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Brian Peters of fRoots

reviews One Man Hand by Tony Hall

Like many a squeezebox enthusiast, I bought Fieldvole Music in the late 1970s and have spent the intervening 30 years trying to figure out how Tony Hall does it. We're told that he "plays the two-row melodeon in a quintessentially English style", but really it's "quintessentially Tony Hall". A man for whom the term 'one-off' could have been invented, Tony is revered by some of today's most celebrated melodeon players.

Growing up in Suffolk with an inherited box and no preconceptions, Tony developed a wildly eclectic repertoire and a technique all his own. The first thing you notice is the gentleness and lyricism of his playing on antique Hohner instruments with mellow reeds but an unashamedly 'clacky' action (Tony revels in the extraneous noises, but the ear soon filters them out). The key to his style is the ability to carry more than one melodic theme simultaneously- his cartoon self-portrait shows a right hand with superabundant fingers, but at times it sounds like there's a whole extra hand playing that keyboard.

Material on this CD of unedited solo performances includes tunes from Jimmy Shand to ragtime and blues-all executed superblyand a selection of Tony's own eccentrically East Anglian songs, including the touching Binder Twyne, the bizarrely minimalist Enigma Of The Southwold Tide and the deadpan humour of Haddock Song ("Attila he started to rape and pillage, 'cos his wife couldn't find no haddock in the village..."). Best of all are the relatively simple tunes: the incorrectly-titled Farewell Manchester (NB The Flowers Of Manchester is Eric Winter's song about the Munich air disaster), Julia Gates' Waltz, Con Cassidy's Jig and The Abbott's Bromley Horn Dance. Here Tony establishes the melody before going off into all kinds of wonderful, subtle variations and counter-melodies. This is a masterclass by someone who knows his melodeons back-to-front and inside-out, and I love it.