Archivist Blog

Dave Beckford (1935 – 2014)

Dave Beckford’s story is a great example of the way many people took up the harmonica in the 1940s. Similar examples can be found in the lives Jim Hughes, Douglas Tate and the many other people who went on to play in local harmonica contests as soloists and members of harmonica groups.


Dave Beckford was born in Greenwich and spent most of his early life in Welling, London. He took up the diatonic harmonica at a young age and was soon playing popular dance tunes.

After learning how top players like Larry Adler were able to play so well, he saved up and bought his first Super Chromonica in 1950 for £2.16s.4d (£2.82) and played in the school’s Christmas party. When he left Bexley Heath Secondary school in 1951 he took part in a talent contest which led to some appearances for the Granada Theatre in Welling.

Dave became All Britain Chromatic Champion at the first post-war Championship held in in the Central Hall, Westminster, London in July 1953. He was 17 and this was his first major contest.

As Champion, he performed at a regional harmonica contest at the Elephant and Castle Cinema, in South East London, to promote the film Moulin Rouge. This is captured on the cover of the November issue of Harmonica News.

Dave then went out to Germany with Johnny Pluck to play in the World Championships in Duisberg. In 1954 he played with the Steve Race Orchestra on BBC TV, before doing his National Service.

Dave took time out after his time in the Army to raise a family and worked in the printing industry. It was not until the 1980s that he got involved with the harmonica again.

He joined the Blowhards Harmonica Club, a successful educational project run the by Mike Sadler in Gravesend in the late 80s. Dave was able and willing to help with members’ problems. He continued to do harmonica repairs for many years.

It was at one of these meetings that he met Derek Yorke and with the help of a chord player called Ron Mealin, they formed Three-in-Accord. A local headmaster, John Tyler, joined to play bass and so began Four in Accord. There were several personnel changes over the years. Jack Lewis took over the chord when Ron left. When John Tyler died, Dave helped Jim O’Driscoll to take on the bass. Jack Lewis left and Pat Lynus took over on chords. Four in Accord were the last performing quartet in the country and played all over Essex and Kent as well as at harmonica festivals.

Travelling to gigs became a problem for Pat so Roy Green took over the chord for the final line-up of the group after the Bournemouth Centennial festival in 2000. This line-up appeared a number of times at NHL Festivals up to 2007.

Four in Accord with Pat Lynas

Four in Accord with Roy Green

All of the group were members of the National Harmonica League (now HarmonicaUK) and Dave served on the committee for several years in the 1990s as the Secretary. Together they organised joint meetings with the Dartford Folk Club and ran important NHL festivals in Sible Hedingham. They were also important members of the IHO and were very involved with the Millenium Festival run by John Walton in Bournemouth in 2000.

Dave had to stop playing in his later years due to ill health, but he was always good company and a great musician.

Four in Accord – El Cumbanchero
Dave Beckford – Genevieve

Harmonica Bench

I received an email from my friend Colin Parratt asking if I knew anything about a bench which his friend Martin had come across. I had to confess it didn’t know anything about it so he sent Martin’s photo to me. Martin lives in Folkestone (UK) and was the drummer in the barn dance band Colin used to play in.

The image looked like a bench based on a 7 hole harmonica. Across the back of the seat there is an inscription “Where Souls Meet”. The back of the bench was a strange shape so I decided to find out more about it.

There was an inscription on the side of the bench so I asked Colin to send me a picture of it so we could see what it said.

When I received Colin’s photo things became clearer. The plaque on the side read,

In memory of Arikę 

Musician, visual artist, teacher, therapist, inspirational blues harp player, father, grandfather and a proud black man.

At the bottom of the plaque was a QR code and when I scanned it it revealed a website – https://originsuntold.com

The website belongs to a charity, Origins Untold, a volunteer arts organisation presenting music, poetry, visual arts, fashion and food inspired and created by people of the African diaspora.

The website shows an event was held 12th June 2022, the second anniversary of Arike‘s death, to unveil.
a Blues Harp bench, designed by Pete Phillips and made by Cut Once Woodworks. The group walked from the Bandstand on the Leas in Folkestone, down the Zig Zag path to the Lower Coastal Park, where the bench is situated.

Origins Untold was founded in 2015 by the late, great Arike (aka Stan Grant), who sadly passed away on 12 June 2020 after a tragic accident.

Arike’s vision for the organisation was to broaden and change the conversation about race and about members of the African diaspora. To honour this, it is committed to breaking stereotypes, making unseen connections and unearthing buried histories, acknowledging the contributions that Black people have made to the history of this region and to its present.


In memory of Arikẹ, founder of Origins Ontold1949-2020

“Whatever a Black man can do to remind himself that he is fully human, to do it and to keep doing it… I don’t think we need to do more than that…it is just to remind ourselves that we are fully human.”

Arikẹ, 2020

(from the Origins Untold website)


Links

Martin Häffner

and the German Harmonica & Accordion Museum

Martin Häffner has dedicated his life to educating people about the history of the harmonica, especially the Hohner harmonica company. He has set up a museum, taken the story around the world as a mobile exhibition, written books and led guided tours around Trossingen, Germany, the home of the original Hohner harmonica factory.

This detailed history was co-written with highly regarded harmonica artist and author Steve Baker. He has been a consultant to the Hohner company since 1987 and has been able to gain a unique perspective on the company story. Thanks also to Diana Rosenfelder from the German Harmonica Museum for help in writing this blog page.


Martin was born October 7, 1958, in Schönau near Heidelberg. He graduated from high school in Heidelberg in 1977, and studied history and theology in Tübingen and Vienna until 1986 when he started work as an assistant at the State Museum of Technology and Work in Mannheim.

In 1987 the Hohner Harmonica Collection was sold to the state of Baden-Württemberg as part of a company rescue deal and Martin was commissioned to write a report on it. To complete his work on Hohner, its history and the Hohner collection and to get all the necessary information, Martin was employed by the Hohner company on 1 January 1988. Three years later he became an employee of “Trägerverein Deutsches Harmonikamuseum” (Sponsoring Association of the German Harmonica Museum).

Steve Baker joined Hohner as a consultant in 1987 and when they met there for the first time, Martin led him up into the cavernous attics in Bau V, the accordion works which today houses both the new Harmonica Museum and the Hohner Conservatory and has now been beautifully renovated.


