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Mally Discovers Traditional Music and the Melodeon
In late August 1969, I finished work for the summer holidays. At 7:30 I put on my favourite radio programme, Folk On Friday, and heard the presenter, Jim Lloyd, say "Tomorrow is the start of Whitby Folk Festival". "Whitby Folk Festival" I said to myself, "I think I'll have some of that. Why not? I'm on holiday with no plans."
As soon as the programme ended, I packed my rucksack, complete with tent, and early next morning caught a bus to Leeds, another to Malton and finally one to Whitby. I swiftly marched up the Abbey steps, pitched my tent on the cliff top campsite and walked back into town.
My first task was to visit the Chinese restaurant. Whilst waiting for my meal, the lady on the table behind was just leaving and I overheard her say to her husband "don't forget your melodeon". "Melodeon" I said to myself, "what in the world is a melodeon?"
Later that evening, I discovered The Star which, in those days, was the pub where music and song occurred. I recognised the chap from the restaurant; he was playing a musical instrument unlike any I'd seen before. I thought to myself, "So that's a melodeon. I rather like the sound, I'd like to play one."
When the initial enthusiasm cools, thoughts such as these tend fade away but this time, it was not to be the case. Melodeon was just as strong in my mind in January as it had been earlier in August. One dismal January day, whilst at technical college in Bradford, I was feeling somewhat depressed (who wouldn't, studying metallurgy!). I said to myself "How can I cheer myself up? I know, I'll buy a melodeon." Off I went to the local music shop. My luck was in; there was one in the window. I was encouraged to try it and, after ten mind boggling minutes, the laboured strains of a simple melody could be heard. I bought the instrument for £56 and never looked back.
In my teens I had played electric guitar 'Shadows style' but from the age of eighteen, after a visit to the Isle of Arran, I became interested in folk music and swapped the electric for an acoustic. I was hopeless at singing and found tuning the guitar quite irksome so I was very pleased to own an instrument that required neither. Of course things weren't straight forward, they never are in my life! The instrument was a Hohner Double Ray Deluxe, a three voice instrument tuned in B/C, nowadays I would call it a button accordeon or more often just accordeon. A few weeks later I met an old school friend at a ceilidh who told me he was forming a morris side. I mentioned that I bought a melodeon. He asked me to be the musician. Although I had barely a clue as to what this entailed, I joined. My, my, we were green in those days but we persisted and became good enough to perform. This was just what I needed; mingling with experienced musicians and having an achievable a goal to pursue gave me the necessary encouragement to prevent me falling by the wayside.
We really used to live it up in those days!
The first West Riding Festival of Folk in Dewsbury
Not long after there was a morris ring meeting in the locality and the side danced out for the first time. Boar's Head Morris made their debut. I played everything in the key of B, no-one would join in with me. I met a fellow who played for Leeds Morris Men, he very kindly lent me his personal transcriptions of dozens of Cotswold morris tunes. I spent the next few weeks neatly copying them out. This music helped me no end and became the basis of Mally's Cotswold Morris Tune Books. I soon figured out that I really needed a D/G instrument so I bought an A/D/G, it cost £76, the whole of my month's pay. Now I could join in with the others. I spent five years with Boar's Head and really enjoyed myself.
At last I could join in.
Boar's Head join Gloucestershire Morris around 1970.
Soon I discovered a ceilidh club and often went to join in the band, this was great. Guess who was there, the chap from the Chinese restaurant and The Star! I asked him for advice, he replied "Practise, practise, practise; when you're fed up, do some more." The best bit of advice I've ever been given, although I don't think it was the answer I really wanted. It wasn't long before I was playing in ceilidh bands. We formed a band called Reels on Wheels.
We were crazy back then!
A photograph taken for advertising a band I played in called Reels On Wheels.
I discovered a pub in Leeds called the Regent where Irish music was played. This was brilliant, I loved it. This was the music I really wanted to play. Just a shame I didn't discover it earlier because now I found that the B/C system was what I really required. I went back to my original instrument but was completely baffled by the basses (not my fault, it turned out they were incorrect). After giving the B/C a good try, it was soon apparent that I had travelled the D/G road too far. I had to be realistic; it was too late to change so I decided to stick to what I knew and understood. After a lot of hard work, I made sense of the reels and jigs and the D/G system coped with the music admirably. I spent every Sunday lunchtime standing at the bar listening for a year, then finally plucked up the courage to join in. I'm still striving, nearly twenty years on, to perfect the tunes we used to play in those days. The fact that I'm a late starter and not the greatest of players has always been to my advantage in the publishing business. It makes me far more attuned to the needs of beginners than many of the more accomplished players. There were the many Folk festivals I attended in those days, I never missed Cleethorpes and Sidmouth. I lived and breathed traditional music, it was my whole life.
Sidmouth promenade in the morning sunshine:
The craic was mighty!
On July 8th 1985, I started my business. From that day on, traditional music really was to become my way of life.