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Stephen Chambers

Alf Edwards' Concertina Sold On Ebay

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Following on from the thread Alf Edwards Recordings Sold On Ebay, I can now report that his concertina was also sold on eBay, only last week, and (seeing that nobody else seems to have recognised it) I was very happy to be the purchaser.

 

I last saw the instrument at a rehearsal of the Kensington Quartet in Alf's flat, and subsequetly at the ICA Festival (which they won in their class) in 1973, but it is illustrated both on the front cover of, and in detail inside, Wheatstone's Instructions For the English Concertina by Alfred Edwards [1960]:

 

AlfEdwards.jpg

 

Alf's playing of this instrument, at the International Concertina Association, on classical 78s and with folk dance bands in the 1950s, for the 1956 John Huston film adaptation of Moby Dick and especially the recordings he made accompanying the likes of Bert Lloyd (beginning with The Iron Muse in 1956), Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger (including the Radio Ballads, 1958-64), Trevor Lucas (1966) and Frank Harte (1967) would have influenced many people (including myself) to take up the concertina in years gone by, even before we'd heard of Free Reed and "Concertina Consciousness" (sorry Neil!). The music of Alf Edwards was absolutely at the vanguard of "the concertina revival" and I would consider his famous gilt Æola to be its most precious icon...

 

Accordingly, it was an awesome experience to take it out of its case, when it was delivered, and be the first person to play it since his death in 1985:

 

DSCF5457a.jpg

Edited by Stephen Chambers

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Wow, well done. Glad he didn't play the duet or I'd be wondering what I'd missed.

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Glad he didn't play the duet or I'd be wondering what I'd missed.

 

Though I did once have an Æola duet with similarly gilt bellows, and mother-of-pearl buttons sewn onto the handstraps, which had belonged to a "Pearly King".

Edited by Stephen Chambers

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No, not jealous at all...

 

Not even slightly...

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Alf's Æola has thrown up a few surprises though; to start with it bears the old-style "pointy" Best Labels that started to be replaced by the new-style Best Ring Labels around #31600 (the Shagreen {sharkskin} Æola for Helen Kennedy) in July 1927, yet its number is 34523 and it was made almost ten years later than that in April/May 1937.

 

DSCF5452.jpg

DSCF5454.jpg

 

It is described in the Ledger (SD03, p.4) as "Chro capped metals} Gilt sides 48 keys" and indeed it (unusually for the time) has metal ends that are chrome-plated (harder-wearing and brighter for stage use) and capped/wrapped over a lip on top of the sides of the action box (a stronger construction than normal, as the metal is then both protecting and clamping together the wooden sides), also the sides are of a naturally golden colour as they are veneered with varnished fiddleback maple, and the six-fold bellows are maroon leather. The sides and bellows were originally painted gold, but that is now very worn.

 

DSCF5456.jpg

 

Internally it has the plywood action board and hook action to be expected in an instrument of this era, using aluminium Lachenal-style levers and brass pivots.

 

DSCF5449.jpg

 

When I first took Alf's concertina out of its case, it was a bit reluctant to speak after 22 years of silence, but after a little playing it is starting to find its voice again. The sound is becoming decidedly "trumpety", despite the fact that an overhaul (especially replacement of the valves) is badly needed.

Edited by Stephen Chambers

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STEPHEN: VERY NICE. . . . .we should mate it with the Boris Matusewitch (a good friend of Alf's) concertina that i have. . . . .perhaps they would spawn a family of super concertinas. . . . . . . .Boris's is somewhat older. . . .vintage

W.W. I. . . . . .

 

Peggy S. did not have very nice words to say about A.E. . . . . .rather unappreciative of the tremendously talented musician that he was.............Allan

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Interestingly the discussion about the rare recordings of Alfred Edwards didn't produce any volunteers to offer at least some of the tracks for the publick use. Now with the ever changing technology, making it easier to produce mp3, is it reasonable to ask again about perhabs a couple of tracks?

Or perhabs you can copy LP into a CD and offer for sale through this forum? I'm sure there will be many takers.

I hope the music is not, what is suggested by the gold plating.

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Congratulations Stephen a wonderful find.

