“What’s that?” we hear you say.
“But it’s only September!” you protest.
Yes but, if you remember correctly, we have the small matter of CASTLE CAROLS to sort out and we have to start talking about it now so that you can get it in your already filled diaries, dance cards, calendars, almanacs or whatever your chosen recording vehicle happens to be!
Once again we’re going to try to involve not just the people who can pop down to The Three Tuns for a sing, but also those of our friends who live a distance away – America, Italy, Scotland and loads of other places, including Clun, by streaming our workshops and singing sessions online, with The Three Tun’s new, improved, steam-driven broadband, honed and sharpened especially for us.
John’s workshop sessions will be on Monday evenings, UK time 7.30pm-9.30pm, on 7th, 14th, and 21st November; singing out will be on Sunday afternoons, 3.00pm-4.30pm, on 27th November, and 4th, 11th and 18th December with our final ‘big sing’ on Boxing Day, 26th December.
We’re afraid that we have had to make some changes to our membership arrangements, having kept the membership fee static for a couple of years. Along with everyone else our costs are rising and, although Castle Carols has been running at a loss since we started in 2018, we do need to ensure that we can sustain the organisation through the difficult months ahead. Thanks to the generosity of some of our supporters we are able to keep the increase in membership fees to the absolute minimum, and at £20 per head for the whole season working out at £2.50 per session, we hope you will agree that the whole thing is still great value for money. The fee includes tutoring by John (who has an MBE you know…) at workshop sessions, access to all the ‘guide’ sound recordings for all parts of the carols, the Castle Carols workbook, which will include at least two new songs for 2002 and, of course, our weekly newsletter which will keep you in the picture about how the season is progressing.
We also know what an important part Castle Carols has played in the wellbeing of many members in the last couple of years and we want to make sure that we keep the organisation as accessible as we can for those who need it. We’re in the process of trying to arrange that Castle Carols is available on the local ‘social prescription’ list, and we’re also trying to secure assistance which will enable us to grant membership to those who may be experiencing financial hardship.
Details will be published as and when they become available on the ‘About Membership’ page of the website. You will, as always, need to be signed up to have access to the Members’ area of the website, where all the goodies are, including this year’s new songs when they arrive, the sessions in The Three Tuns, Salop Street, Bishops Castle, and the link to the live coverage.
The team is the same as last year with John leading on all things musical, Donna acting as secretary and treasurer, Marion looking after all things membership, Trevor attempting to organise the sessions and keeping you all up-to-date with news from the Command Module, Kay doing everything else and Bernard keeping us all well behaved in his role as Chair.
If you have any queries please contact us via the page cunningly entitled ‘Contact’. And if you’ve forgotten all about last year’s Castle Carols so that all of the above is gobbledygook, have a look at the ‘See & Hear’ or ‘Virtual Sing’ pages.
Please spread the word near and far.
Well, here we are, four weeks in and our ‘hybrid’ approach of singing face-to-face and via Zoom seems to be just about working, despite the attempts of the WiFi gods to derail us at every opportunity!
We were amazed at how quickly all the tunes came back – these wonderful old songs sounded great right from the start.
We’ve been seeing in the region of thirty people turning up at practice nights, to a room which is kindly described by some as ‘well-ventilated’ – others are not so forgiving, but at least it prevents us from falling asleep!
And now it’s already time to sing out!
Tell your friends and neighbours – if they don’t live close enough to turn up at The Three Tuns in Bishop’s Castle we’d love to welcome them to our Zoom community – they just need to fill in a contact form, fiendishly hidden on the ‘Contact’ page of this website.
We’re looking forward to giving the songs the full beans that they deserve – come and join us – you know it makes sense!
Well, we made it work in 2020!
Despite all the issues connected with that of which we will not speak, we managed to have some great singing throughout November and December 2020, culminating in a superb finale on Boxing Day. The singing was joyful, not without some emotion, friends with whom we’d bonded in a way that was completely different to anything we’d done in the past – different, but wonderful in its own way.
And one of the most positive (and unexpected) bonuses about the way we progressed last year was that we weren’t only a group of people who lived within travelling distance of The Three Tuns. We were joined by people from across five time zones, from Italy to the West Coast of the USA, as well as from all corners of the UK. Well over a hundred members, with between forty and fifty joining us each week.
