A Right Squeeze
by Robert Veitch
The Club began in September 2009 and meets on the last Saturday of the month at St Andrews Youth Centre, Burgess Hill. Ron and Sue Bennett run the Club and each meeting is a themed ‘3-hour squeeze.’ They are gregarious and welcoming hosts who like to keep things spontaneous.
While I chatted to Ron, several gleaming accordions appeared from their cases. Each instrument was distinct with wonderful glittering patterns and all appeared to be much loved by their owners. Music stands were erected and the impromptu sound was reminiscent of a Parisian side street. Just a few minutes later, without warning, without a call to order or instruction, the wonderful sound of impulsiveness filled the room as the first tune of the afternoon began. More of the seventeen players joined in and the volume and intensity of the playing increased as the music continued. There is no collective noun for accordions, but it seemed to me that a ‘delight of accordions’ would be appropriate.
The tunes continued throughout the afternoon: Bluebell Polka, Highland Cathedral, Amazing Grace, House of the Rising Sun, Ye Banks and Braes and I Belong to Glasgow. All were played with a good sense of humour and plenty of smiles. Sue Bennett is the Club’s musical director, and life and soul of the party. She and Ron first met and began ‘A Fine Romance’ at another accordion club in Uxbridge. The structure there was quite formal, Ron told me, “But the joy of the West Sussex Accordion Club is that there is no real structure and members go with the theme and mood of the day.” Sue is keen for the Club to be fun, to encourage all levels of playing. As playing numbers grew, non-players began to come and watch to be part of the atmosphere and bonhomie, “A sort of fan club,” as Ron calls it. Violet is 101 and comes to most meetings with her friend Jean and Sue’s mum, Doreen Brindley, who is the resident Tea Lady.
I learnt that Ron acquired his accordion back in 1957 when he was seven years old and it’s in as good condition now, as it was back then. A good accordion holds its value and retains its musical quality over time. Cheaper accordions are good to learn on, but a reliable accordion that lasts will cost £3-5,000 and a top end instrument will cost up to £20,000. He went on to say the very best accordions are made on the Adriatic coast of Italy.
Ron told me themes for meetings are often seasonal, like St. Patricks Day, St. George’s Day, Paris, Shakespeare, Valentines, Cornish Cream Tea, Easter, and on this occasion, Burns Night. Partway through each squeeze, members break for tea, cake and other food based around the theme of the month. Meetings are very sociable, full of anecdotes and, “For some members who are on their own, it’s an important part of their month,” Ron told me. “Sometimes, it’s more like a party than a club!”
Musical mistakes are accepted with good humour and a motto of, “If you’re going to play a bad note, play it loudly.” The Club has performed publically and these appearances are rehearsed to a performance standard. Just last year they played a World War I memorial concert, and more public performances are planned.
New members are always welcome, Ron told me, regardless of their playing standard. He then let me have a go on his accordion; the left hand controls the bass notes and the right hand plays the keyboard, while squeezing the accordion generates the volume. It was good fun to try although I doubt I will be topping any concert bills any time soon!
Ron pointed out “The biggest problem comes at 4:30pm when it’s time to go home.” And of course Ron was right; the squeeze was a lot of fun and three hours passed in the blink of an eye – I didn’t want to leave either.
West Sussex Accordion Club
For more information call Sue Bennett on 07728 281313,
email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or search ‘West Sussex Themed Accordion Club’ on Facebook.