IT'S the time of year when the marching band fraternity in Ballymena and district would be tuning up for a 'new season'.
But 2020 is not a normal year and the Covid Pandemic has had a major impact on the band scene.
Earlier in the year, parades were cancelled throughout Northern Ireland and that meant a sizeable loss in much needed revenue for local bands.
Collections at such parades are used to defray transport costs and help with the purchase of new uniforms and instruments.
In any normal year, halls throughout the local area would be hosting nightly band practice sessions as local outfits hone their skills for the onset of the so-called marching season in late Spring 2021.
But social distancing requirements and latest lockdown restrictions have thrown those plans down the musical drain.
Rodney Quigley, an independent Mid and East Antrim Councillor and chairman of the Ballymena Bands Forum acknowledged that things were 'far from smooth' for the area's many marching bands.
"For a start, this is usually the recruitment period for new musicians," he says. "That just can't happen at the moment for obvious reasons and that is somewhat worrying because new faces are literally the lifeblood which keeps bands going.
"At this time of year you'd be seeing new youngsters coming in to learn how to play.
“£Bands need practice in the winter period to get everyone up to scratch, especially the newcomers. "
Despite Covid, some local bands did manage to mount socially distanced parades around the 12th period and others played in open spaces such as King George Park in Harryville for the 'Derry Day At Home' festival.
"The local bands can hold their heads high in that respect," says Rodney. "They followed all the protocols and brought the traditional culture to their communities, lifting spirits at an otherwise gloomy time."
Rodney now hopes that covid restrictions will have a major impact on the R number so that players can get back to their practice nights.
"2020 was a bleak year for our local bands so we are all hoping that next year will be back to normal and our bands will be wanting to show off their musicianship to best effect," he says.