Gospel Train Tracks Through North Scotland

Maidenhead Citadel Band has completed its 7-day “Gospel Train” tour of the North Scotland Division of the Salvation Army. Starting at Fort William, they moved north to Inverness and Wick, before following the east coastal route to Peterhead, Aberdeen, Dundee and finally Blairgowrie.

Maidenhead Gospel Train Logo

The band made a number of firsts. They are possibly the first Salvation Army band to hold an open-air meeting at John o'Groats. Even though the wind was very cold the band managed to play out side for 15 minutes. The Lord Provost of Dundee also pointed out another first was made another as the first SA band to play inside the council chamber.

Capacity audiences were recorded at most of the towns with many former bandsmen coming along to hear what for many had been years since they had previosuly heard a brass band live!

The band played a very light and varied program. Well received items included the solo spots, Andrew Collier playing the cornet solo Life's Pageant (Terry Camsey and Nick, his son, playing Celestial Morn (Leslie Condon). The second half of each programme started with vocal soloist Ian Kelly with piano, bass guitar, kit and full band backing in an arrangement by the Bandmaster of “When the Saints Go Marching In” which brought the loudest applause every night. Other bright numbers that were appreciated included Swingtime Religion and Gospel Train.

Full Report by John Renouf

The tour commenced on Thursday evening 25th May, when the band assembled at Maidenhead Corps to load instruments, suitcases and countless other items of ‘necessary’ equipment on to the coach. Our driver, Trevor Thorn, accompanied by his wife, Yvonne, then set off for Scotland. The plan was for the coach to meet the band at Glasgow airport the following day.

Friday 26 May

At Glasgow the weather was noticeably cooler and the sky looked unsettled as we boarded the coach and headed for our first overnight stop, the Lynnhurst Hotel in Johnston, first passing the exit for Paisley which is the ‘home’ town of our Commanding Officer, as he gently reminded us.

Saturday 27 May

Commissioner Alex Hughes reminded us of a little-known hero of aviation and a reluctant hero in the Bible in our morning devotions. He spoke about how we might become heroes in the sight of some who we would be ministering to during the coming days.

We passed along the shores of Loch Lomond, stopping briefly at the village of Luss to sample the warm shortbread at the village shop. We then continued along winding roads beyond Loch Lomond with a lunch-stop at The Green Welly at Tyndrum before crossing the glens towards Fort William.

Spectacular scenery confronted us at every turn, though the weather throughout was either raining or about to rain, and we arrived in Fort William in good time to a warm welcome at the Corps.

Tea was served, during which the band locals closely watched the weather. The timing in the itinerary for the open air meeting was planned for 4:30pm but unfortunately it was raining hard. However, at 5:30pm there was a sudden change in the weather and the band locals chose in favour of a short open-air concert in the town. As soon as the open air meeting had finished and the band safely back at the hall, the heavens opened once again!

The evening concert at the hall was played to a small but appreciative audience, including one person who had not been inside an Army hall for 55 years, and the bandmaster’s brother, who had travelled for 5½ hours to support the band.

Sunday 28 May

A 7:40am start at Fort William hall soon revealed those who were ‘morning’ people and those who weren't. Captains Stephen and Teena Kirkland led devotions, and spoke about how the song “How Great Thou Art” only really came alive when they were appointed to Scotland. With all of the scenery that we had seen the previous day, and with his hall being virtually in the shadow of Ben Nevis (which remained stubbornly concealed by cloud all the time we were there), we easily understood what they meant.

The coach was loaded and we were soon on our way to Inverness, crossing several swing-bridges over the Caledonian Canal and taking in the magnificent scenery as we travelled the length of Loch Ness (the monster was ‘not at home’ to visiting bandsmen). As we arrived at Inverness Bandsman Adam Hall gave us some interesting information about the town, and pointed out “General William Booth Road”.

