Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

4 Humanist Funerals with live music

Posted in 4 Humanist Funerals with live music by sheelanagigcomedienne on May 20, 2014

I have conducted four funerals recently which had live music.

The first one for Michael at West Norwood Crematorium had some of his old band members playing, one of whom recognised me as I had taken his children’s Naming ceremonies. They played TANGERINE by Victor Schertzinger and Johnny Mercer.  We entered to Stephen Higgins on piano playing a selection of Chopin  pieces. Suzanne Holmes mezzo-soprano sang DITE, OIME  by Vivaldi from La Fida Ninfa. The service included a recording of Michael singing Beautiful Lady from his youthful band FLIX on Hurricane Records 1980 poignant and haunting. We were played out by Stephen to a piano cocktail medley including Summertime, Blue Moon, Isn’t this a lovely day, Lily of Laguna

West Norwood Crematorium and Cemetery entrance

West Norwood Crematorium and Cemetery entrance

Opened in 1837, West Norwood Cemetery contains 64 listed monuments of outstanding architecture. Burials include Mrs Beaton (of cookery book fame), Sir Henry Doulton (pottery), and Sir Henry Tate (English sugar merchant, art patron and public benefactor).

The second funeral at Lambeth Crematorium was for Martin who had met his partner Richard at the proms many years ago. Gudny Jonasdottir played movements from Bach’s 3rd Cello Suite at the crematorium and afterwards in the Nash Conservartory, Kew Gardens we were treated to a short harpsichord recital played by Christopher Bucknall whilst been entertained by the squirrels chasing each other up the trees. It was sooo charming.

Nash Conservarory, Kew Gardens

Nash Conservatory, Kew Gardens

Nas Conservaory Kew Gardens

Nash Conservatory Kew Gardens


The third funeral was for Julie, who was 54. She lived on our street some 25 years ago when I knew her because she was so friendly and her husband Dave who did some plumbing work for us.  I had also conducted the funeral for  Dave’s sister Susan a few years ago.  She was a delighful and ebullient Lancashire lass. Her friend Caroline Dennis who is a pianist, singer and comedienne whom Julie met in the laundrette on a cruise, treated us to I am a woman W O M A N. Later at the Central London Golf Centre she sang Fever giving us impressions of it as the Queen, Margaret Thatcher, Victoria Beckham, Ann Widdicombe and Janet Street Porter. She certainly is versatile and ready to improvise even when we couldn’t locate a CD player.

Caroline Dennis

Caroline Dennis, musician, singer actress, comedienne and cruise entertainer.

Caroline Dennis, musician, singer actress, comedienne and cruise entertainer.


She is the daughter of Bobby Dennis, an old-time comedian, who gigged with Dave Allen in the sixties in Australia.

Bobby Dennis comedian

Bobby Dennis comedian

Bobby Dennis – YouTube

The Central London Golf Centre Burntwood Lane SW17 said that they would be prepared to have a funeral service in their centre which is only minutes away from Lambeth Crematorium.  At last, I have found a local venue willing to allow a funeral service to take place. We have all heard how golfers themselves often say they would be happiest to die playing golf! I am on a mission to find premises that will allow our funerals to take place in the community rather than at the crematorium which is specifically designed only for funerals. Maybe it is only a question of time before they are used for other celebrations/events in the evenings and at weekends and n0n-religious funerals will be taking place in pubs, homes, parks, gardens and community venues.

Central London Golf Centre

Central London Golf Centre


The fourth funeral was for Buddy Bounds who was a jazz trumpeter. He was the father of Karen. I had conducted the funeral for her step-father Michael and her wedding ceremony when she and Sue got married. I briefly met Phil who preferred to be called Buddy (as in Buddy Holly) at their wedding which was held  in the delightful Estorick Gallery in Islington.

Buddy had loved things American. He played with Roy Orbison and was his musical director for a time.  The funeral was in Hampstead cemetery where his mother Norma was buried but the service was booked for a nearby church hall St. Luke’s. At the last minute the vicar  suggested that we use the church. He had thought the booking was for funeral afters and so he felt it right when he heard it was for the actual funeral ceremony.  It is an evangelical church so there was already musical equipment  there including a piano on which was placed a photograph of Buddy from the sixties.

Hampstead Cemetery

Hampstead Cemetery

St Luke's Church

Kevin the trumpeter played Send in the clowns  during the service and the Last Post  at the graveside. He played again when we retired to th snug at one of Buddy’s pubs  the Spread Eagle on Parkway, Camden Town.

spread eagle pub       spread eagle sign

We had one or two ‘Oh bits from obits’ when Buddy’s sister Mary told us that she remembered coming home from school to find Ronnie Scott playing on their piano while her Mum made him tea and sandwiches.  The second one was when Buddy took to fishing after he had to give up the trumpet and used to go to Clapham in the Yorkshire Dales,with his mate Roy who used to be married to Anne Davis. She had been Alan Bennett’s cleaner and lover and he had bought her the cottage which she had converted in to a quirky tearoom – Cafe Anne-  and this is where Buddy and Roy stayed. Anne died in 2009 and Roy later. There was a lovely photo of Buddy with Anne and Roy’s three sons.

These funerals were all rather different, but equally engrossing, as they reflected the people that we were honouring. I still think I am very fortunate to be a humanist celebrant.


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