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"shire" Concertina Makers.


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#19 john T

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Posted 06 May 2008 - 10:48 AM

Shire Concertinas

Being a professional Folk singer/musician is something you do for love, not for money, though things may have changed these days, but I doubt it. So one of the ways we (Audrey Smith & I) supplemented our income was by my making & repairing early English string & woodwind instruments.
As I became more known for this, I was asked to tune reed instruments.
When Audrey & I split, I took on a small rented building in Grendon, which was in very poor condition and one of the things I had to do was to replace the roof. Everything was done out of my own money. I had no assistance from the government at all.
The work for tuning concertinas blossomed, and I had to teach myself how to make pads, springs, levers, pivots & repair/replace bellows.

Things were about to change, and looking back, I wish I had never taken the next step, but in those days I was an artist with absolutely no idea of business.

CoSIRA (Council for Small Businesses in Rural Areas – a government department set up to promote what it says on the tin) paid me a visit.
They invited me to visit a particular bank manager who, with CoSIRA’s recommendation, would give me a £15,000 development loan to start a business focusing entirely on concertinas.
I was already doing quite well, since tuning was now faster & at £1.00 a button was proving quite profitable, BUT the loan was tempting and could launch my one-man business into being something bigger, so I took the offer.
But there is no such thing as a free lunch, and the bank told me that I must first prove that there was a market.
I already knew there was since I was earning pretty well from it, but to satisfy them I advertised. The intention being that when I proved the market, the bank would deliver the money & I could fulfil all the orders.
There was a huge (comparatively) market, not just in this country but in Ireland, The States, Canada, Australia – well, it was bigger than I had imagined.

When I returned to the bank, I was astonished that I wasn’t given the loan there and then since I had so many orders. Instead I found I had another condition to fulfil – manufacture one.

The problem with manufacturing was that I could do everything except the critical components such as reed frames (these require 9 frame blank press tools & 9 reed slot press tools and that is very expensive – oh, plus a press) and the reed pans which require 2 router templates per type (eg C/G Anglo) of concertina which were very time consuming to make. Time consuming means setting other paid work aside to make them. So they have an indirect cost.

The bank had agreed to allow me an overdraft on the basis of the loan being forthcoming.

The next step was the one that tipped the balance.
I could easily have paid for the reed frames & reed pans if I had carried on as I had been doing, but I was no businessman, and even government decisions are not necessarily good ones.
I did what CoSIRA recommended & took the overdraft.

I spent thousands getting these parts made so I could make a concertina to satisfy the bank’s condition only to be given another condition after I had made one. I was told to go on a management course. Then I was told to go on a manufacturing seminar.

I did all of this, and it took a year altogether, and at the end of the year, I visited the bank expecting yet another condition, but was told that: “The bank was no longer lending to small businesses”.

In fact they never had been really, and the ‘conditions’ were simply smoke to avoid a ‘development loan’, which has different connotations & certainly different interest rates.
I could make concertinas though, and I could fight my way out of an £8,000 debt I knew.
In fact I couldn’t.
The bank put a stop on my account, and money was allowed in but none out and I didn’t find out until I rang the bank after my mortgage payment bounced.

After speaking to the bank manager I knew I was bust and when I told my wife (only 11 months of marriage), she left 6 hours later.
The electricity, gas & water were cut off within days, and I had turnips & potatoes in the garden to eat. A couple of months later the bank put in a court order for repossession of my home.
That was it.

The concertinas were numbered from 45 to 87, and 1 to 45 were made later. Most were shipped abroad.
Some were very ‘stiff’ to play, and I think the reeds were cut too thick in the panic, and since I had no complaints about replacement reeds I fitted, I think I was too worried to spend enough time getting the new instruments right.

I don’t recall anyone being ‘ripped off’, and it wasn’t in my nature to do that. It still isn’t.
The price was very low in comparison. An imported Italian Bastari cost £60 and a Wheatstone (Steve Dickinson’s name take over?) cost £600. I think Harry’s were about the same, perhaps a touch more expensive.

I don’t have any money to reimburse anyone at present, but Chas if you contact me through my email address & give me your full name & address, I will endeavour to get the money together to repay you at some point.
You have been patient this long, I am sure you can wait a few more weeks eh? And I am happy to trust your statement that you never received a concertina.
Kind regards – John Timpany

#20 john T

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Posted 06 May 2008 - 11:29 AM

Whistling Jacket

I think Derek Coates was probably the main exporter of my songs while I was resident at Souls & Eels in Northampton. He told me that he sang them at the Whitby Folk festivals etc & that occasionally they got onto the festival tapes. That pleased me, and it pleases me that some are still singing them.
Thanks OLDNICKILBY for keeping them alive & for liking them.

