Solent Fellowship Band (Bandmaster John Bird)
It was perhaps during the 1920s that Salvation Army corps banding expanded, with every town and city having one, or sometimes two or more, sizable competent corps bands. In the 1920s Coventry Citadel had a band of 70 and in the 1930s Southsea Citadel a band of 50. And all of the bands were very active.
There was a standard six-meeting (three indoor, three outdoor), eleven-hour Sunday; weeknight rehearsals and Saturday festivals; extensive carolling programs at Christmastide; visits to hospitals and homes; regular away weekends; and tours both within the UK and abroad. Except for a break during the Second World War, this continued until perhaps the 1980s when changing times saw a diminution in the number and size of Salvation Army bands throughout the UK.
To some extent, the large corps bands have been replaced in the 21st century by the Fellowship Bands that have come into being around the world. These bands give opportunities for players from smaller bands, and in many cases players with experience in Salvation Army banding who are no longer active at the corps level, to come together to play Salvation Army music. In consequence, they have kept the ethos and the fellowship of corps bands alive.
The Solent Fellowship Band encapsulates that tradition, ethos, and quality of those much-loved corps bands with its latest recording, South Coast, containing Bandmaster John Bird’s eclectic choice of music.
Here there are some great marches: South Coast (written by Fellowship Band principal cornet Martyn Thomas), Bognor Regis (Leslie Condon), Soldiers of Christ (George Marshall), and a nicely paced Praise (Wilfred Heaton). All are played with a style, almost a swagger, that evokes memories of great Salvation Army bands on the march “with flags a’flying”.
The recording features several of the band’s soloists. Martyn Thomas gives a thoughtful performance of The Reason (Christopher Cole), with the words, “Would you know why I love Jesus, why he is so dear to me?” clearly in mind. Other soloists include Callum Carter with a sparkling performance of the Rondo from Mozart’s 4th Horn Concerto, and Dan Redhead (euphonium) with a sensitive rendition of A Starry Crown (Brindley Boon). The trombone section is also featured, giving voice to Ray Steadman-Allen’s arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Pilgrim Prayer.
The devotional music on the recording centers on The Road to Emmaus (Dean Goffin) and The Hill of Calvary (Bramwell Coles). Often in the Sunday evening Salvation Meetings, now very much in the past in most UK corps, the band’s playing became an act of worship in itself. It is, perhaps, a musical experience unique to Salvation Army banding that when presenting such a piece the band stops “playing the notes” and instead “plays the words”, something that is easy to sense in both of these performances.
The recording, with some 74 minutes of music, contrasts the joyful A Sunbeam (Philip Catelinet) with Martin Cordner’s gleeful Round-Up and Joy Webb’s much-loved Angels Watching Over Me with Peter Graham’s arrangement of Hine e Hine. Shekinah (Kenneth Downie), The Blessing (William Himes) and the band singing Softly and Tenderly (Will L. Thompson, arr. Erik Leidzén) complete the recording.
Submitted by Band Secretary Susan Bird