Hymns and Cake for Ralph

A review of Catfield’s celebration of
Vaughan Williams’ 150th birthday

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ 150th birthday was celebrated in Catfield with ‘not so much a concert’ more an ‘open practice’ as explained to us on the night by conductor David Frost.

Vaughan Williams had said in 1903, “The collector of folk songs gives them back again to the world. Will they not, perhaps, once more make their way back to the mouths of the people?”  He was talking about folk song but within a year he had taken up the reins as Musical Editor of the all new English Hymnal – a task he shared with Percy Dearmer – and there are 49 tunes in EH labelled ‘English Traditional’. He doesn’t seem to have changed his mind at all when, as Musical Director of Songs of Praise twenty years later he included 49 there.

On the night, in the beautiful, warm setting of the medieval All Saints, Catfield, there were no big stars, just a Milky Way of keen amateur performers and enthusiastic audience.  The latter were provided with 4-part copies for those who wanted to sing the harmonies and all was accompanied by a mixture of organ, recorders, flute, guitar, cello, and, as a rousing finish, Ros Wilson’s melodeon led all players in a lively dance tune.

The evening included the hymn tunes King’s Lynn (‘O God of Earth and Altar’), Down Ampney (‘Come Down O Love Divine’), Forest Green (‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’) and Sine Nomine (‘For All the Saints’), and others, all sung with gusto where needed and restraint where required.  David Frost led it all with informal instructions to all before each hymn thus providing the performances with a bit of essential light and shade as well as a target of variety for us all.

It all felt like a cross between a ‘Songs of Praise’ TV programme and a good pub session.  The interval was tea and cake instead of another pint; the performance was at the East End of the church as opposed to the North End of King’s Lynn; it was ‘public practice’ instead of practice in the Public; the Scratch Band came from the 3 parishes in the United Benefice instead of local singing pubs; there was a sympathetic clergy instead of friendly landlords, but the overall effect was one of a united effort to celebrate good communal music; much the same as the fishermen of King’s Lynn or Harry Cox and his contemporaries in nearby pubs many years ago.

Diana Rackham, Ace Bass Recorder in the Band, shows Vaughan Williams’ 150th Birthday cake, and behind is Rev Gary whose birthday was the following day.  It’s not every year a vicar gets ‘Happy Birthday’ sung to him in his own church!  
Cake idea from Diana Rackham; baked by Pat Reid & Judith Gardiner.  Photo credit: Suzanne Gunton.

At the end, after what felt like a really good singing session in the local folk club, we were sent into the stillness of the mild Norfolk night with a blessing from Reverend Gary Noyes instead of the ritual shout of, ‘Ain’t you got no ‘omes to go to?’.  Well done Catfield!

From conductor David Frost:

The band was started about eight years ago by a previous vicar’s wife, Mo Stride. She recognised the way music could bring people of the benefice together and how she could use the talents of the congregation to do this. Although we have no formal membership, we have grown into a thriving music group with a contact list of over 20 regulars from within the benefice and beyond.

Scratch Band meet for practice, fellowship, fun and a tea break every Thursday evening at 7.30pm to around 9.30pm, usually in one of our local churches or in Ludham Church rooms during the winter months. We are the church music group for Catfield, Ludham and Potter Heigham. We provide music at the monthly benefice service and for other special services and events. Including carols in pubs and care homes, an outdoor service at How Hill and even providing entertainment on The Southern Comfort, Mississippi trip boat.

For more information on Scratch band please contact David Frost Tel. 07907 679630 or Ros Wilson Tel 01692 597120.

They look as if they’ve just had an evening’s fun with hymns connected with Vaughan Williams – and they have!  Seated are David Frost and 95 year-old percussionist Mary Frost.  Photo credit: Mike Filgate.

Review by Alan Helsdon, with help from Diana Rackham and Ros Wilson.  October 2022