He showed Steve what appeared to be literally tons of unidentifiable stuff, packed in dusty cartons and piled up all over the place without any apparent semblance of order. It looked as though the custodians of Hohner’s company history had simply dumped it all up there and forgotten about it.

Steve Baker

On closer inspection this jumble of relics revealed itself to be a huge collection of historic instruments, documents and advertising material relating to all kinds of aspects of the commercial production of free reed instruments, the largest of its kind in the world. As Steve wrote “Thank heavens the state of Baden Württemberg thought it was worth saving!”

In cooperation with the town of Trossingen, Hohner had agreed to co-finance a modest museum to house the Hohner Collection in the annex of the actual town museum on the high street. Martin began sorting through the vast piles of artefacts and arranged for the most interesting looking articles to be transferred to the new premises. Sifting through a century’s worth of unsorted leftovers was a huge task. Not all of it was of value and some was literally junk, but there were many real gems as well.

Martin had hoped the museum would be ready for the World Harmonica Championships in Trossingen in 1989 but they did not make it. Hohner’s CEO at that time, Dr. Johann Schmid, decided that he wanted to present every festival visitor with a free harmonica from the historic collection. Fortunately Martin was able to intervene and prevented him from giving away any of the really valuable historic instruments. He selected several hundred pieces which he reckoned the museum could do without and every visitor did indeed receive one.

The museum opened to the public in 1991 with over 25,000 harmonica exhibits in time for Hohner’s second World Harmonica Festival, and it has gone from strength to strength ever since. I was fortunate to visit the original museum in 2001. Lots of exhibits were displayed in small rooms with steep stairs. Martin set about producing programs of exhibitions and concerts to publicise the museum and raise money for its development. He took some of them around the world.

When the old Hohner (1911) factory buildings were restored and refurbished for small business use in 2016 the harmonica museum raised the money needed to move the exhibits a short distance to new premises in BAU V.

This provided a large open, bright, space on one floor of the building with more opportunities to display items and documents from the archive for the visitors to the museum.


Other features included office space, a shop, a small cinema and a flexible space for presentations and music performances.

Specially designed units were built to exhibit the most interesting instruments in a structured way, as well as thoroughly documenting the development of the industry.

Martin ensured that the earlier harmonica and accordion companies from the Trossingen area and Klingenthal were featured as well as other Hohner instruments like keyboards.

The permanent exhibition gives an overview of the whole sector including the Hohner family and the many other companies involved, both in Württemberg, Saxony, Vienna and elsewhere.

It is important to remember that Hohner once employed 5000 people, and swallowed up all its regional competitors to become an international household name, so the social component in terms of local history was very significant and is treated accordingly.

Martin was initially attracted to the harmonica by the beautiful packaging and innovative marketing introduced by the first Hohner generation, and a lot of space is devoted to this. Much of the advertising material is well preserved and the exhibition includes numerous examples. The strategies which Hohner developed later became more widespread, but in the 1880s it was not always usual to adapt one and the same product to meet the needs of different national markets worldwide. Hohner was a true pioneer in this area, and one of Martin’s most important goals was the documentation of both the means by which Hohner’s remarkable commercial success was achieved, and its impact on the social history of Trossingen and the region as a whole. It’s pretty amazing to think that within the space of a single generation, this isolated Black Forest village became the hub of a worldwide commercial empire, a development which alone is worthy of the interest of historians.

Another more controversial aspect of Martin Häffner’s work was his documentation of the history of the Hohner company during the Third Reich. As a historian, Martin felt unable to ignore the documentary and photographic evidence of its involvement in the war effort and extensive use of forced labour which was preserved in the Hohner Collection. The permanent exhibition shows a range of photos depicting the factory and its workers during the Nazi era, as well as historical instruments from both world wars. He didn’t presume to judge, but felt duty bound to document what had happened.

Mattiias Hohner

Martin’s hero is Matthias Hohner (1833-1902), and he takes visitors on tours around Trossingen to show where Matthias and his family lived and worked.

Occasionally the ghost of Matthias can still be seen talking to people in the museum about the company he created.

Martin “Matthias” Häffner

The existence of a museum like this is always dependent on its financing and the German Harmonica & Accordion Museum is no exception. Though both Hohner and the town of Trossingen continue to contribute to its upkeep, the purchase of the new premises and their renovation and maintenance would not have been possible without the generous support of the board of trustees and the numerous members of the support association. Many musicians have also been happy to donate their services in support of the museum. Today it offers both a comprehensive documentation of the history of free reed instruments, and an instructive and entertaining view of the people who both made and played them. If you can’t get to the museum you can learn a lot from the videos and books which Martin has researched and written or supported. You can find more about them in the Museum shop.

Martin Häffner has devoted the greater part of his working life to collecting and sharing the history of the harmonica and anyone who has more than a passing interest these instruments has every reason to visit and be grateful. We have been friends for about 20 years and I help at museum when I can.

Martin will retire in 2024 and he will find it hard not to stay close to the museum to help who ever takes over. I am sure, however, that he will probably have even more time for his other passion – enjoying long distance railway journeys.


The Museum charity receives no funding from the State of Baden-Württemberg and so one if the most important activities for Martin and his successor is and will continue to be is fund raising. Martin has established a fantastic resource for lovers of the harmonica and anyone who can should visit it and support it financially.

Additional LInks

Harmonica Hotel

One of the pleasures of being Chairman of the NHL (now HarmonicaUK) for a long time was that I was able to meet and become friends with the international harmonica players who travelled to our annual festivals via London. We live about 30 mins from Heathrow airport so we were able to provide the artists with accommodation for a couple of days to relax and get rid of jet-lag before driving them down to the festival in Bristol. They stayed in our spare bedroom, vacant since our children flew the nest and set up their own homes.

I took all this for granted until this humorous Facebook post by Rob Paparozzi brought it all back.

Many of the other artists who had stayed with us joined in with their comments. How I wish we had kept a visitors’ book, but this was all so informal and unplanned.

Two names missing from this virtual visitors’ book are Greg Szlapcynski (now Greg Zlap), and Rick Epping.


