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Concertina


Young girl playing concertina - Victorian cigarette card
Young girl playing a concertina - Victorian commercial advertising card (private collection).


The concertina belongs to a class of instruments known as free-reed instruments, which also includes accordions and harmonicas. It was developed in 1829 and 1830 by Sir Charles Wheatstone after several years of building prototypes, a few of which still exist. It became popular with music hall performers, and concertina bands were even formed, playing marches and other popular pieces. In the 20th Century the instrument gradually fell out of favour, and one by one the makers closed or went out of business. It did however become a favourite of traditional musicians and was saved from obscurity, as far as the UK was concerned, by the 'Folk Revival' of the 1960s and 1970s. Performers found the concertina freed them from the constraints of the guitar and for traditional dancers, such as morris, the anglo concertina and its accordion cousin the melodeon proved ideal.

There are several distinct types of concertina, all sharing the same basic design of folding bellows with buttons at each end. The main types are the English, the Anglo and the various varieties of the Duet concertina. The English concertina is a single action instrument, producing the same note on both push and pull. The Anglo concertina is a double action instrument, producing a different note when pushed or pulled. The FARNE archives contain a number of sound recordings of the English concertina, largely by one of the region's most well known musicians Alistair Anderson. The English concertina is the original concertina invented by Wheatstone. You can recognise one by the 4 parallel rows of buttons and by the supports for thumb and little finger on each end. The larger baritone and bass English concertinas frequently have wrist straps as well, to help with the greater weight of the instrument.

In this audio example we hear well known Northumbrian Alistair Anderson playing a solo set of tunes on english concertina recorded at the National Festival at Loughborough in 1979.

This short audio clip is available in Mp3 or Real Audio format.

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