Thanks to the wonders of technology we all learned new songs, written or arranged by John, while we were treated to views of the rain in deserted streets of Ponte Caffaro, the first flakes of snow in Buffalo, the sunshine of San Diego and the Christmas lights in Bishops Castle.
And now we’re ready to have another go in 2021!
Except we’re going to try to get the best of both worlds because, while we’re looking forward to rubbing shoulders in The Three Tuns, we also want our new old friends who can’t just pop down the road to be with us, so we’re working on plans to stream our singing online as well so that wherever you are in the world you’ll be able to join us.
John’s workshop sessions will be on Monday evenings, UK time 7.30pm-9.30pm, on 1st, 8th, 15th and 22nd November, singing out will be on Sunday afternoons. 3.00pm-4.30pm, on 28th November and 5th, 12th and 19th December with our final big sing on Boxing Day, 26th December.
Membership arrangements are exactly as last year – full details are on our ‘About Membership’ page. You will need to be signed up to have access to the songbook containing this year’s new songs, the sessions in The Three Tuns, Salop Street, Bishops Castle, and the link to the live coverage.
If you have any queries please contact us via the page cunningly called ‘Contact’.
If you haven’t a clue what any of the above is about, take a look at the ‘See & Hear’ or ‘Virtual Sing’ pages – we hope you like it and will join us for our fourth season of great singing.
IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT – 31ST OCTOBER 2020
Following today’s announcement about the forthcoming restrictions associated with curtailing the spread of COVID19 we have taken the very difficult decision to cancel the practice sessions planned to take place at SpArC over the next few weeks.
It is with very heavy hearts that we have to give you this news but we do think it is the responsible thing to do, with conditions as they are at the moment.
The saving grace for us is that in addition to what we had planned for SpArC we had already made arrangements to deliver the practice sessions via Zoom and so we are going to continue with that plan.
We know it’s not the same as being together but it does at least give us the chance to sing the wonderful old carols once again, and we now have some considerable experience of teaching new material using the platform so we know that it works.
We do hope that you will join us – using Zoom there is no restriction on numbers so the previous plan for groups A and B is now defunct. We’ll be there 6.00PM Onward and we’ll be able to help if you’re not sure how to work with the system. The link is available on the Members ‘Songbook’ page.
We’re so, so sorry that we’ve had to take this step but we will be keeping an eye on the guidelines and we’ll keep you up-to-date with our thinking as we move forward.
In the meantime, please, please stay safe.
Bernard, Donna, John, Kay & Trevor
COVID 19 Protocol
As you know, we’ve been working hard to try to make sure that we can sing together whilst staying safe.
We are subject to the rules and regulations associated with the current level of risk – that means that we, and our colleagues at SpArC, have carried out a full risk assessment of our operation and devised a protocol which will keep us all as safe as we can be.
If you are joining us at SpArC please read the following, and please co-operate with us in order that we can continue with our singing as long as the rules allow.
Protocol for Castle Carols rehearsals at SpArC
- If you experience any CV19 symptoms before rehearsal please self-isolate and let us know
- Remember to sneeze/cough into a tissue or your elbow
- Make sure you have everything you will need for rehearsal. Please do not share paperwork
- Turn up at 5.55 pm – you will be let in at 6.00 pm. Queue 2m apart.
- …. in order that refreshment orders can be taken. As this is a licensed premise you can only bring water in. No glasses are allowed in the theatre.
- Please sanitise your hands on the way in – use your own sanitiser when necessary
- Go directly to the theatre and sit in you singing group – four groups of six, arranged from the far side to entrance – Alto, Tune, Bass, Tenor
- Your face shield or a face mask must be used when moving about whilst in the building.
- We will hold a briefing immediately before practice to answers questions about the rehearsals and performances
- If you need to go to the toilet please go back out to the foyer and use the closest facilities
- The management team will keep a note of who attends, and their contact details
- Please don’t mingle especially in the foyer – you must stay 2m apart in the building and 3m apart when singing
- Sing with restraint (if possible!) and facing forwards
Phew!! What a year!!
Yet despite everything that has been thrown at us, we’ve carried on singing through the summer and here we are, almost ready to start our efforts for Christmas 2020.
