[Here is Paddy's ninth article for the Newsletter. It appeared in the fifteenth issue (Chrismas 1983).]
Sometimes it's tough working on the staff of an international newspaper. I get a lot of pressure. This morning my editor informed me the presses had ground to a halt and picket lines were starting to form outside the K.T. Times... and all because I couldn't come up with a subject for this issue. I explained that it had to be about musical instruments and...Christmas. But what a problem: what are Christmas instruments? and how can I find out fast? I could hear distant jeers and murmurs from outside. Looking down from the fifteenth floor I could see angry print-workers turning away a Chocolate Elephant delivery. My editor, having abandoned his pleading, was standing on his desk swinging a large duffle-bag full of Newsletters round and round his head. He was practising his power bull roarer technique, I suppose quite a sensible thing to do in high-pressure situations such as these. I had, however, failed to notice him and as I backed away from the window an idea struck me.
When a 65-pound duffle-bag hits you square in the head you can see pretty little stars and in your ears you hear the sounds of bells...These are my Christmas instruments.
When I lived in Whitechapel in the east of London, my home was very near the oldest bell foundry in Europe. It is a wonderful place. One winter I watched them casting hand-bells: a liquid firework display of shooting stars when the wet bell-moulds, buried in sand, spit out hot metal. White-haired craftsmen looking like Swiss watchmakers then take the rough-cast bell and spin it on a lathe, cutting the final shape and turning it simultaneously. The bell actually sings as it turns against the cutter; spiral slivers of bell-metal cascade onto the floor; the rough outside turns to sparkling gold; the pitch of the bell gradually rises...The art is knowing when to stop. When hand-bells are played, six people may take two bells each, and playing their respective bells in the right places, music appears that actually moves from person to person. It is a totally different dimension of sound.
About this time some Christmases ago, we were in Abbey Road studios recording December; we musicians sat outside the control-room waiting for our various turns to go in and record our contributions. There was a lot to do: Al and Brian's guitar duo [Alan Murphy and Brian Bath], Preston's Christmas percussion and reindeer bells. I was working on my balalaika part and how to sing "fall" backwards when Kate told me that she had managed to find some hand- bells and they would be delivered that evening. And within a couple of hours Thunderclap Newmann appeared with a set of bells that once belonged to Keith Moon. He had bought them in India, and here they were. Everybody took a bell or two and we played. The clock ticked by. One at a time the bell-ringers dispersed to their other roles. Brian and Al went into the studio together and, placing their amplifiers face to face, they stood on top of them and played, and gradually, player by player, December became magic. We were working to a heavy time schedule and, although Keith's Moon-bells didn't feature on the track, whenever I hear December it is their sound that comes to mind most strongly. Maybe some day we will get the opportunity to hear these bells from the stars again.
Enough of this nostalgia, have you made your bull roarer yet? If you're not interested, just think what a wonderful Christmas present it might make for somebody else weirder than you. Some of the original instruments are very highly decorated, often with exotic feathers which contribute to their fantastic sound.
My present to Kate is always a problem. Last year was very successful. She thought the giraffe was quite funny. I hope I am not sticking my neck out too far by saying that. This year? Well, I'm not going to give the game away so easily, although a clue might appeal to you. It's a sonorous metallic poly-expidential kinetic di-cyclic audio-communicator, weighing 12 1/2 tons--original, don't you think? Anyway, thank you all for your wonderful presents and letters, you are very much in my thoughts this Christmas. I hope you are warm and safe and happy and that your rejoicings proceed free from technical hitches and concussion. Who knows? Next year a certain big brother might have a few surprises for you from his duffle bag of weirdness. Until then, keep running up that hill still.
©1990 Andy Marvick