The Inn Ringers were formed in February 1977 in a room above the Red Lion pub in the High Street, Stone. I went along to that first practice night, not knowing what to expect. About 20 of us crowded into a room on the first floor of the pub looking at the three large tables which had 60 brand new, shiny American handbells laid out on them.
That first practice was conducted by John Morgan from Gnosall Handbell Ringers and we played the waltz from Iolanthe. The tune was totally unfamiliar to all but the sound these bells made was incredible and the band of new recruits were soon hooked.
None of that initial team back then could have imagined The Inn Ringers still going strong in 40 years’ time. To be able to go out and entertain people with such a unique sound has been a thrill for all the members of the team over the years. The list of venues The Inn Ringers have appeared at over the years is as diverse as the range of music they play. They have appeared at local village halls, city cathedrals as well as some of the most prestigious entertainment halls in the country including the Barbican London, Colston Hall Bristol, Free Trade Hall Manchester, Civic Hall Wolverhampton, Festival Theatre Corby, Trentham Gardens Ballroom, Kings Hall Stoke-on-Trent, Liverpool University and the Victoria Hall Hanley (Stoke-on-Trent).
A highlight has to be their appearance at the superb Barbican Centre in London in 2008. It was a special Christmas concert production staged at the prestigious venue with Jarvis Cocker topping the bill. The Inn Ringers had the pleasure of opening the concert in front of a sell-out audience of 2,000.
There have been a lot of other wonderful experiences which have provided them all with such fond memories. Apart from doing over 500 concerts, there have been other stand out moments. Recording two albums, making TV and radio appearances and meeting other handbell teams. In August 2012, they went down to some TV studios in London to record a version of the TV theme for ‘James May’s Man Lab’, which they played at the end of one his programmes. The programme featuring the team was broadcast in the Spring 2013.
Also in 2012 The Inn Ringers performed a version of ‘Chariots of Fire’ live in the BBC Radio Stoke studio as part of a national initiative to ring bells simultaneously across the country to celebrate the opening of the Olympic Games.
Paul Mellor one of the founder members and MD for the past eleven years said
‘there was a great camaraderie between us and other teams when we first started. We learnt as we went along – going along to see other handbell teams in concert. They were technically brilliant, but we sat through a whole concert listening to very obscure classical pieces that no one had heard of. When we turned up at a national handbell rally, we caused a bit of a stir playing the theme from Match of the Day! The staple music with many teams at the time were folk tunes, little know classical pieces and hymns. We stick to our original philosophy today – we play pieces that suit the bells, but pieces our audiences will be familiar with. We rarely do a concert these days without including ‘Delilah’ in the programme!’.
Over the years there have been more than 80 Inn Ringers. People leave for a host of reasons, their work, family ties, moving away from the area – at one point the team was reduced from 12 ringers to just 8, fortunately this was only for a relatively short time and the band was soon back to a full complement of 12 ringers.
It is commitment that is required, a sense of teamwork, and an enjoyment of the sound of the bells and the music they make. It is a wonderful hobby. Not so long ago The Inn Ringers were doing 16 concerts a year, plus playing at rallies and taking a few bells with five ringers round pubs and restaurants, ringing carols to raise money for charity. These days the concerts are fewer but the enjoyment they derive from ringing bells provides the same satisfaction that it always did.
It is trying to keep it all going that is the biggest challenge. The Inn Ringers want to attract new recruits but the appeal of handbell ringing is not quite what it as. These days, like lots of other teams across the country, they struggle to get concert bookings and a bigger concern, it is hard getting new recruits to join them. People have a perception of bells and bell ringing. It is trying to overcome the preconceived ideas people have, to convince them that ringing handbells is a great hobby, an opportunity to make music, go out and entertain people, socialise and be part of a terrific team. Once you try it you could easily become hooked!
The Inn Ringers are celebrating their 40th anniversary in style – they are going to record a new album, have a special anniversary concert planned on 25th June at Meir Heath and Rough Close Village Hall and they are planning a short series of anniversary concerts in the Autumn. There is also a social event being planned where other local teams will be invited to come along and help the team celebrate their special anniversary.
More than anything they want to enlist some new members. Handbell ringing is an old tradition, a tradition they want to keep going, making sure the Inn Ringers are in a position to be still making music in the future. Anyone interested in joining the team can contact our team secretary on 07816 545713 – you will be made very welcome.
By Paul Mellor
MD – The Inn Ringers