SERGEANT Major Gary Chilton had the honour and privilege to perform with Robin Gibb at one of the last public appearances he made before he passed away in May last year. Gary, who is one third of the popular band The Soldiers, said the performance at the London Palladium is one he will always treasure. He talks about the Bee Gee ahead of The Soldiers tour which is coming to the Wycombe Swan at the end of this month.
The Soldiers continue to go from strength to strength. The band consisting of Gary, from The Band of the Army Air Corps, Staff Sergeant Richie Maddocks from Corps of Army Music and Lance Corporal Ryan Idzi from 1st The Queen's Dragon Guards are all serving soldiers.
But as well as serving all over the world they divide their time in the army with singing and performing to packed audiences, having had two top five and top ten albums.
Music entrepreneur Jeff Chegwin and partner Nick Patrick, Classical Brit-winning producer, put the trio together in 2009 and they are about to embark on their fourth tour.
Gary, who served on the front line during the Gulf War, for which he received the Gulf War Medal, said they have got used to dividing their time between the army and the band.
He said: "It it like a well oiled clock. We have got it down to a fine art.
"It was not to start with. It is now quite easy- it is the fourth year we have been doing it now."
And he said the army has been really good with it and they understand the complexity of it.
When they first started it had not been done before, so there were contractual issues and they had to work out how to make it work as serving soldiers.
He said: "You don't want other soldiers looking at us thinking how do they get all this time off doing this.
"Which is why we decided to involve the charity to give some meaning- whereas it would have been three soldiers with a record deal.
"It would have looked a bit odd. We are paid for by the public purse at the end of the day.
"The general public want value for money."
They raise money for a number of charities including Help For Heroes.
They sang I've Gotta Get A Message To You with Bee Gee Robin Gibb, which was released as a single with all proceeds going to the Coming Home Charity.
They sang with Robin at The London Palladium on February 13, 2012 before he died aged 62 on May 20 after a lengthy battle with cancer and pneumonia.
It was the last live performances the Thame resident did, Gary said, and added: "It is something I will always treasure."
They met Robin for the first time back in 2011 when they were shooting the video for I've Gotta Get A Message To You.
Gary said: "It was a really surreal experience for the three of us. Certainly for me and Richie- we grew up with the Bee Gees.
"I can remember being ten years old at school when Saturday Night Fever came out.
"And then to be whizzing around Robin Gibb's back garden with a Bee Gee sat in the front. It is an experience I will never forget."
For the official video of the single they recorded a scene with Robin in an army truck.
The Soldiers now do quite a bit of work with Robin's widow, Dwina, who is a patron of Against Breast Cancer.
He said: "We have become quite good acquaintances. She is a lovely lady. She has carried on the good work Robin had been doing."
They did not attend the funeral in Thame on June 8 but they did perform at the Blue Plaque Unveiling in honour of Robin at his house in Thame.
Gary, 44, understands The Soldiers also offer a comfort for families of serving personnel and people who have lost a loved one.
He said: "We have been through a very difficult period for the army over the last five to six years. Certainly when we got launched in 2009 there was an awful lot of repatriation of soldiers that had been injured or killed in action.
"When we launched it was during a time when the general public were looking for something to hold onto as a comfort blanket.
"So many times the music we did and continue to do is a great comfort to people whether or not they have someone serving or like the music anyway and want to use the music in their own way."
Gary and Richie are obviously already musical in their job roles, and Ryan had got to the bootcamp stage in X-Factor in 2007.
Gary said: "I don't think people realise how cut throat the business is.
"Acts get dropped. Even acts on the X-Factor.
"If they win the competition they have one crack with their first album- if it doesn't do well they get dropped.
"You can only count on one hand the amount of success stories since it began.
"If you can't be successful winning that show it shows how difficult the business is."
Gary has two children Aaron, 13 and Megan, 10 and met his partner, Julie more than three years ago in North Wales when The Soldiers were performing there.
He said: "She came to the show. I just got to meet her while I was up there. I was going through a difficult time myself."
And he said it is great as his children get on well with Julie and are proud of what he has achieved so far.
And rightly so- the band have so far sold 1.2 million albums.
The latest show has a more intimate feel and will be more of an acoustic show.
They are going to revive some of their earlier music.
But he said even now they do get a bit nervous before a show.
He said: "The weird thing was walking into a shop one day and seeing our faces on a CD alongside the likes of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston sitting there in the top five albums.
"That was a surreal experience."
The Soldiers are at The Wycombe Swan in St Mary Street on Sunday, January 27 at 7.30pm. Tickets are £20-£23.50. Call 01494 512000 or go to www.wycombeswan.co.uk
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