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Gertrude Star Flute Band ( East Belfast ).

 MY NAME is Ron. I'm 30 and have lived in East Belfast all of my life. It's a place that's always close to my heart.

I have been in the Gertrude Star Flute Band since the age of eight.  The band originated in the working class area of the lower end of the Newtownards Road .  This was before the British Governments policy of wiping out large sections of Protestant areas by knocking down rows upon rows of terraced housing to make way for a handful in their place.  (OK, these were bigger and better houses, but I think that whoever made the plans up for redevelopment, totally broke up a large concentrated area of our people and I think this was the real objective).  Many people then moved out to areas such as Tullycarnet and Ballybeen.  At the same time, I believe, nationalist areas like the Short Strand got bigger.  (Nowadays I believe the Strand is bursting at the seems and probably they would be waiting to make a cry of "housing shortages" so as to move up into unoccupied Protestant houses near the peace line).  Therefore Gertrude band members from this point were not always Newtownards Road men.  They travelled each week to practice for the sheer love of it.

Being in the Gertrude is a family tradition.  The band was formed in 1961 and my dad joined in 1965.  His brothers were also in the band and one older brother was there from the start.  My family played a big part in the running of the band at that stage.  My mother was also in the band, as a flag carrier.

Here's another family connection with the Gertrude.  My uncle proudly reminds me that it was while he was Chairman that they obtained their first 'proper' uniforms.  This consisted of tailored coats and trousers.  He tells me that they were one of the first Belfast bands to get a uniform like this.  In fact, that year (1967) saw the Gertrude Star featured on the front page of the Daily Mirror with their new uniforms!  (I still have the picture and to be honest the ranks in this picture would put a lot of current bands to shame).

I am now the Chairman of the band.  I'm trying (with the help of some others) to lead the band down a path of better playing and marching.  We're trying to get the boys to ‘gel’ together on a united front to promote the band to the best of our ability no matter where we might parade.  Basically we want to follow in the footsteps of the many great men who have steered the band during the last 40 years or so.

I've seen a brave few Twelfth's in my time.  When I started off with the Gertrude Star I was on the triangle. My first parade was the Apprentice boys in August.  The triangle ended up in the River Foyle as I had beaten the tripe out of it and broke the thing.  The triangle was made in the Harland and Wolff shipyard. (I'm not too sure if that says anything about the ships H&W used to make!)

From the triangle I moved onto the cymbals.  At this time the band could not afford a new jacket for me (that's because us 'young ones' grew too quickly and would have needed a new jacket every six months!)

I then started to learn the flute when I was about 12.  To be honest, I gave up after about three months.  But at the next years learner class I was better prepared and managed to learn the 45 tunes required to enable me to walk in my first parade with the flute.  It also meant that I got a new jacket.  For some reason, now that I was a fluter, the cost of a new jacket didn't matter.  I can't remember the year I first walked as a fluter but I know it was on the Twelfth.  Needless to say it was great and I felt 'one of the boys'.

After the flute I finally moved on to the Bass drum.  Nowadays I just do what's needed on the day on the parade - apart from the 12th July when it's the Bass drum for me.

Whilst on the subject of the Bass drum, our band (in the mid-80s) used to host a junior band contest.  This went around the streets of East Belfast .  These were great times as many under 18s were involved in bands.  Each band had about three drummers and six to nine fluters.  Bands such as Ballymacarett, Pride of the Raven, East Belfast Protestant Boys and the Rising Sons would have been involved.  You were only able to field under 18s and so needed drummers and Bass drummers of course.  As Gertrude Star were the hosts we would lead the parade around the route.  Let me tell you these were great times and the nights were great.  I am sure a lot of older boys in some of these bands can still remember these nights!

My Da had played the big drum for years in the band.  Therefore, I decided to put myself forward for the junior competition Bass drummer.  After about two years later I was playing it for real in the full band. I believe I was 17 at the time.  To be honest, the Bass drummers in the Belfast Blood and Thunder bands at this stage were all 'Big Lads'.  Here was me up against them.  That just gave me more energy to knock seven bells out of it and give it the message.  (I wish I had the same energy nowadays!  Nowadays it's 'Ron two tunes!'  But fortunately at least there are some younger ones coming through the band ranks!)

The Twelfth was always a great day in my younger years.  I remember as a child waking on the Twelfth morning.  Being driven down the Newtownards Road , I could see the bonfires at the ends of the terraced streets.  I really felt that I was part of something a lot bigger by walking with the band on the Twelfth.

One year I missed the Twelfth.  I was on holiday with the mates.  But I will never miss it again.  I'll be there 'till the day I die.  The young ones who come through our band ranks will have to push me in a wheelchair!  I would not miss the Twelfth for the world.  (However, I'd love to know if there's any chance the Orange Order in Belfast will shorten that route!!)

The Twelfth is in my blood and I feel proud of that.  No- one is going to make me feel ashamed of my tradition and upbringing.  I'm not worried about what republicans think of the parades.  What does worry me is the attitude of middle class Prods.  They seem always to be putting us down from their big houses - they're too good to go out and celebrate their faith.

I feel sad that more young ones aren't coming through the ranks.  They are our future.  We need to keep Protestant feet walking.  I believe the answer to this (and the whole band scene) lies with us.  We need to sort many wide ranging issues out.  This is for the betterment of every band, not just one's own.  In my opinion, we all need to come down off of our 'high horses'.  We need to get our heads out of the clouds and see what the real obstacles are to keeping the band scene alive.

We need to look at the wider picture.  We need to look at our own actions.  Do we diminish our own credibility?  We need to find out the reasons why some of our own people stay away from band parades and the Twelfth.  We need to change the record or we will end up on the scrap heap.

To conclude, we must let the head do the thinking so our feet can always be walking!!  My message is simple: 'Unite and fight!'


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