We were greeted warmly with a cup of tea at the Corps. Once again the heavy work of unloading the coach and setting up the equipment began, and we were ready for the start of the morning meeting, which saw the hall almost full to capacity. Bandsman Rob Molloy expertly led the meeting, during which the band played A Gift for His Altar and Taryn Roestoff sang The Christ of Calvary, appropriately to the tune ‘Annie Laurie’.

During the meeting the Divisional Commander, Major Martin Hill, officially welcomed the band to the North Scotland Division before asking Commissioner Alex to present a 35 year long service award to Major Margeret Halbert of Huntly House Social Social Centre.

In his message, Alex spoke about the need to shed unnecessary cumbrances and not giving up. The meeting was followed by a buffet lunch with the Corps, then the band walked to the High Street and formed up to march through the shopping centre, perform a short open-air concert and march back again. This generated much interest from the general public, and many people stood and listened. One followed the band back to the hall for the afternoon concert, performed to a full hall.

Bandmaster Stuart decided to abandon the set programme and selected items from the band's repertoire which were well received by the audience. During the vocal rendition of ‘the Saints’ by Bandsman Ian Kelly, the sight of video on the screen of the band marching along Inverness High Street only an hour earlier gained an appreciative reaction.

The audience also gave sensitive silent appreciation to the band's playing of All to Jesus and And They Were Heroes. After concluding with Emblem of the Army rather than the more traditional To Regions Fair, packing-up was a necessary task (we seem to be gradually getting quicker at it!) before the band dispersed to dinner with billets and overnight accommodation.

Monday 29 May

We met at Inverness hall at 8:00am to load the coach. Majors Paul and Gill Billard led us in devotions. Paul introduced us to the first CD he was ever given, a song once used in an advert for British Rail, which he skilfully linked to the ‘Gospel Train’ theme of the tour.

We departed for Wick, 100 miles away, with Trevor skilfully backing the coach out of another tight space as we left. As we drove north the scenery was becoming less rugged and more agricultural. We paused for a short break at Golspie where the weather obliged us by raining! With the cold northerly wind adding to the discomfort most retreated to the nearby coffee shop, which seemed to have opened the moment the coach appeared.

At Ackergill Castle
At Ackergill Castle

Our journey continued along the North Sea coast to the pleasant town of Wick. We unloaded at the hall and changed into full uniform before driving to the grounds of Ackergill Castle, a privately owned castle on the coastline for a formal band photograph. In the strengthening wind the photo didn't take long and we were glad to get back on the coach and head towards John O'Groats. Lunch was a ‘soup and sandwich’ at the Sea View hotel. After lunch a small group led by Commissioner Alex returned to Wick by car to conduct the Home League meeting. The rest of the band proceeded to the small ferry terminal at John O'Groats we were wondering which group had the better arrangement!

There is little at John O'Groats itself, rather like Land's End, just a car park, Tourist Centre and the inevitable souvenir shop and retail outlets. A local guide boarded the coach and explained to us some of the history of the place, and identified the Orkney islands that could be clearly seen to the North. Of course, it was obligatory for the band to form up at the John O'Groats signboard, which indicated that Maidenhead was 687 miles away.

At John O'Groats
At John O'Groats

In spite of the cold wind, Bandmaster Stuart decided on a short open-air concert, which attracted passing attention from the tourists around. It was too cold to hang around for a long time and the opportunity to retreat to the coffee shop was a welcome relief. It was noted by our Wick comrades that we are possibly the first band to have “played” or hold an “open air” in John O'Groats. We were soon back on the coach returning to Wick to set-up for the evening concert. The local corps treated us to a meal in a nearby restaurant.

The CO was initially concerned that the band was too big for the platform. Bandmaster Stuart pointed out that if the ISB who last visited Wick in 1990 could fit on the platform, then Maidenhead Band could. Which turned out to be the right choice when it was noted extra chairs were required to accommodate a capacity crowd. The audience greatly appreciated every item, and especially the video presentation that accompanied the playing of And They Were Heroes. As well as fellow Salvationists from Thurso the band were delighted to welcome a small contingent who arrived on the ferry from Kirkwall Corps on the Orkney Islands.

