“My life with the Accordion” by Ronald E. Hodgson – Chapters 1,2 & 3

“My Life With The Accordion”  by Ronald E. Hodgson  

I began playing the accordion when I was seven years old. I received an accordion for Christmas 1935. it was a 12 bass Midela and I was not best pleased as I was very keen to play the trumpet, having heard the dance bands on the old battery powered radio. Finding a teacher was difficult, and after three teachers, none of whom could play the accordion, I eventually ended up with a guitar teacher Mr Billy Stewart who did know a lot about the accordion. Billy coached me through my first eight exams, the last six with distinction. By the time I was thirteen I was playing in a local dance band as most of the men were in the forces during the War. It was during the next few years that I met my wife Margaret who also played the Accordion in Billy Stewart’s dance band. we played many concerts for the troops during this time and eventually I was called up for National Service. I was posted to Germany, and took my Accordion with me. Whilst I was in Hamburg I had played on the British Forces Network and as a result of that broadcast I was invited to have an audition to join the Combined Forces Entertainment Corp. I passed the audition but when I found out I would have to sign on as a regular soldier, I declined. I did play on many troop concerts in Hamburg and one star in particular was Danny Kaye but I never got to meet him. An interesting sequel to that time was in one of my last concerts at Caister, I was compering the final concert when a lady asked to see me. The lady was Nina Wise who was a singer with the Primo Scala Accordion Band. Nina and the band had been at the Danny Kaye concert in 1948. .
On one of my home leaves from the Army I made a gramophone record. The cost was twelve shillings and the recording was cut as you played. Unfortunately as I was playing one of the solos a double-decker bus drove past the shop, and noise was also recorded on the record. I had to redo the whole record again, and pay the full price again. That tune was “Blaze Away”!  On my de mob I joined Billy Stewart’s band. By now the N.A.O. had restarted the National Accordion Competitions and Margaret and I formed a duet partnership and were placed second in the All British Senior Duet Championship. During this period I passed an audition at the BBC Radio Studios in Newcastle and met Larry Macari who offered me a job with his Dutch Serenaders. Margaret and I married in April 1953.
Needing a better Accordion I visited Bell Accordions acquiring a Galanti Super Dominator and was promptly offered the chance of running the Bell Free Loan Accordion System. The result was 40 requests from the first advert. Within six months I had a full time school. In 1951 I gained my L.B.C.A. Later I had a chance meeting with Ivor Beynon in the lift going up to Hohners Studio in Farringdon Road, London. Ivor who had heard me playing in the British Championships that year told me to get myself a better teacher. I did, I asked him to teach me. I arranged a monthly lesson, booking a day return from Carlisle on Saturday 1 a.m. from Carlisle to Euston, catching the tube to Kingston then a bus to Surbiton. A lesson in the morning, and one in the afternoon, returning home the same day. I then won the local Carol Levis Show and was invited to play on the Carol Levis  radio programme recorded in a studio in Baker Street, London.
In 1957 I was invited by the N.A.O. to represent them in a World Art Festival in Moscow. Because I worked for the R.A.F. I was refused permission to go to Russia, but eventually permission was granted. However, I only received my Passport and Visa when I was sitting in the airport lounge. It was like a scene from a thriller film as two men in black raincoats approached me and handed over the official papers with minutes to spare to board the plane.
All the Arts were represented and we flew to Helsinki, then a train to the Russian border. We had to walk across a wide space between Finland and Russia, then board a train to take us to Moscow. On arrival at the Hotel Ukrana, I discovered that my accordion was missing. It turned up the next day however and I managed to win the preliminary rounds through to the finals. During the finals in the “House of Actors” in Gorky Street, I heard a free bass accordion for the first time played by the ultimate winner. As a warm up tune he played a piece by Bach. I thought that I was listening to an Organ! I won a silver medal and played in some of the Embassies in Moscow.
I also played in a quartet in Gorky Park to an estimated audience of over one million. During the festival, I was asked by Harry Smith Hampshire and Doreen Casey, the world professional ballroom champions to play for their practise sessions as their tape recorder had broken down. On the final night there was a grand ball in the Kremlin, and during the evening I was filmed arm in arm with Doreen and her friend and several Russian Cossacks in full national dress. This clip was shown on our national television, fortunately Margaret saw the funny side. On the flight home the starboard engine caught fire and we had to make an emergency landing, however everything turned out ok. On my return from Moscow, I managed to persuade the Carlisle Music Festival committee to accept the accordion in the festival. Unfortunately the adjudicator, one Anthony Hopkins did not like the accordion. His criticism of the accordion was unfounded and resulted in the accordion being dropped from the festival. I was a pupil of Dr F W Wadely, the festival chairman who managed to have the accordion reinstated. As a result the accordionists and particularly the Ronmar Orchestra have consistently gained the highest mark in the festival. I , being Vice Chairman of the festival am very proud of the accordions status in the festival.
On my return from Moscow, I was interested in the free bass system, having heard this instrument in Moscow. Unfortunately there was none available with piano keys at this time. Sometime later, Ivor Beynon, who was a director of Hohners rang me. There was a new Hohner accordion with three rows of free bass buttons sited between the Stradella Bass and the bellows. This instrument , I was informed, had been made for Marian Probst who was the World Champion. It was a fantastic accordion, the sound was unbelievable. Some of the reeds were boxed in and it also had an extended right hand keyboard. It had a chin coupler as well as the couplers on the edge of the treble grill, and it also had slide couplers on the edge of the treble keyboard. The only problem with this instrument was its weight (see picture above).
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Copyright © 2008  Ronald E. Hodgson
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