THE recent Lord Mayor’s Parade in London was a red-letter day for Baillies Mills Accordion Band, not least for one of its number, Dromore High School student Sujata Erwine.
After receiving an invitation back in early 2011 to take part in this year’s parade, the band made preparations for what promised to be the biggest event in its long history, a history which in recent years has included a number of successful visits beyond its home shores.
When Dromore High School’s newly established PR team got wind of Sujata’s participation Antigone Graham-Pearce and Rachel Smith immediately quizzed the class 12A student on her experience of the day.
They said, “She told us that her band has already played in Jersey, Spalding and Norway and that being invited to join the parade and play for the House of Lords had been a brilliant opportunity and great fun.
“Sujata gave us a bit of background information as to why she started playing the accordion four years ago; her grandfather, who had been in the Ballies Mills Accordion Band for 60 years, had taught her and nurtured her love for music.
“When asked what she thought of the parade, Sujata answered instantly, ‘It was amazing! There was a big grandstand and there were loads of people clapping. They started clapping even louder when they heard we were from Northern Ireland.’”
Antigone added, “Since Sujata had been in the middle of London, Rachel and I asked her if she’d seen any famous people but apparently she hadn’t! Maybe next time, Sujata, maybe next time.”
Meanwhile, the band’s Honorary Secretary, Stephen Dickson, said it was a major logistical exercise to transport all the instruments, uniforms and some 100 personnel from County Down to the centre of London.
“We are grateful,” he said, “for all the help and support that we have received.”
On the evening ahead of the main event - after a guided tour of the Palace of Westminster - the band and its guests attended a dinner hosted by Lord and Lady Laird in the Peers’ Dining Room of the House of Lords.
On Saturday band members gathered at the assembly point near the Guildhall to take part in a civic procession that dates back some 800 years and includes some of Britain’s best military bands, in whose company the Baillies Mills contingent felt honoured.
“As the 30 musicians from Baillies Mills wended their way through the historic streets,” said Stephen, “they were cheered on their way by an estimated half a million people who sang with the popular music of the band and waved flags along the whole route.”
During the remainder of the weekend some of the tour party went to the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday evening and most attended the Remembrance Day service at Whitehall and Horseguards Parade on Sunday morning.