The 130th Henry Johnson Commemoration Dinner ~ Saturday 24 February 2018
Orange Studio, Birmingham
The evening of Saturday, 24th February saw the occasion of the annual Henry Johnson Dinner kept at ‘The Studio’ in Cannon Street, Birmingham – a stone’s throw from St Philip’s Cathedral and a change of venue from the Council House which has been home to the event in recent years.
This was just the first of several departures from the format of previous dinners. Gone were the speeches, the formal service of dinner at the table and the dress code which saw us tying up our white ties and brushing out our tails.
In their place were a three-course, buffet-style dinner which guests served themselves from main course onwards and a programme of varied and engaging diversions conceived and planned by Dinner Chairman, Richard Jones and Dinner Secretary, Stephanie Warboys.
Everyone dined well although the venue’s kitchen was pressed to keep pace with the general approach to portion control, an element of under-catering being at play, perhaps.
No matter! Top of the bill of entertainments was James Ramsbottom accompanying himself in the song, ‘Early One Evening’ which he delivered with comedic genius and to great applause, with the popular ribbing of his father, Phil, in his introduction almost outshining the performance.
A nod to tradition followed via two items of handbell ringing. First, Mark Eccleston, Michael Wilby, Jack Page and David Hull rang the notoriously complex Scientific Triples – a principle invented by John Carter whose mechanical change ringing machine was on display just off the dining room.
The second item, intriguingly entitled ‘Heavy Metal Machinations’, saw a generously proportioned set of eight Taylor handbells brought into action. The spectacle of eight highly accomplished ringers wielding handbells so hefty that they were more ‘Slimming World’ than ‘Ringing World’, all the time line-dancing their way through a course of Stedman Triples, was a delight.
Finally, ‘A Swan on the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal’, a piece for solo ‘cello and handbells was performed. Richard Jones was both soloist and arranger, adapting the music of Saint-Saëns to create his own portrait of a swan on the water, transported to the canal near to St Paul’s on practice night and joined by a chatty duck with whom he might exchange snippets of a surprising knowledge of call-change ringing. Jonathan Thorne provided the anchoring piano accompaniment and BUSCR provided the handbell ringers, replicating faithfully the ringing up and handling exercises which open practice night.
Available throughout the evening was an exhibition of photographs curated by Richard Jones under the title, ‘Exploring England’s Belfries’ and the evening closed with a slide show of photographs of Guild friends and events over the years.
Much deserved thanks were given to Richard and Stephanie for putting together a hugely enjoyable evening. Retiring from the role, Stephanie was presented with a bouquet of flowers in recognition of the time and energy she had invested not only in this year’s dinner but in those of previous years.
The 131st ‘HJ’ now demands of us 12-months of patient waiting following the innovative approach taken this year. The buzz of anticipation began, however, even before the coffee was poured.