We guess the big news is that we think we’ve found a way forward through the melee with a mix of singing in real life and using technology so that we’re able to enjoy something approaching what we’ve established over the last couple of years.
It’s going to be different – a new venue, thanks to the efforts of the wonderful team at SpArC, Bishop’s Castle’s very own theatre, a new time (Sundays, 7.30pm-9.00pm) and a mix of singing in real life and using technology for live streaming of practice sessions.
Unfortunately we are restricted on the numbers of people we can get together for sessions but we will be doing our absolute utmost to see as many of you singing as is possible.
2020 has obviously been challenging in many ways and that includes the continuation of Castle Carols. This year, so far, we have not been able to access any support funding , and, obviously, the opportunity to raise money through donations on the door from members of the public who wish to join in with us throughout December will, as things stand, be non-existent, so we will be completely dependent on membership fees to get by.
We’re also very conscious of the fact that an event such as Castle Carols can make a massive difference to people’s wellbeing and we’re keen to make it as accessible as we possibly can. We have fewer singing sessions this year and as our efforts get under way we’re not clear as to how things may develop through the autumn and winter. We intend to keep the costs to a minimum and we will be asking you to download your own songbooks but we still need to cover the production of recordings, and room hire is going to cost us more than in the past. We will also be using technology, and this website, more than in the past and that also has cost implications.
We have no ‘war chest’ of funds but despite that we have made the decision to reduce the membership fee for 2020 to £10.00 per person. This is a minimum amount – if anyone feels that they would like to donate more to our funds it would be very gratefully received. More details are on the ‘About Membership’ page.
We will be contacting all of those on our mailing list over the next day or so. If you would like to be added please let us know via the form on our ‘Contact’ page.
So, we’ve had our sixth and final, brilliant, Monday practice (see the clip on our ‘See & Hear’ page) and now its all systems go for our first Sunday sing at The Three Tuns, 12.30 on the 1st December.
We don’t know whether anyone will turn up to have a listen, or maybe join in of course, but what we do know is that we’ll have a great time singing these wonderful old carols.
Roll on Sunday!
Four weeks in….
Well, here we are after our fourth practice session of 2019 and things are going brilliantly.
Around sixty people have turned up at The Three Tuns on the last four Monday evenings and they’re already making a really good sound.
It’s joyful, it’s uplifting and its a real testament to the effort that everyone is putting in between practices so that they arrive with a good understanding of how these wonderful old songs are supposed to sound.
John, our doughty leader, has been suffering with a pretty dodgy voice for the last couple of sessions but it hasn’t stopped him helping us to enjoy our singing. It just feels so good to be part of such a great community event and its hard to believe that we haven’t all been singing together for years.
We’ve posted a clip on the ‘See & Hear’ page. This was only the third run-through of ‘Antioch’ and it sums up everything you need to know about Castle Carols. Enjoy!
As we write this it’s just a few days before we kick off the 2019 season of Castle Carols.
The first session is at The Three Tuns, Salop Street, Bishops Castle, on Monday 21st October, starting at 7.30.
We’ll be meeting to practice the carols on every Monday evening throughout October and November.
Starting on Sunday 1st December, we’ll then be singing regularly on Sunday afternoons throughout December, culminating in our big sing on Boxing Day, after those pesky Morris dancers have stopped leaping about, shouting and causing general mayhem.
Anyone who was around last year will testify to how special those December sings were, especially Boxing Day, and what a bond formed between singers throughout the practice and singing out period.
We want to emphasise that the point of all this is to have a really good sing with friends and neighbours, using the ‘old’ carols that were traditional before ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern’ came along. We’re not going to be bound by the usual rules about division of labour in a choir because we’re not a choir – if you fancy singing a part then sing it, regardless of whether you’re normally a soprano, alto, tenor or bass. We’re not intending to ‘perform, but we do know that for many people, joining in with such a joyous sound is irresistible.
If you fancy having a go please come and join us, it will be great to see you. Don’t worry if you’ve never done it before, or if you think you can’t sing – just come and give it a try.
Resistance is futile!!
We’ve now added this year’s songbook to the ‘Members’ area of the website.
