Holy Trinity Church, Leicester

Holy Trinity Church, Leicester

Lance (our actor) writes: I take up the story where Heather left off, after the morning service.  We were bidden to lunch with the amazing Babb family.  While Dad Tim and Mum Maggie slaved over a hot kitchen, and 11-year-old Rebecca trained for ‘Becky’s Bakery’ (which she intends to run in the future) by whipping up a banoffee pie to die for, we were entertained by Fergus (9), Katie (6), Chris (4) and – between sleeps – Josh (2).  Belinda and Heather’s maternal skills leapt to the surface; but I was more on the level of Rex (1), the border collie, who brought me a much-chewed ball to play with.  I recommend his sharp eye and catch-all teeth to the England goalkeeping and slip-fielding selectors.  The table groaned with roast beef and – wait for it – potatoes, peas, carrots, cauliflower, sprouts, french beans, broccoli, courgettes, red cabbage and pumpkin.  I found I had my 5 portions a day all on one plate.  Tim, who had once taught at Belinda’s daughters’ school in Great Missenden, is now the house-husband, while Maggie goes out to work as an anaesthetist.  I asked if she had ever used her professional equipment to get a bit of peace at night.  ‘No,’ she said, ‘but I did have the know-how to save Becky’s life once.’  All in a day’s work.

It was time to drive on to the grand final concert of our 2011 tour.  Holy Trinity, Leicester is a Victorian red-brick exterior, but a white warehouse inside.  Here my old friend John McGinley presides over a large (200+) multi-racial congregation with a liberal sprinkling of students.  Their evening service is usually modern songs with loud amplified music.  Some of them found the culture of our concert a shock too far and slipped quietly away; but most stayed to appreciate.  Among them was Prof Gordon Campbell who wrote one of this year’s crop of books on the KJ Bible.  We first met him in the Milton 400th anniversary; and at the start of this year, he said, ‘I’ll see you on the circuit’.  Finally at our last concert our paths crossed.  ‘I’ve given 58 lectures this year,’ he told me.  ‘Ah,’ I countered, ‘this is our 74th’.  He smiled all through the performance and told us it was fabulous.  Shortly before the end a gentleman of the road found his way in and came right up the front.  Belinda was singing and when she finished the song, he shouted, ‘That was very good.’  The people around shushed him, explaining that he must not applaud till the end.  Belinda came to her next song, and there was no holding him: ‘That was wonderful,’ he shouted again.  Well, why not?  She is wonderful.  The music is wonderful.  So is the Bible.  So has the whole year been.
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St James Church, Audley

St James Church, Audley

Heather (our pianist) writes: The last weekend in November found us in the Midlands for the final two concerts in our 2011 pilgrimage; and in different ways both of these events provided many unforgettable highlights of this our special year.

After a speedy and, thankfully, uneventful car journey Belinda & I arrived early (ahead of Lance for a change) at Audley, a former mining town to the west of Stoke-on-Trent surrounded by pretty undulating fields. We were greeted cheerfully by the Revd Kip Chelashaw, the curate of St James’ Church and Jon Courthold, who, with his master control panel, soon had the powerpoint up and running. Belinda and I resisted his invitation to be amplified, finding the acoustic fairly dry, and although the lighting system in the church prevented us from starting our concert in darkness (as we like to do in the winter months), we selected chancel and nave lights which helped to create a sensitive atmosphere.

St James’ parish seems to have been formed in association with the Audley family in the early 12th century, the present day church mainly dating back to the 14th century with several effigies, tombs and brasses in evidence; a number of alterations were made in the Gilbert Scott restoration of 1846-56, examples of which can be found in the remaining Victorian furnishings. The large building sits proudly on a high bank overlooking the road, across which is situated the church hall where all the necessary facilties are to be found. Here Kip made tea for us which he quickly brought across to us in the church, soon to be followed by a succession of ladies bearing delicious-looking cakes for the concert interval. Kip’s wife then arrived with their adorable 6 month old son, Elijah, who happily slept for the rest of the evening in the creche room without making a sound!

