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Listen to the SA Navy Band
Victory at sea

'intrigued by an instrument which seemed to have more keys to manipulate than there are fingers to operate them'


Early Years

The 1970s

The 1990s

2004 Onwards

Past Directors'

Profiles of the Directors of Music

Commander John Imrie, S.M., F.T.C.L. (1955-1973)

Commander John Imrie was born in 1911.  His first introduction to the world of music came in those days when home entertainment and musical evenings were the forerunners of radio and cinema.  His mother was something of a singer and John tried his hand at accompanying her on an old fashioned harmonium.  This led him to take piano lessons to improve his musical knowledge and performance. 

Later, however, he was browsing through an old catalogue and was intrigued by an instrument which seemed to have more keys to manipulate than there were fingers to operate them.  This turned out to be a clarinet and so began a long association of a man and an instrument.

At the age of 12 John joined the Bloemfontein Willows Band eventually becoming the principal clarinetist of this band.  In 1934 John joined the newly established Permanent Force Band of the South African Defence Force becoming the first Band-sergeant of that band.

During WW2 he served in North Africa and Italy.  On his return home in 1946, John resumed his musical studies, which had been somewhat curtailed during the war.  In that same year John was appointed Bandmaster of No. 3 Cape Corps Band and it was with this band that he showed sterling qualities of leadership, training and running of the band.  In June 1946 John was appointed as deputy to the Director of Music of the newly formed South African Air Force Band. 

In 1955 John was appointed Director of Music of the newly formed South African Navy Band, thereby becoming the first South African born director of music to be appointed to the Permanent Force.  Furthermore, he became the first Director of Music of the South African Navy Band.  Cdr Imrie served in this capacity with distinction and finally retired in 1973.  He died in 1992.

Commander Ron Marlow, S.M., MMM, L.T.C.L., L.R.S.M. (1973-1989)

Commander Ron Marlow’s musical activities started at a tender age of 12 years when he played in a Salvation Army Brass Band.  He joined the Regimental Army Band in Pretoria in 1948 and met Captain E.H. Kealey, Director of Music of the South African Army Band.  Under his influence, Commander Ron Marlow decided to become a professional military musician and joined the SA Army Band in 1954.

Ron transferred to the SA Navy Band in Simon’s Town.  His rise through the ranks was rapid:  Assistant Director of Music of the SA Navy Band with the naval rank of Lieutenant in 1970, Director of Music in 1973 and promotion to Commander in 1977.

Commander Marlow, who held licentiates with the Trinity College of London and the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, was a multi-talented instrumentalist having played euphonium for many years, thereafter moving on to trumpet and trombone.  He had also worked with the then Cape Town Symphony Orchestra as an ad-hoc musician.

Ron retired form the SA Navy Band in 1989.  He died in 2009.

Commander Mike Oldham, MMM, L.T.C.L. (1989-2004)

Born into a family of musicians, Commander Mike Oldham studied music from the age of seven, eventually qualifying at both Trinity College of Music and London University.

As a multi-instrumentalist and conductor he has performed with many groups in England and has toured extensively, including Europe, the Middle East, Iceland and various places in Southern Africa.

His first professional engagements were as a member of the famous Grenadier Guards Band, performing all the ceremonial duties in London and playing with the resident orchestras.  Since 1979 Mike has been involved with teaching programmes throughout South Africa and was invited to teach for the National Youth Orchestra Course.  During this period he also performed at the International Music Festival in Vienna and was the South African representative.

Mike was appointed as Director of Music in 1989, a position he held till his retirement in 2004. 


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revision date: Tuesday, March 09, 2010

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