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Sergeant Major Gary Chilton
The Band of the Army Air Corps
Staff Sergeant Richie Maddocks
Corps of Army Music
Lance Corporal Ryan Idzi
1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards
Three real-life serving ‘Soldiers’
Their story sounds like a movie script written by Richard Curtis. It begins in the British Army, features a band of friends on a dream journey, takes in the world’s war zones, reality TV, hit albums raising monies for armed forces charities, performing for Her Majesty the Queen and on prime time TV’s and boasts a feel good soundtrack you would leave the cinema singing. Except this tall tale is true.
The Soldiers have created musical history by becoming the first group ever of serving, British soldiers to have two hit Top 5 and Top 10 albums. The youngest of The Soldiers, Idzi is in fact the most surprised of the three by his singing success. Despite reaching the boot camp stage of 2007’s X Factor - a series he was tipped to win before succumbing to stage fright – the Caerphilly-born Lance Corporal who has seen active service in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the 20th Armoured Brigade never considered himself a good singer.
“I only entered X Factor because I didn’t have a choice,” he laughs. “I was given the application form by my family and made to fill it in. It was just a joke. I had never considered singing professionally before. I mean, I enjoy singing and I’m a king at karaoke, but that’s as far as it ever went.
“I wasn’t aiming to get far in the contest. I don’t have that mental attitude. As for being tipped to win? Ah, give me a break! It was for a minute or so after the first round. My life didn’t change, unless you count a few folk recognising me as that guy off TV.”
Yet several months later, an email Idzi received from music entrepreneur Jeff Chegwin and partner Nick Patrick, a Grammy-nominated and multiple Classical Brit-winning producer who has worked with Katherine Jenkins, Russell Watson, Hayley Westenra and the Gypsy Kings, did change his life. Chegwin and Patrick already had their eye on two serving sergeants from the Corps Of Army Music, who they planned to approach with the idea of recording an album. When they spotted Idzi on X Factor, they knew they had a band.
“All three of us jumped at the offer,” says Gary Chilton, a Sergeant Major who has served in Germany and Northern Ireland and spent six months on the front line during the first Gulf War, for which he received the Gulf War Medal, presented by The Prince Of Wales. “I have been involved with military music since I joined the army at the age of 16. To be asked to be part of a project like this is fulfilling a lifelong ambition.”
Like Chilton, Oldham-born sergeant Richie Maddocks is a trained soldier who provides musical support for the army. One of seven brothers and sisters – his six siblings are all gigging musicians – Maddocks enlisted at 16 and has toured throughout Europe, Canada and The Falkland Islands. He was deployed as a medical assistant in the first Gulf War and awarded the Gulf Medal and now serves with The Minden Band as drum major of The Queen’s Division.
“I’ve played everything from Colonel Bogey in the middle of the desert in Saudi Arabia to rock’n’roll at an abandoned aircraft hanger to entertain the troops in Iraq. We play wherever we’re needed. We do Freedom Parades and Pass Off Parades – you couldn’t imagine a parade without music. I’ve played to crowds of 6000 in Cyprus and to fifty dignitaries at a dinner.”
Despite how keen The Soldiers are to record and perform, there were logistical problems.
“We are all still serving soldiers first and foremost,” explains Chilton. “The Army has been brilliant in allowing us to record during our leave, but because we have different postings getting the three of us in to a studio at the same time has been a nightmare. We have to work hard in short bursts.”
“We’re looking for a wider following than people with friends or family in the armed forces,” explains Maddocks. “We want people in civvie street to get it as well. Obviously, Our music is about soldiers, but there are wider themes in even that song that everyone can relate to and celebrates solidarity and family, as well as what the armed forces do every day for our country.”
In an Afghan village of their choice
Yep, I'm a cunt.