Hendon Band of the Salvation Army


Conductor: Bandmaster Stephen Cobb
St Mary's Church, Slough
Saturday 17th April 2004

The beautiful church of St Mary's, Slough, was the venue for a programme presented by Hendon Band under their Bandmaster Stephen Cobb. The evening had been arranged by euphonium player Charley Brighton as part of the church's Arts series, although he was unable to attend as he was playing in a concert elsewhere.

From the opening item, Stephen Bulla's march Montclair Citadel, it was clear that the acoustic was not ideal for a band of any size, let alone one as large as Hendon. It says a great deal for their precision and discipline that more detail was not lost. As for the march, starting off in fairly traditional manner with some good work in the bottom of the band, elements of Stephen Bulla's usual quirky style emerged, with a distinctive setting of "Onward Christian Soldiers" in the trio section.

Without any introduction, the mood changed with the more gentle sounds of Andrew Mackereth's Fall Afresh. Here the chording was particularly effective in the church, and the warm sound of the horn section - all nine of them - made its presence felt, before the piece ended with the very delicate placing of the final chord.

Shostakovich seems to work well for band, and Martin Cordner's arrangement of Folk Festival was no exception, allowing the fine percussion section to be put through their paces. There was some very crisp playing throughout the band, especially from the cornets, with much made of the dynamic contrasts, and the trombone sound cutting through where appropriate.

Following the introductions, David Daws stepped forward to play Brian Bowen's cornet solo Flashback. Originally written in 1962 under the title "In my Saviour's Care" it was revised in 1987, and was in fact recorded by Stephen Cobb with the ISB in1988, so he is no doubt quite familiar with it! It provides plenty of challenges for the soloist, not least in the way it uses the full range of the instrument, moving from bottom F# up into the higher reaches within the space of a couple of bars. Rhythmically, the soloist is often set at odds with the accompaniment, which was pared down to one on a part to allow the solo line to come through. The middle section gave David the chance to display to the full his clear, lyrical tone, and
this was undoubtedly one of the evening's highlights.

The second soloist was Tony Scannell with Norman Bearcroft's The Great Adventure, which showed his trademark exploitation of the instrument's upper register. Contrasting the tune of "Come Comrades Dear" (as used by Wilfred Heaton in "Celestial Prospect") with his own setting of the words "Just as I am", the accompaniment also featured some effective contrasts between cornets and trombones on one hand and the saxhorns on the other, with some particularly telling playing by the soprano. The soloist coped well with the technical feats called for, although some of the figurations were lost a little in the acoustic, and he seemed slightly less comfortable in the bottom register.

Ask is a setting by Peter Graham of a song written initially for the Salvation Army musical "Spirit" which has since been taken up for use in worship. Replete with Latin American rhythms and percussion, on this
occasion it seemed a little heavy and Hendon's playing seemed a touch too calculated.

Kathryn Hill, who is the accompanist for Hendon's Singing Company (junior choir), provided a change of timbre by playing one of Grieg's Nocturnes beautifully on the piano, once some more light had been provided so that she could see properly!

To close the first half of their programme the band played Eric Ball's Journey into Freedom. It was a very committed reading, with very clean scalic passages right the way down to the basses, and some effective glissandi from the trombones. In the interval, much of the conversation touched on David Daws' sensitive playing of the cornet solo, whilst Michael Calland on Eb bass was equally telling. As the music drew to a climax, the Bandmaster gave the music plenty of room to breathe, and the expansive sound seemed to suit the surroundings perfectly.

During the interval the band changed formation into a quasi-big-band set-up, with drum kit in the centre and cornets and trombones standing behind the rest of the band. They also changed from their white shirts and festival tunics into polo shirts in the traditional Salvation Army colours of red, yellow and blue. After an introduction that spoke of Christ breaking free from the bonds of death, the band moved into Breakout from Cry of the Celts. Again there was some very tidy work from the cornet section, particularly when the solo cornets split into two groups of three to answer each other.

The trombone solo Joshua had been arranged by Kevin Hayward of the Canadian Staff Band, and here there seemed to be a little uncertainty between soloist Paul Hopkins and the band, possibly in part due to the layout. It is a solo that calls on the soloist to cover a wide range, with often improvisatory phrases and declamation, and there were occasions when the soloist, who certainly showed himself to be a very accomplished player, could not be heard very clearly.

The next two items were both from the pen of Canadian Len Ballantine, the first being his swing-style version of Go down, Moses. Closely based around his own choral setting, it featured a quasi-improvised flugel solo, and the answering passages between the cornets and trombones worked well. In contrast was his arrangement of the American melody Oh Shenandoah, linked somewhat awkwardly with John Oxenham's words "Mid all the traffic of the ways", but the inclusion of the words in the programme enabled the listeners to see what the inspiration behind the setting had been. The band revelled in the opportunity for some smooth, legato playing, with the dynamics well graded and a good, controlled sound throughout.

The Shaker tune Simple Gifts, as arranged by Ray Steadman Allen, allowed several sections of the band to show what they could do, with some fine work by the horns and basses particularly, although the flugel struggled to be heard on his solo verse. The Vicar of Dibley was voted number three in a recent survey of sitcoms, much to the surprise of many people. Whatever the merits or otherwise of the programme, the theme music, Howard Goodall's setting of "The Lord is my Shepherd", has proved very popular, not least in Bram Gay's arrangement for band. On this occasion there was a little discrepancy in tempo at the start, as if the band were not quite ready, and in the end it came across as slightly rushed.

An effective scripture presentation juxtaposed verses from the Easter story with the band chorus singing the spiritual "Were you there?" It was good to hear the women's voices blending in with the men, rather than standing out as can sometimes be the case, and the presentation ended positively with the account of Thomas recognising the Risen Lord.

A Hendon programme or recording would not be complete without a song by Roger Cobb, and his contribution was the song "Close to Me", sung with piano accompaniment and the backing of a small group of bandsmen. Always a good communicator in song, the words came across well, although he may have been obscured from some of the audience by the pillar next to which he was standing.

The final programmed item was Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral, played with the band still in the big-band formation. This did not seem to help the opening quartet, who seemed rather tentative, but things quickly settled down. What was most striking about their rendition was the way it was so well controlled, with the crescendi carefully graded, and the sound, whilst full, not being allowed to become overblown. Even at the climax, with the sound echoing around the church, it was clear that there was still more in reserve if needed.

Following words of appreciation and a benediction, the band brought proceedings to a close with Barrie Gott's Swingtime Religion, David Daws once more taking centre stage for the cornet solo in the middle.

The bandsmen (and women) had proved themselves to be good ambassadors not only for The Salvation Army but also for the brass band movement as a whole, as many of those in the audience were not familiar with bands, and the programme chosen was well-presented and very accessible. If there were any reservations, it would be as to whether some of the big-band style pieces worked in that setting and acoustic, particularly as the percussion must have found it difficult seeing the conductor at times. Nevertheless, it was a very enjoyable evening, and deserved to have a larger audience than the hundred or so who turned up.

Peter Bale