Somerton Village Hall, 12 May 22

The village of Somerton is home to Gospel Bell regulars Dave and Toni and we always enjoy playing for the Somerton Social Club members in their beautiful village hall. Fran and John had brought with them their guest from Ukraine and she listened attentively, said that she’d really enjoyed our music and joined us for our usual group photo:

Left to right: Richard, John, Fran and their Ukrainian guest, John, Toni, Donald and Troy

We shall miss Dave, our amazing harmonica player and raconteur when he and Chris move to Wales a little later in the year but thankfully he played and sang with us for part of the evening. Our thanks to Debs and Emma and the Somerton Social Club committee for inviting us to play. Whenever you’d like us to come back, just ask!

Centre stage: the inimitable David Reed, our friend, harmonica player and story-teller.

Bodicote St John the Baptist Parish Church, 6 May 2022

The ‘History’ section of Bodicote St John the Baptist Parish Church website which serves the communities of Bodicote, Cherwell Heights, Cotefield and Longford Park near Banbury, Oxfordshire says:

It’s impossible to say how long there has been a church in Bodicote. The name of the village itself, probably derives from ‘the settlement of Boda’ – a family name and has a Saxon ring, although being on the edge of Salt Way, a very ancient road older even than the Roman occupation of Britain, the settlement could be older still. If there ever was a Saxon Church on this site, there is no sign of it, but we can be sure that people have worshipped here on the same spot for at least eight centuries.

After a recommendation from an audience member at a fund-raising event we played at prior to the pandemic, event organiser Helen Hall invited us to play a fund-raising concert at St John’s on Friday evening 6 May 2022. Helen and her team were hoping to raise a few hundred pounds for the work of the church but the evening exceeded all expectations, raising around £600! Our thanks to Helen and her team for meticulous planning, organising and leaflet campaigning in the streets close to the church, to the Vicar Revd. Sarah Sharp for her warm welcome (and for personally delivering the fastest ever interval drinks order!) and to the Curate Revd. Nick Fielden for his encouragement. Above all, we’d like to thank everyone that came along, sang with us and generously supported the event – they thought they were coming to a concert but our audiences have to sing with us and they did! Afterwards an audience member asked us if we would play a Ceilidh for Ukraine and so we hope to be back in Bodicote again soon.  Thank you Bodicote for a really enjoyable evening.

Left to right: John, Richard, Donald, Nick, Susie, Troy, Helen, Toni and Sarah

Chelmsley Wood Baptist Church, Birmingham, 25 March 22

We were delighted to play a fundraiser for Christian Aid’s Ukrainian Appeal at the Three Trees Community Centre in Birmingham on Friday evening 25 March. Formerly known as the Baptist Church, the centre is a vibrant place of worship and has been an integral part of community life since 1970 when it began providing facilities for local residents, including a nursery, coffee bar, lunch clubs and the area’s first shop. More recently, £1.2m was raised to repair, refurbish and extend the building and in 2018, Chelmund’s Fish & Chips – the UK’s first community owned chip shop began trading. Today, the Centre is alive with activity, from parent and toddler groups to a wide array of clubs – fusing the Christian message of hope and peace with community life.

Gospel Bell’s Donald and Richard were joined by Omar and Glen, performing an evening of American Gospel, that drew on the fascinating story of key figures in the Gospel blues tradition (the foundations of rock n’ roll!) narrated by Donald. Offered as a free of charge event to coincide with Lent, the main hall was filled with people from the community and they sang with us and gave generously.

Donald told the story of American Gospel music – explaining the background to the songs we all sang

We would especially like to thank the Reverend Neil Roberts who conceived and organised the evening. Neil has lived and worked in Chelmsley Wood for more than 20 years. He has been a key figure in the development of the centre from a leaky shed to a vibrant centre for the community. Neil says that he loves seeing grass roots ideas flourish as real life projects and has been involved in setting-up and running a range of community initiatives, from festival seasons to arts organisations to that local community owned chippy! His day job is the minister of the Baptist Church, which has its home at Three Trees. Thank you Neil – we are looking forward to coming back!

Our thanks to the Reverend Neil Roberts (left) pictured with Donald McCombie

Farewell to Sean, Black Horse Inn, Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire, 02 October 21

At a Saturday afternoon event for family and friends, we said a musical farewell to Sean who enriched us with his friendship and elevated our music and live performances with his wonderful singing, guitar playing, wry wit and good humour. His declining health had meant that getting to the venues where we play had been challenging but once in place, he always sang and played with great enthusiasm and courage. Occasionally we find ourselves performing on a stage with lighting, a good PA system and a sound engineer and here, Sean was in his element – a microphone in front of him and an audience to be entertained! By the end of every performance he had no energy left but he was happy!

Farewell to Sean: left to right: John, David, Donald and Richard

Richard writes: I had the privilege of recording two albums of Sean’s original songs about different aspects of life and you can listen to them on the ‘Other Music’ page of our website: ‘A new direction’ tells the story of Sean’s connection with Gospel and ‘The little white church’ is a fine example of Sean’s song writing in this genre. Sean wrote the song: ‘There’s a new star in heaven tonight’ as a tribute to a friend and last Saturday, we played Sean’s recording of this beautiful song in memory of both Sean and his friend Steve. Sean’s second album concludes with the song: ‘Who’s going to play this old guitar? (after I’m not here). Sean knew the answer to his question – he bequeathed his beautiful Martin guitar to his dear friend Donald who now plays ‘Martin’ at Gospel Bell performances. We are so thankful to have known and played music with Sean and our thoughts and prayers are with his beloved Susie.

Susie sings ‘There’s a new star in heaven tonight’ with us: Left to right: Dave, John, David, Susie, Donald and Richard

Our thanks to the owner and staff of the Black Horse Inn, Shipston-on-Stour for looking after us so well.

Somerton Village Party, 18 September 21

After playing at Somerton Village Hall on Thursday 2nd September, we were delighted to be invited back to play at the:

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We would like to thank Catriona and her team for the invitation to play and for her warm welcome. It was great to see lots of small children dancing!

Gospel Bell at the Somerton Village Party, Saturday evening 18 September 2021

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