The Salvation Army brass band sound is a unique, well-loved and respected musical force; a ministry that has taken its message of the love of Jesus Christ to millions of people worldwide for over one hundred years. What a joy it is to serve as a Salvationist musician!
Recent worship trends (over the last 40 years) can sometimes be hard to replicate authentically in the brass band genre. These struggles are well-known and have sometimes led to conflict in local settings between brass band and guitar-led worship groups. It takes strong leadership to help such situations. In my experience, however, the brass band sound can positively enhance contemporary worship songs when approached with a collaborative and creative mindset. We need to adapt a clear understanding that everyone comes from the starting point of creating music to enrich ministry. Our worship experience can be such that styles from any era can sit side by side.
In November of 2018, my friend Les Moir contacted me. He works for Integrity Music in the UK and has been a massive influence on the UK worship scene over the last 50 years.
Les has significantly shaped the worship styles of artists such as Matt Redman, Tim Hughes and Graham Kendrick. Les inquired if I would be willing to write some brass music and put together a Salvation Army brass group for a recording project by legendary Christian artist Martin Smith.
Martin Smith’s influence on the Christian music scene cannot be underestimated. As the front man of Delirious, he brought a dynamic energy to worship leading that was infectious. With songs such as I Could Sing of Your Love Forever, History Maker, Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble? and God’s Great Dance Floor, he has led a generation of people in worship, inspiring many new Christian songwriters. God is still doing great things through Martin. He continues to artistically explore new avenues for Christian music.
My first meeting with Martin was at his home in Brighton. We spent the day in his studio, listening to music, chatting about worship and sharing our testimonies. He mentioned that he could hear a brass band playing along in his head for one of the tracks on his latest project. We spent time discussing how we could make this happen.
Projects such as this one can only be positive for the Salvation Army. We must continue to network effectively and push open doors of opportunity. Collaboration is essential. We must strive to be happy to simply be involved or to be part of a bigger musical picture. I would encourage bands to embrace new experiences and explore how brass can be used differently. Even if that means taking risks! Remember that first and foremost, we are worship musicians. What instrument we have in our hands doesn’t matter at all.
With the completion of this project, I am already being led to new ideas and opportunities. Later in March, I will be joining Martin at a worship event where he wishes to add the euphonium sound to his established band. It is my sincere prayer that the Salvation Army is able to fuse with all types of contemporary worship styles.
Hedge End Corps
I have voice memos on my phone where Martin is singing ideas for brass lines that he could hear enhancing this new song. That day was such an uplifting experience as I watched this creative giant in full force, slaving over lyrics and getting excited as new ideas emerged. After a full day with Martin, Les Moir and Gabriel Wilson (producer), I left with a mind buzzing full of ideas and feeling enriched to have been in the presence of these guys. Over the next week, I wrote the music. Versions were exchanged until a finalized score was agreed upon. This whole process for me was fuelled by the constant desire to encourage creativity.
A group of Salvationist players from Hedge End, Portsmouth Citadel, Southsea and Boscombe corps came together to record the music. We played along to pre-recorded drum, guitar, bass guitar and vocal tracks. This created an issue as it was difficult to keep in time with the track. So, Martin came out from the control booth and conducted the band! Major Ian Davis, a former member of the ISB and a member of our band, comments that has has now played under Redhead, Cobb and Smith. That must be a unique claim!
Martin is a super musician, but conducting in that moment wasn’t for him. I took over the baton and later overdubbed my euphonium part. We started to make progress. Ninety minutes of intensive recording and we were finished. Martin and Gabriel’s Instagram accounts show emotional posts from that recording, sharing how moved they were by the pure tones of the band. We must never take for granted the emotional power of a Salvation Army band. Gabriel Wilson, now back in his studio in Oregon, is working on mixing the album. He is delighted with the brass tracks and is excited to release the final album, what he believes will be another landmark recording by Martin Smith.