Clanger at the Royal Albert Hall

Introducing the Carillonaires Bell team of 1949- with the girls smart in matching gingham dresses and the chaps in collars and ties. Eileen is third from left.

Introducing the Carillonaires Bell team of 1949- with the girls smart in matching gingham dresses and the chaps in collars and ties. Eileen is third from left.

Congratulations Eileen! Happy 21st” said my best friend Dawn as we arrived at bell practice. We didn’t ‘come of age’ until we were 21 but we had an important concert coming up and Thursday evening was for practice whatever happened. This was to be our last concert as we were really too old for the team.

Our bell team was called The Carillonaires and we were all members of the Youth Club at the Methodist Central Hall in Uxbridge, Middlesex.

Our leader, Miss Perry, was a wonderful musician and she made bellringers out of a very mixed bunch of youngsters. Most of them could not read music and she transposed all the music into numbers, each relating to a handbell.

This was a huge task because we would play in harmony, usually three bells at once. It must have taken her hours to write the music.

We gave many concerts locally and the group was eventually expanded to include sleigh bells, a glockenspiel and tubular bells. Dawn and Kathleen played the sleigh bells and they were really talented. They could make those bells talk, stroking them gently, shaking them ferociously or lightly as the music demanded. Their hands
moved at lightning speed up and down the long row of leather straps containing the bells.

I was promoted to the tubular bells and, although not as spectacular as the sleigh bells, I enjoyed my part.

Of course, with my wooden mallet I could only strike one bell at a time. Accompanied by Miss Perry’s superb piano playing, the overall result was so pleasing we were even once invited to play for the BBC.

When Dawn and I were 16, and before we acquired the sleigh and tubular bells, we were invited to play at the Royal Albert Hall in London – a great honour! Admittedly it was only a concert to be given by the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs but we were proud to be performing at such an important venue.

We had rehearsals at the Albert Hall during the day and were astonished at the size of that building which we explored thoroughly.

However, in the evening we became very nervous. The huge auditorium had been
left completely empty to facilitate the various displays and we had to walk in a line across this space carrying a heavy folded wooden chair, our bells and our music.

We felt very small and vulnerable as we walked across the arena, unfolded our chairs, placed them in the appropriate spot and started to play. Our rendition of In a Monastery Garden was followed by the William Tell Overture and finally the 1812 Overture, all very taxing items for hand bells. All went well and, to thunderous applause, we proceeded to fold up our chairs and exit from the arena.

Of course, it had to happen to me! I could not get that chair to fold up and half the team had already marched out – I was preventing the others from leaving. As the applause turned to laughter, I decided to carry the chair out without folding it and struggled manfully across those vast acres of space.

I managed to get a quarter of the way before I dropped my bell and music! At this point someone ran in and relieved me of the chair. With face on fire, near to tears, I finally reached the exit.

I’ll never forget my one and only performance at the Royal Albert Hall!

Eileen Toovey