For a while now, classical music has filled the small ground level part of Kentish Town tube station in the evenings. Maybe it’s more than just the evenings but that’s when I tend to notice it.

I imagine this is intended to be calming to the frustrated and weary traveller, perhaps reducing the amount of aggro the staff get. I’ve heard of similar schemes used elsewhere. If nothing else I imagine it keeps the staff amused seeing as they have to stand in that small hall all day. Personally I only wish they’d turn the volume up!

For my sins I've been watching Britain's Got Talent on the tele, and I thought Susan Boyle was rubbish. Apparently I was in the minority. Her first few notes of Memory missed utterly and she was a bit reedy through most of the tricky bits. Am I the only person that finds her just plain annoying when she's not singing? Her fist-pumping, full-of-herself celebrations are very un-British and I suspect that the fickle public will turn. That said, I suppose rather sadly that it will be the newspapers that decide whether we should like or loath her, whether her start should soar or tumble. They've decided she's an angel and are unlikely to go back on their reckoning.

Update – 28th May 2009: Apparently it has begun, right on cue:

Over the last ten years or so I've increasingly been drawn to conclude that 1973 was a cracking year for music, and much underrated by the establishment. Here's why (and of course many of these artists released whole albums full of their best works):
  • David Bowie – Life on Mars
  • Elton John – Crocodile Rock
  • Roberta Flack - Killing Me Softly With His Song
  • Carly Simon - You're So Vain
  • Bobby "Boris" Pickett – Monster Mash 
  • Wings – Live and Let Die 
  • Stevie Wonder – Superstition
  • Lou Reed - Walk On The Wild Side
  • Paul Simon – Kodachrome 
  • Eric Weissburg & Steve Mandell - Duelling Banjos
  • Doobie Brothers – Long Train Running 
  • Stealers Wheel – Stuck In The Middle With You
  • Money – Pink Floyd
  • Alice Cooper – No More Mr Nice Guy 
  • The Who - Quadrophenia

It seems that I'm not the only one to think this mind you, with plenty of posts in forums out there arguing the same point. 1977 and 1971 are also very popular years from the 1970s. I should point out that I wasn't even born in those years, so I'm not simply harking back to my formative years! 

Last Tuesday I went to The White Lion pub (a preferred local of mine, but blimey that's a low-fi website if ever I saw one) to see the Dead Victorians. These fine chaps are quite magnificent – music hall entertainment from a bygone era crammed with interesting instruments and innuendo.

This is the second time I've seen them, in the same venue as it happens, but both times they have been a threesome, without the elusive Pedro. I don't know why, but the good Dr. Blake doesn't seem to be in any of the publicity photos and gets nary a mention on the CD (on sale that evening for the first time) whilst appearing to be a thoroughly integral part of the band on drums, many vocals, spoons, washboard etc.

I'll quite happily admit that it was seeing the Dead Victorians for the first time that tipped me over the edge and caused me to buy an accordion. It was a pleasure to see them again, though the photos I took are shamefully poor, taken as they were from the back of a crowded but dark pub with a small compact camera. The blur sitting in front of Maestro Paul on the accordion is the good doctor playing the typewriter to accompany a vigourous trombone rendition of the William Tell Overture.

05. October 2008 · 2 comments · Categories: Music

I’ve got it home now, and boy is it heavy: nearly 2 stone on its own, and nearly 3 stone in the box!

My first tentative steps at playing are being guided by this page: It’s quite gratifying to bash out a recognisable version of Merrily We Roll Along and Oh When the Saints, with quite a depth of sound.

You can’t see the bass buttons very well in this picture, but there are 120 of them in 6 rows.


Read the first and second instalments if you haven’t already.

With a renewed vigour I set out in search of a larger selection of accordions, courtesy of a dedicated shop stacked ceiling to floor with them: Accordions of London in Kilburn. The proprietor, John Leslie, is a fantastic player (he treated me to a bit of a show piece), teacher and all round accordion authority. At least that’s the way it seemed and I have no reason to doubt it!

