Playing the Accordion - related to Saint Benildus (Patron Saint of Accordionists)


Playing the Accordion

My brother started to learn to play the accordion when I was 2 and when I got to the age of 6, I was also given the opportunity to play which I took.  I had started to play the recorder at the age of 4 and could read simple music by the time I was 6 so I was off to a good start.

I played in the Colchester Accordion group run by Elaine Beecham and her husband Ron.  Elaine’s sister Jenny also ran an accordion school in Colchester, so it was a relatively common instrument to learn to play in the area. To be honest, I liked the idea of playing but was not that good at the hard practise that is required to become a good musician.  My brother could play by ear, but I found that difficult, although could do it on the recorder.  Anyway, perhaps that is just an excuse, but I would never class myself as a good accordionist although I did pass my grade 7 Theory and my grade 6 practical.  We played in a few competitions – the furthest I travelled was Austria, my brother was in the Orchestra and they did a few tours in different Countries.

I played in the various bands but never quite made the orchestra deciding at a rebellious 14 that I would give up lessons and concentrate on folk music.  I joined a folk group originally called ‘Fingal’s Shed’ but eventually becoming ‘Clean Words, Dirty Music’.  We did a few gigs in pubs and village fetes etc but life moved on and I stopped playing my accordion for a while until I moved up to the Midlands when I joined another band.

Fiddler on the Roof (one of a few musicals with an accordion in the orchestra) was performing in Lichfield around that time and they were looking for an accordionist to play in it.  I cannot remember now if I volunteered or ‘was’ volunteered however, I ended up playing in the semi-professional performance (the only time I have been paid real money to play).  At this stage I realised I was really not a musician.  The rest of the orchestra were made up of session musicians who turned up and sight read the music.  I had the music 6 weeks before and still struggled.  To make matters worse, I was ill during one of the performances and was sick … there was nowhere to go, and we spent the rest of the performance with that awful smell around us … I soldiered on which everyone was impressed by but neither me nor my accordion were ever the same again.

I moved down to Devon to run a pub a couple of years later and again ended up playing the accordion in Fiddler in another performance in Barnstaple.  I also played alongside a local folk group and occasionally in the pub (usually just before closing to clear the bar! J). 

Although I will still pick up my accordion – the one my parents bought me when I was 11 on condition I started to practice – which I did and won the under 13’s All Britain solo competition that year (my only real achievement), I have never taken playing seriously again and am now very disappointed with my playing standard.  I can knock out the odd folk tune and it sounds OK but even my music reading is slow these days.

One other notable event was when I was at school, Frankie Vaughan had been invited to give the school achievement awards and I was asked to play the accordion for him.  I do not remember him high kicking though!

When I did not have my accordion, when I moved to Australia, I decided that I would buy another one thinking it would be easy to sell when my accordion reached Australia.  This did not happen and now I am the proud owner of two accordion’s … neither of which get played very often!