A Different Sort of Sunday

Part One - Before

Where are we off to early tomorrow morning (Sunday) all dressed in our smart black outfits, with blue scarves for the women and bow ties for the men? To church? No. To work? No. To record our first CD? Yes!

By lunchtime 8 tracks should be safely captured. (We’ve been practising 9 to have a spare, in case….) Handbells, not their ringers of course, can be quirky at times, so best to be prepared.

Checklist for the morning: outfit (don’t forget the scarf), no jewellery because the bells zing off it, packed lunch, comfy shoes as we’ll be standing for 4 hours, bottles of water for me and the dog, who has to come, tho’ she doesn’t ring. Oh and don’t forget my special specs that focus exactly on the music. Leave home at 8.15 am, pick up Sarah and set off for the Summerbank Recording Studio in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent. 

We have to be there by 9 am, to finish recording by 1pm because then a plumber’s coming to repair a leak in the studio. Doesn’t sound propitious, but we’re used to ringing in tricky venues: crowded pubs, a church where the lights were so dim we couldn’t read our music, cold village halls, sitting on a stone wall in the rain for a well dressing, under canvas on a day so windy that the music flew off the stands.  A real recording studio should be a luxury!

It’s thanks to The Inn Ringers of Stone, Staffordshire, that we’re off on this new venture.  They it was who invited us to take part in this enterprise and share a CD with them. So very kind. Let’s just hope we can do them justice. 

One thing I’ve learnt from taking up handbell ringing: there’s never a dull moment!


Part Two - After

Well, this has been a great experience!  The venue, when we arrived, still slightly bleary eyed, didn’t look too inviting. Situated in the centre of Tunstall, one of the Potteries 5 Towns made famous by Arnold Bennett, it seemed unchanged since his day, until we went inside. 

The studio space itself was surprisingly bare, the technical stuff and the recording engineer all in a separate room. We somehow fitted our 5 tables into the space and laid out our equipment: 3 and a half octaves of bells and chimes, singing bell sticks and mallets, all carefully arrayed on blue velvet cushions and positioned around our transparent music stands. Quite a clutter really.

Paul, musical director of the Inn Ringers, kindly came along to see us settled in and helped to relieve the tension with jokes, for which he is well known. The recording engineer, also Paul and the very epitome of patience, critiqued each recording attempt with a skilled and professional ear, suggesting improvements and encouraging us to raise our game for yet another take.

So sensitive was the recording equipment that we were warned to be absolutely quiet before, during and after each piece: no shuffling, sneezing, coughing, clinking bells together, speaking, counting aloud, tapping feet. Breathing was just about the only permissible movement apart from playing the instruments.

Three and a half hours later we emerged into the sunshine, relieved, tired and exhilarated, and invaded the local Asda for a celebratory cup of coffee.


Sue Fraser 2.7.17

Photo by Alan Walters