Kenneth J. Alford
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Frederick Joseph Ricketts (21 February 1881 – 15 May 1945) was a British composer of marches for band. He wrote music under the pen name Kenneth J. Alford. He was a Bandmaster in the British Army, and Royal Marines Director of Music. Conductor Sir Vivian Dunn called him "The British March King." Ricketts frequently used the saxophone in his music. This led to the instrument being used in all military bands.
Early life[change | change source]
Ricketts was born on 21 February 1881. He was the 4th child of Robert and Louisa (née Alford) Ricketts, who lived in London. Ricketts' father died when he was seven and his mother died when he was fourteen. His early musical training had been on playing the piano and organ and working as a church chorister. As a boy living in London’s East End he would often hear street musicians and bands. He decided that joining an army band would be best for his future.
Enlistment[change | change source]
Ricketts joined the Royal Irish Regiment in 1895. He was enlisted as a Band Boy. He was a good cornet player and was put into the regimental band. The band went with the regiment to Limerick in Ireland, and then to India. In his free time, Ricketts learned all the other band instruments. When he was 15 years old, he wrote his first piece, which was called "For Service Overseas". It has never been published. In 1903, he was recommended for entry into the Student Bandmaster Course at the Royal Military School of Music, in Twickenham, Middlesex. Musicians who were as young as Ricketts were not nominated very often, but Ricketts was very skilled.
Royal Military School of Music[change | change source]
Ricketts began a two-year course at Kneller Hall in the summer of 1904. This course was very difficult. He graduated in 1906.
Bandmaster[change | change source]
In 1908, Ricketts became Bandmaster to the Band of the 2nd Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. He went to the Orange River Colony (formerly the Orange Free State) to lead them. This colony is now the Republic of South Africa. The colonel asked him to write a new march for the Argylls, so Ricketts wrote "The Thin Red Line". It was not published until 1925.
Ricketts wanted to compose music. However, it was not accepted for officers of Ricketts's rank to be engaged in commercial activities in the civilian world. Because of this, Ricketts decided to compose and publish under the pen name Kenneth J. Alford. The first march written under the new pen name was "Holyrood".
First World War[change | change source]
A few weeks before the start of World War I, Ricketts composed his most famous march, called "Colonel Bogey". No one knows exactly how Ricketts began composing it. Ricketts's widow claims that it came from a game of golf. She says that during the game, Ricketts and another member of the Argylls started whistling the notes that would become the march's melody.
Shortly after World War I started, Ricketts and the Band Boys of the Argylls were sent to the 3rd Battalion (Reserve) in Edinburgh. They stayed there through the whole war. During the war Ricketts wrote several marches dedicated to the British military: "The Great Little Army" (1916), "On The Quarter Deck," "The Middy," "The Voice of the Guns" (1917), and "The Vanished Army (They Never Die)" (1919).
[change | change source]
In 1921, Ricketts applied to become a bandmaster for the Band of the Plymouth Division, which was part of the Royal Marines. He was interviewed and was offered the position. However, the old bandmaster, P.S.G. O'Donnell, was trying to apply for a position with an Army band, but members of the Royal Marines were not allowed to become members of the British Army. Because of this, Ricketts could not take the position, since O'Donnell remained with the Band of the Plymouth Division.
In 1927, Ricketts applied again to become a bandmaster with the Royal Marines. This time, he was approved. He became a lieutenant in the Royal Marines Band Service on 4 July 1927. He was posted to the Band of the Marines' Depot at Deal in Kent. In 1930, Ricketts was posted to the Band of the Plymouth Division.
Personal life[change | change source]
On 5 September 1907, Frederick Joseph Ricketts was married to Miss Annie Louisa Holmes. This was while he was on staff at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall. Annie (Nan) Holmes came from a musical family. Her brother was a partner in the London music publishing house of Walsh, Holmes and Company. Nan often gave Ricketts ideas and helped him make decisions about compositions. They had six children, Kenneth (March 1909), Leo (April 1911), Sheila (May 1913), Paula (October 1916), Gordon (October 1918),and José (October 1922).
Death[change | change source]
Ricketts retired from the Royal Marines on 1 June 1944 because of ill health. He died at his home in Reigate, Surrey, on 15 May 1945, after an operation for cancer. He had given almost 50 years of service to the Crown.
List of marches[change | change source]
- The Thin Red Line (1908) - Not published or available to the public until 1925. Named after Alford's regiment's nickname. They acquired it in the Crimean War. W.H. Russell wrote that the "thin red streak tipped with a line of steel of the" 93rd Highlanders (Argylls) held back the Russian advance during the Battle of Balaclava.