We’ve added the five new songs and John has also added a lot of the phrasing that the various voices sing. We know that a few people did this for themselves last year and found it helpful so we’ve taken the lead from their good example.
There are also a few more notes about the tunes and the sum total of this is that the book is now twice as big as last year’s. We’ve also borne in mind that some people struggled to read the print last year so we’ve increased the size of the typeface and pages.
We’re very conscious of our responsibilities for sustainability so by putting the book on line we hope that some people at least may be able to download it and use their device for practice. We will, of course, have songbooks with us for those who that can’t access it electronically, but we’re going to try to avoid any unnecessary copying. We hope you’re OK with that.
The books are available in both PDF form and Word, for those who want to customise, although we would say that the formatting has been a little problematic for us this year so, if you choose to use the Word option, we can’t guarantee that it will look the same as ours on your machine.
New tunes for 2019
Thought you had it sorted eh? Well, just to keep you on your toes, we’ve added five new tunes for 2019.
They’re available on the Members’ page in MP3 format on our own player or downloadable to your mobile device, and follow the usual format of John Kirkpatrick defying the laws of biology and physics by singing all four parts, with each one highlighted for you.
The ones to look for are Antioch, Emmanuel, How Beautiful Upon The Mountain, Shepherds Arise and The Holly And The Ivy. Familiar titles we’re sure, but not necessarily the tunes you know.
The words will be added to the on-line songbook shortly but we are doing a bit of work to make the various parts easier to follow, so please bear with us.
Don’t forget, October 21st is when it all starts, upstairs at The Three Tuns – we’re looking forward to meeting you!
Suckers for punishment……
We’ve heard that a little group of Castle Carols singers have also signed up for a ‘Couch to 5K’ running club on Monday evenings this autumn. They’ll be the ones in our midst with the high-viz jackets and red faces then!
Good luck ladies.
We don’t want to know how many days there are until Christmas but we can tell you that, following last year’s success (we’re in the process of creating a page with some of the feedback we had), Castle Carols will be repeating the full-on marking of the festivities with a second season of old carols being sung in rumbustious style, led once again by Santa’s musical director, Mr John Kirkpatrick.
There will be a few new carols but more or less everything else will follow the pattern we established last year with tunes and parts available on our website, practices on Monday nights at The Three Tuns in Bishops Castle, beginning on 21st October and then singing out on Sundays, beginning on 1st December and culminating on Boxing Day. (The full list of dates on the ‘When and Where’ page).
One change that we can’t avoid is to do with membership. We took a bit of a financial hit last time and we do need to avoid that happening again as well as ensuring the future of the project – we want it to go on for many years to come, so we do need to make it sustainable as well as maintaining the level of support for members which means we can all have a wonderful time during the Castle Carols season.
Last year’s subscription was £12 per person. This year it will be £20, or £30 for a couple. We hope you will agree this is still pretty good value for six workshops with John, the songbook and access to the recordings via the website, let alone the fun we all had.
Full details of membership are on the ‘About Membership’ page.
We hope you’re able to join us this autumn for what, if last year is anything to go by, will be a jolly good experience and a great way of kicking off Christmas.
New member of the organising group
We’re really happy to let you know that Vicky Hunns has joined the organising group of Castle Carols.
Vicky sang with us in 2018 and when we found out that she was very experienced in the field of accessing support for heritage projects we realised that she would be a brilliant addition.
The full line-up is now Bernard Edwards (Chair), Donna Salisbury (Treasurer and Secretary), John Kirkpatrick, Kay Hedges, Trevor Hedges and Vicky Hunns.
Merry Christmas!! (Yes, we know its July!)
Well folks – here we are again. After seven months of lying in a darkened room we’ve re-emerged wondering whether that fantastic Boxing Day singing was just yesterday or back in the mists of time!
It almost seems rude to be thinking about October when its only July but tempus fugit and we’ve just had our first natter about the 2019 edition of Castle Carols and the good news is that we’re raring to go, the dates are booked subject to confirmation, we have some new carols to try out, and Mr Kirkpatrick’s keyboard is about to be dusted down.
We’ll be in touch by email soon with more information and, in the meantime, below is a bit of a reminder of what it was all about.
(‘Rolling Downward’ was chosen as favourite carol in our poll, gaining almost twice as many votes as the runner up.)
