Hook Norton Baptist Church, Oxfordshire, 04 September 21

We last played at Hook Norton Baptist Church (HNBC) on 6 September 2019 and it is a favourite venue of ours because Nigel provides expert sound engineering from behind the mixing desk of the church PA. Not only that, but everything is set-up ready for us – four microphones on stands, two monitors, a stage and atmospheric lighting! Given that we can’t always hear ourselves in some venues, it is a joy to be able to hear every band member clearly and know that the sound balance is in experienced hands.

PA, lights and stage! – Rachel pretends to play the Mandolin

The occasion was part of the HNBC ‘Just Deserts’ series that attracts locals and others who had travelled from further afield (having read about the Gospel Bell event in the Banbury Guardian) and we all enjoyed the lovely range of deserts on offer that had been provided by the event organiser Jane Whitaker and her team.

We’d like to thank Jane, Nigel and all who had made deserts for the audience to try! We’d also like to thank the kitchen team helpers: Jenny, Cleo and her daughter Rebecca and Jelica who did an expert job as the event MC. Jane writes: Everyone really enjoyed themselves last night and were humming the tunes in the kitchen as we tidied up and we raised £160 in donations.

Gospel Bell at Hook Norton Baptist Church – Left to right: John, Toni, Donald, Richard, Rachel and Chris

United Reformed Church, Broadway, Worcestershire, 04 September 21

Donald, Toni and Richard were blessed with warm sunshine as we set-up in the garden of the United Reformed Church (URC) Minister’s residence (Manse) on Broadway High Street at 11.30am on Saturday 4th September. The occasion was the annual church Mini Fete which featured a wide range of books, plants and edible delights – from vegetables to cakes – along with refreshments, together with a friendly welcome from a large team of helpers.

The plan was that Fete attendees would relax in the garden while listening to us play but Richard Becher the Church Minister soon realised that the main action was out on the High Street so we moved the PA so that we could serenade the throngs of people passing by. As ever in these situations, people smiled, some broke into a few dance steps and others stopped to listen.

Gospel Bell on Broadway High Street – Left to right: Richard, Donald and Toni

Richard Becher writes: We are so appreciative of your willingness to give up time to accept our invitation. You have a wonderful ministry through music, song, story and dance which I would like to encourage whenever there is an opportunity. At the latest count we raised about £650, but the money is not as important as the interaction with people and building of relationships in the community.

We would like to thank Richard and Wyn Whitten and all her team for inviting us to play and for looking after us so well. We also came away with plants and vegetables purchased at very reason prices at the various stalls. We are already looking forward to next year!

St James the Great, Claydon, Oxfordshire, 03 September 21

Our last performance in the ancient church of St James the Great, Claydon was on 26 April 2019 and it was lovely to be back again for a fund-raising ‘September Serenade’ evening in this beautiful building.

We so appreciated the warm welcome and the drink on arrival as we were setting-up – not least as it has been quite a rush from work for several band members. The team at St James were really well organised with nice raffle prizes and between us, we managed to win three times – though we put one ticket back so that others could have a chance.

It was nice to see a wide age range in the audience and we were able to provide two young boys who were near the front with egg shakers so that they could join in with these while the adults sang along with us. We’re delighted that the evening raised £300 and Revd. Hilary Campbell, Vicar of Shires’ Edge Benefice (Church of England churches in Claydon, Cropredy, Great Bourton, Mollington and Wardington) felt encouraged by this and though the funds are needed to maintain the work in Claydon, Hilary felt that the event itself was more important as it provided the first opportunity for the community to re-gather in the church and enjoy live music together.

Audience photo with Donald (rear centre) and Hilary standing near to Donald

We would like to thank Hilary for the invitation to play and for the encouragement she provides to us, Angela the church treasurer, and her husband Andy who helped with the event ‘bar’, along with PCC member Keith. Angela’s daughter Bethany helped Anne who is the raffle queen at all village events! Four other Parish Church Council members were also there to support the evening and we’d like to thank them and also Adele and Janice for their super publicity and promotion work. In her feedback, Hilary said: As always, you gave us a fabulous evening and I continue to be grateful for the way you generously offer yourselves and your musical talents.

Claydon band members (left to right): Richard, John, Elsa and Toni – photo taken by Rachel

Somerton Village Hall, 0xfordshire, 02 September 21

Our website banner features a photograph taken in Somerton Village Hall, with Sean (wearing his stylish hat) in the centre. The week after he passed away, we returned to this beautiful venue to play for the Somerton Social Club and we remembered Sean in words and song and by wearing armbands thoughtfully provided for us by Sally and David Snell. As ever when we play at this venue, we were a large ensemble, joined last night by Elsa (Piano Accordion) Frances (flute, percussion) and John (Fiddle) – thank you for enriching the sound with your lovely playing and helping us all to make this a memorable evening.

