vestryview

A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Irresolution for the New Year

Neil Pickford eyes the future – and he’s ambivalent
Firstly, I must deal with a question that has been repeatedly asked since my last column: you don’t need to worry about Pimple. As I write, Pimple is hiding underneath the model railway in the north transept of the Minster, although I expect it to move fairly soon.
Being a virger I have a strange affinity for dirt and dust and have been able to build quite a relationship with our visitor over the last few weeks. When it has an interesting story to tell it will let me know – and I, of course, will pass it on to you, my dear readers.
However, back to the present: It was 12.30 on the afternoon of Christmas Day and the final members of the congregation had sipped and then slipped away, leaving a happy tide of Merry Christmases in their wake. I was stacking some chairs when the vicar approached with a large circular chocolate box in his hand.
“A present for you,” he announced. I smiled and then saw, with sinking heart, that it only contained torn-up shreds of paper from the morning service – the rest of the chocolates having been scoffed by a hungry horde of celebrants earlier on.
“Hmmm,” I said politely, and thought- hard. 

“That’s probably a very good metaphor for the life of an average virger,” I concluded.

“You might get a column from it,” he replied gaily as he whirled off to sip champagne.
“Well, that’s the only good thing in it then,” I said, amusingly – some five minutes after he’d gone, which was rather too late.
Well, you see, my rapid riposte circuits were quite worn out – as was I.
After all, I was tidying up after my fourth major service in less than 24 hours (Virger John having done another two during the same period) and this was the end of the busiest month of concerts and events we’ve ever experienced.
On top of the normal cycle of big Christmas services we two virgers have assembled and disassembled staging and chairs for no less than 17 very different one-off events in 19 days, with various parties and seasonal specials on top. John’s arms have been hurting for several weeks and I managed to bash my forehead with a large candle stand as we dismantled the final concert of the year, so we both carry scars.
And yet, on one of my rare nights off from our unending sequence of concerts, I drove 80 miles to watch – of all things – another concert- and as a result I’ve been doing a little thinking.
I had travelled along the M62 to watch Roy Wood, the former ‘Wish it could be Christmas’ Wizzard himself, who was in fine voice and with an excellent band. I know I was really looking forward to the gig, but, on top of that, there was a wonderful atmosphere about the venue which, even as I first walked through the door, made me a promise that I was going to have a wonderful time. 
The Holmfirth Picturedrome (for that was the building in question) describes itself as the: “finest intimate music venue” in the north of England (with a capacity for 650 souls at any one time) and I’m not going to argue with that. It’s highly popular with musicians and performers and attracts audiences from many miles around – it’s also profitable.
And yet, at root, it’s just a basic box – exactly like our own Memorial Hall. But there the similarities end.
A former cinema, the owners spent a bit of money removing the fixed seats and screen, then painting the place. They’ve done some structural work, creating a modern, inexpensively-constructed mezzanine gallery along each side and a large upstairs balcony. There was a bar at each level – and that was it. A fully functioning venue that is commercially viable and very busy, attracting lot of big acts because they enjoy the atmosphere of the place.
Compare and contrast that with the big box that is Beverley’s own Memorial Hall where, after years of promises and many, many tens of thousands spent on consultancy fees, we still are waiting for any developments. Despite the existence of numerous art and festival organisations locally the building itself has many gaps in its diary. And yet this was supposed to be an improved version of our old Playhouse, with many hundreds of thousands of pounds available to fund its transformation.
I mourned the closure of the Playhouse and miss the types of act that used to appear there. I envy Pocklington for its Art Centre (and very little else) and I want one in Beverley, so I really wish the Memorial Hall well in its ambitions. But time is passing and money is disappearing….
However, all is not lost. We’ve already got Beverley Minster and, as I think we’ve adequately proved over the last few weeks, we’re a darn good venue.
What’s not to like? The setting looks magnificent (not just good, but fabulous, as everyone who performs there will agree). We have demonstrated that the building’s natural acoustics are perfect for many types of music and, when linked to a modern and expertly-fitted PA system, we can ensure high quality reproduction to all parts of the building for other types.
We’ve got a lot more flexibility in staging and seating than Holmfirth, we’ve also got the Parish Hall, Emmaus, Peter Harrison rooms, and new toilets which have been fitted up to the highest standards.   Best asset of all, we’ve got the powerful partnership of John and me available to assemble staging and make things work smoothly.
And to anyone who says that such things shouldn’t happen in a church I can only say: “Rubbish – you don’t know your history.”
Beverley Minster was built as-and-for theatre. The whole place was full of music and performers (that’s why we have a huge and world-famous collection of 14th century carvings of musicians and dancers through the whole building). The inside was painted in vivid colours, there were no rows of seats or quiet spaces for the general population – even the seemingly endless succession of prayers and chants in the Quire were conducted against the background of a boisterous crowd in the main part of the church.
The vicar is happy for the building to be used thusly, the treasurer smiles broadly whenever he receives a cheque and we virgers appreciate the overtime and free muscle-developing exercises we get in the process.
And it makes many, many people happy – so what’s not to like?  
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