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


A Walk on the Wild Side

A magical Moment

Iridescent colours rise and arc,

Floating lights, an ethereal wonder,

With luminous, ghostly dancers in the dark.

A colourful, shimmering waterfall of fire and light,

Swirling and whirling against the dark backdrop of the night

Rainbow ribbons intertwining, colours flowing and curving

With rippling waves of fluorescent light,

Dancing, dipping and rising, then finally fading out of sight.

Recently the Alton Handbells ringers team have set out to practise and perfect a new musical composition called “Polaris and the Northern Lights”.  It was written by Brendon Bevan who resides in Toronto and is studying music and musical composition at York University.  Apparently he first began playing handbells at the age of five at his home church.

When we first tried this new music we were not quite prepared for the impact it would have on us individually.  We were all very impressed by the powerful effect that emanated from the sound.

 What first seemed like a series of uncomplicated individual notes gradually blended together and became a surreal, heavenly sound which transported us into a space amongst the stars.

As we practised and perfected the piece we became involved and immersed in its beauty.  We could imagine looking up and witnessing the magic of the swirling lights spreading across the heavens, together with the star, Polaris, burning brightly in the night sky.


Jean Reilly 6.6.17



Cheadle Arts Festival Week

Joint Handbell concert with the Cheadle U3A Ukulele Group at Cheadle Guildhall, Sunday 19 March 2017 in aid of The Donna Louise Trust.

What a great afternoon of entertainment we gave to a packed Guildhall!

When the audience started arriving at 1.45 pm, for a 2.30 start, we were still putting out the chairs and had only just finished a none-too-great rehearsal!  You know what they say: you need a bad practice to concentrate the mind on an excellent performance. We certainly did that.  

The Ukulele Group opened the programme with a lively rendition of "Rock Around the Clock", dressed in their colourful Hawaiian Shirts and straw hats.  They had passed out song books which got the audience into the spirit of singing along to the many well-known songs that followed.

We were the filling of the sandwich in the first and second halves, providing a great contrast to ukuleles, a harmonica, a kazoo and a tambourine.

Our programme was varied and we processed into the hall playing “The Processional Celebration”, which was certainly different.  We finished our first session with "Over the Rainbow" with the supporters singing along enthusiastically - Judy Garland would have been proud!  Tea and scrummy cakes followed.  Many comments: "I didn't know handbells were so versatile", "what a lovely melodic sound", "can't wait for the second half - it is so good".

Second helping and the Ukuleles were back with a loud, foot-tapping session and much rousing applause. What an act to follow!

We started with "Celebration" - a piece of music written especially for handbells, very bright with an amazingly upbeat finish.  Our "I've Got The Joy" tune, played by beating the bells instead of ringing them, seems always a hit with the audience even though we give our conductor, Wendy, much consternation as she has a job keeping up with us as we always want to go faster than her!!

We finished with a brand new arrangement of "You Are My Sunshine" accompanied by team members Sarah and Jean on percussion (drum, whistles, rattles, and that kazoo again) who, on this first performance, brought the house down, leaving us poor bell ringers in the doldrums!  “When You’re Smiling” found us accompanying the Ukulele Group - minus the percussion - as the finale to a wonderful afternoon's entertainment, clearly enjoyed by one and all.

It was also a fine debut for Callum, the newest and youngest member of the team, who rang extremely well in his first concert.

To quote Lynne: "1, 2, 3, I love handbells", whilst taking a bow!

Judith Denning 19.3.17

An Exciting New Venture

Practice nights are electric with anticipation this year, because we're preparing for our first cd. It's a major project that we're sharing with The Inn Ringers, another Staffordshire handbell team. Choosing the 8 pieces to be recorded, (finding the right balance of variety, pace and dynamics, perfecting techniques to show the full range of music we can make with our three and a half octaves ) is a new challenge for us and our director, Wendy.

Shall we use Chimes? Mallets? Thumb damp? Brush damp? Martellato? Echo? Singing bells? Vibrato? Gyro? Tower swing? Pluck? Shake? Ring touch? Each makes a different beautiful sound. Our bells become an orchestra, with depth, surprises, delicate harmonies, rousing rhythms, swiftly changing moods and sounds that make the heart sing.

Audiences watching us sometimes think we're too serious - not smiley enough. Yes, we are, but it's because we're fiercely concentrating. This is like no other music-making, because, in effect we, the team, meld 44 bells into one instrument.

Shall we be able to do justice to this unique instrument, so that people listening will feel the same delight that we feel as we play?

Sue Fraser 1.2.17

Handbells at Cheadle (Staffs) Christmas Fair


It was a cold afternoon but we had wrapped up warmly for the event.  The market square in Cheadle was quite bare of stalls and devoid of people but nevertheless there was a podium set up for entertainers.  We stood around waiting for our turn. We were greeted by the Mayor and made very welcome by him and the compere for the event.  Stalls and fairground rides lined the main street, which was thronged with people enjoying the event and waiting for the Christmas lights to be switched on.

When it was our turn to take to the stage we passed up music stands, handbells and music folders but when it came to getting ourselves up onto the podium we had great difficulty as there was no step to help us and it was quite high! However we hoisted ourselves up and prepared to ring.

Clad with black gloves we started to play and managed to ring all our carols and Christmas songs. A few more people had drifted towards us and clapped us enthusiastically. A very tall man wearing a top hat, on stilts, stood close to us to listen.  My daughter had arrived too with my two grandchildren, which was cheering to me and they seemed to be enjoying the music especially when we played Jingle Bells!

We were thanked profusely when we had finished and we quickly packed up to go and drink some mulled wine to warm us up.

Jean Reilly.