We were relieved that Lance’s voice had now recovered its rich resonances, and with Belinda being on top form, too, the members of
our appreciative audience all shook us warmly by the hand as they left with such comments as “You’ve given us the Wow factor this evening!”. After clearing up, the three of us were offered generous hospitality: Belinda with Annette and Brian, Lance with Kay and Chekow, while I was taken off to the home of Anne and Jim and their two delightful daughters, Sophie and Rebecca. After a friendly welcome and cosy chat, I had a very comfortable night, after which I was encouraged to breakfast on Staffordshire oatcakes with cheese, bacon, sausage and scrambled egg – wonderful! It was then off to St James’ for the morning service marking Advent Sunday when we were enthusiastically welcomed again, and also presented with wine for Lance and flowers for us girls! We were touched that, following our Bible presentation the evening before, the theme continued into the day’s liturgy, all the readings being taken from the AV King James Bible. It was striking, too, that the service was led by and the sermon preached by members of the laity, reflecting the strong pastoral tone of the parish. Shayne Trinder gave a wide-ranging, thought-provoking talk on the use and misuse of the Bible with projected illustrative bullet points. Convivial conversation over coffee in the hall followed, after which we bade farewell and made tracks for the wonderful Babb family home – but that’s another story………..

St. Mary with St. Leonard's Church

St. Mary with St. Leonard's Church

Belinda (our singer) writes: Unfortunately Lance succumbed to a throat infection which meant he was unable to appear at St.Mary with St.Leonard church on Tuesday night.

We were pleased to welcome his understudy Anne Atkins into the team once more (she performed with us at Cockfield, Suffolk in June).

The church is set in open land beside the pretty village green of Broomfield, just north of Chelmsford. The building, dating back to Norman and maybe Saxon times, has an unusual and attractive circular tower constucted about 1130, and is one of only six that survive in Essex.

Heather and I were greeted by the recently appointed Vicar Carolyn Tibbot and her husband. Broomfield is her first Parish and in those 8 months she seems to have brought an energy and enthusiasm to the life and workings of the church.

All was set up easily, including a good keyboard that Heather used in the performance. Behind us in the Chancel, below the East window, is a beautifully carved reredos depicting the scene of the Last Supper.

Anne joined us to run through the script in good time, and we then relaxed with a cup of tea in the comfortable communal rooms which are a tasteful extension adjoining the existing church.

An audience of 80 attended our performance and our 72nd celebratory concert left them all in good spirits.

The Methodist Chapel

The Methodist Chapel

Heather (our pianist) writes: Having bookings on two consecutive evenings in the Nottingham area gave us the rare opportunity to enjoy some much-appreciated leisure time.  After a comfortable night’s rest and generous breakfast at Patrick Mackie’s, we made the short journey to East Bridgford Methodist Chapel where Patrick had done the forward planning for our concert there through Churches Together.  With the help of multi-talented John Hunter (who seems to be a wizard, among other things, at fixing the pipe organ when it goes wrong!) and technical expert, Paul Taylor working the powerpoint, we were soon set up for the evening well before lunchtime, leaving my keyboard safely locked up in the Chapel for the day.

The small Chapel was built in 1854 and slightly enlarged in 1897 when, it is thought, the organ, with its grey, brown and gold Victorian patterned pipes, was installed, having originally come from another unknown church.  In 1971, further changes were made including a new vestry, a suspended ceiling and a floor fitted over the gallery to provide “the upper room”.  This we used as our green room, and with other modern facilities added in more recent years, the Chapel, one of our smallest venues, proved to be comfortable and convenient.

With free time before lunch, Belinda immersed herself in the study of musical scores, while Lance prepared for his John Betjeman show he was to give the next day near Wantage.  The beautiful weather outside enticed me to explore the country lane nearby, which rises to the top of the Trent Valley offering lovely views all around.  This much-needed exercise worked up my appetite for the delicious lunch perfectly and elegantly provided by Patrick, before he whisked us away for another treat: a guided tour of Southwell Minster with its magnificent Norman architecture and wonderful stone carvings – somewhere I had always wanted to visit.  Our arrival at the Minster coincided with the end of a celebratory service there for the 200th anniversary of the Church Schools Association founded by Josiah Watson; it had been attended by several old friends of Lance and Patrick, as well as people who had attended our concert at Lowdham the previous evening!