Facebook – Rob Paparozzi – 2018

A mere 242 years after the American Revolution and my poor Heart has been captured under ‘British Rule’ I was forced to stay in the lovely home of Roger & Jo Trobridge and take walks in the stoic and quaint town of Maidenhead then made to eat large hearty and delicious home cooked meals. Forced to sleep in a bed previously shared by other Harmonica slouches like Adam Gussow, Joe Filisko, Antonio Serrano, Will Galison, Peter Madcat Ruth and some tall guy named Howard Levy! Then I had to succumb to and peruse a treasure trove of rare vintage videos, books, LPs amazing Harmonica and eclectic Music Memorabilia in their lovely home compiled by Roger who is one of the FINEST music/art archivists in the world. Even forced to sit down at Jo’s lovely Kawai Grand and play old Randy Newman songs.

Then, shuffled off to the historic town in the Southwest of Britain, Bristol and made to perform with consummate pros and then hang around with the nicest warmest blokes and ladies in the country, while staying at a 5 star hotel.

Finally, having to endure 1st class upgrades and hot roasted nuts while in flight to and from the USA. How much torture can a man endure? Help! I’ve been captured (and I loved it). But I think the Queen has found out about all this mess and has had quite enough of this ‘Paparozzi dude’, so today I will be shipped back to the States.

Kidding aside. Thank You Roger Trobridge, Jo, the National Harmonica League, Ben Hewlett, David Hambley, Dave Taylor, Phil Leiwy, Shirish, oops almost forgot Walter John Davies and all the others I forgot to mention and of course it’s lovely membership and my friend Peter Hewitt for making me feel so at home in the UK and inviting me to share music and SMILES with you all this past week.

until next time … – Rob Paparozzi – (The Italian-American Prisoner of Love)

Joe Filisko – Slouch I am!

• Robbie Kondor – Well deserved treatment, even as traitors go.

• Tony Perry – The Jersey Boy!

• Mary Ellen O’Neil Davis – Well if anyone can endure such torture you can do it. Glad they got sick of you & sent you back

• Walter John Davies – We can reveal that the NHL is actually funded by the British Secret Service as part of a covert charm offensive against you ungrateful colonials. Didn’t think it strange that we had a trusty American political prisoner working on the reception desk? We’ll get you all back serving the monarch yet.

Rob Paparozzi – it all comes back! Thanks Walter!

• Richard Hunter – Clearly a case for the International Criminal Court. Thank God you were able to survive, escape, and squeeze in a big performance!

• John Posada – You poor guy…I don’t know how you can even stand it.

• Max Morden – That’s awesome…

• Greg Heumann – Sorry for your troubles, Rob. I’m sure things will look up soon. 

Rob Paparozzi – Woe is me.

• Nicholas Coppola – I am having them load the plane with cash to pay the ransom….. Don’t worry we will have you out of there soon……lol it sure is beautiful when a plan comes together

William Galison – to you and Roger & Jo. I found their village and the walks around it, one of the most pleasant moments of my my life. Sorry about the bed I slept in. I hope it had time to air out!

Peter Madcat Ruth – I was “forced” to stay there too…

Rob Paparozzi – Ahhh I knew I’d forget another Major Dude!,-)

Howard Levy – England swings like a pendulum do…

Adam Gussow – I didn’t realize that we’d all shared that same bed, but I’m happy to know that I’m in that sort of elite company! I love Roger and Jo.

Roger Trobridge – You are making it sound like a house of ill repute – we take in everyone. Antonio Serrano Dalmas also stayed with us. I wish I had taped you all playing in the music room…….

• Houndog Mc Gateley – The playing in the bar at the hotel till the wee small hours on Sunday night was always a treat for me, some great guys and memories. Can’t say I missed it this year, my wife would kill me, we spent the time in a London for our 50th Anniversary!!!

Rob Paparozzi – We missed you Houndog but Family comes 1st and that is a major celebration my friend! Big Congrats and Many more

◦ Houndog Mc Gateley – Rob Paparozzi thanks Rob, next time eh

Antonio Serrano Dalmas – I remember transcribing Larry´s Gavotte in that room!!

• John Valent – Enjoy the magic!

• Richard Smith – Nice tribute Rob Paparozzi. I think it`s true that Roger is the only member of the NHL who has never played a harmonica….. LOL

Walter Buchinger

 and the Harmonica Society Laakirchen, Austria

Summary – For over 30 years Walter Buchinger taught harmonica at the Musikschule in Laakirchen, Austria. He took groups of children to perform at festivals and concerts in Europe, Israel and the USA.


Walter was born in 1943 in Laakirchen. He learned to play harmonica and accordion and in 1963/64 he attended a seminar for music teachers in what is now the Hohner Konservatorium, in Trossingen, Germany. In 1973 Walter was teaching accordion in the local music school when he was asked to teach a harmonica course to beginners. He had no experience of teaching harmonica, but with the help of the Austrian Harmonica Association, Helmuth Herold, a professional chromatic player from Trossingen, Germany, agreed to do it. Helmuth taught beginners and advance students twice a year until the early 1990s. When Helmuth was no longer able to do it, Walter took over the classes.

The Landesmusikschule (LMS) was established in 1971. The teaching of harmonica (Mundharmonika) in the school was officially recognised in 1975 and classes started with four pupils. More soon followed. Other teachers wanted to learn to play and soon they had a harmonica group. In 1984 the current music school building was opened.

In 1985, the first school orchestra (Harmonicachoir) was formed. It had 20-25 teenage members and was led by Walter Buchinger and Margareta Rathner. The repertoire included original music for harmonica, classical and well known International popular music.

Soon they were playing concerts away from the school, beginning with one on Austrian TV. Their international appearances started with a harmonica festival in Innsbruck (Austria) in 1986, and in 1987 they performed at the Hohner 130th anniversary festival. Later that year they appeared in the first World Harmonica Championships in Jersey (Channel Islands), organised by Jim Hughes. They won the youth competitions (group and orchestra) and played in the evening concerts. This brought them worldwide recognition.

In 1988 they performed at the festival in Helmond (Holland). In 1989 they held an international festival in Laakirchen and were invited to the first of the new Hohner World Harmonica Festivals in Trossingen, Germany. They continued to take part in this four yearly festival until 2005.