Donald was playing the guitar and mandolin that Sean had bequeathed to him and so his memory and music continues. We all miss Sean and we are thinking and praying for Susie at this difficult time. Locals David Reed and Toni Ertl were in excellent form – David on harmonica and singing ‘Jesus on the Mainline’ with Donald and in his inimitable way, telling a story about Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Toni, master of the slide guitar played both acoustic and electric slide – the latter with sound shaping provided by his enormous guitar pedal board (though Toni says that this is his small pedal board!)

Donald with Sean’s old Martin guitar (left) and Mandolin (centre)

We so enjoyed the evening and so it seems did the locals! The organiser wrote to say: I cannot thank you enough – tonight was just fabulous. Please pass on our sincere thank you to all band members. It is so evident how much you all enjoy doing what you all do so well. It was a real privilege to be part of the audience. The feedback from members has been amazing and heartening to hear. The evening ended with some audience participation – including some incredible dance moves that even the Morris dancers among us couldn’t emulate!

Finale of the evening with audience participation and dancing!

Our thanks to Debs, the event organiser and all at the Somerton Village Social Club for making us feel so welcome, for your generous hospitality and for joining in with us!

Tribute to Sean, 27 August 21

Our dear friend and Gospel Bell band member Sean Sandland passed away on Friday 27th August 2021. Sean and Susie had courageously battled Sean’s multiple health problems in recent years and we shall miss his friendship, sparkling sense of humour and wonderful singing and guitar playing. Sean was a great performer and even though he was unwell, he loved playing and singing for a live audience. He also wrote his own songs (including Country Gospel) and his two albums of original music are accessible from the ‘Other Music’ page of the website.

Donald McCombie writes: Sean once wrote in a lyric: ‘When you lose a friend, it doesn’t have to be the end, they’re in your heart and always on your mind. Keep looking for the light, it’s always shining bright, there’s a new star in heaven tonight.’ So it is: Sean will remain in our hearts and minds and his light will shine on – every time the Gospel Bell perform. Sean knew that music gave joy and healing to this world. He sang from his heart and gave of his soul. Thank you Sean for all the music, song and love. There is a new star in heaven tonight.

Sean with other members of Gospel Bell in Deddington Church

We shall also miss the Revd Sue Burchell who passed away on Wednesday 25th August 2021 after a short illness. Richard Teare writes: Sue was an active participant in Banbury Christians Together among other ecumenical and multi-faith initiatives. Sue had just retired and had in fact, asked Gospel Bell to play at her retirement party. We always enjoyed playing at St Leonard’s Banbury where Sue would engender a family party atmosphere with much audience participation and dancing.

Sean (left) and Sue with tambourine in hand (centre) at St Leonard’s Banbury

St Mary’s, Steeple Barton, Oxfordshire, 15 August 21

Looking back at the Gospel Bell news reports, our last pre-pandemic engagement was in February 2020 – a long time ago! As restrictions were easing in June 2021, Donald and I were glad to have been asked by Richard Becher, Minister of the United Reform Church, Broadway to lead their Sunday morning service on 13 June 2021. We played songs, led the prayers and shared insights and experiences about the heritage of the music we play.

Fast-forward to Sunday 15 August and Donald, Toni and I had the pleasure of playing at Gospel Bell’s first ever Pet Blessing service. This is an annual Barton Benefice event held at the largest of the five churches in the Benefice and we are grateful to the Revd., Jane Wright and her team for the invitation. As the organisers weren’t sure how the animals might react to a full band sound, we opted for a trio arrangement though we needn’t have worried as all of the animals that came along seemed to like our material! The sun shone and around 50 people arrived for the outdoor service, many bringing their pet dogs and one person arrived on her horse and joined us for the photo below.

Left to right: Richard, Donald, Toni, Jane Wright and the horse and rider at the St Mary’s Pet blessing service

Jane and her team have a welcoming and inclusive format for this annual service and this year, instead of a sermon, Donald provided a story about St Francis and his relationship with animals. Donald’s input was fascinating and it seemed to me that the animal guests were enjoying the story too. Jane’s feedback comment was as follows: A huge thank you again for playing today. The service had a really good feel and I’m sure everyone enjoyed the music you gave us before and after as well. As for Donald’s story-telling, we loved it! I very much hope you’ll be able to come again.

