Christmas Handbells 2013

Having taken a break last year, it was decided that the UL should once again entertain the shoppers of London with carols, raising money for the Southwark Cathedral bell fund.

After a few ad-hoc practices in early November, Jacqui started to organise some proper practice sessions. It was at this point we found out that we would be doing not one, but four performances, and that we were unlikely to have a single band able to make all four. Fortunately there were enough of us to swap in and out, and we soon had a schedule in place.

Practices then commenced in earnest, meeting early each Thursday and most Sundays, including lugging the bells to various towers around London to fit a few hours extra in here and there. We decided that learning all the music was unrealistic, so we slimmed our repertoire down to a half-hour set, ending with an increasingly enthusiastically rung Jingle Bells.

As the first performance approached, last minute preparations included polishing up the bells, acquiring suitably Christmassy jumpers, decorating buckets for donations and figuring out what we were going to do with the music. Fortunately Jacqui came through with a set of music stands she generously donated to the UL.

Our first show was on Friday 6th December at Tachbrook Street Market, near Victoria. After the Mayor of Westminster turned on the Christmas tree lights we played for about an hour, alternating pieces with the Westminster Community Choir. The shoppers seemed very appreciative of our efforts, including one elderly lady who talked at us at great length while we were trying to concentrate on the trickier parts of Silent Night. As we were finishing, one mother informed us that her young children were so enthralled with our playing that they had insisted on rushing home to get their pocket money to throw in our buckets. After packing up, the nearest pub was located, and, for some, a major drinking session commenced.

The following day we were due to play at Southwark Cathedral Christmas Market for a good part of the afternoon. The bells, buckets and music stands, and most of the ringers arrived at Southwark around midday, only to be informed that certain members had possibly taken the last night’s drinking too far, and the music had been left in a pub in Shoreditch. Fortunately, we were assured that the Master was on the case, and had been frantically printing out new copies all morning (thankfully Jacqui had uploaded all the music to the website for such an event…). True enough, moments before we were due to start, Ryan arrived not only with newly-printed music, but all put together in folders ready for us to go.

Various conversations that took place Friday Night/Saturday Morning…

Friday night:

Becca jokes with Ryan that he will leave the handbell music in the pub. Ryan replies “don’t be silly, I would never do anything as stupid as that”!

Becca leaves and drinking continues… several pubs later, Becca receives a phone call from Ryan saying something relating to handbells and not knowing where he was.

Jacqui also gets a message saying: “Do you have any copies of pub from yesterday”, followed by: “Ignore last message. Ryan v wasted.” – the mystery deepened!

Saturday Morning:

Ben to Ryan: “I was just having a thought that we left the handbell music in the pub last night…”

*long pause*

Ryan to Ben: “I was just having the same thought…Jacqui’s going to kill me!”

Ryan calls Jacqui
Jacqui to Ryan: “Hi, how are you this morning?”

Ryan to Jacqui: “I’m fine, however, the handbell music may not be… we left it in the pub last night!”

Jacqui to Ryan: *something vaguely unrepeatable* – “well, we’re going to have to print it all again, we’ve got an hour…”

We played in several locations around the Cathedral for most of the afternoon, until it got too dark to see the music. Our initial compliment was augmented as the day went on, as Becca arrived from Lewes and Jenny Willis managed to make it, after (understandably) assuming Southwark Cathedral was near Southwark tube. With all the music run through four or five times, we were getting increasingly confident and the final encore of Jingle Bells was played at break-neck speed.

With the light failing, we headed back to Hart Street to count up our takings, while Ryan went to try and locate the original music sets. A last-minute donation was added to the pot outside the Draft House on Seething Lane where Mr Blobby asked for a kiss from Becca (or ‘girl with the mistletoe’ as she was addressed). The total for the day ended up at over £150.

After another practice session on the Sunday, we agreed that we were now confident enough to add two of the trickier tunes to our set for Monday. We arrived in Leicester Square around 4pm where we found that locating a position with enough light to play meant we were battling with the noise of fairground rides and a mic’d up singer. Despite this, we played well, though some of us were starting to get blisters from ringing the bells so hard. After packing up the bells into backpacks, most of us then headed south of the river to see Saving Mr Banks (which was agreed to be excellent).

The final performance was on Saturday 14th, on Oxford Street. As was to be expected 11 days before Christmas, it was extremely busy, but most people were rushing past with no time to stop and appreciate our, by now excellent, playing. We’d gotten confident enough to add in the challenging Ding Dong Merrily on High as well as a new descant to liven up the end of The First Noel. After almost two hours playing, everyone was exhausted and happy to head back to Hart Street and then the Bounds.

After a final count up, we’d raised a total of almost £300 over our four days, plus a few rupees, kroner and euros. We all agreed that this was a great result, and also that we’d rather not play any more handbells for a while.

Special thanks to Jacqui Bale for organising the ringing and to Helen Herriott for getting the performance permits.

The ringers were:

Asher Kaboth
Becca Cullen
Ben Barnes
Ben Meyer
Chris Rimmer
Jacqui Bale
Kate Wallis
Mariko Whyte
Peter Valuks
Ryan Noble
Tom Nagel

Plus bucket shakers:

Chris Brown
Helen Herriott
Jenny Willis
Nick Brown
Sophie Middleton

By Tom Nagel