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Bells bring joyful sound to Clive Square

Paul with the Carillon

In 1974 the sound of the Carillon bells of Clive Square rang out across Napier city for the first time. 

It was a centennial gift to the city from the Rothmans Tobacco Company, which was then one of Napier’s major employers. 

Paul Reynolds, Automation and Controls Manager at Electrotech, has a connection to the Carillon that stretches back to his childhood. 

Paul recalls being encouraged to make the bells play a tune. 

“When I was a kid, I used to put money in a slot to make it go - or so I thought,” he says. 

The company Paul works for has been looking after the Carillon since 1997. That year Electrotech gifted a new, computerised system to Napier City Council to replace the worn out parts preventing the carillon from playing the tunes as it used to. 

Paul collaborated with Dr Tim Bell from Canterbury University to devise the controlling system, called a PLC, or Programmable Logic Controller. Dr Bell played a tune on a keyboard, recording it on a computer, converted it to the controller format, and emailed it to Napier for loading onto the Carillon programme. 

Paul has been the Carillon’s number one maintenance man since 1999. 

The Carillon plays a mix of popular songs, traditional airs and seasonal ditties, depending on the time of year, such as Loyal, Pokarekare Ana and Silent Night. Its distinctive bells ring out every half hour from 11.30am until 2pm, playing four tunes, one minute apart, each time. 

It was first installed on the very edge of the square, next to Emerson Street. Concern about vandalism meant it was then moved into the middle of the square and raised above the pond, before finally being relocated in 1998 to the square’s southwestern corner. 

Carillons were all the rage in the 1970s. The Belgian company Clock-o-matic built and shipped Carillons all over the world, including the one that resides in Napier. The company is still in business and providing parts for them today. 

Carillon is a French word dating from the late 18th century, meaning a set of bells played using a keyboard, or by an automatic mechanism similar to a piano roll. 

Paul describes the Carillon, in its original form, as running in a similar way to a child’s music box. As a drum inside the device turned, it would strike contacts which made the bells go off. 

At Council’s request, Paul added Yuletide tunes, and Kiwi songs for NZ Music Month. Council has to pay an annual fee to cover the royalties for any songs the Carillon plays. 

Paul and Dr Bell would like to add more, but this would depend on funding. Dr Bell was hoping this could be a special project for his computer science students. 

For a nearly 50-year-old piece of machinery, the Carillon is doing quite well, says Paul. “Aside from replacing a couple of the wires, it hasn’t changed much in all this time.” 

Having heard all the Carillon plays many, many times over, Paul doesn’t hesitate to come up with a favourite song. It is entirely appropriate given he is usually involved in some way every year with the Art Deco Festival. “It has to be Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

9 October 2023

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