Test Piece: 288 Cambridge Surprise Maximus (leads 1, 7-11)
Judges: David C Brown (Chief), John A Anderson, Stephanie J Pattenden
|3||Ancient Society of College Youths||9th||3h25||73%|
|8||St Paul's Cathedral||2nd||3h20||59%|
It was that time of year again. Hot and sunny weather, Henman still battling it out in the men's singles, and ringers gathering from across the country for the National 12-Bell Final. Well, one of them was true. For those of us who had attended the Eliminator at Solihull, the weather in Towcester on Saturday 25 June was all too familiar: cool with drizzly grey skies. But that only made the tea and bacon sarnies available on arrival at the Chantry House all the more welcome.
Birmingham may be regarded as the premier ringing centre of the moment, but Towcester are certainly contenders for the most hospitable hosts. The afore mentioned breakfast, plus hot lunches and an evening hog roast, supplemented by the odd barrel or 2 of local Frog Island Best Bitter, set the tone for an excellent day of feasting. In between, some people even managed to do some ringing.
Once all participants and supporters had gathered inside Towcester church for a prompt 10:30 start, the Contest was opened by this year's Chairman, Robin Hall. He thanked Towcester for agreeing at fairly short notice to host this year's Final after work at St. Stephen's, Bristol had forced a change of venue, although the Contest will be held there in 2007.
Andrew Wilby then welcomed everyone on behalf of the Towcester ringers. He warned us not to take any notice of the Church clock, explaining that it accelerates and decelerates during the hour. At least no-one could accuse Towcester any more of plotting to ensure that teams missed their slot.
The next welcome came from the Revd Tony Bryer, Priest-in-charge of St. Lawrence, Towcester. He said how lovely it was to see so many people in church at 10.40am on a Saturday. I'm sure I've heard that joke before…Still, he went on to sum up the day ahead: "Plenty to do, plenty to eat, plenty to drink and lots to listen to". He must have been to a 12-Bell Final before. Towcester's mayor, Cllr David Linney, then welcomed us all on behalf of the town, explaining that he was off to change out of his official garb in order to come and serve us beer. He must have been to a Final, too.
Ringing got underway from the first drawn team, Birmingham. Last year they had still won after drawing this least favoured spot. This year the Cumberlands were notably absent from the Final. Would the Brummies manage it again? This is beginning to sound like the form guide provided in the day's programme by Andrew Wilby. For those of us who may have winced slightly at his comments on our respective teams, this was apparently the censored version. One thing was clear: the judges did not have a simple task ahead. Towcester's fine 23 cwt. Taylor's are known for their ringable nature and quality of sound. As expected, Birmingham set the standard to beat, with tight and controlled ringing.
The start of the competition ringing coincided with the opening of the Bellringers' Arms, our bar of the day. This was run by the Towcester ringers from the garden of the Chantry House, adjacent to the Church, which was an excellent base for socialising and allowed a bit of space for the various children present to run around and let off steam. It's funny how they seemed to grow in number as the day went on. Among them was veteran Matthew Hall, at his 3rd 12-Bell Final aged 2 and a few days.
Entertainment was provided throughout the day courtesy of Towcester ringer Brett Masters' mini-ring. A number of ringers took advantage of this opportunity, particularly those who'd earlier been watching out of the Chantry House windows while eating their lunch. For those whose drinking time had been restricted owing to competing in the 12-Bell, the mini-ring allowed them to catch up. Alex Byrne had a particularly efficient method of ringing one-handed, pint in hand.
Meanwhile the Contest continued. It's usually a good indication of a team's reputation when crowds gather to listen, and significant numbers came out to listen to Towcester, ringing 6th, and ASCY, ringing last. There were rumours of one team having practised the wrong test piece until overheard and alerted in the last few weeks before the Final; on the day, however, all the bands successfully rang the test piece of one lead of Primrose Surprise Maximus followed by five leads of Cambridge.
Once the ringing had finished, there was an inspired time-filler for those who wanted to replace drinking (temporarily) with some culture, in the form of an organ recital by Birmingham University ringer and Birmingham Conservatoire student Sam Austin. He gave an excellent recital, covering pieces by well known and lesser known British, German and American composers spanning four centuries. The considerable number of ringers who wandered into the church and stayed to listen demonstrated how much everyone enjoyed Sam's playing. The crowd favourite had to be the final piece, Hornpipe Humoresque by Nigel Rawsthorne, described afterwards by Robin Hall as "Spliced Surprise", and impossible for most of us to keep a straight face during it.
By this time, the church was packed, with standing room only. The judges came in and the inevitable hush fell on all present. First Robin Hall had some thanks to give. He summed up the day as a first class social occasion with some excellent ringing. The Vicar was thanked for the use of the bells in his wonderful church. Many thanks went to Andrew Wilby, Ann Wilby and all their catering team (the Towcester ringers) for feeding us throughout the day, and to Brett Masters and his bar staff (ditto plus the mayor) for watering us. Sam Austin was thanked for his enjoyable recital, and we were advised that Chris Kippin would be providing his adjudication on this shortly.
Next year's competition was outlined, with the Final to be held at Worcester Cathedral - after all, Robin said, it's only 12 months till we next see David Pipe in a clean shirt. Then it was time to introduce the judges: Chief Judge David Brown, assisted by Stephanie Pattenden and John Anderson. Robin reiterated the frequent comment of the day: "I really wouldn't want to be a judge today". After thanking them for their hard work, he handed over to David Brown for some general comments on the day's ringing before the results were announced.
David Brown thanked the Towcester ringers for arranging the day and Edward Hughes-d'Aeth for looking after the judges. He said that Towcester were one of the best rings of 12 for their weight, if not the best. Although he had been hidden away judging, he could imagine what had been going on: Rod Pipe prowling around listening to each band; David House pontificating about previous times when he has judged the Contest; Chris Kippin timing every team; and the St. Paul's band in the pub by 11am. As a member of this band, I couldn't possibly comment.
12-Bell Contest ringing can sound very different when you actually concentrate and listen to the whole thing, said David Brown, as normally only the judges do. He explained that the three of them had tried to be as critical as possible, since Towcester are not hard bells to ring and thus bands can be hard to separate. The ringing had perhaps not been as exceptional as they had expected, and they had found that there were clusterings of team placings in the final results, with all three judges agreed on the winning band. Cambridge was a testing method to strike well, including a mixed up coursing order on the front, but they felt that Primrose had been a successful addition to the Contest repertoire.
Stephanie Pattenden then gave the comments on all the bands. These indicated clear distinctions in standard between some of the teams, which was backed up by the eventual marks and positions as delivered by John Anderson (see p.636). The Brummies had done it again, making it an impressive 3 wins in a row and 5 wins out of the past 6. No wonder David Pipe looks at ease with the Taylor trophy. In his acceptance speech, David thanked his team for their great effort, and referred to his recent transfer to Cambridge, who looked understandably delighted at their new signing.
The day finished up with the hog roast and the last of the Frog Island. It was amusing to see that a queue developed outside the gents' owing to the steady flow of beer, and more so that this was apparently so outrageous. Still, even the grumpy old men had to concede that the day had been thoroughly enjoyable and had produced some fine ringing. Well done to the 12-Bell Committee and the Towcester ringers for a great day out, and congratulations to the Brummies.
[RW Pg ??? July ?? 2005]