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Stephen Mills

My First Concertina

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My first squeezeboxes were 2-row button accordions that I played mainly for Morris - and while I found concertinas laterally interesting - they didn't quite jump out and bite me until I met Alistair Anderson.

 

But where to get a concertina in the late 1970's (in Boston MA)? Through the Music Emporium I connected with a banjo collector who was eager to trade a baritone Lachenal English (basic model with colored bone buttons) for my Fairbanks "Electric"... I know, I was pretty smitten... not to mention dumb. A few years later I ended up selling the Lachenal for a Wheatstone Hayden duet - a great box - which I still play.

 

Not quite the end of the story however. A few years after getting my Hayden Jim Bowman let me know that he had finally chased down and bought my Fairbanks (I hadn't known he coveted it - but then again, he didn't have a concertina to trade) to add to his collection. I was pretty chagrined to discover that my banjo wound up being one of the top feature instruments at the Smithsonian Museum!

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PS: Rhomylly, you used to live in Philadelphia? That's where I live now (actually in the suburbs, in Ambler). Where were you? I take it you don't live here any more...

Steven, I was in Newark, Delaware at that time. Now I'm in Missouri :)

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I started out as a woodwind player – mainly saxophone and oboe. Like many musicians, I didn’t see much of the non-musical world around me and when I met someone new would ask, “what do you play?” since I rarely met people who didn’t play something. Then, as an Air Force musician, I lived in Spain for two years and got interested in Spain, history and lots of other stuff including people who didn’t play music.

 

When I returned to the States I sold all of my instruments (quit music with a vengeance!) and got on with other things. After a year or so I found an unsold alto recorder. Then bought another one. Then a dulcimer. Then a banjo. A guitar. A harmonica. An autoharp. A hammered dulcimer. A piano. I just couldn’t fill this hole in my life. About seven years after I’d given it all up, I subscribed to Mugwump’s magazine with an eye toward getting something utterly fantastic like a glass harmonica or a hurdy gurdy. That’s where I started eyeing concertinas.

 

I did some soul searching to get a clear idea what I wanted and came up with notions like something I could sing with and would support my tin ear. Something no one else played so I wouldn’t beat myself up when I couldn’t play as well as they did. Something that didn’t allow for a teacher (no pressure). I had always admired people who could play from a fake book and I wanted something that could play any chord and any melody in any key.

 

Shortly after that I found myself in London pouring over concertinas at Crabb’s shop. A crane duet was what I wanted. It met all my requirements. Several months later I sent Mr. Crabb some money and several months after that (May 11, 1978 to be exact) a 55 key Lachenal Triumph arrived. I’ve logged all of my concertina playing on only two concertinas. I traded that first one in on my current 59 key Crabb crane. I don’t know what I’d do without it.

 

More recently I bought a saxophone, but you didn’t ask about that.

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After several years with cheap beginner instruments, I bought my fist good concertina in 1979 or 1980 in Glasgow. I was walking doen a street and passed a music shop which had a metal ended Wheastone in the window. the only problem was - it was a Wednesday afternoon, which in those days in Glasgow was early closing day and the shop was shut. I got down there early the next morning to buy it. It was a wonderful instrument even though it was in old pitch.

 

I only sold it some time after buying a Lachenal Edeophone (from Malcolm Clapp before he emigrated to Australia)

 

- John Wild

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A bit over a year ago, my wife suggested I look at concertinas (synthesizers not generally being welcome at Irish sessions) as an instrument.

 

And I spent a fair bit of time in a loop that went something like this:

 

A 20 button Stagi is around $300

But I'd really want 30 buttons, from what I've read

So now we're at $750 or so

But the Stagi isn't going to hold its value

But you can get a 20 button vintage C/G for around the same price

But I'd really want 30 buttons, how can I not play in D?

I could get a new C/G 30 button for $1800 or so

Why am I spending $1800 on an instrument I don't even know I'll like to play?

 

And around and around the loop went.

 

I ended up getting a 20 button G/D Lachenal from Chris Algar, as that would keep its value if I didn't take to it, and it would let me play in all the keys I wanted.

 

Less than six months later, I ordered a custom G/D from Bob Tedrow (the path that took me from a standard G/D to the "Drop D" configuration is another story in and of itself).

 

--Dave

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A few years ago I saw Steve Gillete and Cindy Mangsen in concert at the Bull Run in central Massachusetts. Then at one point Cindy Mangsen pulled out this little box, and wonderful sounds came from it. It was an English concertina, but all I knew at the time was that it was a concertina. I started looking around on the Web, and Lo and Behold! The Button Box was only 50 miles from home! I ventured out, Doug let me play around with the instruments they had, and I came home with 48 treble (late model) Wheatstone. I never did tell my wife what it cost.