One of the great pleasures of doing English International was to hear the many recordings of Alf Edwards playing this concertina.His early playing of that instrument was just fantastic,"Russian Rag" and " Mitzi" as two examples, I have listened to over and over again (both will be on English International) .His importance to the English System cannot be under estimated. His later work with Ewan McColl will be well remembered by "Shoals of Herring".

With the recent sale of Tommy Elliott's Concertina to Juliette .We now have two famous concertinas being played again.

 

Al

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Interestingly the discussion about the rare recordings of Alfred Edwards didn't produce any volunteers to offer at least some of the tracks for the publick use.

 

It's already happening; as Alan Day has mentioned, I volunteered mine for English International.

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STEPHEN: VERY NICE. . . . .we should mate it with the Boris Matusewitch (a good friend of Alf's) concertina that i have. . . . .perhaps they would spawn a family of super concertinas. . . . . . . .Boris's is somewhat older. . . .vintage

W.W. I. . . . . .

Allan,

 

Then it sounds like (at least in theory) Boris had the better instrument. I think the biggest surprise for me (apart from getting it in the first place) was to discover that Alf, who was such a huge influence on both classical and folk concertina players in Britain in the past half-century, played such a relatively late and (in theory) inferior instrument. It just goes to show what a skilled musician can overcome, and what lots of playing can do to improve an instrument.

 

Peggy S. did not have very nice words to say about A.E. . . . . .rather unappreciative of the tremendously talented musician that he was.............Allan

Was this something to do with his needing "the dots"? Though I understand that he learned to survive without them after working with her for a while...

 

For those who don't know, maybe I should add that Alf was "of the fourth generation of a musical family connected with the theatrical and circus profession for a hundred years". As well as the concertina (on which he first broadcast in 1928) he also played the violin, piano, Saxophone, clarinet, bagpipes, ocarina and (in some famous dance bands) the trombone.

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Several of Alf's instruments reside here in Sydney, though perhaps I should say instruments that were obtained from Alf, because I have no information that they were necessarily instruments he played a lot, and do not have to the best of my knowledge personalisation like the gold paint this one has. One, which he gave to the late Ray (Skippy) Goninon, was the prototype for the Mayfair, though nothing like the production models I'm told. Another is an Aeola with gold buttons and amboyna ends. The same owner also has a Bandoneon made by Arnold which has English fingering. I thnk the story went, when he bought the Aeola, Alf threw in the Bandoneon as a sweetener.

 

Chris

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Several of Alf's instruments reside here in Sydney, though perhaps I should say instruments that were obtained from Alf, because I have no information that they were necessarily instruments he played a lot, and do not have to the best of my knowledge personalisation like the gold paint this one has.

Chris,

 

Well obviously Alf did have other concertinas over the years, indeed he made his first broadcast on the concertina 9 years before the gilt instrument was even made, and only this morning I received an email that describes Alf "down on the studio floor surrounded by a sea of different concertinas" during the recording of Singing the Fishing, but this is the one that he is most associated with and played all the time.

 

For that matter, Jim Harvey offered to sell me a "Saxophone concertina" that was made specially for Alf, but I was new to concertinas at the time and simply wanted to find a good playing instrument, not a freak... I wonder what became of that one?

 

The same owner also has a Bandoneon made by Arnold which has English fingering.

Now that sounds really interesting, I was only saying last night that I'd like a Bandoneon with English fingering... :huh:

Edited by Stephen Chambers

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STEPHEN and folks: PRECISELY!. . . .it had to do with the "dots". . . . .that he could not improvise easily and needed everything written out for him. . . . .i believe you'll find the reference in the article by Stuart Eydmann in volume 4 (i think) of the British Journal of Ethnomusicology, which, i believe has now changed its name to British Forum for Ethnomusicology (or something close to that). . . . . . .

 

i've met Peggy S. twice. . . . .i'll say nothing more...............Allan

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STEPHEN AND FOLKS: two things:

 

(1) a bandoneon with English fingering. . . . .in principle it sounds fantastic. . . . .we could all be "faux" Piazzolla's. . . . .BUT: bear in mind that the bandoneon is a heavier, somewhat clumsier instrument than the English. . . . .and that the bellows extend much further. . . .i wonder what it would be like to have to constantly alternate the hands just to play a scale with the bellows that far out. . . . .i'll say this: for the past few years i've been playing on an 1870s instrument with FOUR-fold bellows. . . . . .when i switch to my six-fold bellows AEola (Boris's instrument) i fell as though i'm losing control. . . . . .

