Scouts leave their mark with music at Roverway 2018 in the Netherlands
As the setting sun begins to drop towards the horizon, thousands of young people are dancing on the beach in The Hague, grains of powdery sand diffusing the warm air and bathing the crowd and the band on stage in a golden light.
The singers get to the chorus. The music is catchy. The crowd joins in. It seems like any other summer music festival in Europe.
“We’ve got the whole world at our feet.” The three women stomp across the stage and the beat picks up. “Put my scarf in the air and be prepared.”
Suddenly, thousands of young people are swirling their scarves around their heads in time to the music in a kaleidoscope of Scouting colours. Roverway 2018, one of Europe’s biggest gatherings of young people, is officially underway.
“It was magical,” says 17-year-old Katerina Ulrychova, who started in Scouting as a six-year-old in the Czech Republic and was one of the three singers on stage. “I would never have thought I would be able to sing in front of so many people, and when they took off their scarves, it really was the best view I ever had.”
Only a few weeks earlier, Sam Chatterley, a 20-year-old British Scout, and Marieke Demage, who together manage the band, had been sitting in her living room in a small Dutch town wondering how they could inspire nearly 5,000 young people to demonstrate their love for Scouting. They never dreamed the song would strike such a chord.
“It was awesome to actually see that,” Chatterley recalls a few days later, as the band members prepare to abseil down a church tower near Demage’s home in a break from rehearsals.
Held every two years, Roverway is a chance for older Scouts to learn something of their host nation through specially-designed programmes of social, cultural and Scouting activities, known as paths. Each path takes place over a week and is made up of about 50 young people. In The Netherlands, Rovers could choose from more than 60 paths with everyone coming together in Zeewolde at the end of the paths for a five-day camp.
Participants usually choose their path themselves, but those who wanted to be part of the Rover Band had to audition. First, they had to submit a video tape of themselves playing their instrument, then complete a series of Skype interviews and finally attend a jamming session during the last weekend in June. At least 25 applied, but only nine made the cut.
From behind the garage doors of the Scout Hut, comes the sound of drumming, which swiftly builds into a musical jam. There is the keyboard, a guitar, bass and violin. A woman starts singing.
As dinner is cleared away and plates washed, the Rovers gather in front of the garage. A journalist from a local radio station has dropped by to find out more about what’s going on.
The doors swing open, and the Rover Band kicks off their 20-minute set with La Bamba.
The Scouts jump up and dance along, shouting out the chorus. The singers keep the momentum going through a few party standards like Walk the Moon’s Shut up and Dance, but it’s the Rover Song that really gets everyone going.
“Music really brings people together,” says 19-year-old Dutch Scout, Niels Beukenkamp, who is the band’s drummer. Until Roverway’s opening night, he had never played to more than 100 people. “You can dance, you can sing, you can express your passion.”
Chatterley credits the band with taking the folk song that he originally wrote and making it theirs by giving it a rock and country edge. But he says the connection with the audience isn’t just about the music, it’s also about the lyrics.
“The song has to have a message, but it also has to speak to people on a more human level,” says Chatterley. “Within Scouting you can’t ever really be alone. There’s never a point where there’s no-one there to support you.”
The band has been playing together for only a few weeks, but they have built a strong rapport, swapping instruments or jamming together even after a long day of rehearsal or a performance.
“We sit around, and someone picks up a guitar or starts playing the piano,” says Kevin Gorey, 19, the band’s Irish lead guitarist. “We let the music do the talking.”
Their rehearsal space is a room in Demage’s house. Photos of the band line the walls, and the words to Leave our Mark are pinned on the wall, along with some recent newspaper cuttings and the band’s performance schedule. With the drum kit, keyboard, amps and instruments, there is barely any room for the band themselves.
Many of the musicians play more than one instrument. Augustin Soyez, 20, who has been playing the violin since he was five, can also play the trumpet or the guitar, which he learned around the campfire. “We have one language in common and that is music,” explains the French Scout, who is studying musicology.
While much of the Rover Band’s path has been spent in rehearsal, they have also had the space to get to know each other better with the kind of activities that enable the group to grow and learn, as Scouts and young people.
Singer Alexandra Mamaari, who describes herself as “that child who would do crazy dance moves when a song came on,” has spent the past few weeks hobbling around on a cast thanks to a broken foot. It didn’t stop her abseiling down the church tower or jumping around on stage at The Hague, an experience the 17-year-old Lebanese says was exhilarating.
The band have already recorded Leave our Mark in a studio and made a video – filmed on location in Zeewolde and now posted online . For Mamaari, it’s a song that perfectly captures the mood of the event, and she’s eager to sing it again. “It’s very catchy, very upbeat and perfect for Roverway,” she says.