CD review: Soaring through the Skies

The Staffordshire Band
Featuring music for brass band by Samuel Shelley
Conductor: Craig Williams
Soloists: Nick Lear, Mark Glover, Ademola Odedina
WOS Recordings: WOS169

Brass bands at all levels desperately need to attract new compositional voices to write for them.

Fortunatley, the Staffordshire Band has certainly found a talented writer within their geographical boundaries in the youthful Samuel Shelley from Cannock.  

With a Salvation Army background, his skill set has been developed by mentors such as Kenneth Downie, Andrew Blyth, Peter Graham and Steven Ponsford. He gained recognition in 2015 by winning the Nock Deighton Young Composer Competition for ‘Matka’  (which is featured on this engaging release).

In 2017 Samuel became the band’s ‘Composer in Residence’ (he is also part of their percussion team) and has since had his works performed by the ISB and GUS Bands as well as high profile soloists such as Isobel Daws.

DNA templates

That compositional hinterland forms an identifiable DNA template for his 11 works (plus a tuba solo from Stephen Roberts and an arranged soprano feature from Ray Farr) performed by a confident band successfully embracing the musical vision of its MD, Craig Williams on both the contest and concert platforms.

Shelly’s writing is easy on the ear; an open, melodic style that skilfully treads the thin line between unsubtle mimicry and obvious pastiche. 

Shelly’s writing is easy on the ear; an open, melodic style that skilfully treads the thin line between unsubtle mimicry and obvious pastiche. 

Sometimes the toes just cross the line, but there is a still a great deal to enjoy with the youthful confidence employed; from the energised title track and tastefully crafted arrangements of the hymnals and folk songs to appreciations of friends lost and the heroic work of NHS staff during the Covid-19 pandemic.   

Ear catching

The featured soloists of soprano Nick Lear, Eb tuba Ademola Odedina and euphonium Mark Glover provide ear-catching contributions, as does the mariachi flavoured quartet playing in ‘The Silver Trumpets’.

It would have been good to hear a substantive work from his pen, but ‘Matka’  has a clever touch of 1960s’ Finnish inspired ‘Thunderbirds are Go!’ about it, whilst there is a clever mix of Gilbert & Sullivan meets Malcolm Arnold in the witty march, ‘Beside the Sea’.  

‘Invisible’  is an upbeat moulding around the core of ‘St Denio’  (Immortal, Invisible God only wise), as is ‘Light!!’  with its vibrant evangelical pulse and uplifting ‘Heroes of our Time’  to close a neatly produced and performed release from a band and composer to keep an eye out for in the future.

Iwan Fox 

To purchase:  https://staffordshire.band/product/soaring-through-the-skies/

Play list:

1. Soaring through the Skies (Samuel Shelley)
2. My Lord Has Come (Will Todd arr. Samuel Shelley)
3. Matka (Samuel Shelley)
4. Holy Holy Holy (John Bacchus Dykes arr. Samuel Shelley)

5. Live and Let Die (Linda & Paul McCartney arr. Ray Farr)
Soloist: Nick Lear

6. Invisible (Samuel Shelley)
7. March – Beside the Sea (Samuel Shelley)
8. Light!! (Samuel Shelley)

9. Poor Wayfaring Stranger (Traditional spiritual arr. Samuel Shelley)
Soloist: Mark Glover

10. The Silver Trumpets (Samuel Shelley)

11. Walking the Bass (Stephen Roberts)
Soloist: Ademola Odedina

12. With the Angels (Samuel Shelley)
13. Heroes of Our Time (Samuel Shelley)

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