Tuesday 30 May

Again we met at the hall at 8:00am to load the coach followed by prayers. Major Norman Williamson referred to And They Were Heroes and spoke of the challenges that had faced him during his officership.

On the coach we re-traced our steps to Inverness. An early arrival gave opportunity to visit the town centre before lunch, and we also collected clean white shirts that had been laundered by corps folk for which each of us (and those who sit next to us) were very grateful. After an excellent lunch in the hall we boarded the coach again for another 3 hour journey to Peterhead.

The landscape to the east of Inverness was much less dramatic than what we had seen before, being of the ‘rolling hills’ variety, but very lush and green. The coach was quiet for a while as eyes dropped and many of the group snoozed. A comfort stop at Cullen gave some the chance to sample the local award-winning ice-cream. We were again well-fed on arrival at the Peterhead hall and starting to become accustomed to Scotch Broth!

It was then onto Peterhead Academy, the venue for the evening's concert. A theatre with tiered seating and a large stage. Over 200 people gathered for the concert and received the band's music with enthusiasm. At the conclusion it made a change to be able to leave all the equipment set up as we were returning in the morning when the venue would be filled with 11 and 12 year olds from the local schools. So we departed for our overnight accommodation, some in billets and some at a nearby hotel.

Wednesday 31 May

We were blessed with a lie-in today – we didn't have to be at the hall until 9:00am for prayers. Captain Martin Cordner spoke to us about how our ministry could provide comfort to those in need of it. We particularly appreciated the Captain's support, as his wife Leanne had given birth to their second son only the day before, and we recognised that dealing with that and a visiting band had provided challenges.

We then returned to the Peterhead Academy to prepare for a lively concert/workshop in front of 250 11 and 12 year olds from local schools. The light numbers of the repertoire were given an airing, and members of the audience were given that chance to join the percussion section. Two volunteers also had a go at conducting the band. Band Sergeant Steve Parker held the audience's attention with a talk about Charles Cadbury – famous for chocolate but also the first person to organise a ‘Sunday School’ and he also described the work of the Salvation Army with the help of some PowerPoint slides. After packing and loading, we returned to the hall for yet more food (and broth!) and then set off on the (relatively) short journey to Aberdeen.

Our first engagement was a concert in the Wintergardens. The sun chose this time to shine so it was quite warm for the band seated in the conservatory surrounded by tropical plants. We then called at the church venue for the evening concert to unload. Back to the hall for more food and then return to the church to rehearse with the Stonehaven Chorus for the joint concert. A good crowd gathered for the concert which, for the band at least, was a different format with the choir singing in two spots during the evening, their a capella renditions of classical songs being a contrast to the band's livelier music.

The choir sang a song from the Faeroe Islands that had a particular appeal to the band with the chorus of seagull sounds produced by the choir! Finally came now the usual routine of packing-up and loading the coach before departing for billets, this being the only night of the tour when the entire band was accommodated in billets.

Thursday 01 June

We met at 9:00am for prayers at the Torrey Corps. Captain David Alton the Commanding Officer of the Citadel Corps spoke to us about our ministry and its significance even if we never became aware of any positive results. We then boarded the coach for a short-guided tour of Aberdeen, stopping to wander through the old town, and also visiting Aberdeen Citadel's hall.

This imposing building, designed in the style of Balmoral Castle, has just closed for refurbishment, but we were still able to admire the traditional surroundings of the main hall. We also climbed the tower, led by Captain Jane, and enjoyed the spectacular views of the city. Then it was off to Dundee, stopping at the Airdrie Arms Hotel in Kirriemuir for lunch (no broth this time!).

After unloading the band proceeded to a square in the town centre and performed an outdoor concert to an interested audience in an arena surrounded by imposing granite buildings that provided a rich reverberation to the brass sound.

