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John Kelly and disposable instruments


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Last week a friend passed on story to me originating with John Kelly of Clare, about how in the old days a collection would be taken up for a wake to buy a concertina for the dancing; these instruments were so cheap they were only up for a single night of playing before falling apart! I thought that sounded a bit extreme, nothing could be that flimsy.

 

Curiously enough last night I found the very same story in an old issue of Ceol Tíre, the Journal of the Folk Music Society of Ireland: Ceol Tíre 19, March 1981. Here is the relevant passage, taken from a brief article about John:

 

The half-crown instruments available in Clare, generally bought from drapers in the town, were of poor quality with paper bellows and bad keys, and were often finished after one night's hard playing. But their sound was preferred by dancers to that of the fiddle. Some dancers even preferred lilters.
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The same story exists in Australia.Here it takes the form; at the end of the dance the concertina was raffled off as its best days were done.

 

These were not the concertinas we know today, they were the German concertinas which flooded the world, cheap and cheerful. For a good history read Dan Worrall's book The Anglo Concertina...

 

Chris

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This rings true enough if you ever saw one of the concertinas they used. Frank, the archivist at Teach Ceol in Ennis (out on the Gort Road)showed me one that had survived, and I'd say it wouldn't last more than a night in a loud environment:-)

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Paul Groff told a group of us a similar story and showed us one of the "disposable" concertinas he had in his collection. I think it was like you guys described, an old 20 button German concertina. If I'm remembering right, he said they'd pool resources, buy one and basically play to death in one night.

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There were many different grades of German concertina; some were just fine. The problem was ususally the paper and cardboard bellows on the very cheap ones. Sean Minnie showed me a cheap 70s East German concertina the other day....they were among the worst...where he (or was it Greg J) had replaced the paper corners with leather or plastic. Amazing how it transformed a cheapie into an interesting instrument; very tight and not a bad player.

 

You would get what you pay for. John Kelly told a story of how nice was the German concertina of his childhood instructor, a woman from the next town.

 

I have a 'new' German-style concertina made in South Africa, with reasonable cardboard bellows with leather corners, and it is both tight and long-lasting.

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