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Banburyshire Family History

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go back to the last page you were on Away to Number 36, and see if Alf is in!


He was the original life and soul of the party. When any group of friends and family got together, I would be sent to make an immediate instrumental booking. ('Away to number 36 and see if Alf is in'). For a formal street party or function, Alf would have been booked early to ensure availability.

Alf was our accordion man. I'm not sure where they have all disappeared to, but an accordion was a mobile piano, strapped to the chest of the performer, and operated by air pressure using a bellows system. Practically every street seemed to have its local accordionist. Like the larger mammals they could on occasion be found in groups, squeezing and bobbing away like demented Panasonic bunnies.

They supported the singsongs. No sheet music was needed, Alf seemed to know every song requested. As an instrument, the accordion required undoubted skill and dexterity; perhaps this is why it is now a rarity. Today people now prefer music on tap, with the added advantage that the skill level is lower. Somehow the atmosphere was better when the music was created by the group itself. Singsongs were mainly choral; any solo performances would come at the end of the evening when the artist was suitable emotional. Every male soloist seemed to have left a girl behind in Ireland at some time.

Other instruments could be brought into play. I'm sure that the army considered skill in spoon playing to be mandatory during the first war, as most old soldiers could rattle a rhythm along with Alf. Children were welcome participants, banging away on anything that looked like a drum.

A regular booking for Alf was the Thursday afternoon old-time dancing in the Community Centre. Ladies dressed up and danced with each other or with older gentlemen, while we sat on the floor and watched. The smell of lavender and the swish of taffeta.

There were of course other types of accordion. A smaller version clipped to each hand and sagging in the middle like an over ripe Christmas decoration, but its sound range was limited and the instrument was only favoured by whiskered sailors and Irish folk singers.

Written by Smokey