The Dundee Central Corps provided a meal, and there was time to relax for a short while before the evening concert performed in front of a large and enthusiastic audience. The host Corps were delighted to welcome over 50 people who were setting foot inside the hall for the first time. They were also delighted to see a number of ex-Salvationists.

The march chosen during the audience participation slot, was, as in previous concerts, once again Star Lake in spite of Stuart's efforts to persuade them otherwise. Once again Commissioner Alex was asked to present a long service award, 30 years, to the Commanding Officer of Dundee Central, Major Stephen Slade. The packing-up routine followed the concert before we retired to billets or hotel rooms.

Friday 02 June

After a comfortable night we met at the hall to load the coach. After resolving the minor problem of being unable to park in the road outside the hall, everything was on board then we met for prayers during which time Captain Stephen Slade spoke about the purpose of our ministry.

Then the band walked with instruments to the City Council Chambers to be greeted warmly by the Lord Provost. After some refreshments the band played and the Lord Provost gave a welcome speech, when he quoted that to his knowledge we were the first Salvation Army band to have performed in the council chambers.

He presented Commissioner Alex with a plaque depicting the city's coat-of-arms, and Bandmaster Stuart responded with a tour pennant. We were then given an interesting explanation of the history depicted by the various features of the council chamber.

Then came the time to walk to the waterfront where the coach was waiting to take us on to Blairgowrie. The coach park was adjacent to Scott's ship, Discovery, and there was a brief opportunity to view the vessel and reflect on the ‘discoveries’ of the tour.

The Army in Blairgowrie consists only of a community centre and charity shop, with no hall. Nonetheless we were treated to a generous buffet lunch before proceeding to Well Meadow for an outdoor concert. Compared with the conditions at John O'Groats, the warm sunshine was a sharp and welcome change.

A minor hitch to the afternoon's timetable was that the coach had developed a punctured tyre as we had arrived at Blairgowrie and we had to wait a short time while it was repaired. Although we couldn't check-in to our hotel rooms, we were given the use of a hotel lounge to relax in the shade. As soon as the coach was ready we went to the Parish Church to unload and set up for the evening then back to the hotels to check in. A break before tea gave some welcome time to relax or shower and change.

The evening concert was played to an audience of around 60 local people who were attending an Army concert for the first time. This time Stuart decided not to allow the audience to choose a march, and elected to play Spirit of Endeavour. After a build up in his introduction to the service to bands by Norman Bearcroft, the band struck up with Star Lake anyway. The expression on Stuart's face was worth seeing. He achieved his payback later by taking Dance Before the Lord at a breathtaking pace. We packed away and loaded the coach for the last time and said farewell to Major Paul Billard, who had been an excellent and entertaining guide throughout the trip.

On the coach thanks were expressed to Peter Hill who had worked tirelessly to organise the tour, and Stuart who had so expertly guided the band and compered every concert. Stuart then thanked the band for its support and hard work. Back at the hotel the Band Sergeant dug deep into his pocket and provided refreshments for the whole band as we relaxed prior to turning-in to prepare for an early departure tomorrow.

Saturday 03 June

4:30am came all too soon for those heading back to Maidenhead. The hotel kindly laid on a buffet breakfast for us prior to departure at 5:30am. The roads were very quiet as we headed towards Glasgow airport, and we arrived in good time for our flight, which departed promptly and arrived at Heathrow 25 minutes early. Our lifts arrived with little delay getting us home in time for lunch.

Sunday 04 June

We arrived for the morning meeting to find the coach already parked there, Trevor and Yvonne having had an excellent trip south. The unloading of the ‘heavy’ stuff was left until after the meeting. During the meeting recognition was made in the meeting of the fact that it was Trevor and Yvonne's 51st wedding anniversary, and they were presented with a large bouquet of flowers to mark the occasion. Appreciation was also expressed for the part played by them both in making the tour a success.

Submitted by Bandmaster Stuart Hall

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