A Life Well Rung: An Interview with the Brilliant Phil Gay

On a bright red background, white text that reads 'A life well ring: an interview with the brilliant Phil Gay' fills the top of the image. Phil is pictured below wearing a red checked shirt and is surrounded by white bell outlines and the Fun With Bells Logo.

Is Phil Gay a typical ringer, an a-typical ringer or just total legend? Show host Cathy finds out as she delves into a ringing life very well lived.

From inventing a mobile belfry, developing the Keele Ringing Summer School, teaching his family to ring, hanging his own mini-ring in his garage, to notching up 1000 peals, Phil has made a massive contribution to ringing both locally and nationally. And that’s without mentioning his years of service at the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers.

Yes, not every one of his innovations has been taken forward, but Phil still has plenty of ideas. In particular we just can’t wait to see Phil’s quick erection model!

About Phil Gay

Phil Gay learned to ring in 1956 in Somerset and has been a ringer at Keele in Staffordshire, where he is currently tower captain, since 1963. Teaching is one of his main interests. He has taught many learners and for twenty years ran the Keele Summer School. He has held many offices in the North Staffordshire Association including twenty-one years as a Central Council representative.  Another interest is bell hanging, particularly light bells (Keele (Woodlands) and the Lichfield Diocesan Mobile Belfry) and wheel making for three local projects. Phil rang his first peal in 1960 and has now rung 1160, including the first peals of 78 ringers. His wife Rowena is also a ringer and his son Simon rings at Glasgow Cathedral.

Phil Gay
– Learned to ring 1956 at Hinton Blewett, Somerset
– Member of band at Keele since 1963

– Joined North Staffs Association in 1962
– Elected to committee in 1976
– Currently Peal Secretary
– Has held every office (some more than once) except Bell Advisor, which he has done for the Lichfield and Walsall Archdeaconries Society
– Elected to Central Council in 1986, served for 21 years
– Member of Education Committee and Ringing Centres Committee
– Trustee of Lichfield Diocesan Mobile Belfry since 1999

– Taught first learner (Phil’s sister) in 1961, many more since including his wife, son and daughter
– Started the innovative Keele Summer School in 1987 – it ran for over twenty years
– Early user of simulators, beginning 1984

Peals (mostly on six and eight)
– First peal 1960 at Drayton, Somerset – Treble to Plain Bob Major
– 50th peal 1984, 1000th peal 2014, current total 1160, conducted 206
– 415 peals with Michael Wilshaw, who conducted 255 of them
– 151 peals with Rowena Gay
– 64 peals with Simon Gay
– Peals rung with 78 first pealers, including Rowena and Simon
– Peals rung at 320 towers,  including 443 at Keele (Woodlands), 88 at Broughton and 30 at Keele St John
– Phil enjoys ringing spliced, around 100 peals of each spliced surprise major (including 23-spliced) and minor, including 40 of 41-spliced surprise minor

Bell Hanging
– Hung small ring of six at Woodlands in 1992, later augmented to eight
– Invented Lichfield Diocesan Mobile Belfry in 1998 and did the bell hanging
– Made six wheels for Whitmore remodelling in 2003, six for Stone in 2012 and six for Ipstones in 2016, the last two helped by David Stott
– Have hung several model bells in scales from one-eighth up to one-third
– He has made fifty wheels in total
– For forty years have run Gay’s Stays, which buys stays in bulk and sells them on to towers all over the country, with proceeds to Keele Tower Fund

Simulators and Teaching, Central Council Publications
Raising and Lowering John Longridge Books
– Various articles in The Ringing World

Phil, a white haired man stands holding a small bell rope in front of a wooden green door. He wears a checked red shirt with matching red braces and beige trousers.
Phil Gay
A painted portrait of Phil Gay, a white haired man with glasses and a beard. The brush stokes are choppy and expressive with colours true to life with a brown wall behind him.
Phil Gay, painted by his wife Rowena Gay

Top 5 Takeaways

  • Consider running a separate practice for learners once they start attending the tower practice night – this will help them correct any bell handing issues and give them more rope time
  • Help retain your ringers by being accepting – if someone can’t make every practice or Sunday think about the positive contribution that they can make
  • Find out more about the Keltek Trust which helps churches acquire surplus or redundant bells that can be then hung for change ringing https://www.keltektrust.org.uk
  • Equip your teenage ringers to become valuable assets at University Ringing Associations by, for example, encouraging them to conduct a quarter or arrange an outing
  • Retention is partly down to good teaching – check out the ART website to find out what’s on offer https://www.ringingteachers.org

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