Jack’s been thinking… about the Swiss Glockenspiel in Leicester Square

Our regular Friday columnist Jack Davies has been involved in an interesting project:

There’s a part of Leicester Square sandwiched between a McDonalds and M&M World. It’s an unlikely place to go to hear new music written by one of the UK’s greatest jazz musicians / composers, Django Bates. He’s been writing music involving the Swiss Glockenspiel Clock, recently returned to London, having been demolished in 2008.

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Django was asked to write music for the bell tower, and asked Nick Smart to get three students from the Royal Academy of Music involved too, along with three students from a Swiss university. I was one of those students, and over the last 6 months or so have been working alongside guitarist Alex Munk and pianist Sarah Tandy under Django’s tutelage. The task was to come up with one original composition and eight arrangements of traditional tunes to be played by the glockenspiel.

It was a steep learning curve for all of us to figure out what works and what doesn’t for 27 chromatic bells, each with strong overtones and no dampener. However, Monday saw the inauguration of the new bell tower, and our music will now be played by the clock five times a day on weekdays, and eight times a day on weekends.

An unusual gig then, as well as an unusual privilege to be able to work with Django and watch his compositional process. An unexpected highlight was also climbing the scaffolding around the tower while it was being built and seeing the bells (which are beautiful) close up. The view wasn’t bad either.

It does feel like a small (if bizarre) victory that a landmark has been erected to perform music by UK jazz musicians several times a day in central London.

If you want to hear the clock, performance times are:

Monday – Friday:
12pm, 5pm, 6pm, 7pm, 8pm
Saturday and Sunday:
12pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 5pm, 6pm, 7pm, 8pm

Clockmakers Smith of Derby and the Swiss Glockenspiel in Leicester Square

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