It was then back to East Bridgford and a splendid pre-concert buffet provided by Pamela Shaw at her house for us and several members of our audience.  It was really heart-warming to be made so welcome by the local church community and to be treated with such generous hospitality.  Although the acoustics of the Chapel were extremely dry (and the temperature rather warm!), we were thrilled to be enthusiastically received by an audience of 50 knowledgeable and attentive folk, including one lady who had brought a friend with her on the strength of having seen us at Lowdham.  We were so thankful not to face a long drive home after the concert, as has been the case on several occasions during our tour.  Patrick again plied us with wonderful treats before a rather late bedtime, only a few hours after which,  we were breakfasting on cereal, bacon, egg and toast!  We all agreed that we had been thoroughly spoilt during these last couple of days, and were all in need of some serious dieting……  Patrick, it must be said, was the most delightful and engaging host in his fascinating and beautiful home, attending to our every need and giving us so much fun!  I know that we will remember this weekend with great pleasure as one of the many highlights of 2011.  Although our journey south was rather foggy, we made good time to Wantage where we left Lance before making tracks for home.

The Bible exhibition at St Mary's Church

The Bible exhibition at St Mary's Church

Belinda (our singer) says: Perhaps the most challenging decision of our tour is always made before driving North on a Friday afternoon to perform that evening.

The near impossible question to address is which route to take that might be less full of traffic !

Heather and I were in luck this time by choosing the A1, and we had a good journey to the village of Lowdham situated north east of Nottingham.

The Parish church of St.Mary the Virgin is nestled in a wooded hollow on the west side of the village and dates from the mid 12th century. The tower was added in 1170 as a seperate building originally. The church still has the font made in 1290, and is a lovely building, warm and attractive in its simplicity of style.

Our concert there was organised by the Lowdham Book Festival, which over 13 years has developed into a tremendous public celebration of  literature and the arts. The co-founders are Jane Streeter (who runs the Lowdham book shop) and Ross Bradshaw (a publisher). Together they have established a successful festival which attracts such luminaries to perform as Sir Roy Strong, Simon Callow and Lance Pierson.

We were welcomed by Ross and another important person in the Festival team, Mark Gittins, who takes charge of all the technical needs. So we were happy to have professional stage lighting and powerpoint for the show.

All was set up and we gathered an audience of about 70 people. Everyone really enjoyed the evening, so much so that as we left, Lowdham Festival asked us back to present our Jubilee programme  ‘Elizabeth to Elizabeth’  next June as part of their celebratory weekend !

As we were performing the following night 4 miles away, we drove on to stay with an old friend of Lance’s who lives in East Bridgford. Retired Dep. Head schoolmaster Patrick Mackie greeted us with 5 star hospitality and joviality, commencing with a perfect supper of scrambled egg and smoked salmon washed down by a glass of Chardonnay !

St Mary the Virgin, Brent Pelham

St Mary the Virgin, Brent Pelham

Lance (our actor) writes: ‘You’re going to Brent Pelham?’ squealed a lady in our September Tenby audience.  ‘But it’s TINY!  My daughter lives there.’  It is a tiny, remote Hertfordshire village; but the ancient parish church of 12th century origin looked well filled with an audience of 60 or so.  How did they achieve it?

The answer is Farrimonds.  Richard and Annette Farrimond, leading members of the PCC, did what so few of our venue organisers have done.  They came to an earlier performance (actually the very first one at LICC in February), liked what they saw and booked it for their own church.  (They brought another couple with them, who promptly moved away from the village!  Make your own deductions.)  Having seen the concert, they could envisage how to organise it, and knew what they were inviting people to.  I remember Richard at LICC with a commanding presence, even formidable.  He is the only organiser who has objected to our suggestion that a church member (or group) could read the Bible passages if I am prevented from coming at the last minute.  ‘No, this won’t do at all.  If Lance can’t come, we cancel the event.’  Belinda did her research and discovered that he is a retired army officer.  Not only that: he trained to be one of Britain’s first astronauts in 1984; and would have been, but for the tragic accident to Challenger two years later, which led to his project being scrapped.  I approached a little nervous of disappointing him.  But the concert has grown since February; he was over the moon (oops, sorry!).  ‘We loved it the first time we saw it; but tonight it was in a different league altogether.’
St Mary's church during the setup