Please feel free to share, add people to the Facebook group, and tell people all about Castle Carols – the more the merrier!!
Oh, and while we’re here, this Saturday (20th July) sees the tenth anniversary of Bishops Castle’s ‘Party in the Park’. The organisers, the ‘About Music Project’, were very supportive of Castle Carols last year so if you feel like returning the favour please go along. More details at https://www.facebook.com/events/281266679489982/
The Sarah Morgan Foundation
Sarah Morgan was a lynchpin of the traditional music scene in England who, as well as performing as a singer – latterly with her friends Moira Craig and Carolyn Robson – was the prime mover of a number of community choirs and music projects. She led harmony workshops at festivals and ran conferences on community choirs at Winchester University and at the headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, Cecil Sharp House, London.
Sarah died in 2013 at the age of 67. Two Castle Carols members, Jenny Wright and Kay Hedges were honoured to be asked to sing one of Sarah’s arrangements on BBC Radio Shropshire’s tribute to her.
Sarah was an incredibly vivacious and sociable person, who had made hundreds of friends – friends who wished to keep her memory and her music alive. With a stream of donations being made in in her memory, a regular small income from PRS and a collection of funds from a large memorial concert in Winchester Guildhall (a live CD of which is available) it appeared to a few close friends that an opportunity had arisen to keep Sarah’s work going even in her absence – and the Sarah Morgan Foundation was born.
We are proud to report that the trustees of Sarah’s Foundation think that Castle Carols is exactly the kind of project that Sarah would have loved and have agreed that they will give us a grant to help us with some of our overheads.
We are very, very grateful to them, and we’ll be thinking of Sarah when we sing.
We now have 120 registered members.
We’ve taken the decision that anyone who wishes to join from December 9th, as we only have four sessions left in this season of singing, will only need to pay £5 for access to the ‘Members Only’ area of the site and to obtain a songbook – details are on our ‘About Membership’ page.
We did it!!
Our first sing for real was superb! Eighty five people in the room, belting out these beautiful old songs with passion, energy and joy!! Smiling faces all round, as well as the odd tear – just a brilliant occasion
We filmed it and a clip we loaded to our Facebook page has had, a week later, 1700 views. It’s on our ‘See & Hear’ page if you missed it.
We’re back for another bash on the 9th and then the 16th, 23rd and 26th.
We’re looking forward to it immensely!
If anyone does care to join us for what will be a great sing, just turn up on Sunday lunchtimes throughout December (and Boxing Day, after the Morris dancing) – around 12.30 – and come up to the top room at The Three Tuns, Salop Street, Bishop’s Castle.
We’ll sell you a songbook for a fiver (£1 for children) and that will get you in to all five sessions.
Well, what else would you be doing?
We made it!
Sixty-three people in the room last night and the visitors there for the first time can’t fail to have been impressed by the wonderful noise we were making after just two hours of practice, once a week since the middle of October.
We now have twenty-one songs under our belt just waiting to be thrust upon the unsuspecting people of Bishop’s Castle. We’re hoping that loads turn up – if they do they’ll find it hard to resist joining in, if they don’t, well, we’re going to have a great sing anyway!
John Kirkpatrick was telling us that he’s been wanting this project to happen for the last forty years. Now, with the help of the ninety-eight people who have signed up and been working so hard for the last month and a half, that dream is about to come to fruition.
We also spoke at our last practice about the joy of singing these great old songs and the connection we’ve forged with those singers who, two hundred years ago, took their carols in to the pubs in order that they might carry on enjoying them, and the sense of achievement we feel at the mass of music we’ve sung in such a short space of time.
As a famous department store owner was known to say, “we’ve all done very well”!
And here we are……..
…four practices in and going strong.
We’ve been hovering around the sixty people mark each week (we actually had sixty eight in week two), and we’re starting to make a really, really good sound.
Week three seemed to be a watershed moment with quite a few people struggling to work out the parts but, it has to be said, week four was just brilliant, with everyone’s hard work starting to come together and people getting to know each other.
Two more practices to go before the singing out. One of those is going to be a run through of everything, with little or no teaching, just a chance to consolidate where we are, and figure out what we need to concentrate on at our last session.
