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Happy birthday to Stone Handbell Ringers!

Stone Handbell Ringers (formerly The Inn Ringers) celebrate their 35th birthday on Valentine’s Day! In this guest post, musical director Paul Mellor looks back over the last three-and-a-half decades

One of the first team pictures taken in March 1977

The Inn Ringers were formed back in February 1977 in a room above the Red Lion on the High Street in Stone. The group was the idea of Frank and Jenny Beech – they kept the Red Lion, owned a brand new set of American handbells, were both church bell ringers and members of Gnosall Handbell Ringers.

I was ringing the church bells at St Michael’s at the time and went along to that first practice night on 14th February, where around twenty of us prospective handbell ringers crammed into a room on the first floor of the pub.

That first practice night was conducted by John Morgan – the musical director of Gnosall Handbell Ringers and we played a piece John had arranged – the Waltz from Iolanthe. Playing that one piece got me hooked on the fantastic sound these instruments make – I’ve been hooked ever since.

A concert appearance in Edgbaston last year

It wasn’t long before we made our first public appearance at handbell rally in Stroud, Gloucestershire – it was an annual event which attracted teams from all over the country. The ‘Randwick Festival of Handbell Music’ was a daunting prospect for us as a new team – performing to an audience of fellow bell ringers.

It was interesting to note even then – that the staple diet for handbell tunes seemed to have been hymns, folk tunes and various versions of ‘My Grandfather’s Clock’!

Teams tended to play safe. A lot of the large teams – like us with five octaves of handbells – favoured playing marches and pieces that were not unlike brass band arrangements. It was big teams like Gnosall Handbell Ringers and Thurlstone Bell Orchestra (from Yorkshire) who really set the standard.

Both of these teams won my admiration and were respected across the whole handbell ringing fraternity. We decided very early on that if we couldn’t beat ’em we would be different!

As a team we had also been to a lot of handbell concerts where the ringing was fantastic but we sat through a whole concert listening to tunes we had never heard of. Therefore from the outset we decided we would play tunes that our audiences would be familiar with and I am pleased to say that as a result of constant practicing we did achieve a very high standard of playing as well.

It was not long before we established ourselves and gained a reputation for our standard of playing. Our repertoire had steadily grown to include pieces ranging from the William Tell and Carmen overtures to classic marches such as Radetzky March, On Parade, Parade of the Tin Soldiers and Liberty Bell, to popular tunes like Big Spender, American Patrol and Lara’s Theme.

The Stone Handbell Ringers team today!

There have been so many highlights for the team over the last three and half decades – our annual concerts at Christmas are the team’s favourite event of the year – we recorded our first album in 1996 called ‘The Inn Ringers – Ring Those Bells’, spending a day at Ingestre Hall near Stafford to record the album was a great day for us all.

We have performed in concerts, flying the flag for Stone, all over the country appearing at local village halls, city cathedrals as well as some of the most prestigious entertainment halls in the country including Colston Hall Bristol, Free Trade Hall Manchester, Civic Hall Wolverhampton, Festival Theatre Corby, Trentham Gardens Ballroom, Kings Hall Stoke-on-Trent, Liverpool University, Lancaster University and the Victoria Hall Hanley (Stoke-on-Trent).

I took over as musical director at the end of 2005 and I was keen to make sure we kept adding to our repertoire. In recent years we have added pieces like ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’, ‘In The Hall of the Mountain King’, ‘Side Saddle’, ‘China Tea’, medley’s from Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ , ‘Chariots of Fire’ and even ‘Delilah’!

In 2007 we recorded our second album – ‘Christmas with The Inn Ringers’. We spent the day at a recording studio in the Cheshire countryside on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year!! We were all thrilled with the finished CD.

We filmed several pieces for Central TV – they used our pieces at the end of all their news programmes during the week up until Christmas Eve.

Perhaps the event we are most proud of is our appearance at the Barbican Centre in London in 2008. We were obviously very nervous about appearing there – a 2000 seat venue which was completely sold out. Jarvis Cocker was top of the bill and we had the pleasure of opening the concert.

The Barbican concert in 2008

It was such a wonderful night – we were really treated like stars and it is something we would love to do again.

These days we call ourselves Stone Handbell Ringers – the name the Inn Ringers came from the fact that we practiced in a pub! As we hadn’t practiced at the Red Lion for over 25 years and we also wanted a name that really summed up what we are about – so what better than Stone Handbell Ringers?

We are very proud of our achievements as a handbell team and we are even more proud of the fact that we are able to go out and entertain people and hopefully help to keep Stone on the map.

We now practice every Monday night at St Luke’s Church Hall in Tittensor – all visitors are more than welcome – even though we have moved out of the town to practice – we feel our roots are in Stone and hopefully we will be known as Stone Handbell Ringers for the next 35 years.

For more information about Stone Handbell Ringers, email theinnringers@aol.com or paulmellor@aol.com

Saturday 19th May, 7.30pm

Concert in aid of the St Michael’s Church Bell Restoration Appeal

Tickets £6 (includes interval refreshments – coffee & cakes)

Oulton Village Hall

Stone Handbell Ringers in Concert with special guest

Following on from the Stone Handbell Ringers successful charity concert last year in aid of Kemball Special School in Stoke – the team is pleased to announce their charity concert for 2012 will be to support the bell restoration appeal for St Michael’s Church in Stone.

The concert will include classical pieces as well as familiar popular tunes played on Stone Handbell Ringers’ magnificent set of 116 handbells – along with a special guest, it promises to be a terrific night of entertainment.

Email paulmellor@aol.com for tickets

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4 comments

  1. Congratulations to the Stone Hand-Bell Ringers on their 35th birthday. i recall having a great time with them at the Red Lion in the early 80’s. Peter Fawcett.

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