I moved to Billesdon in 1992 and from a few years earlier there had been a monthly magazine, Billesdon and District Parish New and Views, that continues to this day. Until the beginning of this year the editor was Rosie Black. She wrote a short piece on the 1993 release of Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, which the record company said was the best and most accurate account they had seen. At the time I’d only been here for about a year and she concluded the article: “people might not know who Gavin is, until I tell them that he’s the one with the spotted dog…”
Rosie retired at the beginning of this year and has been succeeded by Rich Walkden, who had the bad luck to lose a couple of month’s issues because of the pandemic problem.
In the most recent issue, September 2020, there is a list of those – eleven people -whose funerals have taken place between February and the end of August. Some I didn’t know but there were three who I did know, and hadn’t been aware of their passing. Two of these, John Fort and Graham Cooling, sang in the church choir and had been enthusiastic participants in the December 1999 Billesdon Millennium Music project (see film on this website).
Graham was a friendly and enigmatic character who was full of surprises. I remember us chatting together at the bus stop where he was waiting for the hourly bus into Leicester. He had just a small bag and, when I asked where he was off to, said that he was going to Lithuania…
My article for the magazine is about the first performance of the two Christmas carols that I wrote for the Parish church’s carol service…
I was very sad to read in the September parish magazine of the recent passing of John Fort and another member of the church choir Graham Cooling. Along with other members of the choir, and choirmaster Stephen Baden Fuller, they took an active part in the Billesdon Millennium Music project that came to fruition on December 31st, 1999. And a few years later, Stephen persuaded me to write a couple of pieces for the church itself.
His first request, somewhat irreverently, was for something for solo organ, a set of variations on the theme music for the TV series “The Vicar of Dibley”. It was to be played during the investiture of our first lady vicar, Reverend Barbara Knight who, to my great relief, was very amused and really liked the piece.
The second was for a pair of carols for Christmas 2007. I wrote them in October and took part in the Friday evening rehearsals as Christmas approached. The choir was quite small and there was a clear imbalance in the men’s voices, with three basses and only one tenor, John Fort, who was really a baritone and who, not surprisingly, struggled with the higher notes. So, I offered to join the choir for the service, and, to John’s evident relief, we would sing the tenor part together.
Both carols have since appeared in many other Christmas services, and the first performance at Billesdon went well, with me singing the tenor part alongside John as planned. At the beginning of the service I realised that I had forgotten my reading glasses but, having composed the music, this was not really a problem. However, I had not realised that, in addition to leading the collective carol singing, there were to be other musical items by the choir alone in the service. Unfortunately, I did not know any of these anthems, and had not been at the rehearsals. With my glasses I would have got by with basic sight-singing. But without them, having no idea what the notes were, I could only give an approximation of the tenor line. John sang beautifully and I tried to follow him, but my singing had, at best, an audibly random relationship to the original music – to the horror of my family seated near the front of the congregation, and the amusement of John, who kept a straight face throughout. His quiet, understated “well done” at the end of the service has remained with me ever since…