St Mary's church during the setup

Heather (our pianist) writes: Despite being on the outskirts of Bognor Regis, St Mary Magdalene Church, South Bersted is, in fact, the Mother Church of the area, its foundations dating back to the 13th century.  The virtually intact 15th century building which stands today has a squat tiled spire, fairly typical of Sussex churches, while the interior feels welcoming with its open aspect and good lighting.  Tim Crook, the Vicar, was already busy with his young son, Ben, and Lance experimenting with projector and screen when Belinda and I arrived after a late afternoon drive in rather drizzly weather.  We were greeted warmly and immediately made to feel at home by Tim and Anne with tea and cakes of various kinds, including delicious Chelsea buns!  Soon after this, projector-siting problems were resolved by resourceful Ben, who turned out to be, at the age of 13, our youngest, and dare I say it, the most efficient powerpoint controller of our tour!  He proved to be not only great company, but also a budding musician, and enjoyed himself trying out my keyboard after everything had been put in place for the concert.

Tim, who has been at St Mary’s for two years, then told us a little of his plans and enthusiasm for his parish.  He then outlined some of Bognor Regis’ history: originally a Saxon fishing village, Bucgan ora – or Bucgan’s shore – is one of very few places in Sussex named after a woman.  In the 1780s Sir Richard Hotham began to develop Bognor into a seaside resort, aiming to rival Brighton, although this ambition was never realised.  A few members of the Royal Family, however, including Queen Victoria, enjoyed visiting the resort.  The addition of “Regis” occurred in 1929 after George V visited the area, though, ironically, he did not share his grandmother’s enthusiasm for the place.

All three of us remarked on the intimate atmosphere in this our 68th performance, which was reflected in many of the reactions from our listeners; one lady said: “Lance’s delivery was spine-tingling”.  Tim concluded the concert by leading us all in prayer, giving thanks for the compilers of the KJ Bible and for the spreading of God’s word through the ages.  Ben was also given a well-earned round of applause for his stirling work in holding everything together.  Our grateful thanks go to Tim and his friendly congregation for all their help and hard work in setting up the evening for us.

The central mosaic

The central mosaic

Belinda (our singer) writes: Heather and I drove in late Autumn sunshine along the M4 to vist Bristol once more, and arrived at the church in good time. We were met by a lovely team of ladies (actually related!) Teresa, her daughter Sarah and granddaughter, and cousin Annette. They and Lance had begun to set up the screen at the far end of this large, brightly lit church of the Holy Nativity. One’s eyes are immediately drawn up to the wonderful painted and mosaic apse which depicts the Nativity scene in breathtaking splendour high above the altar. The central mosaic Nativity scene was established in 1958 after the church had been fully rebuilt following heavy Blitz damage in World War II. Amazingly, the church tower of 1871 survived intact!

Funding ran out back in 1958 to finish the apse artwork, and it wasn’t until 2006 that local artist and congregational member Mike Long completed the highly attractive painted landscape which surrounds the mosaic centrepiece.

Refreshed with coffee and biscuits we rehearsed and set everything in place to begin our concert performance at 3pm. There was a spacious area in front of the altar step for us to spread out, with the screen placed to one side.

An audience of 55 enjoyed the afternoon concert and we noted a number of them had come on recommendation from others who had seen us perform at Bolton Priory and Wymondham Abbey. One man returned for a second viewing after attending our 1st Bristol venue of Christ Church back in July.  In his speech of thanks Father Chris said afterwards ‘ We were not only entertained but experienced an act of worship leaving one refreshed and uplifted.’

