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Meet the Belfast Tattoo's music maestro - Flight lieutenant Richard Murray

He's the squadron leader of the world-famous RAF band, but Carrick's Richard Murray says that thanks to his young daughters, his world at home is completely pink

Ahead of next week's Belfast Tattoo at the SSE Arena, the Flight Lieutenant tells Una Brankin about his idol Sir James Galway, the pressures of performing for VIPs, and how the band has introduced Michael Jackson's hits to its repertoire.

Flight lieutenant Richard Murray calls the shots on the Band of the RAF College's repertoire but he doesn't have any influence at all over what comes out of the family car's CD speakers. "My world at home is pink - I like classical, orchestral music but I have to listen to the likes of Taylor Swift in the car," he says. "I have young daughters; they know daddy's a musical conductor and they love listening to the band play live, but I wouldn't push it!"

To give him his full title and letters, Squadron Leader Richard A Murray, BMus (Hons) LRSM LLCM RAF, is Director of Music for the Band of the RAF College.

Raised in Carrickfergus, the 43-year-old is coming home from his London base at the end of the month to conduct the RAF band at their first ever Belfast Tattoo.

"This year is my 20th with the RAF - we do around 300 performances all around the world every year, so it's fantastic to be coming home on this particular occasion," he says. "I'm sure there will be a few celebratory drinks."

One of the participants singled out by presenter Helen Mark as a highlight of this year's Belfast Tattoo at the SSE, the RAF band is a huge coup for the spectacular event. The annual RAF Charitable Trust concert series, for example, packs out the UK's major concert halls every year.

In 2011 Richard conducted the band when it was accompanied by Queen guitarist Brian May and Kerry Ellis in the prestigious outdoor concert, Anthems in the Park, at RAF College Cranwell, and again in 2013 with joint performances by Jonathon and Charlotte of Britain's Got Talent fame.

A talented flautist, Richard has also led the band in countless performances for royalty and VIPs all over the world, and has enjoyed the company of Prince Philip at various dinners.

"He's always in good form, shall we say," he remarks. "Very pleasant company. But he's at the age he is and it's his decision to retire.

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Flight Lieutenant Richard Murray conducts the The Band of the Royal Air Force College

"The royals are always very polite and very interested. They're always very pleasant. Philip will be missed."

Based in Northolt in west London, Richard and his wife Megan, a bassoon player he met in the RAF music services, have three daughters: Harriet (8), Annabelle (3) and Beatrice (1). Megan stays at home to look after the children while Richard travels the world with his squadron and band.

"Being on the road is the nature of the business, whether you're a civilian musician or otherwise," says Richard.

"You play weekend gigs and you have anti-social hours. At this stage, the girls are used to the absences."

Unsurprisingly, Richard comes from a musical background. His father was a bagpiper and his mother played the upright piano in the family home in Carrickfergus. Although their son had a stint with Woodburn Pipe Band, his instrument of choice at Downshire school and Belfast High became the flute.

He went on to study music at the University of Ulster, while playing with the Ballyclare Victoria Flute Band, a highly regarded and award-winning concert ensemble. Along the way he attended classes with Sir James Galway and his close friend Colin Fleming, the principal flautist with the Ulster Orchestra.

The young Richard had the "amazing experience" of playing in the same room in Belfast as the two maestros, and later attended several masterclasses with Sir James in England.

He hopes to catch up with his idol on an upcoming trip to Lucerne in Switzerland, Galway's home since the early 1980s.

"I studied with him many years ago and then I met him again at the Big Flute Challenge in Belfast in 2015, but if he recognised me, he'd probably be lying," says Richard. "He's quite a character, shall we say. He likes a wee dram and good food.

"What he has given to flute playing is fantastic. He's very kind and generous, and he's a mine of information. He enjoys passing on what he knows about the world of music and flute-playing."

After graduating with honours in 1997, Richard joined Royal Air Force Music Services and served briefly with the Western Band of the Royal Air Force at RAF Locking.