I learnt yet more interesting things (as I am prone to doing):

  • His Chinese accordions are similarly priced and look near identical to the ones I saw the day before, though John says his are better as he’s very particular with the factory about exactly how they are specced. They certainly seemed a bit nicer to play, but I’m so far from being the authority on such subtleties that I’d have to place an expensive long distance phone call in order to speak to that authority.

  • His Eastern European Luciano accordions are a bit more differentiated and I understand they come from the Weltmeister factory, but again, specced to John’s exacting standards. The problem for me is that a half-decent size one of these starts at about £1000.

  • I had a go on one of the properly expensive machines (one of John’s own) and it certainly felt nice and played beautifully. One thing I noted was that the more expensive the machine, the better it was at evenly putting out sound in both bass and treble at the same time. The ones I tried yesterday were terrible in that respect.

  • A proper non-budget model starts at about £1200 and that’s second hand. One of the two rooms was filled with more serious models, ranging into the many thousands of pounds. And very nice (and heavy) I’m sure they were too!

  • John reckoned I should get a full size model (41 keys, 120 bass) because otherwise it wouldn’t fit me properly. He advocates sitting down to play with the accordion well wedged between legs and chin. Smaller models can’t be wedged in that manner.

So, all very exciting, but it was looking like a bleak prospect for me and my limited budget. It was either that or pay £1200 for a fairly good 120 bass model, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do that.

John and his assistant scoured the somewhat dusty shelves and eventually found a Parrot accordion for about half that price, with the full complement of keys and buttons, 4 treble voices with 13 switches and 5 bass voices with 6 switches. And a decent pair of straps and a hard case. So, the right size and well specced! It’s a new accordion but it’s been sat on the shelf for a few years, by a Chinese manufacturer of not particularly special repute. It’s clearly not as good as most of the others in the shop, but it’s now mine!

I’d post a photo, but I’m not picking it up until later in the week after the metal strap bracket has been moved so as not to dig into my leg. All that remains now is to lug it home and learn how to play the darn thing.

Read the first instalment if you haven’t already.

The thot plickens! I have now visited a genuine purveyor of accordions: Hobgoblin Music in London – on Rathbone Place just between Goodge Street and Tottenham Court Road. It’s a cracking little shop, rammed full of instrumental exotica. I struggled to pull my gaze away from the extensive selection of tasty banjos, but a helpful assistant saddled me up with a weighty accordion and off I went.

I didn’t go far though, managing only to randomly jab keys and buttons in a tuneless mêlée of fumbling fingers. I learnt some useful things:

  • The left hand is incapable of reaching even the limited 72 buttons on my test model, without resetting the hand position within the strap. That strap has to be quite tight to stop your hand sliding up to the top due to the effect of gravity on that end of the machine.

  • The tighter the hand strap, the less gravity is a problem but the less freedom you have to move, even though the only way you can move is upwards – due to that pesky gravity.

  • You can’t see that huge field of identical buttons under the fingers of your left hand, so all you’ve got to go on is feel. One of the buttons has a concave top to differentiate it from the others, and presumably everything else is relative. Einstein himself would struggle to find that one dimpled button in the first place, let alone suss out the others. Figure out those buttons and you’ve figured out the accordion I reckon.

  • If you don’t squeeze hard enough on the bellows, you don’t get any sound at all from the piano side. All the air rushes out of the bass reeds instead, given there are more of them open and they’re bigger. It stands to reason, but the more notes you play at once (including chord buttons, or using multiple reed banks) the more air you need to keep it all going.

  • The bellows trap your t-shirt when compressed. Remember to free yourself when unstrapping.

  • Even for £900 you just get a smallish, plasticky accordion, albeit a Czech one. You’ll pay about £350 for the Chinese equivalent, which seemed largely identical in most respects, but had almost no feedback from the buttons used to select treble reed banks.

I decided not to buy right there and then. I think I need to see a larger selection and maybe some second hand instruments to find what I’m after. Quality is important to me, but it’s going to be difficult to find that elusive feel of solid craftsmanship for the cash I have to splash. I’ll report back on the quest.