The song you sing probably isn’t ‘quite’ mine, since Derek, in true ‘folk tradition’ would alter them to suit his own style. No problem, I altered a few of Bert Lloyd’s traditional songs and all he did was smile when he heard the new version!

I had been travelling down to BBC recording studios in Southampton with Tim Laycock to lay down some English Folk fiddle (Arnold Woodley was my teacher) on a record he was producing called ‘Lydlinch Bells’ (William Barnes’s poetry I believe) when Tim put on a tape by Fred Rooke.
I was knocked out by it; the stories were so different from any I had come across in all my research, so I chased him up.

Fred had translated Die Folk Das Nacht and done considerable research into Romany Gypsy mythology and legend, and the tapes he sent me were simply astonishing. They weren’t traditional tunes & lyrics, just mythology & legend stories he had adapted into song, so I didn’t mind altering both words & tune (re-writing really – to suit my own style).

Whistling Jacket was one of the stories, and describes one of the methods Romany’s use to catch food – in this case a hare – without traps, snares or a gun. It may be a myth, but it is very believable, especially since I have tried this out myself, but I think my boots were a bit heavy! Hares ‘listen’ to vibration as well as sound, but I did get very close though, and the hare definitely stays pretty focused on the jacket most of the time.

Fred’s tapes sparked a plethora of song writing in the folk idiom around the subject of the gypsies, and later after reading Jim Coleman’s book ‘The Railway Navvies’ a load more songs in the tradition were written. I think some of these later songs still get sung at some clubs.

Kind regards – John Timpany

#21 Dirge

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Posted 06 May 2008 - 04:42 PM

What an awful story John; and you were minding your own (healthy) business until a civil servant walked in the door and incited you to start down this path to ruin?

Did you try taking it up with your MP?

#22 Dave Rogers

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 02:59 AM

I thought the name rang a bell - I've got a copy of the John Timpany English fiddle tutor "And out of his knapsack he drew a fine fiddle". I remember being a bit bemused by the line that went something like "The most fundamental way of learning to play the fiddle is to pick one up and find out where the notes are".

Perhaps that was why I took up the concertina... :unsure: ;)

#23 john T

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 03:02 AM

As I still see it Dirge, I had a choice.
I don't lay blame at anyone's doorstep except my own.
I was doing very well at the time but when a high developement loan was suggested, I saw the possibility that I might be able to setup a simple manufacturing business in much the same way that fiddles were produced in Mittenwald in the late 19th early 20th Cent which provided low cost, hand-made, high quality instruments.
Perhaps I became too ambitious. I most certainly had no idea as to the pitfalls of banks & finance!
I learnt a lot from it, but from a personal point of view I paid a high price for the lessons.
I did write to my MP later about the bank's solicitors coming after my house like frenzy feeding sharks, but I got the standard secretarial response.
Loosing everything is no big deal when you don't have much.

Kind regards - John Timpany.

#24 john T

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 03:15 AM

That's the book Dave.
It's been out of print for a long time now.
There were some web sites (predominantly USA sites) selling extant copies, but I don't know how much for, but if you consider that our records which once sold for £7.50 or so are now selling at £100+, then it might just be worth more than you paid.

I don't blame you for choosing the concertina, the notes are much easier to find.
I still prefer fiddle though.

I learnt from the late Arnold Woodley, who learnt from Jinky Wells, and after Jinky died assumed his role as Bampton Morris (A team I think) musician. I spent hours upon hours watching, listening and copying him, which is how it used to be passed down. The book came about from notating his bow movements.

Kind regards - John Timpany.

#25 john T

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 03:25 AM

Small correction to my manufacturing note under Shire Concertinas.

The reed pans require 6 router templates per type of instrument.
For each side there are two frame slot cutting templates (upper and lower) and one 'through slot' template for the reed vibration space & air passage.

Sorry for the mistake.

Kind regards - John Timpany.

#26 stevejay

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 06:18 PM

Small correction to my manufacturing note under Shire Concertinas.

The reed pans require 6 router templates per type of instrument.
For each side there are two frame slot cutting templates (upper and lower) and one 'through slot' template for the reed vibration space & air passage.

Sorry for the mistake.

Kind regards - John Timpany.



John

This was a fascinating story. They were fine looking concertinas, if things could have been different. Sorry. Thank you for sharing this.

#27 john T

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 07:47 AM

Stevejay - thank you very much indeed.

In fact I would like to thank all of you.

Shire concertinas left a cloud over my head and I must admit it wasn't easy for me to post here.
It was one of the reasons why I never went back to playing music professionally, since I felt like a pariah from the collapse of the business.

Thank you very much.

Kind regards - John Timpany

#28 McIsog

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Posted 28 May 2008 - 11:21 PM

John T,

If you are still 'on the line' - who taught you how to make a concertina? Beyond the padding, valving and tuning? Ie - how did you figure out processes like the jig configuration for the reed pans? Was it trial and error or did you have someone show you around a shop and tools required to get the job done?

Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. The pictures of your instrument are very sharp looking.

Dan

#29 Anglogeezer

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Posted 29 May 2008 - 03:15 PM

Stevejay - thank you very much indeed.

In fact I would like to thank all of you.

Shire concertinas left a cloud over my head and I must admit it wasn't easy for me to post here.
It was one of the reasons why I never went back to playing music professionally, since I felt like a pariah from the collapse of the business.

Thank you very much.

Kind regards - John Timpany

*************************
Seeing that I started this thread!
I would like to thank John Timpany for telling us his side of the "Shire" story.
I would also like to welcome him to Concertina.net and look forward to him sharing his knowledge and expertise with us.
As for playing, get back out there John!!

regards
Jake

#30 Chris Timson

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Posted 30 May 2008 - 06:08 AM

I would like to thank John Timpany for telling us his side of the "Shire" story.
I would also like to welcome him to Concertina.net and look forward to him sharing his knowledge and expertise with us.
As for playing, get back out there John!!

Hear hear! And well said.

Chris

#31 Rod

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Posted 20 June 2008 - 09:03 AM

Having now listened to the majority of the 'You Tube' Concertina performances featured on Concertina.net I am getting the impression that my Shire concertina has a sweeter, more mellow tone than the average instrument. There could of course be all sorts of reasons to explain this perceived impression.

(1) The sound system on my run-of-the-mill lap-top computer may be incapable of doing any sort of music anything like full justice.

(2) The accoustic qualities of the various venues in which many of these performances take place may often leave much to be desired.

(3) There will presumably be a tendency for performers, in order to satisfy a sometimes boisterous audience, to have acquired the habit of playing at greater volume than someone like me would ever dream of applying, or consider appropriate, when playing purely for my own pleasure in the privacy of my own home. (I have no wish to alarm the neighbours !)

I wonder if it is this last suggestion which answers my question. Could it be that excessive volume is destroying these instrument's inherent sweet and mellow tone..... assuming of course that they ever had it in the first place ?

Perhaps I am missing the whole point . Perhaps a sweet and mellow tone is the last thing in the world that many concertina players would consider to be an appropriate goal. I rest my case !

#32 m3838

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Posted 20 June 2008 - 02:47 PM

I wonder if it is this last suggestion which answers my question. Could it be that excessive volume is destroying these instrument's inherent sweet and mellow tone..... assuming of course that they ever had it in the first place ?

May be it's the mike used for recording? It may also be done in the room that doesn't have studio acoutstics. It may also have to do with your incorrect perception of your own instrument. Have you recorded it? Try it and put on Youtube, they you'll have an answer, perhaps. I know I'm always dismayed by the recorded sound, tinny and weak, with bare bones expression, and here I am sitting and thinking I gave it all I could.
It could also be the habit of many players to play loudly in sessions. The instruments they aquire may be suitable for jamming on the outside, but not at quiet home performance. Another issue is the quality. Your instrument may be able to speak quietly with good voice and dynamics. Mine has to be pushed a little to start.
But mainly I think it's the conversion process from your recorded audio to Youtube output, that loses quality. So you have to be careful when setting the preferences for recording.
Am I off?

#33 Rod

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Posted 21 June 2008 - 02:39 AM

I wonder if it is this last suggestion which answers my question. Could it be that excessive volume is destroying these instrument's inherent sweet and mellow tone..... assuming of course that they ever had it in the first place ?

May be it's the mike used for recording? It may also be done in the room that doesn't have studio acoutstics. It may also have to do with your incorrect perception of your own instrument. Have you recorded it? Try it and put on Youtube, they you'll have an answer, perhaps. I know I'm always dismayed by the recorded sound, tinny and weak, with bare bones expression, and here I am sitting and thinking I gave it all I could.
It could also be the habit of many players to play loudly in sessions. The instruments they aquire may be suitable for jamming on the outside, but not at quiet home performance. Another issue is the quality. Your instrument may be able to speak quietly with good voice and dynamics. Mine has to be pushed a little to start.
But mainly I think it's the conversion process from your recorded audio to Youtube output, that loses quality. So you have to be careful when setting the preferences for recording.
Am I off?


