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Concertinas In Literature

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Just finished reading "The Pioneer Years 1895-1914" by Barry Broadfoot. A collection of recollected stories about the homesteaders who came to the Candadian prairies after reading land promoter propaganda - yes if it sounds to good to be true it is, these folks were told they could plant peach orchards in northern Saskatchewan!


Anyway, there is a neat little story told by an old timer who formed a dance band that travelled from village to village to make some money (a scarce thing amongst the homesteaders). Three brothers, and a friend. One played banjo, one played concertina, and one played violin. Plus their friend who played saxophone. The addition of a saxophone seems odd, but then the sax player was the only one of these farm boys who could read sheet music. They called themselves "The Night Riders". They would travel by horse drawn sled through the Saskatchewan winters (think -40 C) to play at local dances. They were expected to play from 8 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. for $6 (total pay for the group)and thought that was fair. They played waltz, two-step, foxtrot, and square dance music.


Can't think how they integrated the saxophone into some of the dance music, but it must have been an interesting group to hear.

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  • 1 year later...

I am currently reading "South", the story of Ernest Shackleston's 1914-1917 expedition.

In chapter 4, the end of the Endurance, I read:


"Every one of the starboard cabins had been crushed.

the whole of the after part of the ship had been crushed concertina fashion."


- John Wild

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I am currently reading "South", the story of Ernest Shackleston's 1914-1917 expedition.

In chapter 4, the end of the Endurance, I read:


"Every one of the starboard cabins had been crushed.

the whole of the after part of the ship had been crushed concertina fashion."


Which raises the question, "In what fashion does one crush a concertina?" ;)


It's apparently difficult, since I've known two different individuals who drove their cars over their concertinas, and in both cases the damage to the concertina was minimal. :)

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  • 1 year later...
Just found this:


Note what the rather angelic larrikin member of the push is playing to his Doreen.

It is the front cover of a 1957 edition of "The Sentimental Bloke" by C.J.Dennis - the "Laureate of the Larrikin"

Illustrated by Hal Gye.

(if my link works)

Edited by Rod Thompson
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And don't forget Henry Lawson's poem "The Good Old Concertina"


'Twas merry when the hut was full
Of jolly girls and fellows.
We danced and sang until we burst
The concertina's bellows.
From distant Darling to the sea,
From the Downs to Riverina,
Has e'er a gum in all the west
Not heard the concertina?

'Twas peaceful round the campfire blaze,
The long white branches o'er us;
We'd play the tunes of bygone days,
To some good old bush chorus.
Old Erin's harp may sweeter be,
The Scottish pipes blow keener;
But sing an old bush song for me
To the good old concertina.

'Twas cosy by the hut-fire bright
When the pint pot passed between us;
We drowned the voice of the stormy night
With the good old concertina's.
Though trouble drifts along the years,
And the pangs of care grow keener,
My heart is gladdened when it hears
That good old concertina.

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Lawson's poem "Song of the old bullock driver" contains the lines:


And sing to the sound of an old concertina
Their rugged old songs where strange fancies were linked.


And his short story "Going Blind" contains four mentions:


He was a typical bushman, not one of those tall, straight, wiry, brown men of the West, but from the old Selection Districts, where many drovers came from, and of the old bush school; one of those slight active little fellows whom we used to see in cabbage-tree hats, Crimean shirts, strapped trousers, and elastic-side boots —“larstins,” they called them. They could dance well; sing indifferently, and mostly through their noses, the old bush songs; play the concertina horribly; and ride like — like — well, they could ride.



Going in next day I thought for a moment that I had dropped suddenly back into the past and into a bush dance, for there was a concertina going upstairs. He was sitting on the bed, with his legs crossed, and a new cheap concertina on his knee, and his eyes turned to the patch of ceiling as if it were a piece of music and he could read it. “I’m trying to knock a few tunes into my head,” he said, with a brave smile, “in case the worst comes to the worst.” He tried to be cheerful, but seemed worried and anxious. The letter hadn’t come. I thought of the many blind musicians in Sydney, and I thought of the bushman’s chance, standing at a corner swanking a cheap concertina, and I felt sorry for him.

Mentioned again in his "Shanty on the Rise"

Jimmy came to me and whispered, and I muttered, `Go along!'

But he shouted, `Mr. Swaller will oblige us with a song!'
And at first I said I wouldn't, and I shammed a little too,
Till the girls began to whisper, `Mr. Swallow, now, ah, DO!'
So I sang a song of something 'bout the love that never dies,
And the chorus shook the rafters of the Shanty on the Rise.

Jimmy burst his concertina, and the bullock-drivers went
For the corpse of Joe the Fiddler, who was sleeping in his tent;
Joe was tired and had lumbago, and he wouldn't come, he said,
But the case was very urgent, so they pulled him out of bed;
And they fetched him, for the bushmen knew that Something-in-Disguise
Had a cure for Joe's lumbago in the Shanty on the Rise.