St John's, Little Missenden

St John's, Little Missenden

Lance (our actor) writes: St John the Baptist, Little Missenden is virtually on Belinda’s doorstep.  But I also regard it as ‘our’ church as a trio: it is where we gave our debut concert 2 years ago, which was filmed to make our ‘John Milton in Voice  and Verse’ DVD; it is also where we recorded our ‘Bible in Voice and Verse’ CD back in February.  It is a very special, congenial, intimate space.  So I returned there on Nov 3rd with warm nostalgic feelings, and reflections on how our BIVAV performance has developed since we were last there.  For one thing, Belinda and I have now learnt our words by heart, so that we communicate with the audience direct, without having to look at score or script.  For another, my interpretation of some Bible passages has evolved: I realised that the rather cuddly Samuel I portrayed on the recording must be wrong, as the Bethlehem elders trembled at his approach; so I have made him sterner.  And my mischievous imagination has been unable to resist trying to making something funny out of the King James translation of the garments Adam and Eve stitched up from the fig leaves – ‘aprons’!  One man said this was his favourite word in the whole concert, and was so disappointed with the neutral rendering of it on the CD that he came to a second live performance to get another fix of the new intonation!

Father John the Vicar welcomed us effusively and pointed out that the occasion was even more significant: it was our 66th performance, to match the 66 books of the Bible.  He was just as effusive at the end, saying it had been a magical evening.  Certainly, I felt we had performed it as well as ever; but I confess to sadness that the audience was only about 50.  For Milton in 2009 it was double that.  So where were all the missing people?  Somehow, between us, we failed to get them back, and I would want to put that right another time.  The lovely churchwarden David said, ‘50?  The audience should have been 500.’  Amen – but how?

The Christ Church Toilet Fund

The Christ Church Toilet Fund

Heather (our pianist) writes: After a trouble-free journey by car, Belinda and I arrived in good time at Christchurch with Holy Trinity Church, Worthing.  We were very fortunate to find a parking space nearby, contrary to our fears, enabling us to unload keyboard and luggage with ease.

On our UK tour we have experienced many moments of pleasure, interest and surprise.  Imagine our consternation in discovering a white toilet complete with flower-adorned cistern on display in the foyer of the church!  Such encouraging messages as “TOILET FUND” and “Don’t throw your money down the drain – throw it in here at your convenience” gave us a clue as to the purpose of this display and also about the humorous type of people we were soon to meet.  We weren’t disappointed, for on entering the church we were greeted by a hive of activity and a good-humoured welcome.  Under Lance’s direction Ken (committee member), Ralph (churchwarden and director of music) and John (a retired NHS consultant) were heaving staging about at the front of the nave, behind which a large screen was already in situ, soon to be raised on chairs to avoid us performers blocking the audience’s view.  Much thought and care had clearly gone into the preparation of our afternoon concert, and after further experimentation with positioning of staging, drapes, keyboard, lovely old Bechstein grand piano and lighting – along with several merry quips – all was in place.  Meanwhile Janine, Ken’s wife, skilfully solved a few glitches in the powerpoint technology while providing us with hot drinks at the same time.

Christchurch, built in 1843, is tall and long, and apart from the organ which was installed in the 1970’s, is a perfect example of Victorian architecture and furnishings.  The pews are carved at each end with fine fleurs-de-lis and are accessed at the front half of the nave by low doors, signifying the class system that existed during those times.  This is further reflected in the original purpose of the north and south galleries where, apparently, the local fishermen were consigned during services: they smelled so badly that they had to be separated from the more “refined” members of the congregation!

Ralph filled us in with several other points of interest such as the history of the organ which came from a Methodist Church in Rochdale and which perfectly suited the acoustic of Christchurch, the background to the choir and various church projects.  The Toilet Fund, it emerged, is to help pay for the very recently completed state-of-the-art cloakrooms, much needed, particularly in view of the fact that Holy Trinity Church is soon to be closed and the two congregations amalgamated.

Our appreciative audience numbered about 60 and included Worthing’s Mayoress and the MP Peter Bottomley; we were particularly encouraged that 16 CDs of our Bible programme were sold and that much interest was shown in our future concert plans.

Although tired at the end of her second performance in three days, Belinda has made a good recovery from her pharyngitis so far and has enthralled our audiences as usual.  We were pleased to meet her friends Jenny and Richard afterwards who treated us to drinks at a local pub before we made tracks for home in rather damp and drizzly conditions.