Thursday, 24 November 2011


I’ve been getting in a bit of a state today... For no other reason than the sudden realisation that there’s an enormous amount for me to do before Sunday’s concert. I have to work out what to say between numbers, I have to learn the bass parts in the songs where I’m singing in the choir, I have to learn Hannah’s song in case she can’t perform it, I have to learn piano parts – but worst of all, I have to play the bleedin’ organ in the Requiem... I can deal with most of this, but the moment I start to play the organ part, I go into melt-down, and then imagine the rehearsal on Sunday, with my face buried in the music, being unable to either appreciate what I’ve written or offer constructive notes to the other musicians – and then I start to panic all over again...

Still, we’re slowly ticking things off the list. We made the programmes today, and copied 200 of them at the print shop. We thought about doing them in colour, but that was going to cost £100.

The rest of the day has been spent sitting on a sofa in front of a computer screen, trying to sort everything out, but because I’m panicking, it’s taking even longer than I have. This blog is even starting to take longer than I have. “Dear Jim’ll, please can you fix it for me to have an extra day this week, so that I can relax a bit before the concert? Thank you. From Ben (mental age) 4 ½.” Now then, now then...

November 24th 1661, was a Sunday, and Pepys went to St Clement Eastcheap church, which is the church that gave its name to the famous nursery rhyme. Obviously Pepys doesn’t mention this fact, but I often wonder whether Oranges and Lemons was a known poem in his day.

It was one of the churches that gave me my all time most spine-tingling moment. In 2009, I wrote a version of Oranges and Lemons which featured every church bell mentioned in the longer version of the rhyme, which includes all sorts of City and East End churches, and rhymes like; “two sticks and an apple say the bells of Whitechapel.” Every bell in every church was recorded separately. 200 bells in 17 churches. I then wrote a piece of music that would include them all – ringing in harmony. I wanted to feature a choir in the piece, and because I’m slightly insane, I decided they all needed to either work or live within earshot of one of the sets of bells. This meant that the standard of singing varied wildly, which made for a very long day of recording in the studio, which lasted until 1am.

I missed the last DLR and had to walk from Limehouse to Bank to find a bus. I was absolutely exhausted, and as I got into the City, my legs gave way, and I collapsed in a pathetic heap. The City at night is a wonderful place, however. It’s utterly silent and completely empty. I sat in a crumpled mess for a minute or two and suddenly, all the bells across the city started to chime in unison. It must have been 1am, or 2 am. But the place went from being utterly silent, to being filled with the sound of bells. At that very moment, someone, a total stranger, cycled past me. He was the only person I’d seen for at least 2 minutes – and he was singing. He was singing Oranges and Lemons. There are some moments that you wouldn’t believe if you saw them in a film, but for just a few seconds I wondered if God was looking down at me and grinning!

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