A buzz of excitement echoes around the audience as a gospel choir files on stage, lining up in front of an organ tinted pink by the lights above.
“Have a good look at the cameras now,” the audience is told. It’s best not to stare at them while you’re singing. But two people in the audience already know the drill. They’ve been coming for years.
Trevor and Christine Ransome, a couple in their 70s from Cambridgeshire, joined hundreds of others at a Songs of Praise recording in Leicester’s De Montfort Hall this week to count down the nation’s top 10 favourite hymns.
It was their 37th recording, their latest excursion for a hobby that has taken them from Glasgow to Penzance in the past year alone. Two weeks earlier they had travelled to the Isle of Wight.
“I would do every one if I could,” jokes Trevor, sitting in the stalls as the performers sound check in the background. Christine, eyebrows raised, agrees: “He’d fly to Timbuktu if they were doing it there.”
On their way through a crowded backstage area, a producer stops Christine for a hug. “We know them all by first names,” says Trevor. “It’s almost like being part of a family.”
Trevor and Christine met as teenagers at a church in Suffolk, where they bonded over their love of singing and music. Hobbies have played a big part of their relationship ever since: two days before coming to Leicester, they celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary in Prague, where Trevor, 78, had run a 10km race.
“Although I wasn’t the fastest runner, I wasn’t last either,” he beams. “But I was the oldest.” He says he is one away from his goal of completing 50 races.
Their trips to recordings began over 10 years ago, when they were a few years into retirement. Before then, Trevor had worked for a packaging company while Christine had been a shorthand typist.
They had always sung in choirs, and played keyboard in church groups. “We sang here a few years ago,” says Christine, looking up at the hall’s arched ceiling.
Their first recording was in 2008 at a church in Ealing, London, where they were singing as part of a choir. Trevor describes it as an “awesome experience” that left them with a “real feel-good factor”.
Not long afterwards, a woman who joined their local church told them that she had been inspired to come after watching Songs of Praise.
“She wanted to know where such happiness came from – the happiness she saw on the faces of the people singing,” says Trevor.
Their next recording was in Peckham in 2010, and since 2014, once Trevor stepped down from his role as a church elder, they have gone to every one they can make.
“To me, with all the wonderful things that the Songs of Praise technical team do – lighting up the place – and with all these different people and different [church] traditions, it’s a little bit like touching heaven,” says Trevor.
Recordings with gospel choirs are his favourite, he adds: “I love the freedom, I love the joy with which everyone approaches it. The choir is singing it, the congregation are up on their feet and I can’t help myself, you know? I’m joining in.”
They have to balance their trips, however, with the demands of a large family: two sons, four grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
“We go regularly to church, we’re sad that none of our children do,” says Trevor, before adding that their family are very supportive of their hobby.
“They all watch it to see if they can pick us out in the audience,” says Christine.
They also watch when they are not at recordings – although they say nothing compares to being in the congregation.
Asked for tips for people who shy away from singing at church events, Trevor suggests taping yourself.
“Try hearing the sound of your voice the day before you go to a wedding or a funeral, where you know you might be singing, to get used to it,” he says. “Do not be frightened of your own voice.”
Song of Praise has been running a national vote to find the audience’s favourite hymn. For Christine, it is Carl Boberg’s How Great Thou Art.
“It makes me want to worship, because sometimes I don’t feel like worshipping,” she says, lamenting that people can say “slightly hurtful” things about their faith.
“Everyone has their own [beliefs],” says Trevor. “We believe that God allows us to have free choice.” For him, the opening lyrics to Keith Green’s There is a Redeemer are the most resounding.
“It isn’t I hope I’ll stand in glory, it starts: when I stand in glory,” he smiles. “That’s a certainty in an absolutely uncertain world. And that is a great comfort.”
The couple have no plans to stop attending the show. “We’re going to celebrate our 60th wedding anniversary in September 2021. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we managed to get to 60 Songs of Praise recordings at virtually the same time?”
“We’ve got to go some,” Christine laughs.
The recording of Songs of Praise in De Montfort Hall, Leicester, will be aired on BBC One on 29th September.