The South London Fellowship Band (Bandmaster Major George Whittingham) made a long-awaited mini-tour of “middle-England” during the first week of June 2013. The tour included concerts in Sheringham, Derby and Sheffield, and a special visit to the band room of the famous Black Dyke Band.
Tuesday, 4 June 2013
After assembling on the coach from the various places that the members of the Fellowship Band call home, the group traveled to Norwich, where overnight accommodations had been arranged, setting off for Sheringham Corps around 1600. At Sheringham, they were welcomed by the corps officer, Major Alan Read, set up and did a brief sound check, had an “Army cup of tea” at the corps and then presented the evening festival.
The Fellowship Band commenced the festival in Sheringham’s new, modern hall with the festival march Able (William Turkington, arr. William Himes). This was immediately followed by the cornet solo I’d Rather Have Jesus, played sensitively by Alan Moyse.
After an opening prayer, Major Whittingham greeted the audience and introduced a favorite Sunday night selection, To God Be the Glory (Dean Goffin), which was followed by the band’s male chorus singing the Salvation Army classic Sound the Battle Cry. Alan Moyse returned for a second solo, this time Clear Skies. This “timeless” cornet solo, from the pen of Eric Ball, utiizes the charming, lyrical melody of the same name. Its traditional theme and variation form may lull some into thinking that it is easy to play, but as usual Moyse gave a scintillating rendition.
Next, the recently restructured trombone section presented the quartet Trombone Vespers. This piece starts with a slow prelude, in the style of a male voice folk song, before becoming more rhythmic in style. It is built around the tunes “Vesper Hymn” and “A little star peeps o’er the hill”.
The Fellowship Band has had a succession of first-class euphonium soloists over the years. Adrian Horwood continues this line of excellent players. He presented another Salvation Army classic, The Song of the Brother (Erik Leidzén), and as ever it was played flawlessly.
To round off the first half, the band presented one of the all-time favorites by Eric Ball, Songs of the Morning. Major Whittingham explained that he had included some “good old Army” classics specifically for the Sheringham audience because he felt that traditional music with associated words would be appreciated, which it certainly was.
A congregational song, “We’re an Army fighting for a glorious King”, got off to somewhat rocky start as someone had given Sheringham’s multimedia expert the Tune Book number instead of the Song Book number, resulting in the wrong words appearing on the screen. The distribution of actual Song Books was quickly done and the congregation and band combined for a good sing. The first half concluded with a brief Bible reading and a devotional thought presented by Stuart Gilbert, followed immediately by the band playing His Provision (Ivor Bosanko), originally published in 1985 as a songster piece with words by General John Gowans. The words of encouragement plainly speak through this beautifully composed music which was sensitively played under the direction of associate conductor Darrell Scholes.
Returning after a brief interval, Scholes put the band through its paces with another classic piece, the march Praise (Wilfred Heaton). Next was John Rodgers, who played the Eb bass solo Standing on the Promises (Erik Silfverberg), an item which is seldom heard in recent days but one that the audience could again associate with well-known words.
The penultimate item was the vocal solo There Will Be God (Joy Webb), movingly sung by Les Swift with backing from the male chorus. The final item of a long evening was Melodies of Dvorak (Ray Steadman-Allen). This was a test of stamina for the band at 10 minutes long. Just as they players thought that they were finished, an encore was requested and played, the march Mighty to Save.
Wednesday, 5 June 2013
The Fellowship Band moved to Derby for the second day of the tour, a journey made somber by the announcement during breakfast that one of the band’s alumni, Don Middleton, had passed away early that morning. The band had still not fully recovered from the very recent loss of former principal euphonium Bram Chestney, and although such events are not entirely unexpected in a group of men of the age of the Fellowship Band members, they are still mourned.
The evening festival was held at the Derby Central Corps, with a good number of people on hand, particularly for a Wednesday evening concert. The festival began with The Champions and Alan Moyse playing I’d Rather Have Jesus. Following prayer and introductions, associate conductor Darrell Scholes took the band through The Golden Pen (Wilfred Heaton). After the male chorus sang Sound the Battle Cry, Scholes turned into Harry Mortimer and played a “blinder” with the cornet solo Zelda.