 

(2) another "famous" concertina: the one that belonged to Burl Ives resides in the BASEMENT of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York...........allan

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PRECISELY!. . . .it had to do with the "dots". . . . .that he could not improvise easily and needed everything written out for him. . . . .i believe you'll find the reference in the article by Stuart Eydmann in volume 4 (i think) of the British Journal of Ethnomusicology, which, i believe has now changed its name to British Forum for Ethnomusicology (or something close to that). . . . . . .

That would be his paper The concertina as an emblem of the folk music revival in the British Isles then, which can now be read online at Concertina.com. In it he says:

 

[Ewan] MacColl recalls the musical preparations for these [Radio Ballads]:

 

Peggy spent a fortnight making and writing out the musical arrangements and compiling tapes and scores for the musicians. Some of the scores had whole sections left in them for the musicians to improvise (which baffled Alf Edwards, the concertina wizard, for the first three or four radio ballads; he afterwards became quite proficient at, as he put it, surviving without the dots). (MacColl 1990: 324)

And also:

 

Bob Blair of Kirkcaldy (now Glasgow) was a member of the [Critics] group at that time and recalls that the musical skill and proselytizing zeal of Peggy Seeger was a major force in spreading the gospel of concertina playing in the revival:

 

Peggy's theories were quite clear on the use of the concertina. … Peggy had quite, a quite strong theory of accompaniment, how songs should be accompanied, certainly how British songs should be accompanied as distinct to American and the concertina lends itself to the style of accompaniment quite remarkably. Oh, without a doubt! Alf [Edwards] was the first guy [but] Alf was restricted. Alf always used music. Alf would not accompany Ewan or anybody without a bit o' music in front of them and that certainly didnae fit into Ewan's scheme o' things or the way he saw music performed.

 

As Peggy learned the concertina he stopped using Alf. … Peggy's accompaniments … fit in with her theory of how songs should be accompanied: never interfering with the singer, adding to them, lifting the song occasionally, putting a wee tag in if necessary but never interfering with the song. (interview, iv.94)

Though Peter Cox, who interviewed Peggy earlier this year, has told me that she "had nothing but praise for Alf".

Edited by Stephen Chambers

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... a bandoneon with English fingering. . . . .in principle it sounds fantastic. . . . .we could all be "faux" Piazzolla's. . . . .BUT: bear in mind that the bandoneon is a heavier, somewhat clumsier instrument than the English. . . . .and that the bellows extend much further. . . .i wonder what it would be like to have to constantly alternate the hands just to play a scale with the bellows that far out. . . . .

Allan,

 

Larger and heavier yes, but Bandoneon players seem to manage them ok, and you don't have to pull the bellows out all the way... But I've been thinking about this in the meantime, and I believe the way to go would be to save a lot of size and weight by making such an instrument single action, somewhat like a bass English, but playing only on the more expressive draw notes (Piazzola-style!) rather than on the press. Maybe I'll build it, one of these days...

Edited by Stephen Chambers

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STEPHEN: i may be wrong. . . .but in the videos that i've seen of Piazzolla. . . . .he seems to play with the bellows moving in both directions. . . . .correct me (or anyone else correct me) if i'm wrong. . . .in addition, based again on the few videos that i've seen, don't most of the argentine players (i'm talking about the guys from the thirties and fourties) play on the draw. . . . .or am i wrong twice in so short a space. . . .wouldn't be the first time............allan

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...in the videos that i've seen of Piazzolla. . . . .he seems to play with the bellows moving in both directions. . . . .

Allan, he played "both ways" (so to speak! :rolleyes: ), though he made an art of playing on the draw. But my point was really that if I were to make one for myself, there could be advantages in what I described.

 

Meanwhile, I'd love to see this Alfred Arnold "beast" down-under. I wonder if they'd be interested in selling it... :unsure:

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