The concerts continued with one in Beer Sheva (Israel) in 1990. In 1991 they released an LP containing pieces of music from their performances called ‘Our Music – Our World‘ (Unsere Musik – Unsere Welt).

1991 also brought the biggest journey for this group of children and adults when they took part in the SPAH/IHO festival in Detroit, (USA) again winning prizes in the solo, group and band categories.

Festivals followed in Portugal (1993), Austria (1994), Trossingen (1993,1996, 2001, 2005), and the IHO Millennium Festival in Bournemouth, UK (2001) where they again won many of the prizes and featured in the concerts.

When pupils left the music school many went on to form their own groups and solo careers.

  • Maria Wolfsberger – World Champion (1991-1993)
  • Trio Mahabri – Maria Wolfsberger, Johann Ortner/Thomas Stockhammer, Brigitte Laska (1989)
  • Mundharmonika Quartett Austria – Gerald Seyr, Hans Ortner, Brigitte Laska/Andrea Fränzel, Thomas Stockhammer
  • Harmonica Quintett Butterfly – Ingrid Schlögel, Lisa Fellinger, Maria Kuales, Joachim Plasser, Georg Kuales
  • Vigorous Quartett/Quintett – Mara Bachlechner, Anna Waldl / Martha Kreutzer, Judith Kreutzer, Marlene Hummelbrunner

Walter stopped teaching at the Music School in 2003 after 30 years in charge.

His last major performance with the harmonica orchestra was at the World Harmonica Festival in Trossingen, Germany, in 2005, where he conducted a group of 60 young and adult harmonica players.

Some harmonica teaching is still going on in the Music School led by Nicola Feichtinger and Olivia Winzer They are good teachers so the golden years may come again  we will see.

Walter is now in his 80s and enjoying his retirement. He continues to play with a group of senior players and has taught himself how to play the Chordomonica which was developed by Cham-ber Huang because of the chords it can play. With a growing family, house and garden he says he is the ‘chief cook and bottle washer‘ – a phrase he learned from his old friend Jim Hughes.

Walter always insists that the orchestra was a group activity with many school staff and parents providing help and support, especially on their many visits to foreign counties. There are far too many people to mention by name but please accept his thanks to all of you that you that contributed.

Here are the tracks from the LP released by Walter in 1991 of the orchestra playing some of their favourite light music and popular pieces.


Here are a couple of videos from the World Harmonica Festival in Jersey (UK) in 1987.

Scherzino
Puppet on a String
The Mundharmonikachor Laakirchen

This is the full performance of the Harmonica Society of Laakirchen, Austria, in the Evening Concert at the IHO Millenium Festival in Bournemouth (UK) in 2000, organised by John Walton.

The orchestra was composed of children from the music school, parents, helpers and teachers from the town.

Toots Thielemans at 100

Toots died in 2016 but he would have been 100 if he had lived until 2022. This year there was a series of events including concerts in Brussels and around the world to celebrate his life and music. You can see more on the event website – 100 years of Toots Thielemans .

I love his music and enjoyed his enthusiastic personality which came across in his interviews.

Here is a great edit from the many conversations he recorded over his long career as whistler, guitarist and one of the best harmonica players. The compilation was put together by a Belgian DJ, Nico Kanakaris, who goes by the name of BlueNotes (Facebook).

Here are some memories of Toots and his life broadcast in German by ‘Das Feature – Deutschlandfunk’ with contributions from harmonica players – Steven de Bruyn, Hendrik Meurkens, Yvonnick Prene, Gregoire Maret … – and many top jazz musicians. Download the music from their webspage –
Der Weg der Mundharmonika – Toots Thielemans und der Atem der Melancholie

Here, Julian Joseph and Julian Jackson talk about Toots Thielemans in the Jazz Legends series broadcast by the BBC in the early 2000s. Julian Jackson is one of the top UK Jazz harmonica players and a session musician. He was been inspired by and had visited Toots. They play a number of recordings by Toots.

A Tribute to Tommy Morgan (1932 – 2022)

I met Tommy Morgan when I travelled to Denver in 2001 for my first visit to a SPAH convention. My friend Douglas Tate had just become President of SPAH and I was the new Chairman of Harmonica UK (then the NHL). Two proud Yorkshiremen guiding two great organisations.

Douglas and Tommy were friends as was evident from their workshops and concerts. I stayed in email contact with Tommy up to the end, finally through Tommy’s great friend Jon Kip.

Tommy’s long history and musical activities have been well chronicled in the obituaries listed below. He took up chromatic harmonica at school and was fortunate to have lessons from Jerry Adler, who later got him his first recording session. After spells with the U.S. Air Force band and tours on his own throughout the 1950s Tommy built up his musical skills from arrangers like Sammy Nestico and a Masters Degree from UCLA. He also added the chord and bass harmonicas to his armoury. Tommy’s site reading improved and he began to set up his own recording sessions.

The 1960s was the beginning of the Golden Age of film and TV themes and producers were looking for harmonica players. Tommy had the skills and would tackle anything. He became the “go-to” man for recording sessions, something he did for decades. Tommy said he had done over 900 film scores and 7000 recording sessions.

A conversation with Tommy Morgan by Phil Hopkins.

Phil Hopkins wrote this for me in 2010 when I was Editor of Harmonica World. He is a chromatic harmonica player when he is not the percussionist for London stage orchestras.

Here he is with Tommy Morgan in California in 2010.

The name of Tommy Morgan, Hollywood’s favourite harmonica player, is assured of a prominent place in any history of the instrument’s development. Morgan’s extraordinary career, during which he has racked up more than 7000 recording sessions for entertainment industry bluebloods such as The Beach Boys, The Carpenters, John Barry, Randy Newman, John Williams, Barbara Streisand and James Taylor, to name but a few, is still going strong – and recently passed a significant milestone. For September 2010 witnessed the 60th anniversary of Morgan’s session career, commencing with a recording for the Andrews Sisters in 1950 and recently seeing him booked in the studio for sessions for projects such as the film “Toy Story 3” and a new Barry Manilow album. And he still keeps busy with live classical engagements with the world-renowned LA Philharmonic.