Yes M3838, I'm sure you are correct. It is unfair of me to judge quality of others peformance from the harsh, tinny reception that is regurgitated from my lap-top. I have scant understanding of the technology involved but perhaps the answer would be to down-load onto a disc which can then be replayed on superior sound equipment ? Perhaps it requires 'digitally remastering'....whatever that means.

#34 john T

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Posted 24 August 2008 - 06:31 PM

John T,

If you are still 'on the line' - who taught you how to make a concertina? Beyond the padding, valving and tuning? Ie - how did you figure out processes like the jig configuration for the reed pans? Was it trial and error or did you have someone show you around a shop and tools required to get the job done?

Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. The pictures of your instrument are very sharp looking.

Dan


Thanks Dan, and sorry not to have replied sooner.
No-one taught me any aspect of concertina manufacture.
I started by tuning them using a tuning fork (one only in 'C') and tuning 5ths to 2 beats per sec out so I culd work up through all the octaves.

One day a friend asked me to make an appalachian dulcimer & a spice rack - (I never did tune that!) and his gift in return was a hand made electronic tuning system. It sat on my bench for a good six months out of sheer bloody mindedness to continuing tuning traditionally, but of course one day I set it up, and concertina tuning turned from being a sad back burner job that I mostly avoided, to being the most profitable and by far the most interesting.

Most of the instruments that arrived in my workshop needed more than just tuning. Pads were broken and worn, valves missing, springs not working or broken etc, and one by one I found ways of getting the right materials to make them.

The bellows were a particularly difficult adventure, and I went down the new route of using ABS nylon for the jig, which had to collapse after the bellows were assembled, since ABS can be washed clean of all glue after without warping.

All initial developments were extremely expensive and had to be right first time. I couldn't experiment with jigs, I just had to get them right first time.

I based most of what I built (as I did with violins and especially bows) on the best makers that I could find, which didn't mean mine came out just as good. They came out different, but in aiming high, mostly things were better than not aiming at all.

I determined on a set of 9 reed frames and reeds, which then formed the basis of the reed pan structure. Once reed frame sizes were settled, I then knew the size or the frame slot at the surface, I could calculate the 'break out' bevelling of the frame during pressing, and could then work out the angle of the cutting blade on the router for routing frame slots.

I got one or two wrong on the original, but by packing the sides of the slot either side with slivers of sycamore (the wood I used for the pans) It worked out well.

I used sycamore because of its stability, workability and resonance. (Maple, a close cousin is used for violin backs & sides) I did seem to soften the tone.
I used pear for the sides of the lever & button housings which I stained black.
Marine ply was used for the base of these housings, since it was very stable & I had seen so many bases warped and it didn't affect tone as I found in repair work.

The big advantage of repair is that it is an area where you can experiment and replace if it doesn't work out.

The sides of the bellows frames were also sycamore, but I did try beech too which was heavier, harder to work, but made the overall 'feel' of the instrument weightier but yet more easily played.

The leather on the bellows and valves was pneumatic leather, which was used originally and more popularly for church organ pheumatic valve sides. (I had repaired a couple of organs).

What was the trickiest job, was once the stutting was glued in place on the outer side of the reed pans. It was very irregular and had to be sanded flat. Well, sanded so that it married up with the under side of the button & lever housing.
From my experience as an engineer, I knew that hand sanding would 'dome' this strutting, so I devised a sanding bed that was marginally cameo as opposed to intaglio so that sanding resulted in flat strutting.
The leather I used on top of the struts was an inner calf skin cut so it was 'sueded' on both sides and under pressure gave a good seal.

I used this inner leather calf for the insides of the bellows frames, and at the bottom of the pads too.
As long as it was under pressure, it didn't leak. I had tried pneumatic on the pads, but astonishingly it leaked very slightly.

I used artist card for the top of the pad, moth proof felt in between and then leather.
The glues used were mostly modern woodworking (upv?) adhesives, but on some occassions rabbit skin glue softened in a glue kettle.

I hope that covers your question.

Kind regards - John T

#35 john T

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Posted 24 August 2008 - 08:06 PM

Seeing that I started this thread!
I would like to thank John Timpany for telling us his side of the "Shire" story.
I would also like to welcome him to Concertina.net and look forward to him sharing his knowledge and expertise with us.
As for playing, get back out there John!!

regards
Jake



Thanks very much Jake.
Kind words heal many wounds.

Kind regards, John T.




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