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An Evening with Ray Steadman-Allen

Featuring: International Staff Band, Chatham & Kettering Songster Brigades
Conductors: Doctor Stephen Cobb & Andrew Blyth
Soloists: Derick Kane & Dudley Bright
Regent Hall, London
Friday 21st September

ISBThis wonderful event celebrated the masterful composer’s 90th birthday. 

Interspersed between the musical contributions, Edward Gregson, James Williams, MBE and William Himes joined Major John Mott in discussion, as they reminisced and discussed their involvement with Ray over the years.

Cracking opener

The ISB got thinks off to a cracking start with the march, ‘Scarlet Jersey’ with its distinctive echoing phrases given just the right degree of prominence.  

Derick Kane then presented ‘The Ransomed Host’, written as long ago as 1954 but sounding as fresh as ever. 

It was a masterful performance, particularly in the lush middle section, and it was good to be reminded of a solo that is often overlooked.

‘God of Wonders’, the first song by the united Songsters, was rather unusual in that it married words by Ray to the music of Fibich’s ‘Poem’.  

This was followed by the up-tempo ‘Age of Rockets’, with four trumpets and four trombones adding to the accompaniment, and finishing with the traditional tune ‘Rachie’.

Echoes of Charles Ives

The major work from the band was ‘Victorian Snapshots – On Ratcliff Highway’, with Stephen Cobb directing a suitably acerbic account that did not attempt to smooth over the sharp edges, but revelled in the contrasting mood and atmosphere depicted. 

At the conclusion, the bandmaster turned to acknowledge the composer before bringing the band to their feet. 

‘Gone My Care’ featured the women’s voices in a fine example of Ray’s rhythmic choral writing, whilst his setting of ‘Whosoever Will’ made effective use of jazz-inflected harmony and syncopation.

Outstanding solo

Dudley Bright produced a stunning rendition of ‘The Eternal Quest’ that many spoke of as being the highlight of the evening. 

The hushed passages had the audience of the edge of their seats, although there were some extraneous noises that were rather obtrusive – hopefully they will not be audible when the DVD has been mastered.  

At the conclusion there was a sustained ovation for both performer and composer.

Virtuoso piano playing

The ‘Childhood Suite’ for chorus was written to mark the Year of the Child.  

Special mention needs to be made of the accompaniment team of Nik King, piano, Paul Scott, bass guitar, and Rachel Horwood, flute - although it would have benefitted from better amplification.  

Nik coped particularly well with the demanding fourth movement, in the presence of Pamela Hair, the pianist at the premiere in 1979.

Ray joined John Mott, and was presented with a framed copy of the programme for the evening, and his wife Joy received flowers. 

No regrets

Ray diplomatically refused to comment on whether music in The Salvation Army is better or worse than it was, or to say if there was a piece he had regretted writing. 

However, his daughter Barbara reckoned her dad has written around 2,000 pieces of music, and that he thrived on writing to a deadline.  Asked about his priorities in life, Ray said that his Salvation Army officership came first and foremost. 

There followed a poignant moment as Ray stepped up to the piano and played a couple of tunes, just as he does for his wife every evening. 

Closing moments

Dudley Bright joined the ISB trombones for ‘Trombone Vespers’, before Major Mott shared the scriptures leading into the devotional selection ‘In Quiet Pastures’. 

The evening closed with another trombone feature, entitled ‘The Mission’, which ensured the evening closed on a high note. 

From the contributions of the guests and the response of the audience, it was clear that Ray is held in very high regard, and many will look forward to the publication later this year of a book of essays on various aspects of his life and work.

Peter Bale

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