I personally experienced the Tommy Morgan sound as a part of the soundtrack to my formative years as a youngster growing up in the 70s, even though at that stage I didn’t know the name of the man who was behind it. The mournful intro to “Rainy Days And Mondays”, the funk/C&W fusion of the Rockford Files theme, the spooky middle section of “Good Vibrations” (borrowed from my elder brother’s record collection) – all were manifestations of the master harmonicist at work in different disguises. But it was only when I heard John Barry’s orchestral album “The Beyondness Of Things” in 1998, with Morgan prominently credited for some gorgeous solos, that I connected the name of Tommy Morgan to the harmonica work which I had enjoyed for many years hitherto (via information on Morgan’s website). And for me as a harmonica student, Tommy’s sound on “Beyondness” soon became a reference work, a template of how the harmonica at its best could sound. Forget about whether it was chromatic or diatonic (actually mostly chromatic, with a little diatonic on “Dance With Reality”), this was an amazing harmonica sound, rich, full, controlled and completely attuned to the lush orchestrations which surrounded it.

What did it take, I wondered as the years passed, to develop a sound and a career to this level? Then in October 2010 I found myself passing through Tommy Morgan’s home city of Los Angeles and was lucky enough to find the man himself in town, graciously agreeing to spend a morning explaining to me and Harmonica World readers how it all came together.

“People call me a legend,” he says, settling into a chair in my hotel room – before modestly adding, “which means I’m old.” But I am soon to learn that this particular “legend” was erected on a bedrock of sheer old-fashioned graft. “When I was 26 I realised that I didn’t like my sound,” he explains. Although everyone else seemed satisfied with it – Morgan had already been a soloist with the US Airforce Band and had worked studio sessions along with guesting on the top-rated Ed Sullivan Show – he wanted to attain the sound he heard in his mind’s ear. “I had weaknesses. I hadn’t gone through the pedagogy that other instrumentalists go through to play in orchestras. So I started on the Rubank flute book. It’s still around. I spent several hours a day for 6 years, while also working dates. I started with the first page and didn’t skip any exercises, I played them all. I now have a stack of sight-reading two feet high. Then when I got to a level where I thought I was getting better, I would spend a week in A Major. Then a week in B Flat.”

I mention that I dislike A Major. It’s a sharp key and tricky for chromatic players. “You’ve got to like A Major,” Morgan cautions. “I just finished an album with Gregg Nestor the classical guitarist where every piece bar one is in a sharp key. I play in D as comfortably as I do in any key. I’m as prepared as anyone who’s been through a European Conservatoire. I stuck with the flute and oboe tutors. Clarinets get a little too arpeggiated.” He chuckles. “If you want to be humbled, go get a clarinet book.”

But how to get that big, rich sound? “I practised long tones. Just like wind players do at music college. The note has to be in tune, and the tone mustn’t waver. It’s not easy.” He spots a harmonica in my room and asks me to play a scale. “That’s good but you don’t play every note in tune.” He asks to borrow the instrument and plays a single G, hole number 3, which starts imperceptibly, builds to a crescendo and dies away. The pitch is perfect, the sound fills the room. Then he demonstrates a Bb scale at breakneck speed to show that, at age 77, the technique is as strong as ever.

I find Morgan direct, but not intimidating. He likes to communicate clearly, and he is generous with information. “When I was sixteen or seventeen I studied with Jerry Adler, Larry’s brother. Jerry was a superb ballad player, he opened my eyes to what could be done. It wasn’t so much totally improvised jazz solo as an interpretation. It was more like, here’s the tune….and second time around he’d add and subtract things. And now when I give a lesson I sit close to the student, and we play. The best way to learn from someone is close-up. Without equalization or effects.”

Morgan adds that the hours spent listening to playbacks in the studio have been essential in building his sound.

“Hearing your sound back in the studio is the best way of developing it. I have heard myself more than any other harmonica player. You don’t hear yourself when you play alone. Most students I have play introspectively. They don’t project, they play with their heads down and slump a little bit. If I were teaching you today we’d go into a corner with hard surfaces where the sound bounces back in your ear. When there was a lot of studio work I’d hear myself daily…you’d hear a solo back and change a little bit here. This sounds good…but this is a little better.”

Another key to the Tommy Morgan sound is the area where the sound is actually produced, the contact zone between player and instrument. Morgan favours the square hole found on the classic Hohner 270 chromatic. “There’s more area than the round hole,” he confides. “And there is nothing on the inside of my mouth that covers the square. When I’m tongue-blocking, which I mostly use for chromatic, the right side of my tongue is flat. When I’m giving a lesson we both face the mirror with mouthpieces and you’ll see on mine that there is nothing covering the edge.”

Did he consciously set out to flatten the right edge of his tongue?

“I played for so long not liking the sound that I gradually improved the embouchure. As I uncovered a bit more hole it became a more open sound. I get the full air passage. I proved you can make a square mouth.” He raises an eyebrow ironically. “I have lived the harmonica, believe me. I didn’t take anything for granted, and I have tried a lot of things. But I didn’t set out to make a square mouth. I set out to make a good tone.”

This, I realise, is at the core of what Morgan is about. A relentless and restless desire to make better music. And at this point it comes as no surprise to hear that serving the music is the end result, not showcasing the harmonica. When I mention how much I enjoyed a little bend Tommy played on a solo on the James Taylor album “October Road”, he smiles. “That worked for James’ album. And I never forgot whose album it was. I played that way to enhance James’ album, not to make me stand out. You’re listening and then fitting in – how do you fit in to the overall picture? That’s the main question.”

And the ability to fit into a musical score, whether classical or pop, labelled Morgan as a team-player, embraced by the Hollywood session world.

“It’s all about blending. I did seven years of the Waltons, playing with probably the finest woodwind section in the world. Flute, oboe and clarinet all have different vibrato and I matched my sound to theirs. I took a lot of care over tuning. When you blow the harmonica hard it goes a little flat. I developed a very pure sound where I don’t cut off too many vibrations [cycles per second] but I also beat the problem by carrying chromatics tuned to 441, 442, 443 and 444 kHz. My diatonics are blues and equal-tempered [one is better for chords, the other for individual melodies].”

