Slaithwaite band are a band on the up. Anyone who has paid even the slightest attention to thecontesting calendar over the last few years knows that. They’re also a band with a long and proudhistory, having been founded back in 1892 and making them officially as old as both the sport of Basketball, and the Diesel engine. It is therefore fitting that – under the baton of a musician both as experienced and forward-looking as you could wish for in Rob Westacott – the band have chosen to explore both their history and their growing momentum in their choices of repertoire for their most recent album ‘Evolution.’
We start back in the aforementioned proud history with the march ‘Merridale’, one from their own archives and written especially for the band by Haydn Wood, back in 1948. The march is a fine one, and appropriately for its date is given the proper degree of both dash and restraint, before we proceed to more familiar traditional repertoire with the Priere a Notre Dame and Tocatta from Eric Ball’s classic arrangement of Leon Boellmann’s Suite Gothique. It takes courage for a band I hope I don’t offend by describing as an ambitious lower-section team to take on the genuine classics of the repertoire, but they pull both off with aplomb – the Priere particularly is a lovely rendition, with a touching simplicity and space about the playing and the interpretation from the MD. And it’s much the same story with the other well-known works they’ve chosen. William Himes arrangement of Wagner’s famous Procession to the Cathedral is admirably controlled, with a bold, round sound where required and well-shaped solo lines, Philip Sparke’s version of John Miles’ Music is never overdone, and the Victory from Cry of the Celts is lively and bright, containing an especially fine contribution from John Mitchell on Soprano.
Indeed, John is in top form throughout, and is just one of a number of excellent soloists the band exhibit across the CD. His featured solo Bilitis demonstrates a tone as clear as glass and a subtle delivery that many a higher-section outfit would envy in a soprano. Neil Hardy on Tenor Horn demonstrates great range and as rich a tenor horn sound as you’ll ever hear, playing Johnny Bates’ arrangement of Mama, and principal cornet Joanne Griffith draws a further file from the archive with a sweet, bright performance of another Haydn Wood piece, this time a setting of his A Brown Bird Singing. Not content with simply featuring the end-chairs, we are also treated to Swing Low With Grace, Rob Westacott’s own interweaving of two well-loved classics, which features fully five more soloists, with none of those already mentioned being called to their feet a second time.
Leading us neatly onto the more recent choices, the band are equally at home. Another work from the pen of Johnny Bates Around the World in Four Minutes is given a stylish and lively Latin feel, Robert Redhead’s 2005 Reflections in Nature is given a warm and sympathetic treatment and my own setting of the hymn tune Diadem, Ye Morning Stars of Light is bold, brash and full of brio – exactly as I intended. For the last three tracks on the CD we are treated to a lovely Philip Harper arrangement of In Love For Me which has a light touch and an elegant shape throughout, Chris Wormald’s transcription of the finale from Mahler’s Symphony No.2, the Resurrection and a good old fashioned romp through the screamer march They’re Off. The Wormald/Mahler combination is certainly the biggest ask for the band as it requires every bit of the control and power of say, the finish of Resurgam or Journey into Freedom to truly bring together – and though Slaithwaite really give it all they have, it’s no lie to say their lung capacity must have been tested to the limit.
Releases from bands further down the world rankings do not often attract much fanfare, but it is prudent to remember that Slaithwaite band have been there and mixed in with the best of them more than once in their long history. And while they will take the stage for the next Yorkshire Area Championship as competitors in section 2, as a statement of intent for where the band want to be, one need look no further than this CD. It is ambitious, precise, and with a firm musical intent – and so are they.