- Holyrood (1912) - Named after the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. It is about the visit of HM King George V and Queen Mary in 1910, the year they were coronated. This march is now the quick march of the RAF Regiment.
- The Vedette (1912) - A vedette is a mounted sentry placed in advance of the outposts. Ricketts probably knew this term from when he was in India, but the term is unfamiliar today.
- Colonel Bogey (1914) - The melody comes from notes that Ricketts heard whistled on a golf course, possibly by the colonel. This is his most famous march.
- The Great Little Army (1916) - This piece is about the WWI British soldiers who bore the brunt of everything that was thrown at them. The enemy called them "The Contemptible Little Army".Recording by the John Horn High School Wind Symphony
- On the Quarter Deck (1917)
- The Middy (1917) - Both this and the previous march were written about the naval Battle of Jutland in 1916.
- The Voice of the Guns (1917) - At first, this piece was meant to honour British artillery in World War I. Later, it became widely adopted by the British army as a whole. It was in the film Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Not to be confused with the poem of the same name by Gilbert Frankau (1916).
- The Vanished Army (1918) - Dedicated to the memory of the first 100,000 soldiers who died in World War I. Subtitled "They Never Die".
- The Mad Major (1921) - Major Graham Seton Hutchinson was the Mad Major, had won the Military Cross and a DSO.
- Cavalry of the Clouds (1923) - Written to honour the new Royal Air Force.
- Dunedin (1928) - Named for the Dunedin Exhibition of 1925/26 in New Zealand.
- Old Panama (1929) - Ricketts returned from Dunedin by going through the Panama Canal.
- HM Jollies (1929) - "HM Jollies" is a nickname for the Royal Marines. The march contains parts of "The Sailor’s Hornpipe", "A Life on the Ocean Wave," and "Rule Britannia."
- The Standard of St George (1930) - Inspired by watching Trooping the Colour, a British army ceremony, at Horse Guards Parade. This march was played by the Band of the Royal Marines Depot, Deal, before it was published. This march does not start with an introduction; it starts with a fanfare with a bass foundation of sustained power for 32 measures.
- By Land and Sea (1941) - In 1934, there was a competition for an official slow march for the Royal Marines. This march was based on Alford's entry. The title is an English translation of the Royal Marines motto Per Mare Per Terram and was written for the Plymouth Division, R.M. It includes a part of the regimental quick march "A Life on the Ocean Wave" and the Royal Marines Bugle Calls.
- Army of the Nile (1941) - Dedicated to General Wavell, for stopping the advance of the Axis Powers in Egypt. Recording by the John Horn High School Wind Symphony
- Eagle Squadron (1942) - The Eagle Squadron was made up of American pilots in the RAF, before the United States joined World War II. When the U.S. entered the war, the squadron was transferred to the USAAF. The march quotes The Star-Spangled Banner and Dixie.
Other Published Works[change | change source]
- Valse Riviera (1912)
- Thoughts - waltz (1917)
- A Musical Switch - humoresque (1921)
- The Two Imps - xylophone duet (1923)
- The Lightning Switch - fantasy (1924)
- Mac and Mac - xylophone duet (1928)
- Wedded Whimsies - humorous fantasy for piano solo (1932)
- The Smithy - pastoral fantasy 1933
- The Two Dons - xylophone duet (1933)
- Colonel Bogey on Parade - march fantasy (1939)
- The Hunt - rhapsody (1940)
- Lillibullero (1942) - A march attributed to Henry Purcell, though it was probably actually written by Alford. Lillibullero is the official Regimental March of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (abbrev. REME). Ricketts' arrangement was often used in the BBC radio program about the Commandos, Into Battle.
- A Life on the Ocean Wave (1944) - "A Life on the Ocean Wave" is a ballad by Henry Russell. In 1882, Jacob Kappey wrote an arrangement of this piece as a new regimental march for the Royal Marines. It included an eight bar trio from "The Sea" by Sigismund Neukomm. It was re-arranged by Major Ricketts in 1944.
References[change | change source]
- The 93rd Sutherland Highlanders 1799 - 1927, Brigadier A E J Cavendish, CMG
- http://military-bands.co.uk/argyll.html Archived 2013-01-30 at the Wayback Machine
- Trendell, John, Colonel Bogey to the Fore, a biography of Kenneth J. Alford (1991)