CD: Manuscripts II

The International Staff Band of The Salvation Army
Conductor: Staff Bandmaster Dr Stephen Cobb

The International Staff Band’s first ‘Manuscripts’ release came in the late ‘90s and was considered innovative for both its repertoire and its two-CD format, featuring both audio and visual recordings on CD ROM. Twenty-six years on, ‘Manuscripts II’ (and its accompanying online video, ‘Making Manuscripts II’, accessible by scanning a QR code within the CD booklet) represents one of the most important brass band releases in recent times. At the heart of the project is the engaging repertoire included – unearthed gems from the likes of William Himes, Ray Steadman-Allen, and Leslie Condon, alongside a handful of exciting new works. However, combined with this is the remarkable artistry and musicianship brought to each track by a band, conductor, and soloist on scintillating form. 

It’s easy to run out of superlatives when describing the playing of Philip Cobb, but his cameo performance on Ray Steadman-Allen’s Rhapsody for Cornet: Love’s Vision – a work composed for his grandfather, Roland Cobb – is worth the price of the CD alone. His sound and style transcends the notes on the page, which together with sympathetic and agile accompaniment from the ISB, brings this brilliant work of substance to life with meaningful drama. 

Andrew Wainwright’s Horizon: The Promise of the Lord is an excellent addition to the repertoire and William Himes’ Battles, with its sophisticated musical language for the time (1972), is a welcome discovery. However, it’s Leslie Condon’s Tone Poem: For Men of Faith that really captures the imagination and showcases some outstanding playing from the band. Paul Sharman’s To the Hills and Stephen Gibson’s Wonder are delivered beautifully, whilst Martin Cordner’s Christ is All and Kenneth Downie’s Jesus is Lord! are brought to life with boundless energy. 

The accompanying 36-minute video really enhances the overall release, providing the listener with a rare opportunity to see the musicians in action, learn about the music from Dr. Stephen Cobb and hear from Producer, Adam Goldsmith and Engineer, Melissa Dee, providing great insight to the recording process itself. However, the highlight is certainly hearing from Roland Cobb, in conversation with his son Stephen and grandson Philip, talking about his first experiences playing Love’s Vision, concluding with: “What a thrill it is to have my lovely son conducting the band, and wonderful grandson playing it. I’m very, very proud of both of them, as you could imagine.” Congratulations to all involved in the production of ‘Manuscripts II’. It certainly is a release to be proud of. 


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