Armistice 100: Composition plays in Lanark on Sunday

Wallace link...One of St Nicholas' bells, from the old St Kentigern's Church, is believed to date from 1110. It's likely William Wallace heard that bell when he attended the old chuch in 1296.
Wallace link...One of St Nicholas' bells, from the old St Kentigern's Church, is believed to date from 1110. It's likely William Wallace heard that bell when he attended the old chuch in 1296.

Boasting one of the oldest bells in Europe, it seems only fitting that St Nicholas Church in Lanark has been included in a unique composition for the Armistice centenary.

And those who gather to pay their respects in Lanark on Sunday, November 11, wil be among the first to hear it.

At the start of this year, Martin Suckling, associate composer with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, issued an appeal for readers to record their church bells. An invite was also sent to every community council and church in Scotland.

Martin wanted to sample bells from across the country for the composition, Meditation (after Donne).

Inspired by John Donne’s famous Meditation XVII, the poet’s reflections are triggered by the tolling of a distant bell.

On November 11, 1918, church bells across the country also pealed to signify the end of World War One.

Collaborative composition...created by Martin Suckling, associate composer with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, who, with the public's help, sampled more than 100 bells from across Scotland for his Armistice centenary piece.''(Pic: Maurice Foxall)

Collaborative composition...created by Martin Suckling, associate composer with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, who, with the public's help, sampled more than 100 bells from across Scotland for his Armistice centenary piece.''(Pic: Maurice Foxall)

Martin wanted to replicate that musical outpouring of relief.

But rather than working in isolation, the 36-year-old Bearsden composer wanted people across Scotland to get involved in the collaborative.

Members of Lanark Community Council decided that St Nicholas’ bells would be a perfect fit.

So Leonard Gray and former member John Clarkson were charged with recording the bells.

Previous home...one of the bells at St Nicholas Church used to be housed in the old St Kentigern's Church and is believed to be one of the oldest in Europe. St Kent's is currently undergoing some much-needed restoration work.

Previous home...one of the bells at St Nicholas Church used to be housed in the old St Kentigern's Church and is believed to be one of the oldest in Europe. St Kent's is currently undergoing some much-needed restoration work.

With Leonard acting as bell-ringer, a duty he regularly performs at New Year and for other special occasions, John was tasked with scaling the bell tower to record the church bells.

Initially, the former Lanark Panto Club musical director planned to use a microphone, mixer and laptop to record the bells.

But, facing a rather steep climb and no power supply at the top, he opted instead to use the voice recorder on his Samsung mobile phone.

It’s an experience the 40-year-old will never forget.

He said: “There are a lot of different ladders to climb to get up the bell tower and I’m not great with heights.

“It was worth it though because the view was amazing and it was fascinating to see the bells and clock mechanism.

“I felt privileged to be asked – not everyone gets the chance to go up there – and would really recommend it.

“Leonard was ringing the bell downstairs and I was about ten feet away from it.

“It wasn’t as loud as I thought it was going to be though. I took three different recordings to get the best possible sound.

“I then downloaded it into the computer to create a loop of the bells to submit for Martin’s project.”

St Nicholas boasts two bells; the largest one was originally from the Old Church of St Kentigerns and is believed to date from 1110.

Now one of the oldest bells in Europe, it is believed William Wallace would have listened to the same church bell when he attended St Kentigerns in 1296.

So Martin was only too happy to include St Nicholas’ bells in his piece.

And following a request from the community council, he also sent a version of the composition which will be played at Lanark’s Armistice centenary memorial service.

Martin said: “It’s a cut down version of me playing the melody on violin, over the bell sounds.

“The SCO premiered the composition in St Andrews, Edinburgh and Fife from November 7 to 9 but I believe Lanark will be the only town where it will be played on Armistice Day.

“People from all over Scotland have contributed to the composition so I feel it’s something that belongs to all of us – it’s not just a piece for the orchestra to play.

“The SCO might not be able to come to Lanark but I’m delighted that it will be part of the town’s Armistice commemorations and that it will reach even more people.”

Organised by Lanark Community Council in conjunction with all the clergy in town, this year’s Armistice centenary event will be a special one – with music taking centre strage.

The day will start with a dawn wake-up call from Lanark and District Pipe Band. This will be followed with the service at St Nicholas Church at 10.30am.

Just after 11.30am, the band will lead a parade of veterans, uniformed organisations and community groups up to the Memorial Hall.

Built in 1926 in memory of the town’s fallen, an act of remembrance will be staged there along with the annual wreath-laying ceremony.

And the day will end with another poignant musical performance at the Provost’s Lamp, just outside the Tolbooth, at 6.40pm, before a beacon is lit at 7pm as part of the national commemoration service.

Rev Bryan Kerr explained: “In 2014, we marked the centenary of the start of World War One in a very poignant and special way.

“This year is another special year. We have to remember not only the end of the war and what it meant to people in terms of peace but also the fact that many people were devastated by the loss of loved ones who never returned or those who came home with scars, both physical and emotional.

“The town will be woken up at 6am or 6.30am with the sounds of pipes playing over the wind. Band members are slightly nervous that folk will complain but, given the cause, hopefully not!

“Martin’s composition will likely be used at the service and Memorial Hall.

“And just before the beacon is lit, members of Lanark and Carluke Choral Union will perform five pieces of music from five different countries involved in the conflict.

“We want to make sure all victims of war are honoured; that includes remembering and praying for those who were our enemies.”