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Dancers at the Belfast Tattoo

Prior to his posting as principal flautist with the Band of the Royal Air Force Regiment at RAF Cranwell in 1999, he was awarded the Cassel Silver Medal by The Worshipful Company of Musicians, which awarded him another silver medal on completion of his Bandmaster course from the London College and Royal School of Music in 2006.

On promotion to sergeant in 2008, Richard was posted to The Central Band of the RAF. As a flautist Richard has travelled, performed and recorded throughout the UK and worldwide, from the desert sands of Saudi Arabia and Iraq, to the live TV studios of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the BBC.

"In some places, such as in India, they're not used to seeing ladies with blonde hair, so some of our band members get stared at," he says. "In the Middle East, we're mostly in British compounds and we're well chaperoned by British Embassy staff.

"But music is an international language; it breaks down barriers. People just love it, whether it's the UK or India."

After being appointed director of music to The Band of the Royal Air Force Regiment, Richard joined The Central Band of The Royal Air Force as director of music in January 2012. As serving members of the RAF, band personnel are also required to support various operations worldwide, including Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq, Cyprus and the Falkland Islands - Richard has even witnessed a mortar shelling in Basra, while preparing to play flute with the band.

He and his colleagues also had the harrowing task of providing the music during the repatriation to England of 14 colleagues who died when their Nimrod crashed during a reconnaissance flight in Afghanistan, the biggest single loss of life suffered by the British military since the Falklands War.

Away from his service commitments, Richard can regularly be seen performing and conducting with the Lincolnshire Philharmonia and the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra. Meanwhile, the Belfast Tattoo audience can look forward to ceremonial marches, along with show tunes, a bit of Glenn Millar, and maybe even a James Bond theme.

"Michael Jackson's hits go down well," he says. "We also added the Pharrell Williams song Happy a couple of years ago. That went down well."

In his free time Richard enjoys cycling, windsurfing, racquet sports and hiking in the Lake District.

"You have to be physically fit for the RAF and it helps for conducting," he says, dismissing some critics' claims that a conductor's role is expendable these days. "Everyone needs a bit of direction. It's not just what you see on the conductor's platform. There's a lot of work and dedication required behind the scenes.

"But it is well worth it, and I'm really looking forward to performing our repertoire at the Belfast Tattoo."

  • The Belfast Tattoo takes place at the SSE Arena on Thursday, August 31, Friday, September 1, and Saturday, September 2. For ticket information, go to www.ssearenabelfast.com or tel: 028 9073 9074

Prestigious ensemble steeped in musical history

Since its formation in 1920, The Band of the Royal Air Force College is arguably the outfit which is most steeped in musical history and tradition.

Based at The RAF College Cranwell, Lincolnshire, since its formation, the band continues to perform at a diverse range of venues and engagements across the UK and in countries worldwide.

On parade, it has performed at the world-renowned Edinburgh Tattoo, the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and was the first RAF band to change the guard at Edinburgh Castle in July 2014.

Battle of Britain sunset ceremonies, marching displays, freedom parades and displays at air and county shows also form a major part of the band's varied itinerary.

A highlight was playing a pivotal role in the 70th anniversary celebration of the Dambusters raid at RAF Scampton in May 2013, which was featured live on BBC television.

In 1923, it became the first military band to broadcast on BBC Cardiff and has since excelled with recent broadcasts on BBC Radio 2 with Clare Teal.

The recent CD recording of American Legends follows on from other successful recordings of Sing! Swing Wing, The RAF Swing Wing and the RAF Charitable Trust's 2014 'RAF in Concert' Tour CD.

The band enjoys performing at concerts throughout the year, many in support of charities such as the RAF Benevolent Fund and Royal Air Force Association.

The band completed the 2015 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and has enjoyed an exciting and varied 2016, starting with a tour of Australia and New Zealand, where it performed as part of the 'Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Down Under'.

Following that, all the RAF bands took part in the Sims Cup drill competition for the first time since 1998, which was held in front of the RAF College.

Other highlights included recording the CD for the 2016 RAF In Concert Tour and performing live on Facebook at the prestigious Symphony Hall, Birmingham, reaching over 52,000 people.

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