It is a week of tributes apparently. I am going to break convention by making a tribute to someone whilst they are still alive. That person is Tony Hall.
I remember the first time that I ever heard Tony Hall. It was also the first time that I heard his name. It was at an amazing concert called “The Sound of Hohner” at the Manor Pavilion Theatre during Sidmouth Folk Week 2008 (I think). It was a concert which featured some of the best players of Hohner instruments around, including Tony Hall, John Kirkpatrick (another massive influence), Pete Coe, Ed Rennie (who organised it), Chris Parkinson and others. You had to be there and I’m fortunate in that I was.
I remember this affable looking gentleman coming on to the stage, spreading a teatowel on his knees, producing an extremely battered looking box and playing some lovely tunes. It was a moment of wonder for me, for this man played harmony on his right hand. And it looked easy! He was just pressing more than one button at the same time. How hard could it be. I couldn’t wait to get home and try it out. As it happens, it turned out to be surprisingly hard when I tried to do it and I will admit to giving up pretty well instantly.
Since then of course I have acquired a few of his albums, which are all fantastic. Most illuminating for me are his performances on Nic Jones’ album “Penguin Eggs”, which is one of my favourite albums of all time. Tony’s melodeon accompaniments are perfectly matched to the song: subtle, delicate and musical. In fact I think that I have mentioned this before.
I have met him, and indeed played in front of him. I went to a gig of his at Islington Folk Club and played my Cheshire Waltz as a floor spot. He claimed to enjoy it, about which I was extremely pleased.
By far his best single recording in my mind is his arrangement of “Flowers of Edinburgh”, which featured on the “English Melodeon Players” LP, a copy of which I believe I have somewhere (but not anything to play it on alas). This is an extraordinary track, where he adds in part after part until you can’t imagine him playing another one. And then he adds a descant.
And, believe it or not, this is the feat that I am currently trying to emulate. It is a gorgeous tune and I’ve always enjoyed playing it. So in an effort to get my playing up to the next level I’ve been trying to learn his descant line. I’ve recorded my latest effort. It isn’t quite as complex as Tony Hall’s version, but it sounds OK to me. And hopefully it will get better, so by the time you hear it at a folk club near you (by which I mean near me) it will be unrecognisable (by which I mean performance standard).
You will doubtless notice that I do not sound like Tony Hall. I instead (I hope), sound like me. This is intentional. You will also notice that it is riddled with mistakes, rushed bits and general messiness. This is unintentional.
The YouTube link below is me. The Soundcloud below that is the master himself.
The original (with thanks to Ian Dedic for hosting it):