Adrian Horwood gave a very find performance of the difficult euphonium solo Euphony (Robert Redhead), which means “a pleasing sound”, which it certainly was. This was followed by Melodies of Dvorak (Ray Steadman-Allen), which was also very well-received by the audience.
The band’s pianist offered some “variations on a trumpet call” which led into a rousing congregational song. Roger Gadsden then brought a Bible reading and some thoughtful comments, leading into the mediation Just As I Am (Wilfred Heaton) as the closing item of the first half.
The second half started with a classic march, The Liberator (George Marshall) played at an appropriately dignified tempo. This was followed by baritone soloist Stuart Gilbert, who played Stephen Foster’s melody Beautiful Dreamer (arr. Ray Steadman-Allen), which is associated with the words “This Is My Story/Blessed Assurance”. The trombone section was next, featured in Somewhere Over the Rainbow (Norman Bearcroft). Les Swift then sang There Will Be God (Joy Webb).
Eric Ball’s timeless classic The Triumph of Peace was the final item on the program. As on the previous night, Mighty to Save was the encore, with the host corps’ bandmaster, Alan Losh, invited to conduct the Fellowship Band.
Thursday, 6 June 2013
The Fellowship band was once again on the move Thursday morning, crossing from Derbyshire into Yorkshire. No concert was scheduled for this evening, and the band enjoyed various activities during the day before departing for their evening event.
At 1830, an excited group of 60 to 80-year-olds boarded their coach and made a four-mile journey to the village of Queensbury, the home of the world’s most famous brass band – the Black Dyke Band. They were welcomed by Black Dyke’s band secretary, Mike Shenton, and shown through the band room, with memorabilia documenting Black Dyke’s 150-year history. During this time they were delighted to be joined by Musical Director Dr. Nicholas Childs, who provided an information history.
The members of the Fellowship Band then moved into the tiny downstairs rehearsal room, where they had the pleasure of observing a Black Dyke rehearsal. Most of the time was spent on Variations on a Bass Theme (George Lloyd), the test piece for the English Nationals contest (the contest was held a few weeks after this rehearsal, on 29 June, and was won by Black Dyke). Other items rehearsed were Christmas items for an upcoming recording on the Obrasso label, including a cornet solo played by Richard Marshall and a euphonium solo from Gary Curtin.
Major Whittingham said a few words of appreciation before Dr. Childs invited the Fellowship Band members to finish the rehearsal with the “Dyke Experience”. In the hands of the masterful conductor and players, the well-loved hymn tune “Deep Harmony” was transformed into an art form of the highest level.
Friday, 7 June 2013
On Friday, the Fellowship Band members left their night lodgings and headed off to the Peak District. Maurice Ozanne was celebrating his 80th birthday, an event well-marked by the members of the band. During the journey the band stopped for a tour of Chatham House, home of the Duke of Devonshire, including a lunch in a private room. Maurice Ozanne was able to have a birthday treat, briefly playing the grand piano in the house. The day’s journey ended in Sheffield, where the band prepared for an evening festival at Sheffield Citadel.
The program at Sheffield Citadel was compèred in inimitable style by Major Whittingham, who had left Sheffield many years before for the Training College and Salvation Army officership. The band’s associate conductor, Darrell Scholes, is also formerly of the Yorkshire Division. The Bible thought for the evening was given by Bev Hudson.
Repertoire for the festival was similar to that used previously at Derby, with a few substitutions. The male chorus sang The Lord’s Prayer, Rock of Ages and accompanied Les Swift for There Will Be God. Edward Gregson’s Variations on “Laudate Dominum” was offered, showing the range of the band. Another item not heard on the earlier concerts was Fantasia for Children, which was composed by the late James Wright, former bandmaster at Sheffield Citadel. Two classic items by Eric Ball were also included, The Old Wells and The Triumph of Peace.
Saturday, 8 June 2013
Following the concert at Sheffield, the band retired to their hotel, rising again on Saturday morning to begin the journey home. The success of their mini-tour is perhaps best seen in the comments of Gerald Brooks, writing on the Sheffield Citadel Band web site: “It was inspiring to see a band whose average age is 68 performing to such a high standard for the glory of God, a testimony to the fact that in God’s service there is no such thing as retirement.”