On occasions ringing can be a nerve wracking experience. Until taking part in the recording of Hampshire Bells the most nervous I have been is taking part in the National 12 Bell final. I found ringing for a recording equal to that. With a stiking competition you get one go. If you go wrong that’s it, no second goes. With the recording though mistakes cause the nerves to build further. By the end of the sessions I was a nervous wreck. So it was with some trepidation that I placed my copy of the CD into the machine and pressed play.
This CD, the brainchild of Roy Le Marechal, has been a long time in preparation. I don’t know when Roy first had the idea, sometime before 1994 when the first of these recordings took place I expect. Each session was recorded digitally by Mike Bailey. Roy has covered all bell numbers between 5 and 14 (including 9) and a range of weights from the lightest (metal) bells to the heaviest. There is also a good mix of methods ranging from single simple methods to spliced. There are 17 tracks listed and it runs to a little over 70 minutes duration.
The CD cover shows a montage of towers on the front and back, the back also being overlaid by the track listing. The reverse of the insert shows the inside of Bishopstoke bell chamber. Removing and opening the insert reveals a potted history of each of the rings of bells involved. I found the detail it contained interesting and I was amazed at how much information could be contained in such a small space.
The quality of the recording is very high, although there was something on the Basingstoke track I couldn’t put my finger on. The bells on all the tracks are clear, although I did occasionally lose the treble at Winchester. The running order moves nicely between the number of bells and weights. One feature that the long gestation period did allow was the inclusion of before and after recordings of Bishopstoke and Hurstbourne Priors. It is great to have this piece of history recorded and I do not believe this has been done on the same recording before (please forgive me if I am wrong). Many people remember Bishopstoke as (arguably) the worst sounding 8 in the county: this recording does nothing to dispel such memories. Hurstbourne Priors (prior to restoration) sounded old fashioned, and I can vouch for the fact that they were extremely hard work. I was very impressed with the quality of ringing on these difficult bells. I have yet to visit the restored and augmented ring and this CD has encouraged me to go there before too long.
The ringing is also of a high standard, with an occasional wobble. The London Minor is a superb example of slow 6 bell ringing, but the piece of ringing which really caught my ear is that at Lymington. I cannot really say why this appeals above all the rest, but I was spellbound by it. They are a lovely ring (which helps), but I had no idea they are on plain bearings and it certainly doesn’t seem like it when you ring on them. The very last (unlisted) track on the CD is an absolute gem.
Criticisms: To me there are very few. Other than the one mentioned earlier I felt that on a couple of tracks there were too many rounds either before or after. Some people may also think the choice of towers odd. I can hear a few, ‘what about ….?’ or ‘why did he put …. on?’, but I think it is a very good selection and a welcome addition to the living ringing library.
Available from Roy LeMarechal. All profits go to the W&P Bell Restoration Fund.
Advertised in The Ringing World February 23 2001 p207