Northfleet band marching on to European glory

PUBLISHED: 10:06 28 February 2013 | UPDATED: 10:08 28 February 2013

The senior corps at last year's European Championships in Kerkrade, Holland

The senior corps at last year's European Championships in Kerkrade, Holland


If you happen to pass by Northfleet Industrial Estate and hear the thunderous boom of a beating drum and the rousing blare of a trombone then you’ve probably stumbled upon a rehearsal by one of Europe’s finest marching bands.

The Black Knights Drum and Bugle Corps came third in last year’s Drum Corps European Championships in Holland and the group, with members ranging from eight years old to 50, has roots in north Kent stretching back to the 1950s. It is made up of junior cadets, aged eight to 14, and senior corps which most move on to when they reach 14.

As 29-year-old musical director Paul Richards says, they are hoping this is the year they finally win the European Championships – and fun is the simple ingredient behind their success.

“I first joined the cadets when I was 10 and it’s given me so many opportunities.

“I grew up in the area and still live five minutes from the venue in the Northfleet Industrial Estate but we have people coming to the senior corps from all over the country and even a few from France, which is testament to the success of the group.”

Swanscombe father-of-two Mark Neilson became involved two years ago when his children – 10-year-old Georgie and Zachery, eight – joined. He played snare drum and trumpet in the Gravesham Corps, a previous incarnation of the group 1980s, but now he concentrates on the fundraising side. They host public performances, charity nights, fetes and anything else to swell the coffers and enable the group to march on.

The Black Knights have to raise between £6,000 and £10,000 a year to keep up with increased running costs and instrument maintenance.

Mark said: “Taking all of the instruments abroad can be a logistical nightmare and we need a seven tonne truck to shift everything. There are almost 100 people involved in both the cadets and seniors.

“But when you perform well in big international competitions you forget the blood, sweat and tears it’s taken you to get to that point.”

For the Black Knights, entertainment is as important as the music – they spend hours choreographing their marching and making sure they look, as well as sound, good. In recent years many groups in the south and east of the country have folded, in turn strengthening the group and increasing numbers.

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