Now I've since gotten a Lachenal Excelsior 48 treble. I've said I was going to sell the Wheatsone, but it is still there and I suppose it will stay with me awhile longer. And somehow I also got a piano accordion. I have pictures of all three instruments in my office - my computer screen background is the Lachenal.

The other thing is I went 3 years before meeting another concertina player. That was the great thing at the Northeast Squeeze In - being around enough English players (and 1 duet) to have a Concertina Band!

 

Jay

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My first squeezeboxes were 2-row button accordions that I played mainly for Morris - and while I found concertinas laterally interesting - they didn't quite jump out and bite me until I met Alistair Anderson.

 

But where to get a concertina in the late 1970's (in Boston MA)? Through the Music Emporium I connected with a banjo collector who was eager to trade a baritone Lachenal English (basic model with colored bone buttons) for my Fairbanks "Electric"... I know, I was pretty smitten... not to mention dumb. A few years later I ended up selling the Lachenal for a Wheatstone Hayden duet - a great box - which I still play. 

 

Not quite the end of the story however. A few years after getting my Hayden Jim Bowman let me know that he had finally chased down and bought my Fairbanks (I hadn't known he coveted it - but then again, he didn't have a concertina to trade) to add to his collection. I was pretty chagrined to discover that my banjo wound up being one of the top feature instruments at the Smithsonian Museum!

Wow, what a rough swap, makes me glad to have a Lachenal baritone English _and_ a Fairbanks "Electric," both classics in their own way!

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Hm, I'll have to look at the sales receipt from the Button Box to see if it was 2 -- or 3-- years ago that I bought the concertina.

 

I went there to look for a new piano-accordion, since I was really tired of the weight of the big old one that I have, that left bruises on my legs and wrecked my back, usually.

 

I think I'd kind of had it in mind to see about concertinas, too. But, once I'd tried one and really liked the sound -- and the light weight of it -- I ordered one!

 

Later, I did go and get a new piano-accordion, a smaller one, from Accordion Connection in New Hampshire.

 

I have to admit, though, I spend more time with my concertina...shall have to even that up, maybe, and play the PA more.

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Yes yes Wendy,

 

Play the piano accordion today.

 

Oh okay you can wait until tomorrow.

 

Helen

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My first, and still my favourite concertina is 100 years old this year, its a metal ended Wheatstone Aeola 48 key English treble. I liberated it from a wardrobe at my parents having been told by my mother that it was there and that she could not make any sense of the instrument. It had obviously been well played, and was in very poor condition.

 

It transpired that it, and a 12 key miniature had belonged to my great uncle (Harry Cuttings) who had played and taught concertina before WWI. He was gassed and bady wounded, so much so that he was re-patriated, but that is another story. He was too frail to teach but still played for his own amusement. He used to take the miniature around with him and play bird calls and popular songs to amuse the children on trams as he travelled around his area of Sheffield.

 

Once the treble was put into playing condition (not by me) I started to learn and got hooked by both the sound and the challenge. I later restored the miniature and then purchased a Baritone and a G Bass which I use for part and band play. My own daughter learned to play on Harry's Aeola. Harry loved children, he and Annie never had any, and I think he might have appreciated the thought of his great, great niece playing his instruments.

 

Dave

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About 18 years ago I started ogling a cheap Stagi Anglo in a pawnshop window. My wife passed on the information to my co-workers and when I left that job they bought me the Stagi as a going away present. I noodled around on the Stagi AG for a couple of years but found it too much sucking and blowing for my taste.

 

I used to regularly attend the Reston folk club in northern Virginia in those days and we used to get folk artists stopping by in Washington, D.C. to come out and have dinner with us in a private room at a local restaurant. One week Alistar Anderson came out for dinner and we passed the hat for him to play. I sat at a table with Alistar and after we ate talked him into letting me play one of his English concertinas - a metal ended Aeola treble as I recall.

 

Afterwards I went to The House of Musical Traditions nearby and bought a tenor Stagi. (I traded in the Anglo and also sold a banjo to pay for it) Since I played mandolin and tenor banjo the chromatic nature of the English Concertina suited me.

 

In the past few years I have been playing the Stagi more and stringed instruments less as it is less aggravating to my arthritis. I decided I deserved a break and just purchased a Lachenal New Model circa 1890 extended treble, which was restored by Wim Wakker. I am waiting for it to arrive in the next day or two. Needless to say I can hardly wait. I did like my Stagi however as it was much more playable that several ones just like it I have played.

