Over the years I have collected quite a lot of fascinating images related to the concertina. Many came from snapshots taken from digitized newspapers and magazines. I’ve been playing for many years and, thankfully, now have a relaxed relationship with the instrument and that’s the most important thing about music. Go with the flow.
That’s me against the green wall and I am playing my favourite English concertina, a Lachenal Edeophone manufactured around 1905. It has an easy action, beautiful fretwork and nickel buttons. These are expensive beasts. I bought this on Ebay several years ago, probably ten, and it cost US $4000 plus another $850 to bring it up to scratch. A mate of mine bought a brand new Wakker English, top-of-the-range, in 2014 and paid around $10,000. This figure might surprise some but it is on level with many other musical instruments. Maybe folks think concertinas are more like toys – how wrong they are. He still says it was a good purchase and expects it to appreciate over time. Such an instrument is a good investment for a serious player. There are a couple of concertina makers in Australia, Chris Ghent makes beautiful anglo concertinas and Richard Evans makes an anglo under his Kooka Concertina brand. Both are expensive because they are hand-crafted in every respect. I have other concertinas – a beautiful Lachenal rosewood and nickel from the 1890s, a baritone Wheatstone with deep and dark sounds ideal for accompanying some songs. It is unbelievably heavy and I can’t believe anyone could carry this around and play. I have a Wheatstone tenor but it has a tone that doesn’t please me so it doesn’t get played too often. Lastly, I have a Crane Duet, a system I have not mastered because playing a concertina is a mind and body game – your fingers need to be very familiar with patterns. At this stage I will stick to my 48 key English. I have often thought I should sell all my instruments and invest in a newly made one, probably Wakker, but, even then, there’s a waiting list. In the meantime there is something nice about the look, smell, feel and sound of the old instruments. Squeeze on. I hope you enjoy this gallery of cartoons and photographs.
Little Boy Blue
Larrikins were late 19th and early 20th century street gangs. Their girls were called ‘donahs’ and, apparently, the larrikins and donah liked nothing better than dancing to the music of the concertina. Most dances were couples dances like the polka or waltz.
Above: Aboriginal box player circa 1925
L: Unidentified English Sydney player 1949 Goulburn, NSW, Apex Orphan’s Picnic.
The Concertina at war. Being portable and light, the concertina, both Anglo-German and English, found itself on the front lines of WW1 and WW2. It had already been to war in the Boer War and Boxer Rebellion. Its music entertained the troops on endless nights
Smith’s Weekly. 11 May 1946 He Made Music From Routine Orders.
DIGGER, interned in a POW camp with Aussies, Italians and Poms, was the proud owner of an expensive and ornamental concertina, upon which, however, he was an indifferent, if enthusiastic, performer. “Itie” made a slighting reference to his fumbling on the keyboard, whereupon the Digger thrust the squeeze-box at him and said: “OK, mate, you have a go.” POW assaulted the night with a florid rendition of “O Solo Mio”, ‘Santa Lucia,” and other sentimentalities, with all the stops out, ending on a triumphant flourish. Digger concealed his chagrin with a thoughtful mien, nodded sagely, and said, “Not bad, pal, not bad. Just wait until I get my music — Aussie music.” He ducked into the orderly room and emerged with a sheaf of routine orders.
“Here,” he said, “hold this and give a real musician a go.” Peering closely at the roneoed typescript, nodding solemnly when he reached the bottom of the page for the POW to turn the sheets over, he put the concertina through every possible evolution its maker could have dreamed of and a few more. The din was imposing, even if it was impossible. Climax came on a magnificent crescendo on the last sheet, whereon was published promulgation of sentences imposed at recent courts martial. He looked rapt. He’d been carried so far away on wings of inspiration. the provosts should have been after him.
POW stood there uncomfortably holding the RO’s until the Digger condescended to return toearth and notice him. ”Well.” he said, “how do you like Aussie music?” “Itie” handed over the sheets. “Buono,” he said. “Maestro.” And walked away quietly, dazed, deflated.
In the bush of Australia.