Bring it on!!
Change of dates
We originally planned for our last session of singing to be on Twelfth Night. Unfortunately, we’re no longer going to be able to do that so we’ll be finishing the season of carols on Boxing Day, after the dancing at The Three Tuns.
Sorry about that!
And off we go….!
We actually did it!
We gathered together sixty people in the top room of The Three Tuns, in October, to sing Christmas carols!
We managed to make a start on about seven songs, and it was just great. Even at this stage we can hear that we’re going to make a lovely sound, although we’re sure everybody realises its going to be hard work.
Keep making use of the ‘Members’ page and we’re going to have a look to see if there are other ways of making the music available.
If you haven’t signed up yet and you fancy joining us for a good sing just press that ‘About Membership’ button on the menu – you’ll be very welcome!
Castle Carols numbers
We’ve just done a bit of adding-up. The Castle Carols website has now had 2,500 hits since we launched it in August. 600 of those were in the first week, and over 950 in the last couple of weeks since we opened the site for membership.
55 people have already signed up and will be joining us for John’s 6 singing workshops in late October and throughout November, and they’ll have access to tunes and words for 21 songs. With 4 parts for each, that means we now have 84 tracks available on the website.
We reckon that’s pretty good value for £12 and, if you agree but haven’t had the chance to sign up yet, and you fancy a good sing with one of Britain’s foremost folk musicians, please pop over to our ‘About Membership’ page to find out how to join us.
More tunes to listen to on the website
We’ve just loaded another lot of tunes on to our Members Page, so we now have more or less a complete set of everything we’re likely to have a go at.
All the parts are there and we’re all very impressed with John’s valiant attempt at the Alto line!
We’ll be issuing the words in the form of a booklet, with short notes about the carols, to members who come to workshops from October 22nd onwards.
If you’re interested in joining us, there are details on our ‘About Membership’ page.
Support from Bishop’s Castle Town Council
We were delighted to hear that Bishop’s Castle Town Council had approved a grant to Castle Carols – it will help us to provide recordings of the tunes and parts on the website so that people can spend as much time as they want singing along and learning their lines.
We were asked to attend a reception and make a short presentation to explain about the project and outline how the funding would be used. Shrinking violets as usual, John, Kay and Trevor sang a song, and used slides to help illustrate what Castle Carols is all about before being treated to drinks and sandwiches with the Mayor, Councillors and other recipients of awards from the council. A jolly time was definitely had by all and it was good to be doing some actual singing after all the work that’s been put in to setting things up.
Thank you BCTC!!
Pathways Inspirational Development
Pathways Inspirational Development is an organisation which aims to construct creative activities that assist a growth of understanding of the present, and develop a vision for the future and as such feel that the Castle Carols project has some relevance to their work in the community.
Pathways Inspirational Development has very kindly sponsored the Castle Carols website in the hope and belief that it will enable people to discover for themselves, if they didn’t know it already, that making music together can be a powerful medium for community cohesion.
Letters of support.
We’re getting some great support for the project already. Thanks to all of the groups and individuals who have expressed their interest so far:
Dear Castle Carols
The Bishop’s Castle Arts Festival committee would like to let you know that we think this is an excellent project and would love to include it in the next Arts Festival in some way.
Keeping these traditions alive in some way is so important and with John Kirkpatrick involved, who has done so much for reviving Morris Dancing nationally, we’re sure that with sufficient funding it will be a success.
If there is anything we can do to help, please let us know.
CASTLE CAROLS PROJECT
On behalf of the Bishop’s Castle & Area Heritage Forum I would like to offer our support for the proposed new project to explore the Village Carol repertoire and make it available to anyone who enjoys singing. The Heritage Forum welcomes this project to preserve and promote an oral tradition of this type so that it will become part of the rich heritage of Bishop’s Castle and South Shropshire.
Sue Willmer has informed the Town Hall Trust of your planned ‘Castle Carols’ project. It sounds inspired, drawing on the musical talent in the area to create an opportunity for an enjoyable, relaxed and all-inclusive activity based in the town’s pubs.
The Trust sees promoting creativity in the Bishop’s Castle area as a major contribution it can make to the community, showcasing local makers and artists, photographers and authors, and of course, musicians whenever possible. (We are told the acoustics in the Town Hall are very good).
