x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Barmy Army Bill brings music to England's ears

They are cricket's most vociferous supporters, but it is not just their heroes on the pitch that makes them want to sing and dance.

Trumpter Bill Cooper is confident England cricket team will bounce back in the Abu Dhabi Test match with the help of some musical support. Above, Bill with Ian Bailey, Sara Thornton-Bryar and Chris Crabb. Delores Johnson / The National
Trumpter Bill Cooper is confident England cricket team will bounce back in the Abu Dhabi Test match with the help of some musical support. Above, Bill with Ian Bailey, Sara Thornton-Bryar and Chris Crabb. Delores Johnson / The National

Bill Cooper likes to blow his own trumpet - especially when it spurs his beloved England cricket team to victory.

That's exactly what the 32-year-old is hoping to do when he leads the team's boisterous fans - the Barmy Army - in song at today's England versus Pakistan Test match in Abu Dhabi.

Bill, who's known simply as "Billy the Trumpet", has been searching his musical repertoire for a suitable song to play at the big game. "I'm thinking maybe a song from Lawrence of Arabia will be a good choice."

Since he started following England on tour eight years ago as part of the Barmy Army, Bill has played every type of tune you can imagine; The Lion Sleeps Tonight, YMCA and The Great Escape's theme song are just a few of the favourites.

Bill, his trumpet and a group of Barmy Army members, are hoping to create as much noise as possible to support England during the five-day Test which starts today at Zayed Cricket Stadium, especially after last week's defeat in Dubai.

The team only managed to hold out against Pakistan for three of the five days before retreating to lick their wounds after a 10-wicket thrashing.

It was their first defeat in two years, but Billy is confident his team will bounce back in the capital with the help of some musical support to create an atmosphere - something he says was missing in Dubai.

The trumpeter, who is used to blasting out tunes over crowds of cheering fans, said the game at the 25,000-seater Dubai International Cricket Stadium was "soulless".

"It was dead as you like. I didn't have to play that loud and it still carried around the stadium because it was that empty. And, as soon as I stopped, there was just an eerie silence."

The Barmy Army were given their nickname by the Australian media during the 1994-1995 Ashes series because of their audacity to chant even when England were losing.

According to Bill, the players "appreciate the Barmy Army and the noise" they make to spur them on to victory.

"When they win, it's because they are good cricketers. But after our bowlers have been in the hot sun for two hours and have started to flag, they've told us our singing perks them up a bit."

He said the players often ask fans to turn up the volume when matches go stale, and have even sent text messages from the dressing rooms asking the Barmy Army to sing certain songs.

"The relationship we have with them is great; they are a good bunch, really. It's all happy times, apart from when we lose," he said.

The trumpeter particularly remembers the night in 2005 when half of the team joined fans to celebrate England's first Ashes win over Australia in 25 years.

"They partied hard with us all night long," said the die-hard fan, who also remembers how Paul Collingwood, who played his last Test for England that day, came over during the match and joined the Barmy Army in singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight. A video of the singalong on YouTube has had more 75,700 hits.

Away from cricket, Billy, who was educated at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and the Royal Academy of Music in London, is a classical musician and has worked with many orchestras, including the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and even performed in West End musicals such as the Phantom of the Opera and Lord of the Rings.

His role as the Barmy Army's bugler came about after a trip to watch England play in the Caribbean in 2004.

"I brought my trumpet, but as I got off the plane in Barbados and saw the beautiful beach the last thing I was thinking about was playing it," said Billy, who "somehow ended up losing" his beloved trumpet not long after.

However, it miraculously turned up a few days later in Antigua, being played on the other side of the stadium by someone who had found it in a taxi.

"I borrowed my friend's binoculars and, sure enough, it was my trumpet. So I stormed over to the other and said: 'Hey, that's my trumpet'."

"They guy told me to prove it, so I started playing The Great Escape, which is the song I always start with now," said Billy.

He's been making sweet music ever since.

molson@thenational.ae