Interview with David Brown

A significant advance in my (Simon's) handbell ringing came about through ringing peals of spliced surprise major, conducted by David, with Roger Bailey's band in the 1990s.

Where are you based?

Norwich but I travel all over the place!

When and where did you learn to ring handbells?

I learned the basics in Oxford in the early 1970s and then more advanced ringing with the Berkshire handbell band in the late 70s and early 80s.

Who has influenced your handbell ringing?

Firstly, the Berkshire handbell band under Bernard Groves' conductorship was a big influence. Secondly, ringing with Roger Bailey was a big factor in developing more complex ringing on 8. Thirdly, the tie-in with Bill Jackson when he moved to Norfolk in the 1980s was a great influence in developing my interest in ringing a wide range of Surprise Maximus methods as he was such a hugely encouraging, competent and enthusiastic handbell ringer. Lastly, ringing with David Pipe was a big influence on ringing things on handbells that really pushed the boundaries, like cyclic peals of Spliced Maximus, and Orion and Rigel.

Blue lines, place notation or structure?

A bit of everything really! Methods like Double Norwich I find it's just not worth learning the line as the notation is so straightforward. But at the other end of the scale, there's too much place notation in something like Orion, so knowing the lines well and having a decent grasp of the general structure is more important.

Trebles or tenors?

I'm not particularly keen on the trebles: too much responsibility as everyone is looking to you to keep themselves right! I quite enjoy ringing the tenors but most of the time I find myself ringing an inside pair.

Quarters or peals?

I generally prefer peals: I like the demands a peal length places on you and the scope for incorporating varied music.

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

I once rang a handbell peal standing up on the deck of a ferry across the Irish Sea. It got rougher and rougher and there was more and more spray, as well as lots of inquisitive children, so it was quite a challenge. The other really odd place was the Examination Schools at Oxford University. In the early 70s students staged an occupation of the Schools over several days in protest at the lack of a proper Student Union at the University. They encouraged members of the University to come and take part in a range of activities during the sit-in and several of us rang a handbell peal by candle-light as the authorities had cut off power to the building!

What is your favourite handbell-ringing anecdote?

One of my earliest handbell peals of Surprise Major was with Roger Bailey in London and we rang at his office in University College. We hadn't been ringing long when there was a knocking at the door. "Go away" said Roger. The knocking turned into loud banging and was repeated at regular intervals with the same response from Roger. Eventually after finishing the peal Roger opened the door and his very angry office mate burst in shouting "I've had just about enough of you Bailey" and pushed past him to retrieve his bag and coat so that he could go home, which he had been prevented from doing for the past two hours!

Any further comments about handbell ringing in general? 

I love the sound of handbells and the mental puzzles that ringing complex methods presents. But it's also very satisfying ringing something relatively simple and just relaxing and enjoying it. Some ringers don't regard handbell peals as "proper" peals but they are usually people who can't ring handbells. I think it's certainly the case that it takes far more mental energy to ring a handbell peal successfully than a tower bell peal.


Next time: Jennie Town