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Jeff is famous for taking tower-bell ringing to France, but here we learn about his handbell ringing.

Where are you based?

Vernet-les-Bains, in the Eastern Pyrenees, France.

When and where did you learn to ring handbells?

I rang three peals of Plain Bob as a student in Durham in 1973 but then did very little until Catherine and I bought a set of 12 in the 80s so we could do some tune ringing in the school in Leeds where I was a music teacher. We taught all three of our sons the basics of method ringing in hand and rang a few quarters with them, but I really only got into handbells seriously when I started ringing with the Leeds peal band in 2009.

Who has influenced your handbell ringing?

By far the single biggest help to me was James Holdsworth, who got me started on Kent Major and Yorkshire. He’s a fine conductor and was always able to dig me out of holes when I was floundering. I almost certainly wouldn’t be ringing handbells today had it not been for him, and for the support and camaraderie of the rest of the Leeds band: Kathy and Penny Thorley, Paul Brook and Adam Crocker. Since I came to France in 2019, I’ve rung mostly on e-Bells in Ringing Room with members of Gareth Davies’ excellent Five o’clock Club. Peter Randall and Simon Rudd are my regular partners there.

Blue lines, place notation or structure?

On six bells, I ring exclusively by structure. The more bells and asymmetric cross-sections there are, the more I rely a bit on blue line as well. I find that ringing by structure works really well until I get lost. When that happens, I generally don’t have the faintest idea where my bells should be; telling me place bells is absolutely pointless because I haven’t learned the line. Well done to those conductors who can sort me out!

Trebles or tenors?

I’m happiest on the trebles. Because I’m ringing mostly by structure, it’s theoretically quite hard to get lost since you always know where the treble is. The tenors are my next favourite. On inside pairs, I find you need to concentrate uncomfortably hard; I’ve not done much of it on more than eight bells.

Quarters or peals?

Peals in Leeds, but since I moved to France, almost always just quarters; they seem quite long enough these days.

What is the most unusual place in which you have rung handbells?

Sharing a field with a horse turned out not to be such a great idea after it decided to charge us for the privilege. I’ve never seen ringing end so abruptly. Midge-infested Scottish islands aren’t too clever either. The time we tried to do that, the scheduled peal didn’t last longer than a couple of leads.

What is your favourite handbell-ringing anecdote?

September 4th, 2013, the first of Catherine’s four handbell peals, with Jimmy and me. Not so much an anecdote, more a happy memory: Catherine hadn’t thought to silence her phone. It joined in merrily and persistently during the sixth extent of Oxford. Only when we finished did we find out that it was our eldest son, Alan, calling to tell us our grandson Aaron had been born while we were ringing. It was straight down to The Queen to celebrate. Catherine’s final handbell peal was just a month before her untimely death from breast cancer, at the age of 59. I’m so very proud of her many achievements and victories during that last, very difficult 18 months. Never say that people "lose their battle with cancer".

Any further comments about handbell ringing in general? 

Technology has made handbell ringing so much more accessible. Abel with motion-controllers or e-Bells aided my progress hugely. I still find handbells vastly more difficult than towerbells, not least because handbells just stop dead if you forget to ring them. I’ve found handbells to be a very sociable activity (thanks to Kathy for all those lovely pre-peal teas), and I think that ringing them is very like performing chamber music. They’re much more intimate than tower bells and, particularly on six bells, each performer very much has their own specialist part to play. Looking back to when I started, I wish I’d realised much sooner that Plain Bob is much trickier than people assume, is very dull and is really not a good method for learning to ring handbells.

 

Next time: Julia Cater

Sorry, trying some txt-spk there! To wait, or not to wait: that is the question. If someone hesitates, should the rest of the band wait so that the bells strike in the right order, or should they relentlessly follow the rhythm? On tower bells we don't have a lot of...