault.
effects of this conference will have favourable repercussions for the future of
the marching band culture in Ulster for years to come.
As a start, the Association has drawn up a strict Code of Conduct for
affiliated bands. A full report and commentary on the conference can be found
In this fascinating interview, Iain McAfee— the chairman of the Association— talks to The Twelfth.
When and why was the Ulster Bands Association formed?
Bands Association. After
a failed attempt the previous year, the Ulster Bands Association, as we are
presently constituted, first met in March 1998 in a North Antrim Orange Hall.
Association initially adopted the motto ‘Unity
as its original function was chiefly to unite all marching bands under one
umbrella group, irrespective of political preferences, so that they may be
better equipped to counter the growing number of attacks, especially through the
media, on bands and the organisation of parades.
in theory this seems sensible, such a strategy was and continues to be difficult
in the most part are autonomous and retain an insular viewpoint.
As long as their band has sufficient finances, members and faces no
problems with hosting their parade, most are unlikely to feel the need to become
members of our Association. The
thought of any outside influence can also cause problems, even if that outside
influence is striving to improve the overall band situation.
it is clear that bands face numerous problems and the only way to counter these
is by strength in numbers most continue to make the effort.
bigger picture such as negative perceptions of bands and its effect on falling
audiences at parades were also issues that the Association initially aimed to
then the number of matters, which the Ulster Bands Association has addressed,
debated or confronted, has grown enormously.
The many aspects that encompass the unique culture of the Marching Bands
have surprised even long-standing band members who now serve on our Central
You allude to the negative perception of band parades.
How do you hope to change this perception?
Bands Association. Since
1999 the Ulster Bands Association has had a Code of Conduct for its members.
The code is in no way draconian but aims to deal with the problems that
we have (and we do admit we have some problems) in a common sense way.
Ultimately, and mainly because of the autonomous nature of Marching
Bands, it is for each band alone to make the effort to enhance its public image.
of the strong social aspect of the culture of the Marching Bands, it has
sometimes been difficult for band masters/captains to deal with certain issues,
without alienating its membership.
to popular opinion, the majority of bands who regular parade week in, week out,
have an internal code of conduct and plenty of bands have proved that they can
still attract the younger generation whilst retaining discipline.
Others however regrettably do not have such a code.
There has to be a realisation amongst certain bands that their actions
have affected the publics perception and unfortunately it is the entire band
community that has suffered.
of the damage that has been done to our reputation stems from the wild days of
the troubles in the 70’s and 80’s, when there was not the same spotlight on
parades. Especially with the
political changes of the past decade and the concerted campaign by Republicans
against our culture, there is now more focus on parades and the behaviour of
participants. Although since those days the behaviour of band members has
improved enormously, there is still a stigma attached to us.
recent times we have especially encouraged our members to ignore the deliberate
goading of Republican anti-parades protests.
We feel that bands are singled out with the specific design to provoke a
reaction that will be used to further discredit parades through a somewhat
biased media, which seems to conveniently ignore the provocation of protestors.
an Association viewpoint, we have a responsibility to take our message to
everyone possible and promote the positive aspects that make up the unique
cultural identity of the Marching Bands.
before has anyone, especially outside the Marching Band community, taken the
time to treat bands as equals and try to talk to us about the difficulties we
have. People have always been quick
to criticise bands. Although many of
the criticisms may be true, it is wrong to treat us all as criminals.
Ulster Bands Association believe that once there is a greater appreciation of
the positive aspects of bands, by both the general public and band members
themselves, many of the negative perceptions that plague us will be dispelled.
Could you tell us about your magazine and website?
Bands Association. The
Ulster Bands Association’s magazine To
The Beat Of The
was first produced in March 1999. That
first volume had five issues however each volume since has been reduced to three
issues (April/May, June/July and August/September).
magazine is the Association’s most powerful and productive propaganda
instrument and has won us many friends. It
gives the Marching Band community a voice which they do not have through a
biased media or other productions.
editorial has always attempted to make the magazines contents easy to read and
understand so that our message gets across.
Association news, cultural articles and basic information on the cultural
identity and ethos of the Ulster Marching Bands supplement regular features such
as parade dates and member band histories.
1,500 copies are sold of each issue, the majority of which are available through
and sold by member bands. It is the
Association’s only serious form of income.
To The Beat Of The Drum has undoubtedly been the success story of the Association since its formation and something that we fully intend to develop further.
the magazine has been very successful in explaining why bands and our parades
are so important to us, it has its limitations.
This does not however apply to our official web site. The web site is a
vital tool in influencing the views of millions of people both home and abroad.
launched in 1999, it has seen many changes.
Since then it has had a number of webmasters which has unfortunately not
helped with its development. At
present a lot of work is required to give the site more depth and information.
This will take time, as like most things we must rely on the efforts of a few, of whom free time is limited. A very common problem throughout the Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist community.
is fortunate though that many Marching Bands, in particular members bands of the
Association have produced excellent sites which promote our culture in a
positive light, however it remains important for the Association to take the
lead and develop and maintain a web site that is effective in explaining,
educating and countering the many misconceptions that exist about bands.
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