The History of HarmonicaUK (Part 5, 1975-1981)

HarmonicaUK started life as a Hohner marketing activity in 1935 and remained so until it was handed over to the members in 1981. It was first called the Hohner National Song Band League (SBL), then the National Harmonica League (NHL) in 1982 and finally HarmonicaUK in 2021.

Hohner’s final attempt to keep the organisation going

The decline in Hohner’s financial and marketing support for harmonicas and accordions in the UK came to a head with the breaking of links with the NAO, the National Accordion Organisation, and the halt to the production of the magazine “Accordion Times incorporating Harmonica News”, in 1974. From 1959 the NAO and the magazine had been the “home” for the National Harmonica League (NHL). It included a harmonica competition in its annual Accordion Day. Now there was no harmonica magazine to capture its history.

In 1974, the Accordion Day was held in Brighton. The harmonica competition was mainly for chromatic players and the winner was 16 year old Ivan Richards from West Heath, Birmingham, a pupil of Jim Hughes. In 1975 the event was held in Scarborough and the Larry Adler Challenge Cup was again won by Ivan, only this time he was the only contestant. Interest was waning.

Later that year, Hohner invited several blues harp players to take part in a competition sponsored by Hohner and “Sounds” magazine in the Kings Road Theatre, Chelsea which was judged by Steve Rye and Judd Proctor. Six were chosen and asked to travel as a team to the World Championships in Offenburg, Germany. They were the first blues harp players to take part in the World Championships. They included Steve Smith, Paul Lamb and Chris Turner and they won the Group Contest. Chris also won the diatonic competition. The other member of the British team was Ivan Richards and he won the Chromatic competition at the age of 17. He had been fourth in Ypres, Belgium in 1973.

Here is an image of “The Magnificent Seven” who took part in the Championship.

Britain’s harmonica heroes

(from left): Chris Taylor (winner of Diatonic Harmonica Championship, Antony Grant, Paul Lamb, Spitfire” Andrew Walton, Peter Hopewell. Centre: Ivan Richards (winner of Chromatic Harmonica Championship). Front: Steve Smith. Except Ivan Richards, all players formed a new harp group called “Blowjob” which also came away with the top prize in their group section (Sounds)

There is little information from 1976 but there was a chromatic championship in Weston-Super-Mare, which was won by Paul Templar. He had been a performer in the 1960s and was recovering from a serious lung disease.

He released a four track EP, Harmonica Magic.

Hohner’s last throw of the dice

At the end of 1976, Derek Kirk was Marketing Manager at Hohner under their Managing Director, Dirk Kommer. With their PR man, Les Stewart, he invited John Tyler, a headmaster from Essex, to become the Director of a relaunched NHL organisation which would be supported by Hohner. John had been a prominent member of the NHL and an accomplished chromatic player since the end of the 1950s. He accepted the challenge and set about opening up the organisation to all styles of harmonica, especially the popular blues harmonica players.

There was a strong membership drive with a small annual charge which included the new magazine – still called Harmonica News – and the circular NHL logo was born. The membership was about 1000 in 1977 and rose to over 2,500 by the end of 1979.

John’s big idea was to hold Get Together concerts in London, Birmingham and Manchester. The London ones were held in Cecil Sharp House in 1977 and 1979, and the other two were held in 1978. These concerts included many top players including Steve Smith, Harry Pitch, Paul Jones, Johnny Mars, Steve Rye, Paul Rowan, Jimmy Andrews, Carol Axford, Paul Templar, Brian Chaplin, Fred Southern …

If anyone has any programmes or tape recordings from these events, please let me know.

Alongside this activity the new “Harmonica News” (A4 size) was a huge improvement. Probably one of the best the NHL has produced.

It was full of topical news, articles, images and interviews with top touring players like Toots, Charlie McCoy and Sonny Terry as well as British artists.

By the end of 1979 it had become obvious that all this great work was not being rewarded by a growing and paying membership. The NHL had always had an international appeal and in 1980 they decided to make the magazine more colourful and broaden its appeal. It became the “International Harmonica Magazine incorporating Harmonica News”.

They published a couple of issues of the new magazine in 1980/81 before Hohner finally decided to call it a day. One of the main drivers, Derek Kirk, had moved on and John Tyler had done all he could.

Where did the NHL go next? South Africa?

Back to History of HarmonicaUK home index page.

Forward to The History of HarmonicaUK – Part 6

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