Roy Banks

Principal horn, former chairman

Roy Banks's picture

Roy has been a member for approximately 12 years having joined around 2000 although he had appeared with us numerous times prior to that as an extra or dep’ for several years beforehand. Once he joined as a member he was employed as co-principal to the then principal horn: Oliver Tunstall (son of the famous Tony Tunstall – 40 years the principal horn of The Covent Garden Royal Opera House Orchestra). Oliver and Roy shared the 1st horn chair for several years until work took Oliver away from London round about 2004-5 which meant he could no longer attend regular BSO rehearsals. Roy then took over the principal horn role permanently around September 2006. Later in November 2006 Roy was made Chairman, a post he held until May 2012. Roy’s wife Mary joined the orchestra and the horn section around about 2003-4 and has occupied our regular 3rd horn chair since around 2005. In May 2006 Roy performed as soloist playing Mozart’s Horn Concerto No.3.

Roy plays no other instrument other than the French horn which he started to learn at school. The instrument he plays on is extremely uncommon. It is an Alexander 104 – at first glance to a non-horn-players’ eye it could be mistaken for the very common Alexander 103 – recognised universally amongst horn-players as perhaps the greatest model of horn since its introduction in 1909. The 104, however, is distinguishable from the 103 due to its extra thumb valve which allows the player to instantly transpose into A or E when the player is required to hand-stop (to mute the instrument with the right hand which makes a very different sound than when using a mute) by the composer. The instrument Roy plays on has had no previous owner, Roy bought his instrument new in 1975 for £642 (a small fortune in 1975) direct from the Alexander factory in Mainz near Frankfurt Germany. Roy’s father Eric Banks at the time was Director of Music of the RAF Germany Band based in RAF Rheindahlen in north-western Germany and he drove to the famous Alexander factory to collect it for him. The current brand new price for an Alexander 104 is round about £9,000.

Roy joined the Scots Guards Band directly on leaving school in 1974 and served with them until 1998 by which time he had risen to the rank of Colour Sergeant. He was promoted to principal horn in 1987, toured the world extensively with the band and played at many major events such as investitures, state visits and ceremonial events – the wedding between Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981 and the handing over of Hong Kong to the Chinese in 1997 being two notable occasions. On leaving the Scots Guards Band in 1998 Roy soon started in a new (and wholly different) career in Facilities Management based in Blackfriars London but continued with the horn, playing orchestral music for fun – so much more enjoyable than playing military band music for a living he found.

Roy is not currently a member of any other orchestra although he and Mary are regularly asked to play in other local orchestras such as the Orpington Symphony Orchestra and the Sevenoaks Symphony Orchestra and they both play in a wind octet group made up of our wind section which perform together occasionally. As a horn player, Roy has a natural tendency to favour music written for big orchestras employing the horn section well and challenging them. Therefore his favourite composers tend to be those who were writing big ‘Romantic – Modern’ period works in the 100+ years between around 1830 – 1940, particularly the likes of Richard Strauss, Mahler, Bruckner, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Elgar, Berlioz, Dvorak etc. Having said that, he also thoroughly enjoys playing earlier, more ‘Classical’ period works too – Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert etc.

Roy’s last concert as Chairman in May 2012 was also our first concert in our new venue – the newly built Concert Hall/theatre at Langley Park. Performing at a completely new venue for the very first time offered numerous challenges and for him as Chairman, many, many more things than normal to think of to try to ensure everything was covered. On top of this, Roy had also personally taken on looking after the soloist performing with the orchestra that day, world renowned horn player Richard Watkins.

On the evening of the concert, having just performed the concert opener – Rossini’s ‘William Tell’ overture – Roy and the rest of the horn section left the stage along with several of the woodwind whilst the strings played two short William Walton pieces between the Rossini and the Strauss horn concerto No.2 with Richard. Waiting backstage with the rest of the horn section chatting quietly with Richard whilst the strings played, it became clear to Roy that the doors at the back of the stage they had walked through were very well sound-proofed – and that there was no ‘live-feed’ piped into the backstage areas so that you could hear what was happening on stage. With everything else he’d had to think of it became clear he had overlooked how getting himself and Mary (only two horns required onstage for the Strauss) back on before the soloist for the Strauss was going to work. As the two Walton pieces were quite quiet works which couldn’t really be heard clearly backstage, Roy decided the best way to gauge when to get the two of them back on to the platform was to count the number of times he could hear applause – which could just be heard through the doors. When he gauged it was the right time to get Mary and himself back on, he waited for the appropriate applause and walked through the doors. 

Immediately they emerged through the doors the orchestra and the audience started laughing hysterically and the conductor Adrian just buried his head in his hands. It emerged that whilst backstage convivially chatting with our guest soloist, Roy had miscounted the number of times the audience had applauded. The applause Roy took to be the end of the Walton was actually in response to Adrian having just announced the entrance of our soloist; horn player Richard Watkins and instead – on walks horn player Roy Banks. 

Memo to self, ensure our new Chairman asks the Theatre Manager to install ‘live-feed’ recording to backstage areas for future concerts.