There is more than one place called Holt. There is the famous Holt in Norfolk. There is another Holt near where I grew up, on the banks of the Dee in Cheshire. There may be lots of others. But the Holt I want to talk about is the village in Wiltshire, near Bradford-on-Avon, which has a large church called St Katharine's, in which last Friday I played in an Advent jazz concert.
I am not sure how it all started, but this is the third year in a row it has happened, and each year it has taken the same form: the Rob Walker Jazz Band (a rowdy trad outfit in which I play bass) backing the singer Sue Kibbey for two hours of holy and unholy music. I think when it first started, Sue tried harder to make the repertoire fit a church, singing "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" and "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen", but now we have relaxed and are more likely to play "Night And Day" or "I Wish I could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate".
That's partly because we no longer think it is odd to play in a church. It did seem rum, the first time round, with our backs to the altar, facing out to the nave and congregation, and showering them with jazzy noises. It seemed even odder when Sue Kibbey urged people to get up and dance, but once a congregation starts doing a bit of gentle middle-aged jiving in the aisles, nothing seems that odd any more.
"I wish I could get you dancing like this on Sunday," said the vicar, addressing the faithful. He is a new young vicar this year, called Andrew, who fully entered into the spirit of things. When he first took microphone in hand to introduce us he asked the audience to welcome Rob Walker and his band, with guest singer Sue Kibbey. Guest singer Sue Kibbey took the mike from him and said: "Being introduced as 'guest singer' is almost as bad as being described as 'female vocalist' ! I am not a guest singer! I lived here in Holt till four years ago. This is my grand return ..."
Many a vicar might have been fazed by this, but not Andrew, who wrested the mike back and announced: "And now, for the final concert in her triumphant world tour, will you please welcome the one, the only, the great Sue ... Kibbey!"
Sue took the mike back, muttering something about smarmy vicars. There were the makings of a good double act there. But it was on with the music after that, and as I gazed out from my perch just below the pulpit at the good people of Holt, tapping their feet and clutching their glasses of red wine, I reflected that profane sounds in church are nothing new. I had once seen the great Duke Ellington Orchestra performing in St Mary's in Cambridge. I have seen Stan Tracey in St Paul's Cathedral and Chris Barber in Chichester Cathedral, and heard Elgar and Holst played by a silver band in an Edinburgh kirk, so I should be used to it by now.
The thing that usually unites all these events is the dire acoustical nature of a church, with the echoes of the music merging into molten mud, like train announcements at Paddington. It wasn't that great at Holt either - Geoff, our drummer, sitting in lonely splendour behind us in the choir, said afterwards that he hadn't heard what the band was playing the entire evening - but it went down a storm in front of us all right, and people were saying ominous things which included the phrase "next year".
And was God present as well? Well, I have no proof of that. But I can tell you one thing. During the rehearsal we had an argument about what key a certain number should be in. Most of us thought it should be B Flat. Bob Hill, the guitarist, thought it should be F. As we argued, a tall pole bearing a flag marked "St Katharine's at Holt" fell away from the wall right on top of Bob.
"It's a sign from God!" said someone. "He's saying that Bob is wrong!"
"No, no," said Bob. "It means He thinks I'm the only one who's right."
We didn't want to provoke the Almighty either way, so we decided it was wiser to play another number instead.Reuse content