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And speaking of Lawson, the ACT Government has gazetted the placenames to be used in a new subdivision of the Canberra suburb of Lawson. The names are taken from the writer's works, and include a Concertina Street. The listing and map can be found at: http://www.legislation.act.gov.au/di/2013-228/current/pdf/2013-228.pdf



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Just to add to the collection: Robert Louis Stevenson, in his short story "The Isle of Voices" in "South Sea Tales" has a character Keola so desperate to acquire a concertina that tries to blackmail the island sorcerer into buying him one. Not a good idea it turns out.



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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi, All

nice to read you again.

I just picked up Willa Cather's O, Pioneers; Her Swedish Immigrant settlers on the Nebraska prairies often pick up and moodily squeeze what she writes as a "dragharmonika", which the footnotes define as "a concertina".

Given the often loose definitions we've seen here, this could be any number of squeezebox contraptions, but let's just assume that it is our little hexagonal friend.

Great book, by the way.




edited: "drag" rather than "grab"

Edited by Robert Booth
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last Saturday, there was a broadcast of Under Milk Wood, by Dylan Thomas.

I have not noticed this line before, but there is a mention of concertinas. Look for the quote from the "fourth drowned" :-

        SECOND VOICEnever such seas as any that swamped the decks of his _S.S.Kidwelly_ bellying over the bedclothes and jellyfish-slipperysucking him down salt deep into the Davy dark where the fishcome biting out and nibble him down to his wishbone, andthe long drowned nuzzle up to him.        FIRST DROWNEDRemember me, Captain?        CAPTAIN CATYou're Dancing Williams!        FIRST DROWNEDI lost my step in Nantucket.        SECOND DROWNEDDo you see me, Captain? the white bone talking? I'm Tom-Fredthe donkeyman...we shared the same girl once...her name wasMrs Probert...        WOMAN'S VOICERosie Probert, thirty three Duck Lane. Come on up, boys,I'm dead.        THIRD DROWNEDHold me, Captain, I'm Jonah Jarvis, come to a bad end, veryenjoyable.        FOURTH DROWNEDAlfred Pomeroy Jones, sea-lawyer, born in Mumbles, sunglike a linnet, crowned you with a flagon, tattooed withmermaids, thirst like a dredger, died of blisters.        FIRST DROWNEDThis skull at your earhole is        FIFTH DROWNEDCurly Bevan. Tell my auntie it was me that pawned he ormoluclock.        CAPTAIN CATAye, aye, Curly.        SECOND DROWNEDTell my missus no I never        THIRD DROWNEDI never done what she said I never.        FOURTH DROWNEDYes they did.        FIFTH DROWNEDAnd who brings coconuts and shawls and parrots to _my_Gwen now?        FIRST DROWNEDHow's it above?        SECOND DROWNEDIs there rum and laverbread?        THIRD DROWNEDBosoms and robins?        FOURTH DROWNEDConcertinas?        FIFTH DROWNEDEbenezer's bell?        FIRST DROWNEDFighting and onions?        SECOND DROWNEDAnd sparrows and daisies?        THIRD DROWNEDTiddlers in a jamjar?        FOURTH DROWNEDButtermilk and whippets?        FIFTH DROWNEDRock-a-bye baby?        FIRST DROWNEDWashing on the line?        SECOND DROWNEDAnd old girls in the snug?        THIRD DROWNEDHow's the tenors in Dowlais?        FOURTH DROWNEDWho milks the cows in Maesgwyn?        FIFTH DROWNEDWhen she smiles, is there dimples?        FIRST DROWNEDWhat's the smell of parsley?        CAPTAIN CATOh, my dead dears!
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by the way, doesn't it seem that the music played on the concertina is so often characterized as "mournful", or Lugubrious?'

See the descriptions in "McTeague", or the abovementioned 'O, Pioneers", etc.

Maybe 'cos the players are still in the slow session phase?

Or just an unfortunate lack of taste in the writer? :0

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In the 2011 Man Booker prize shortlisted book, Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch, the late-nineteenth century narrator sails the world collecting exotic animals. The concertina is mentioned 2-3 times. In the first brief instance, their ship meets another at sea and a fiddler from one boat and the player of a unspecified squeezebox play tunes for the merriment of the rest. Late in the book, the narrator decides he must learn the concertina. He acquires one and it figures at the end in a courtship.

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  • 1 month later...

I was just rereading Robert Graves account of the first Xmas truce and note that he mentions the Germans Sung songs back to our troops accompanied by concertinas.


Interesting. I heard on the news just within the past week that evidence for these "Christmas Truce" musicales is slim and the stories (not to mention John McCutcheon's song, which also mentions a concertina, but on the British side) may be a bit of an exaggeration.



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Well, a "concertina" on the German side would most likely have been a Chemnitzer or something like that, much to large and heavy for carrying it through a war. More likely we might think of small melodeons - in WWII there seem to have been many Hohner Liliput and Preciosa models "at the front", much sought-after models nowadays (tried to acquire a Preciosa at some point myself). Apart from these later super-small models a two-row 8 bass model is portable anyways...


Seasonal greetings - Wolf

Edited by blue eyed sailor
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