The last day of February 2015 was damp and grey around Bexleyheath, but there was warmth, light and a great welcome for the South London Fellowship Band (Bandmaster Darrell Scholes) as they presented a program in Bexleyheath Corps’ temporary quarters, Bexleyheath Methodist Church. In aid of the BexleyHeath Corps Building Fund, the concert was shared with Bexleyheath Singing Company (Leader Rachel Gash).
As soon as the band was seated, they launched, unannounced, into Michael Kenyon’s arrangement of Camilled Saint-Saëns’ Marche Militaire Français. This was immediately followed by principal cornet Alan Moyse, who played I’d Rather Have Jesus (George Beverly Shea, arr. William Himes), and then the band offering the suite On the Road (Howard Davies).
Having introduced themselves musically to the good-sized audience, the Fellowship Band was formally welcomed by Bexleyheath commanding officer Captain Paul Wood, who then handed the evening off to his father, Lt.-Colonel Peter Wood, who was the compère for the evening. Three of the members of the Fellowship Band are soldiers at Bexleyheath, and the concert was arranged to aid Bexleyheath Corps Building Project. The corps had to vacate their previous premises six months before, and have raised two-thirds of the funds needed to build a replacement.
The band and the audience joined together in the rousing hymn “O for a thousand tongues”. Lt.-Col. Wood, calculating quickly, determined that if everyone sang as if they were ten people, then it would sound like a thousand tongues. The trombones then came to the fore with The Cleansing Power (Stephen Bulla). After the band played Percy Merritt’s 1936 march The Golden West, all again joined in singing Zephaniah’s Song, a modern setting by William Himes, which earned a resounding “Hallelujah!” at its conclusion.
As the compère pointed out, Zephaniah is rarely mentioned in Salvation Army gatherings. On this night, the Old Testament prophet had two mentions, because one of the songs offered by the Bexleyheath Singing Company was Zephaniah 3:17 (Dean Jones). In their two sets, the Singing Company presented a total of eight songs, ranging from the upbeat What a Friend (Leonard Ballantine), with the singers negotiating some awkward intervals with ease, through A Melody of Love (Roth/Jones) to Charles Wesley’s well-loved words Love Divine (Wesley/Mcbroom, arr. Gash), all sung from memory. During the first set, Caitlin Pretious sang On My Own from the musical Les Misérables as a solo. With excellent diction and confidence, her voice displayed a maturity beyond her young years.
In December 2014, Salvationist musicians around the world were saddened to learn of the death of “RSA” – Lt.-Colonel Dr. Ray Steadman-Allen OF. A published composer since the 1940s, RSA was a constant presence for generations of musicians. As a tribute, the Fellowship Band presented three of his compositions during the concert.
First was principal euphonium Adrian Horwood with the solo The Conqueror. A bright piece built around the tune ’I’m a soldier bound for Glory”, Horwood presented it with his customary assurance and skill. This was followed by the classic selection In Quiet Pastures. In a feature in the magazine The Musician some years ago, this work, dating from 1950, was the one most mentioned by readers as their favorite “Sunday night” selection. It still speaks today.
The third item of the tribute to Steadman-Allen was also the major work of the evening, the selection On Active Service. Published in 1958, the piece is Steadman-Allen’s own tribute to Bandmaster George Marshall, who had passed away two years earlier. The composition’s structure is reminiscent of Marshall’s Army of the Brave and features an extended cornet solo, expertly rendered on this occasion by guest cornetist Keith Hutchinson.
After the band played Michael Davis’ sensitive arrangement Ask the Saviour, Lt.-Col. Wood read from 1 John 5 – “. . . Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that overcomes the world . . .” – and assured all that God is willing to aid us. As the song says, He will carry us through. This led naturally to the band male chorus singing You’re Never Too Far from God.
The final item from the band was Music-Maker, Peter Graham’s rousing medley of melodies by General John Larsson. The evening in Bexleyheath ended with the benediction God Be with You, William Gordon’s arrangement of the hymn tune “Randolph”.
South London Fellowship Band web site, original report by John Clarke