 

Hope I will like the Lachenal and that it will spur me to new heights of proficiency.

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My "first" is a Stagi bought at Button Box 6 months ago. I actually like it but also am waiting for an Edgely that is on order. The roots of this addiction were planted 61 years ago when our family was going through my grandmother's possessions following her death in 1943 and came across a 20b anglo. I was only 3 years old but I still remember that concertina vividly. My grandmother was raised in Boston, Co Clare, Ireland and came to Chicago at age 20. My aunt says that my grandmother used to play the concertina and dance at the same time--I will settle for just one of those some day. My mother played the fiddle, and I play the piano a bit but have put that aside the last six months for the concertina.

 

My grandmother's anglo is still around (my cousin in Florida has it) although it is not playable. Last fall, after waiting only 60 years, I finally made the leap into concertina world. It is great. I am now risking humiliation and trying slow, slow sessions. Last night it was at the Green Briar in Brighton (Boston MA), and the leader (Sean) was quite helpful. We went over Jim Ward's jig bar by bar, and in the end it sounded ok with three fiddles, five whistles, and myself on the concertina.

 

I am eager to get my hands on the Edgely, and appreciate all the great encouragement from the people on this site.

 

Alan Miller

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I am eager to get my hands on the Edgely, and appreciate all the great encouragement from the people on this site.

Alan,

 

After reading your great story, you deserve all the encouragement I can give from over the ocean :D

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About 53-55 years ago (!) I heard my father's harmonica playing for the first time. He played almost exclusively on sundays and I remember that it was fascinating for me. Very soon I got my own harmonica and I could manage to play rather soon.

After a few years I changed the harmonica for a recorder, but at the age of 14 I stopped playing. At 33 years I became interested in folk music and I learned to play the fiddle and tin whistles an joined a group of friends to play folk together.

It was in that period that I discovered by chance a concertina in a local music shop. I was allowed to give it a try and discovered that I was very similar to the harmonica, so I bought this Hohner (see image) and very soon I used it for playing some tunes together with my friends.

After some years this folk group broke up and I tried to continue on a very low level for my own pleasure and relaxation. For this purpose the concertina is much more suited than a fiddle or tin whistles. After having fun with my Hohner for about 20 years I bought (about two years ago) a Marcus C/G 30b, which is a big improvement in playability and sound, but I still have a weak spot for my red marble Hohner.

After 20 years it needs a lot of Scotch tape to keep the "red marble" veneer in place and my grandchildren were allowed to put stickers on it, but the bellows are still OK!

post-4-1082496209.jpg

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The Button Box was once a consistent vendor at the Old Songs festival in Altamont NY, and I was fascinated by the instruments they displayed. After several years, I decided to rent a Bastari English before committing myself. I had played (badly) banjo, guitar, mandolin, and other instruments. The mandolin, however, served me well as a prelude to English. After deciding to buy and not finding an instrument at the Button Box, I found my way to Paul Groff -- a talented Anglo player and meticulous technician with respect to repair and restoration. I bought a medium range Lachenal which I still own. Subsequently, I bought an unusual 12-sided original Crabb (late 60's) from Paul. Finally, the Button Box came up with a 50 button Amboyna Aeola which I purchased. I try to play them all, but often find myself falling back on the Lachenal. All of this came relatively late in life, and although I will never be a great musician, it is my soul (sole) instrument, and I know a great deal about the music, the instrument, and its history.

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Alan,

 

You will love your Edgley. I am quite pleased with mine.

 

What a great story you have.

 

Good luck.

 

Helen

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In 1980 I was lent a cheap german 20 button Anglo for an evening to see if I wanted to buy it. It was dreadful but I managed to play "The sweet nightingale" on it that evening.

In 1981 I had a personal tragedy when my first wife died. We had often gone to the local folk clubs as audience, so when, after about a year, I decided that I needed to do something to keep me from depression etc. I had the idea that I should force myself to be a perorfmer. Up to this time I would definately describe myself as an introvert and not given to being extrovert at all.

I was determined that I would not just be an unaccompanied singer so, remembering the horrible german Anglo, I bought a 32 button metal ended C/G Lachenal from Marcus Music for £150.

I think it helped that the instrument was mid-range rather than a low-end machine as I started performing in public after 4 months.

The Lachenal is at present waiting for me to make a new handstrap but is still going well.

 

Robin Madge

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[in 1982?] I bought a 32 button metal ended C/G Lachenal from Marcus Music for £150.

Ah, those were the days!

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