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The Tiny 'Tina goes home.


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Well we have had a great day. I travelled down to Bishops Stortford with Sarah to meet Geoff Crabb and his lovely wife Jean.

 

I had arranged with Geoff to take the little concertina to reacquaint it and to let Geoff give us his professional opinion on its condition, how it sounds and plays and some info on its history. To recap on what I had found out about it:

It is a Crabb Midget made in 1929 by Geoff's grandpa, Henry Thomas Crabb. It was made as his own midget and differs from the norm in a couple of ways. Normally these were built with either 6 or 8 fold bellows however this one has 9 folds. It has twelve buttons but positioned slightly different from the norm. When chatting to Geoff he noticed this and said that it might have been done this way as his Grandpa's preference.

 

Unfortunately a year after making it, Geoff's grandpa passed away and the company passed to his father 'Harry', who at the age of 19 took over the well established, well respected company. Whilst it was a different era then, I just can't imagine what it must have been like for a guy of that age to take on that kind of responsibility. Geoff has a lovely folder of photo's about the business and the family and he showed us a photo of Harry as young man standing in front of the shop in Liverpool Road. It was a year after he took over in 1930 and he looked like a guy who was happy with his lot.

 

It has been well documented on the interweb the history of the business but, and I discussed this with Geoff, I was surprised that the guy I was meeting, the guy who remained as the last surviving maker involved with the firm, was this ordinary working class North Londoner. I have to admit I was a little bit in awe of meeting this guy who, in the concertina world, is a bit of a celebrity. I had my ideas about what this man might be like. OK I'd already said to him, through emails, that I had seen his photo on the 'Who are we thread' on the forum and commented that I had laughed with Sarah that he didn't look like the bearded, Morris dancing, real ale drinking concertina type. But I was kind of expecting him to be a chap that was a fourth generation, high quality instrument business making owner. Large family estate house, Bentley/Rolls Royce on the drive. A posh bloke! How wrong can you be and I'm sure the guys who personally know Geoff will be laughing at this out loud.

 

Now, my wife is a Tottenham girl, and as Geoff's wife is a Tottenham girl also, they immediately hit it off, with Jean chatting about the old sights and places they both remembered. I, in turn, immediately found Geoff to be a lovely guy, easy to talk to and laugh with.

 

I know Geoff will not want me to tell you all this but despite the persona he gives off on the forum as a quiet, helpful but discrete fellow he is the funniest bloke you could have an afternoon with. Both Sarah and I were in stitches as he and Jean recalled stories about the business, their life in London and the experiences that they have had with people met through the concertina world. I'm not going to spend time recounting all these but one that I will mention gives a little bit of an insight into his Dads work ethic, the nature of the guy and the way the business was run.

 

The making of the 'tinas' took place in the workshop behind the shop. If a guy came into the shop to browse it was fine. If however that guy decided to put his two penneth into how they could improve the production or manufacture of these quality hand made instruments, Dad would stick his head out from the back workshop, ask if the person if he was buying, and if not, in a typically North London way, politely tell him to 'vacate' the premises and let the guys get on with making tinas for people who actually wanted them. He knew what he was doing, knew how much work was put into making them and would not want time wasted. Geoff's way of recalling this was so funny and I'm sure you can imagine the way he told this.

 

That work ethic would have them working from early morning to at least six o clock in the evening, Monday to Saturday. It was longer before the family moved out of the shop premises into a home down the road. Before then it would be normal for dad to go back to the workbench after his evening meal until late in the evening.

 

Geoff looked over the little Tina and pulled out his own Midget that he had made in 2008. We put them next to each other and it was like seeing twins. These two were separated by eighty years and yet they were almost identical. There were minor differences and Geoff explained that his had a plastic veneer around the endbox sides as it resisted showing the knocks and scratches that occur during normal use. He told us that ours had 'ebonised' pear wood veneered sides. The fretwork on each were both hand cut but what showed ours as having the age was the circular pattern as opposed to the hexagonal pattern on the later ones. Ours also has the Crabb name hand engraved rather than the later stamped version. Apart from that, and the slightly different button positions mentioned earlier, they were almost identical. Geoff had made his four years ago yet it was from the same patterns that are over eighty plus years old.

 

He then showed us some of his other beautiful 'tinas, English, Anglo & Duet including a fantastic Anglo Geoff made at the time of our Queens Silver Jubilee with a royal crest and dated. Each one a work of art and having a quality of sound that blew me away sending shivers through me. Each was housed in its own box that in turn oozed quality. True masterpieces.

He explained the differences between the instruments, the button layouts and how they related to the scales on a piano, I'm no musician yet the way he explained it, it all made sense. He also explained the way the buttons on our little one were set out and why. Geoff told me that he still makes the occasional instrument but unlike the work times when deadlines were met and orders needed to be filled, now, it's just because he can.

 

Jean rolled her eyes a few times and Sarah had laughed with her at my interest and Geoff's enthusiasm that is still there after all these years of working in the industry. To me it was a total pleasure and privilege to be chatting and laughing with this lovely couple and to listen to a true master talking about his skills, his experience and techniques.

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Well we have had a great day. I travelled down to Bishops Stortford with Sarah to meet Geoff Crabb and his lovely wife Jean.

 

 

When my Morris team (the Foggy Bottom Morris Men) danced in Cambridge 2 years ago, Geoff responded to my C.net posting about our visit and came into town to watch us and chat.

 

What a delightful man, and a living piece of concertina history.

 

 

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What a lovely insight. This is probably a question for Geoff, but as he is making less instruments now, has he passed on some of his skills to any current makers, did he ever take apprentices?

 

Sounds like you had a great visit.

 

Simon it was a great visit, Geoff really is a lovely guy to chat to and is extremely knowledgable about his craft. It will be for him to answer your questions which I'm sure he will.

 

Jim it doesn't surprise me at all.

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What a lovely insight. This is probably a question for Geoff, but as he is making less instruments now, has he passed on some of his skills to any current makers, did he ever take apprentices?

 

Sounds like you had a great visit.

 

Simon apologies for a tardy response.

It is not possible to pass on skills, all one can do is demonstrate or explain the processes. Skill is acquired with constant personal practice.

 

Unfortunately the skills that I have acquired in concertina making are now regarded as old fashioned by many, being overtaken to some extent by modern technology. This is probably not a bad thing as many of the tasks that were arduous, mundane or time consuming, I am told, can been carried out much easier. I believe I have reached the age when I can say "If I was forty years younger and had the money I would certainly employ that modern technology as much as possible".

 

I suppose my role in the last ten years has been as mentor offering advice, when requested, to those considering making and I hope that, at least, some small part of what I have provided has proved useful.

Because of the precarious nature of the concertina trade for many years there was never enough income to support the engagement of apprentices. Then when trade did pick up with the revival in the 1960's there was never time to devote to train anybody from scratch due the pressure of meeting orders on the books and dealing with repairs.

 

Only one person, with existing skills adaptable to concertina making, worked with the firm for a number of years and went on to become a maker in his own right.

 

Although I do receive applications from various people worldwide to learn 'hands on' the making process, there is a whole raft of circumstances that make this impossible.

 

Geoffrey

Thanks all for the kind words.

Edited by Geoffrey Crabb
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