An international audience packed Hadleigh Temple for the long-awaited visit of the Melbourne Staff Band, including groups from Germany, Holland and Norway.
The band was welcomed by Major Geoff Ashdown, who presented them with a tub of jellied eels as a sample of the local cuisine.
A projection on the screen behind them proclaimed the superiority of Australia in humorous fashion, before the band launched into Kenneth Downie’s march ‘The Victor’.
Specially written for the band, the composer makes use of a minor key opening and major key trio in homage to Arthur Gullidge.
The band displayed a bright sound, if a little on the loud side at first, with lively syncopation and effective percussion.
Written for this tour was Stephen Bulla’s ‘Tunesmith Overture’, songs by Howard Davies put together in Broadway style.
After a snippet of 'Is There Some Way That I Can Thank You Lord', the melodies ‘Not if I Owned the World’ and ‘Tell all the People’ were presented as a lilting jazz waltz.
There followed two of the composer’s humorous male voice songs, ‘God’s Still the One’ and ‘The Good Lord Brought Him Through’, the former featuring the trombone of Paul Smith.
After this somewhat frenetic interlude, with runs throughout the band, ‘The Wonder of his Grace’ was beautifully controlled by Nigel Mapes on Eb bass, despite the high register, before the final upbeat setting of ‘On the Way to Heaven’.
Was it fanciful to spot a snippet of ‘Tie me Kangaroo Down, Sport’ in the basses towards the end?
The first soloist was Jamie Smith, with Ivor Bosanko’s euphonium solo ‘Glorious Liberation’.
Based on the song ‘I Bring My All to Jesus’ the sparkling introduction led into a smooth presentation of the theme, with the octave leaps well under control.
The rhythmically complex accompaniment was tight, if a little heavy, but the soloist brought off an accomplished performance, nicely flowing and with an intense minor key variation, and an impressive final section, the final note resonating round the hall.
In contrast to the euphonium’s pyrotechnics, principal cornet Garry Todd played Andrew Blyth’s ‘A New World’, based on the Keith Banks song ‘Help Us Build a Loving World’.
This preceded Les Condon’s ‘The Call of the Righteous’, with its commanding opening trumpet call and some impressive percussion work, especially the gentle timpani at ‘When the Roll is Called Up Yonder’.
The band produced a big, warm sound, with just a slight tendency to distort at higher dynamic levels.
A police siren sounding between the euphonium and tuba solos failed to put them off, and the piece built to a triumphant conclusion.
Rebecca Raymond is attached to the band as their vocalist, impressing all with her version of ‘Now I Belong to Jesus’ (arr Bill Broughton).
Both band and soloist were totally at home in the big band style, complete with unison riffs and the occasional screamer from the cornets.
Rebecca then showed her versatility, and that of the composer, in ‘The Matchless Love of God’, accompanied by Wayne Collyer at the piano, the song being all the more effective because of its simplicity.
Following a word of testimony by Southend-born Caroline Holman, the band played ‘Coming Home’ (Kenneth Downie), a new setting of the words ‘Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling’.
The horns and flugel were heard to good effect, as were the composer’s typically rich harmonies and textures.
The first part of their programme concluded with another new work, ‘Atonement’ (Roger Trigg).
Australian-born, and a former member of both the Melbourne and the New York Staff Bands, the composer currently resides in Northern Ireland.
In this predominantly joyous piece, Roger has included various antipodean references, including quotations from ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and the use of didgeridoo and rain stick in the opening bars.
The tune ‘To God be the Glory’ appeared in a distorted, lilting rhythm, whilst the central section depicted a steady, relentless tread over which a version of 'When I Survey the Wondrous Cross' was played.
The contemporary hymn ‘The Wonderful Cross’, set in a more upbeat style and with driving percussion, brought this impressive piece to a resounding climax.
Baritone player Alistair Straughan was entrusted with the commercial break.
He produced a box with various ‘desirable’ items, including a Royal Wedding pen, a piece of grass from Ramsay Street and an Australian cricket cap – available to anyone who could concentrate for more than ten minutes, before advertising the cds available to purchase.
Explaining that the ISB had generously arranged for the band to visit Lords to see the Ashes, he also pointed out the difference between Ricky Ponting and a funeral director, saying the latter does not keep losing the ashes.
Music on the move
During the interval the stands were cleared away leaving an empty space for the final part of the programme.
To the ranks of Stavanger and Brass Band of Central Florida must now be added the Melbourne Staff Band, as they proceeded to present an imaginatively choreographed set played entirely from memory.
The percussion section provided an interlude to encourage the audience to resume their seats before the tuba section entered, resplendent in orange t-shirts, to kick off ‘Joy, Peace and Happiness’ (Richard Phillips), each section entering in turn and joining in, complete with a little business with a miniature cricket set, both balls being missed by the batsman, deliberately or otherwise.
Arraying themselves in two lines, they ended with a chorus-line style finale.
Clapping led into ‘He is the Lord’ – ‘El es Senor’ (Dean Jones), the bull-fighting allusions of the music being mimicked in the choreography, with a crossover routine and Mariachi-style cornet duet. Barrie Gott’s ‘Lightwalk’ came next, with two lines meandering around the hall in different directions, and with Garry Todd taking the solo.
Executive Officer Lt Col Ian Hamilton then drew from personal experience to speak of the dangers of jumping to wrong conclusions.
Grace and Salvation
Vocalist Rebecca Raymond produced a thrilling account of ‘Amazing Grace’ (arr Ballantine), commencing with piano accompaniment, the band then providing a backing chorus before picking up their instruments for the final affirmation.
The band remained static for ‘Touching the Waves’ (Squib), based on ‘O Boundless Salvation’.
It featured piano and four trombones at the outset, moving through a Latin American phase before the full band joined for the final verse.
Rebecca’s final contribution was ‘Your Grace still Amazes Me’ (trans Brian Hogg), which was accompanied by scriptural references and images from Robert Powell’s ‘Jesus of Nazareth’.
The programme closed with a lively version of the ‘Galop from William Tell’ (arr Goffin), complete with horse and cowboy impressions.
The choreography, although apparently random at times, must have been very carefully worked out, and included the whole band jumping in the air at appointed places.
Following a spoken benediction, the band spread out around the hall to play ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You’ (John Rutter arr Olaf Ritman).
It ended an entertaining evening full of variety, presented by a very versatile group of performers.