Big Bertha’s British Invasion

Big Bertha's British Invasion
Since 1955, the enormous Big Bertha bass drum has been struck by members of the Longhorn Band at hundreds of UT football games. On New Year’s Day, the 8-foot-tall drum experienced a first—it was beaten by a petite Englishwoman.

Making its first international trip, Big Bertha was invited—with more than 185 members of the Longhorn Alumni Band in tow—to the London New Year’s Day Parade, which boasted in excess of 10,000 performers and more than half a million spectators along the route. The only problem? Lugging the old gal across the pond without incurring any damage. Enter alumni band member J.P. Kirksey, BBA ’65, Life Member, who has worked on the maintenance and refurbishment of Big Bertha for more than 20 years. He took a trip to London in July to scout the location out, where he says the parade organizers gushed over the drum.

“They said, ‘If you can get that big drum here, we’ll put her first in the parade right next to the Lord of Westminster,’” Kirksey says. “That was a slam dunk.”

Back stateside, Kirksey got to work with a shipping broker and a crate-maker to build custom crates for the big trip, one for the drum and one for the carriage stand. The logistics of creating the packaging and getting Bertha to London were so intricate that the process was filmed for an upcoming episode of the A&E show Shipping Wars.

Bertha made it safely to London, and after some publicity appearances, she was ready for the parade. As soon as it commenced, according to Kirksey, all attention was focused on the 8-foot bass drum.
“Everyone had their camera up in the air taking pictures,” he says, “and they were all aimed at Bertha.”

At the reviewing stand at the end of the route, Lord Mayor of Westminster Audrey Lewis descended to speak with the alumni band about the grand spectacle.

“The Longhorn Alumni Band is delighted that you had us in London,” Kirksey remembers telling Lewis. “I’d like you to hit Bertha.”

Kirksey says Lewis looked like a “deer in the headlights.”

“You want me to do what?” Lewis said, aghast. The Lord Mayor complied, whacking the drum and accepting the mallet she used as a token of the band’s appreciation.

Photo by J.P. Kirksey.


Tags: ,