In case this all sounds very cosy, it should be remembered that Morgan did not walk into a ready-made studio career. “When I started, the job didn’t exist in Hollywood. George Fields had done some good things in the studios, but to be able to play full-time did not exist as a possibility. Then I did a session for Jerry Goldsmith. Goldsmith said, “You read pretty well. I’m going to write you like a third clarinet. Instead of having two harmonica solos, we’ll have you come in and play nine cues.” And when people found I could read pretty well, they started to use me. On one occasion, a composer asked Eddy Manson to play a melody up a third. It didn’t work out, but I was there and because of my training I was able to do it. And after that one thing led to another.”

Morgan sees preparation as a vital component in his success. “I played piano when I was young, plus some guitar. When I got out of the service I could see the nightclub and theatre industry was dying. My folks suggested I go back to school, so I did. I was studying for my masters degree in music, writing up my thesis, when I started getting called for sessions. And that’s when I thought, “This is what I want to do. Recording.” And I’ve used my experience as an orchestrator to interpret, or interpolate, a part. Interpolation is when I try to work out the effect a composer is trying to get, and then try to improve it. Sometimes I won’t even tell him what I’ve done. As an example, if I got asked to play a trill from D# to E [difficult on chromatic], I’ll do it on an E harmonica. Then the trill sounds much better….it kind of floats more. But I never tell anybody what I’m doing. Another player will work with the same composer and say it’s impossible. Then the composer will say “Well, Morgan did it.” I carry 45 pounds of harmonicas, all the chromatics and diatonics. So I can do stuff that nobody else can because nobody else has figured out how to do it.” Morgan shrugs and smiles nonchalantly, seemingly at ease with divulging these tricks of the trade.

But working for John Barry didn’t require a huge stack of harmonicas, just the ability to convert Barry’s melodicism onto tape as purely as possible. Tommy is unstinting in his praise for Barry. “John can say more with a unison string line than most people can with a full orchestra. John has a melodic sense that is incredible and he writes great harmonica. Take “Dances With Wolves”…people say to me, I know your sound from “Dances”. And do you know how many cues I played for “Dances”? One. It’s so poignant, and so correctly used. I played a 2 minute 15 second cue and people remember my sound. Two takes. Twenty minutes. That was it. “That’s gorgeous”, said John. “You can go home.””

I ask about the tricky F to F octave leap from hole 2 (draw) to hole 6 (draw) on the “Dances” theme. Morgan explains the use of portamento, the classical violinist’s technique of leaning up to an expressivo high note. “It’s not quite a bend, you just lean up to and into the note,” Tommy explains, singing the phrase by way of explanation. But he is quick to add that technique, while important, is just the means of achieving musical communication and not an end in itself. He says, “I get asked “Which way do you practise C major? Which holes do you play going up, and which coming down? And I reply that I practise it every way. I worked on several different slide/hole combinations for a passage in “Ritual Fire Dance” before deciding on the best one. Which was not the easiest one to play – but was the one which sounded best. And my answer to every technical question is “What does it sound like?”

I realise that Tommy has sung several musical examples during our conversation. I quiz him on this. “I’ve been a choir director for 25 years [amongst his other achievements – Morgan is also a qualified glider pilot, a black-belt Hapiko Karate expert and has an accountancy qualification]. I pattern my playing on vocals,” he confides. “My vibrato is similar to a vocalist – I establish the sound and then add vibrato afterwards. If you can’t sing what you’re trying to do – and it doesn’t matter how good or bad your voice is – then you can’t play it. And whatever style of music you are playing, I would recommend you go to the source for your inspiration. If you want to play blues harp, don’t just listen to the players – although there are some amazing ones, like Howard Levy and Jason Ricci. Listen to BB King. And I would suggest to a jazz clarinettist to listen to Toots. As a friend of mine once said, Toots would have been a giant on any instrument he chose to play. But while I have studied the way oboe, flute and clarinet players produce a sound, I pattern my own sound on the human voice.”

Perhaps it is that very vocal quality of Tommy Morgan’s sound which explains why it has communicated its message so unerringly to so many people for so many years.

I ask Morgan to help me summarise his contribution (and by extension the harmonica’s) to the Hollywood industry in the 500-plus movies his playing has graced. “I was an extra dimension for composers,” he explains. “Another colour in the sound palette. I lived at the right time and I had the opportunity. But I worked for it.”

Morgan feels that his playing is best represented away from the commercial world, on his discs Classics Lite 1 and 2. “The weird thing is, you spend 20 minutes on something like the theme from “The Rockford Files” and you are judged on it for the rest of your life. But I think the Classics Lite albums represent the full range of my playing.”

You can see and order Tommy’s solo CDs here

There are more examples of Tommy Morgan’s playing on my Tribute Page 

Here is Phil Hopkins home page

Pre Harmonica Blues

I met up with some friends in Ealing, West London, last week for a post-Covid meeting of Vinyl Addicts Anonymous. After a nice lunch in the Kings Arms we wandered down to the Oxfam Charity Shop, which specialises in second hand music recordings and books. We wanted to test our ability to fight the temptation to buy more vinyl and failed miserably. My wife tries to enforce a strict “one out, one in“” policy but when I saw the new box full of records from a collector of traditional jazz (mainly British) my resistance crumbled. I resisted buying over 20 recordings including 78rpm discs by Bessie Smith and Mead Lux Lewis but could not resist 4 10″ LPs which were a part of my music education in the mid 1950s.


The first was “King Joe” (Columbia 33S 1065) by the King Oliver Band (1923) with a young Louis Armstrong on cornet. Great blues tunes like “Dippermouth Blues” but unfortunately not “Canal Street Blues“, the two sides of one of my early 78s.

Dippermouth Blues

The second was a solo piano recording by Jelly Roll Morton (1939) on Vogue L.D.E 080. One of the founders of jazz, he recorded many tracks by his band “Jelly Roll Morton and his Red Hot Peppers“. Here he shows the range of his own compositions including blues. He was ill when these recordings were made for the Library of Congress and he died two years later.

Mamie’s Blues

Josh White was thought by serious blues collectors to be unauthentic but his more sophisticated vocal and guitar style was more appreciated by mainstream British listeners. This collection “Josh White – Ballads and Blues” (Brunswick LA 8562) was recorded in 1949 and released in Britain in 1952 also features a track with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee.

