James Clemens band receives rare invite to march in London parade

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MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) - The James Clemens High School band received the invitation of a lifetime on Thursday. Westminster Lord Mayor Catherine Longworth made the overseas trip to formally present the Jets with an offer to march in London's 2017 New Year's parade at a ceremony in the school's auditorium.

"Only the best schools get invited, so James Clemens is definitely one of them," she said.

Parade Founder and Executive Director Robert Bone also attended the event.

Parade patrons select participants from a list of band recommendations. Participants cannot request to march in the parade. Officials said another band director in Alabama nominated the Jets. James Clemens is one of only 16 high schools to be recommended for the honor.

"It's kind of surreal, but it's very exciting to think about where this program is at such a young age," said JCHS Band Director Keith Anderson.

Florence High School and Jacksonville State University have performed in the parade in year's past.

With 8,500 participants from 20 countries, the 30-year-old parade is more than double the size of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. More than 650,000 people pack the streets of London to see it and more than 300 million watch its broadcast worldwide.

The parade route is roughly 2.5 miles, with the opportunity for a standstill performance. Though the parade is more than a year away, Anderson said he has already started planning.

"One of my favorite things about the job is creating those performances," he said. "It's so wide open with so many opportunities, so I'm looking forward to researching what other bands have done and what the expectation is because we want to make sure that we meet and exceed any of those expectations."

During the ceremony, the Jets band performed for Lord Mayor Longworth, which she responded to with applause and an enthusiastic thumbs up.

"They're so enthusiastic and that's what I really like," she said. "Their commitment and their discipline, it's just very impressive how much work they do to get it so absolutely right."

The Lord Mayor then presented the school with a coat of arms and she gifted cufflinks bearing the coat of arms to Principal Brian Clayton, Anderson and Madison Mayor Troy Trulock. She also gave city pins to the bands' three drum majors. Trulock, in turn, presented the Lord Mayor with a key to Madison.

The band will visit London from December 27, 2016 through January 3, 2017.  Anderson said he estimates the trip will cost $3,000 per student. He said they will hold multiple fundraisers to help pay for the trip.