4th Annual Northern Highlights Festival

This report submitted by John Ward.
Click on photos for large versions.

The ethos behind “Highlights” is to use the traditional elements of Salvation Army music making such as Brass and Choral groups and fuse them with dance, drama, multimedia to create a whole evenings presentation of the gospel. “Resident” group, the Castleford Songsters are the host of this event and this, its 4th event, welcomed back Festival Brass as its “house band” with special guests Marjorie Watson (Songster Leader, Regent Hall), Kevin Ashman (Maidstone Corps and International Staff Band) and Peterborough Timbrels.

Festival Brass
Festival Brass

Festival Brass are a 16 piece brass group formed from young (that is being kind to some!) Salvationist bandsman from across the UK. Under the leadership of Julian Bright (Peterborough), the group has formed a reputation for innovative, fun and relevant brass presentation. The group has to be fast learners, they met at noon on the day of the performance to prepare fourteen pieces (eleven of them new) – all this with a two hour break to watch England beat Paraguay in their opening World Cup game! The group were called upon to present individual items as well as backing for Marjorie, Kevin and congregational singing. Individual items ranged from the 2nd performance of Dean Jones' Mexican shoot-out style “He is the Lord” to Martin Cordner's celtic style arrangement of “In Christ Alone”.

Kevin Ashman
Kevin Ashman

One of the “front-men” of the evening, Captain Mark Sawyer, introduced Kevin Ashman not only as one of the Salvation Army's finest cornet players but as “just a really good guy, who is always ready to encourage and help young Salvation Army musicians”. This introduction was totally justified – Kevin presented a near flawless presentation of Golden Slippers (Norman Bearcroft) with the backing of Festival Brass, that drew a rapturous applause from the sell-out audience. Kevin also brought a fun “lollipop” in the form of Sing Hosanna and a sincere and moving performance of I'd Rather Have Jesus (arr. William Himes).

Marjorie Watson
Marjorie Watson

Marjorie Watson is now one of the Salvation Army's “front line” vocal soloists. Many try to replicate the upfront and bold show-singing style but Marjorie is the genuine Salvation Army/Broadway article! With a backing group of piano (played by Majorie's husband, Stuart), bass guitar and percussion, Marjorie demonstrated singing full of quality, character and beautiful clarity that captivated all who watched. Highlights included Lloyd-Webber's Unexpected Song that drew an ovation of West-End proportions and the skilfully presented novelty song Altos Lament that had the audience in stitches.

Both Kevin and Marjorie should be recognised for not only their outstanding musical prowess but for the way in which they interacted with the audience through their presentation. They both clearly had a message through their performance that was seen not only through their participation in the concert itself but through their manner and the way in which they entered into the spirit of the day's events.

One of the main objectives of Northern Highlights is to raise funds and awareness for the Clarence Adoo Trust. Clarence was a special guest on the evening and following a video clip of his recent activities within his professional life, he gave a moving testimony on the progress of his treatment and deep faith. Clarence is an example to us all and his life continues to be one of inspiration. Capt Mark Sawyer made mention of the fact that that “spiritually”, Clarence knows the reality of walking with God: Festival Brass concluded this time with a powerful and emotive performance of “You'll Never Walk Alone” arranged by Howard Snell.

Peterborough Timbrels (under the leadership of Nicola Seager) were welcome participants and provided colourful presentations full of youthful energy, whilst Castleford Songsters (Songster Leader Derek Ward) provided two quality items: an energetic Swinging with the Saints and a compelling rendition of More Than Wonderful.

The evening concluded with all the evening's elements combining to feature Shine as the Light. Professor Peter Graham's work has become a brass band classic in its own right, but in this revised format of using adding dance, songsters and congregational singing, Marjorie Watson, and multimedia to the skilful playing of Festival Brass, the piece provided an emotional and colourful finale to another God-glorifying Northern Highlights.

More than £2500 was raised for the Trust. “Watch this space” for the 2007 event. A larger venue will be required satisfy increased interest and ticket demand.

Submitted by John Ward

This article was posted in News on .