Sometimes

The final 10″ LP was “New Orleans Joys” by the new Chris Barber Jazz Band, with Pat Halcox on trumpet. It was issued in 1954 and it contains two tracks by the Lonnie Donegan Skiffle GroupRock Island Line and John Henry. Lonnie was the band’s banjo player and they played during the band’s concerts. Trad Jazz had taken off and the Skiffle boom was about to start.

Chimes Blues

This is where harmonica starts to come into my story. You can read more about this in my blog about Cyril Davies


English Traditional Harmonica Players

Whilst there is a lot of information on the use of the harmonica in Scottish and Irish Traditional music, little has been written about its use in England. This reflects the lower profile of traditional music in England and the relative isolation of most of the harmonica/mouth organ players. Musicians usually use tremolo or diatonic harmonicas. Here is a brief summary of what we could find. More details will follow about specific players from England. This is work in progress.

This review was written by Roger Trobridge with the help of Katie Howson. Thanks also to Jane Bird and others for their input.

Northumberland shares a border and many cultural links with Scotland, especially musical ones. It’s mainly rural location in the North of England has helped it to retain its musical traditions when other regions have struggled to do so.

The Northumberland Moothie Tradition

Will Atkinson (1908-2003) from Northumberland is the best known English traditional harmonica player. Will came from a musical family and was a shepherd for most of his life. He played mouthorgan and melodeon as a child before moving to the accordion and playing in a local group. Later in his life he returned to the tremolo harmonica. Will knew and played with many of the musicians like Jimmy Shand at musical festivals in the Scottish Borders. His repertoire included a very large number of local and Scottish tunes and he was renowned for precision of his playing. There are several CDs of him playing solo or with The Shepherds (Joe Hutton and Willie Taylor).

Ernie Gordon (The Geordie Jock) from Alnwick was a friend of Will’s and spent a lot of time with him, learning many of Will’s tunes. He is a fine musician who also plays the pipes and drums as well as music from countries like Greece where he lived for a few years. Ernie has been a big supporter of HarmonicaUK for 20 years which has help to raise the profile of the moothie. He has recorded one CD. You can see many videos of Ernie Gordon and Will Atkinson here.

Roy Hugman is another Geordie moothie player from Morpeth, who has promoted music from Northumberland and taught tremolo for HarmonicaUK is . He plays locally with his band and has an active YouTube and Facebook page.

Jimmy Little is a prominent moothie player from the Alnwick area who has released a couple of CDs.

Jimmy Hunter was recorded by collector Peter Kennedy in 1954 at his home at Haydon Bridge, Northumberland, England, when Kennedy was working for the BBC’s Folk Music & Dialect Recording Scheme.

Other Geordie moothie players include Anita James and Rob Say.

Other Regional Traditional Players

Some other areas, particularly East Anglia and the West Country also held onto their traditional music, including harmonica players. Here are some who have been picked up by collectors and local clubs.

Jim Small (1913-n.d.) Learned to play from his father and played for folkdancing at school as a teenager, growing up near the Mendips in Somerset. He was involved in national radio broadcasts from 1938 to the mid 1950s, playing mostly folk dance music, and was then rediscovered by the revivalists of English traditional music in the 1970s. He was featured on a cassette / CD on Peter Kennedy’s Folktrax label, which sadly, no longer exists.

Alfie Butler was a Gloucestershire gypsy who played harmonica as well as piano accordion.

Bill Elsom and Jasper Smith were Travellers recorded in southern England; the latter can be heard on the CD “My Father’s the King of the Gypsies” on the Topic label.

Peter Roud, from Hampshire, was the subject of an article in EDS Spring 2011. He made a few recordings which are held by his family.

Sam Bond, again in Hampshire, played polkas, step dances, marches, singalong tunes etc, and recorded a cassette on the Forest Tracks label.

Stan Seaman was, a Hampshire melodeon player who also plays harmonica who made some recordings.

Dave Williams (1934-1997) was a harmonica, melodeon and banjo player in the New Forest area, who performed with Stan Seaman on many occasions, and was part of the Forest Tracks record label which recorded both Stan and Sam Bond.

Two more Hampshire players, Jimmy Dixon and Ron Whatmore can be heard on the Topic CD: “Rig-A-Jig-Jig – Dance Music of the South of England”.

John Cole played chromatic with a few of the folk song and skiffle groups in the London area in the 1950s before moving to Spain.

Bill Train of Teignmouth recorded a selection of old song tunes, polkas hornpipes and a nice jig.

The musical and dance traditions from the Dartmoor area have been well documented through the twentieth century.

Jack Rice (1915-1994) and Les Rice (1912-1996), cousins from Chagford, played harmonica in the pubs, and for dancing. There is a CD of their playing available, called “Merrymaking”:

Bill Murch played in the Dartmoor Pixie Band from 1973 to 1992 and can be heard on their CD “A Dartmoor Country Dance Party

Mike Bond (1943-2014) was a real enthusiast and inspired everyone he met, and there’s a nice interview with him here: https://www.flaxey-green.co.uk/Devon%20Folk/pdf/WA%20archive/WA87.pdf

The county of Suffolk has been well covered by folk music collectors throughout the course of the 20th century and just a cursory scan of the sources produces: Albert Smith, Tom Thurston, Harry Fleet, Charlie Philpots, Fred Pearce and George Ling in the coastal village: some of these can be read about on the “Sing Say and Play” pages on the Musical Traditions website – https://www.mustrad.org.uk/ssp . In Mid Suffolk there are even more names to be found including George Wade, Glyn Griffiths, Clemmie Pearson, Tom Williams, Lubbidy Rice, Jack Pearson, Bill Smith and Reg Pyett, who are all featured on the double CD “Many A Good Horseman” on the Veteran label. Others including fiddler Fred Whiting, melodeon players Walter Read and Fred List were known to play the harmonica as well. Most of these men played in the their local pubs on a Saturday night and for outings with darts and quoits teams, and their repertoire would include sing-a-long songs as well as hornpipes and polkas for stepdancing.

Harold Covill (1910-1993) from March in Cambridgeshire started by playing his father’s mouthorgan and played all his life for local entertainments and dances. In later life he featured on Topic Records’ 1974 LP “English Country Music from East Anglia”. He also taught children through a local youth club.