So I am delighted to offer our wholehearted support to a project which can only enhance the experience of local people and tourists visiting the pubs in the pre-Christmas season.
We will play our part in promoting ‘Castle Carols’ via the Visitor Information service we provide and would be delighted to receive the singers, if they ever travel between pubs and wish to stop by at the Town Hall!
Please keep us informed of your progress
On behalf of Bishop’s Castle & Clun Tourism CIC I would like to fully support the Castle Carols project.
It is using and developing local talent, both in singing and researching, and will be appealing to both visitors and locals.
Bishop’s Castle is fortunate for a small town in having six thriving pubs, all very different and popular. We also have two breweries and therefore the town is well known for its beer and pubs which attract many visitors.
The Castle Carols would give our winter visitors even more incentive to visit our pubs and support our brewing industries.
Thank you very much for letting us know about the Castle Carols project. As you know, TASC has been organising folk music projects for 25 years and the most successful ones have been those with a clear sense of purpose, with a strong grounding in local traditions and interests.
Your project has both of these, and we unhesitatingly support the project and commend the way you intend to go about it. Let us know if there is anything we can do to assist.
Wishing you every success,
Traditional Arts Support in the Community (TASC)
What’s it all about?
In many of the pubs around the edge of Sheffield there are the most amazing singing sessions at Christmas time. The repertoire is essentially what was being sung in country churches up till the middle of the nineteenth century – sometimes referred to these days as West Gallery music. When the Victorian Church slung out the old village bands and choirs, and with them their often locally-composed hymns, carols and anthems, and imposed the uniformity of Hymns Ancient and Modern, played by a well-trained organist, the old singers and musicians took their songs, their music and their business into the pubs, and carried on singing the old favourites there.
Nearly two hundred years later this repertoire and style is still very much alive, usually supported by a piano bashing out the accompaniment and providing the charming ‘symphonies’ that keep the rhythm going and give the singers breathing space between the verses. In fact the Sheffield Carols, now usually referred to under the broader banner of the Village Carols, are more popular than ever. You need to get to the singing pubs well before opening time if you’re to stand a chance of getting in.
And what a glorious wall of sound greets you once you’re inside! This isn’t a well-trained choir singing delicately and precisely through their pieces – this is the sound of a community singing its heart out, neighbour with neighbour, friend with friend. And with a pint in your hand and a few more inside you, there’s no need to hold back! The wonderful fugueing harmonies and interweaving lines, in up to four parts, are all learned by ear by people who’ve known them ever since they had to stand outside the pub door as children, and listen to the grown-ups belting them out, until they themselves were old enough to step inside and add their voices to the family chorus.
It is proposed to start a session along these lines in Bishop’s Castle for Christmas 2018. The venue will be the top room of The Three Tuns Inn at the top of the town in Salop Street. As there is no firm local tradition for this kind of thing, we’ll have to start from scratch.
Local folk singer John Kirkpatrick wil select hymns, carols and anthems from the vast Village Carol repertoire, as well as including a good number of similar tunes with a Shropshire connection. John will prepare CDs of the carols, with the piano accompaniment, and highlight each harmony line in turn so that you can hear all the parts, see how they fit together, and decide which one suits you best. Words of the carols will be provided but there will be no written music. Like those kids outside the pub door, you can pick it all up by ear, in this case by listening – repeatedly! – to the CDs.
This is open to anybody of any age and of any experience who simply enjoys singing. The aim is not to form a choir, or to be in any sense a performing group. We shall not be singing for people to listen to us, we shall be singing so they have no choice but to want to join in! The aim is to have a good old sing, as best we can, with people who live near to where we live, and explore together a style and repertoire that is probably unfamiliar to most of us. You can sing as high or low as you like – male and female voices can mix in any of the parts so that the sound will be completely different from that generated by the usual strict division of labour in a conventional choir.
Most of the material originates in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when belief in God was unquestioned. The Christmas story fills these carols with wonderfully archaic language, occasionally incomprehensible, but sometimes with stunningly beautiful turns of phrase. And the twists and turns of the determinedly antique music are guaranteed to sweep up even the most committed non-believer along the Road to Glory!!