We are already looking forward to a return visit!

Richard Teare

Gracewell Care Home, Adderbury, Oxfordshire, 9 February 20

Gracewell of Adderbury recently invited us to play an afternoon concert and though conditions outside were still rather wild in the aftermath of storm Ciara, the residents were in the mood for a good sing-song! We played an hour-long set from 2.30pm and as usual, Donald and Sean led our singing and helped everyone to learn our song choruses. This is an important aspect of our music – rather than performing to audiences, we like them to sing with us so that collectively we focus on the message of the songs and create music together.

As we were singing ‘I saw the light’ the sun began to shine outside and we had our usual ‘feel good’ experience as we smiled at the audience and they smiled back and sang with us! We greatly appreciate the opportunity to take our uplifting set of American Gospel blues and country songs to places where they help to bring joy and perhaps some relief from routine and we’d like to thank the staff and residents of Gracewell of Adderbury for their warm welcome, hospitality and for singing with us.

St John the Evangelist, Hempton, Oxfordshire, 26 January 20

We enjoyed our first outing at St John’s, Hempton, Oxfordshire on Sunday afternoon 26 January – a lovely space with beautiful acoustics. We don’t often play at events geared for small children but hopefully we’ll do more of these in the future as the children seemed to like the music and some jigged along to the beat. When not playing, we helped the children draw around their shoes – we did this too – although some of us had trouble fitting our feet onto the A4 sheet. Then in the spirit of journeying through 2020, we thought about what we’d like to accomplish and added words or a drawing inside our foot outline drawing.

Gospel Bell at the ‘Eat, Pray, Live’ event at St John the Evangelist, Hempton

John’s Melodeon was a real hit with the smallest children, several of whom wanted to play it as the same time as John. As he has finely tuned grand-parenting skills he deftly managed this!

Annie the vicar had asked us all to think about the year ahead – a helpful all-age exercise and Paula the curate read a passage from the book of Revelation that proved to be the perfect introduction to our closing song. As we were packing up at the end, David noticed some broken church furniture which he kindly took away to fix. I think that sums us up – we love playing in churches and at any other event where we can spread some Gospel blues and country cheer – not only that, David can fix the furniture! Our thanks to Annie and Paula for inviting us to play and to all the families who gave us a warm welcome.

A Gospel Bell Christmas, Kineton, Warwickshire, 16 December 19

Gospel Bell played at Kineton Sports & Social Club on Monday 16 December, dedicating the evening to the tireless work of the late Steve Cadd who did so much to sustain local music in Kineton. The evening was a concert-style event and just about every seat in the main bar area was taken. As with all our work, the band played free of charge with donations in support of the Air Ambulance service.

A Gospel Bell Christmas! Left to right: Richard, Sean, Troy, Donald, David

The band played a 90 minute set, opening with Sean’s composition: ‘A new star in heaven’ a song inspired by the friendship that he, Donald and many others shared with Steve Cadd. Some of the audience wanted to hear the song again and so Sean obliged at the end of the evening while those listening made recordings on their phones. Our music was interspersed with some inimitable story-telling from Donald, including a powerful seasonal story based on the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 19 verses 23-26. We should have recorded this too!

Donald in story-telling and banjo-playing mode!

Gospel Bell would like to thank the event organisers for inviting us to play and for a memorable evening with a large, appreciative audience of people who sang with us.

A memorable evening with a big group of people ready to sing!

As we look back on 2019, there have been numerous other highlights and so a heartfelt thanks to all the organisations, audiences and congregations – for great singing with us and for the generous donations made to charitable causes. Roll-on 2020!

Richard Teare and Donald McCombie

For Gospel Bell

Adderbury Christmas Tree Festival, 6-8 December 19

Gospel Bell were delighted to play and sing again on Sunday 8 December at the annual Christmas tree festival and fund-raiser organised by St Mary’s, Adderbury.

Left to right: David, Sean, Donald, Troy and Richard

Reflecting on the event, their website comment is as follows: What a wonderful weekend of community spirit, sparkling trees shining out their messages of love, hope and joy and live music and dance, the sixth Adderbury Christmas Tree Festival turned out to be.  The trees were spectacular and so much thought and care had gone into the decorating meaning that each one was a winner in its own right.  Amazingly during the weekend over 640 votes in total were cast for the best decorated trees by members of the public.

Thank you St Mary’s!

Our thanks to Hannah for her lovely photos and to Emily Reed, Clare Lester, Liz Simpson and their team for inviting us and as always, making us feel so welcome. We’re already looking forward to next year’s event!