How I got into folk music...

Posted on July 25 2019

For anyone who's interested, this is how I got into folk music.

It all started with the Piano

I started playing piano accordion having first spent about 10 years learning classical piano as a child.  I can remember begging my parents to let me learn at the age of about 5 and being told to wait until my hands were a bit bigger! 

Eventually they relented and I started lessons. It wasn't always fun; we lived in a big draughty old vicarage with no central heating and the piano was in a large dining room in which we never lit the fire except on Christmas Day. 

To encourage me to practise I'd get paid 10p for half an hour, and I cannot thank them enough for doing this.   

However by the time I reached my teens I was bored with it.  All I seemed to do was learn exam pieces and study for a graded exam, pass the exam and then move onto the next set of pieces.  

I guess that was fine as a smaller child, especially when being bribed by my parents to practise but not as a teenager and so I gave up aged 16 having got half way through the penultimate grade (seven).

Discovering the accordion

When my dad suggested learning the accordion my initial response was "what's an accordion?".  He then told me there was a guy in the back room of a local pub that could give me lessons on a Tuesday evening each week and I was sold!!

I borrowed an old 140 bass accordion like this one, and my residing memory of this box is that it had a sharp bit on the bottom which made holes in all the pairs of trousers I ever wore whilst playing it!
 140 bass accordion


With my piano keyboard experience I found it very easy to pick up tunes and would spend hour upon hour just absorbing tunes, wading through tune books.

You can check out some of my recommended tune books in this post here

On Tuesdays though it was all about learning by ear.  The lovely chap (called Dave the Box) who taught me to play folk couldn't read music at all.  He was an old school entertainer of the best kind.  He'd had his accordion for so long, and because he mainly played for Morris Dancing most of what he played was in the keys of G, D and A so the F natural key on his box was pristine, almost brand new, whilst all the other white notes were so worn out he'd actually worn through the top of the notes completely!!

Playing in Bands

When I went off to Uni I joined a band and all my rigorous training by Dave, making me tap my foot and keep strict time paid off.  There was a fiddle, electric bass and guitar - plus me - and we played a mixture of Scottish, Irish and Cajun music.  Generally it was great fun, aside from the married fiddle & guitar players constantly arguing and having domestics!

After Uni I moved to Scotland and joined a ceilidh band there, with three lead instruments (fiddle, accordion and flute), accoustic guitar, electric bass and full drum kit.   It was a big sound and we seemed quite popular as we got a lot of gigs.

After about 7 years though I moved to New Zealand and stopped playing for a while, only picking it up again when I came back to the UK and lived in Bristol.

Playing in Sessions

Having had enough of going out every Friday & Saturday night to play gigs I rediscovered the joys of playing in pubs.  Sessions are now my main source of musical enjoyment (aside from Mudchutney and going to see other bands of course).  You can read my post on session etiquette here.

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