Jack Hyde played for Abingdon Traditional Morris Dancers (now Oxfordshire, but then Berkshire). There are tracks of him on two CDs on the Topic label: “You Lazy Lot of Boneshakers” and “Rig-A-Jig-Jig – Dance Music of the South of England”.

Players In English Ceilidh Bands etc.

Martin Brinsford (b. 1947) started playing drums in 1962 and then discovered traditional English dance and music and took up playing tremolo harmonica. He was a founder member of Old Swan Band, England’s premier country dance band, and Brass Monkey with Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick. He has played in many other bands and recording sessions He plays a wide range of music drawn from around the world as well as England. currently plays vintage Québécois dance music with The Pigeon Swing. He has played at HarmonicaUK festivals. You can read more here.

Terry Potter (b. 1935) is another tremolo player who has been active since the 1960s with the modern tradition musicians like Ashley Hutchings (‘The Compleat Dancing Master‘, ‘Kicking Up The Sawdust‘) as well as playing with the Etchingham Steam Band, Potters Wheel and his family group, Cousins and Sons. You can read more here.

John Tams (b.1949) is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, composer and actor. He is known locally in Derbyshire for his work with the Derbyshire Volunteers, but is known worldwide as the driving force behind such hugely influential groups such as Home Service and the Albion Band and also for his creative input into productions such as “War Horse” and “Lark Rise to Candleford” at the National Theatre, and for composing TV and film music including “Sharpe”.

Katie Howson (b.1956) is known mainly for playing the English melodeon/ diatonic accordion but has in fact played tremolo harmonica for nearly as long. A member of several English ceilidh bands, including PolkaWorks, whose 2014 CD “Borrowed Shoes” features her harmonica playing.

Chris Taylor (b.1946) from Kent, played in the Oyster Ceilidh BandGas Mark V and PolkabillyGas Mark V released a number of recordings featuring his harmonica playing.

Simon Booth (b.1955) from Lancashire, plays tremolo harmonica and recorded with the Ran Tan Band.

Barry Parkes (b.1952) from Cheshire, plays tremolo harmonica and recorded with Dr Sunshine’s Pavement ShowAll Blacked Up and The Ironmasters.

Des Miller whilst living in Norfolk played and recorded with the Old Hat Concert Party and Rig-a-Jig, both bands specialising in localised repertoire.

Jaime Gill was featured in “Harmonica World” playing his large Hohner “683” double sider with the Clog Morris Band. He plays in “The Bicton Inn” in Exmouth.

Steve Harrison played mouth organ (and melodeon) in a couple of barn dance bands around Halifax (Yorkshire) and occasionally further afield. He was a member of HarmonicaUK and played tremolo and later, diatonic, until his death in 2018.

Eddie Upton took up harmonica more seriously in the 1970s. He played and recorded with The Pump and Pluck Band and toured Internationally. He set up Folk South West in 1992 and he appeared at a HarmonicaUK festival.

Ted Crum (1947-2020) from Coventry played blues style harp to accompany folk songs with Somerville Gentlemen’s Band, and driving dance music with “rock ceilidh band” Peeping Tom and jazz-influenced Steamchicken.

Jon Fletcher plays diatonic, chromatic and tremolo harmonicas and is a guitarist and singer, performing both solo and with the band Magpie Lane.

Keith Holloway plays tremolo harmonica, although he better known as a melodeon and bass player in bands iincluding Random, The Old Chapel Band & Bosun Higgs.

The New Generation

Traditional music never stands still and young musicians will always find a way to keep it fresh and relevant for the new generation. Two in particular are very talented, original International performers who include traditional music in their compositions and performances, but in very different ways.

Will Pound comes from a folk music family and he has worked with other musicians like Dan Walsh (banjo) to develop his own style and repertoire. He has been nominated for the BBC Folk Awards ‘Musician of the Year’ and has released six varied CDs. You can find out more about him here and on his website.

Phillip Henry is one of the UK’s top guitarists as well as a harmonica player who has developed his own style of beatboxing and diatonic harmonica playing. He has been nominated for Instrumentalist of the Year in the FATEA Awards and has released several CDs alone and with collaborators like Hannah Martin (Edgelarks). You can read more about Phillip here and on his website.

Sean Spicer and Simon Joy are two younger players who are continuing in the tradition. Sean played in the National Youth Folk Ensemble and at Twickfolk and Simon looks after traditional music within HarmonicaUK.

Jane Bird plays diatonic and tremolo harmonicas, mainly in sessions. She also plays anglo concertina and is probably more widely known as a dance caller and event organiser.

Scottish Traditional Harmonica Players

Nigel Gatherer has a list of Scottish traditional recordings and musicians including moothie players

George Current has more background on the Scottish moothie players.

Irish Traditional Harmonica Players

Don Meade has written a very detailed document about The Harmonica and Irish Traditional Music which includes an Irish/Scottish/Quebecois Harmonica Discography.

Geoff Wallis’ The Irish Music Review has a slightly updated version of the list of players.

Dave Hynes has assembled a large gallery of images of Irish traditional harmonica players, as well as a list of the All Ireland Champions and BDs and DVDs of harmonica music.Additional Information

Additional Information

Will Atkinson – 3 CDs (2 were LPs) have been released – Mouth Organ (Solo), Harthorpe Burn (Joe Hutton, Willy Taylor and Will Atkinson), An Audience with the Shepherds (Joe Hutton, Willy Taylor and Will Atkinson). Will also plays on several CDs of Northumberland Traditional music. Here is a video from a concert at Morpeth Town Hall.

Martin Brinsford – He has recorded one CD under his own name, Next Slide Please (Keith Ryan with Gareth Kiddier) and he is present on several recordings with Brass Monkey. He has several videos on YouTube from the HarmonicaUK festivals.

Ernie Gordon – He has a privately recorded CD, The Geordie Jock and several YouTube videos including this Tribute to Will Atkinson from an HarmonicaUK concert in 2003. You can see many other videos of Ernie Gordon and Will on my Vimeo site.

Roy Hugman – Has several videos on Youtube including a moothie workshop for HarmonicaUK.