The History of HarmonicaUK (Part 7, 1986-2000)

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.

In the Part 6, John Walton stood down as President of the National Harmonica League having tried to build up a sustainable organisation. His move to a more International, monthly A4 magazine in 1986 had resulted in both his personal company, Able Music Ltd, and the NHL becoming unprofitable. Colin Mort agreed to take over as President in 1987, and he began a series of loans needed to keep the NHL running. John Walton became the Secretary, Treasure and Magazine Editor.

Colin needed to make more fundamental changes to the organisation to help it break even. John’s A4 glossy magazine was soon replaced by a much simpler and cheaper A5 version. Larry Adler agreed to become President of the NHL with Norm Dobson remaining as Vice President. Colin became Chairman and he invited more people onto the committee to share the load and make it more democratic. Dave Beckford, David Michelsen Pat Missin, Jim Hughes, Victor Brooks, Tony Perry, and Ken Howell are just some of the ones who helped over the years. Steve Jennings edited the magazine until 1995 when Colin took it over. John Walton became more involved with the International Harmonica Organisation (IHO) and when its President, Peter Janssen, died in 1993, John replaced him.

The winners of the 1987 Open Competition took part in The First Harmonica World Championships organised and run in Jersey by Jim Hughes with support from some NHL members.

The NHL settled into an annual cycle of events with a small informal Spring Hoolie, an Open National Harmonica Championships and a weekend Convention/AGM. This broke down after a dispute at the 1994 Open Championships when the judges decided that none of the chromatic players reached the standard expected of a National Champion and the prizes were not awarded. The competition restarted two years later but as a best on the day event rolled into the annual festival and AGM.

Mike Sadler ran courses in the Victoria Adult Education Centre in Gravesend using his own method to teach harmonica and he formed a group called The Blowhards. Derek Yorke and Dave Bedford were members. The only recent UK quartet, Four in Accord, started there. Colin Mort set up Southern Harmonics for players in the Hampshire area.

About the same time, 1989, Norman Ives was introducing the scouts in the 5th St Mary’s Group in Great Yarmouth to all types of harmonica. David Michelsen joined to provide more teaching and with financial support from NHL members and its own magazine, Kiddin’ Around.

This group of children progressed over the next 6 years from beginners to performing at Glastonbury, playing for Disney in the USA and appearing at numerous festivals and TV shows. Known as Harp Start, they achieved a very high standard of solo and group playing, including winning World Championships in Trossingen, Germany in 1993. Unfortunately the activity had to stop.

Norman Ives ran the best known harmonica shop in the UK with the tag line – You can get one of
those from Norman
. Along with David Michelsen he held a popular series of Residential Blues Tuition Weekends in Caister from 1994-96. David then worked with Steve Jennings and later, Pat Missin, to develop a one day event which could be held anywhere. This was called a Blue Saturday and the first one took place in Corby in July 1996, They continued up to 1999 and Johnny Mars and Colin Mort assisted at some of them. The experiences learned from the Blue Saturday events led to similar events being run by other players around the country. Another off-shoot of this activity was the attempt to provide certification for harmonica teachers, The Harmonica Teachers Accreditation Board (HTAB). This is no longer active.

After 1995 Colin found himself short of volunteers and he was doing much of the committee work himself. I joined the committee in 1999 as Colin tried to find a way to pass on the control to someone else. My role was to build an Internet presence for the NHL which we did very successfully that year, with the website (now and an email based forum for members. Volunteers were found for some of the other roles.

There had always been a strained relationship between the IHO and the NHL despite there having been a shared Hoolie festival in 1994. Some players were members of both organisations. Things came to a head when the IHO decided to hold an International Centennial Festival in Bournemouth in 2000. John Walton wanted to run it with financial support from the NHL, but Colin had worked hard to make the NHL sustainable and he wanted assurances about financial liabilities.

Colin did not get them so John Walton went ahead alone. John pulled it off but both he and Colin were worn out. The IHO organisation had also run out of steam and when Colin asked me if I would take over as Chairman said I would do the job if the infighting stopped.

Next time we will see what the new century would bring.

Back to History of HarmonicaUK home index page.

Forward to The History of HarmonicaUK – Part 8

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *