Occasionally a photograph of me holding an accordion goes up on Facebook. Look at this beauty from Mike Shelford:
This sort of thing might lead the credulous to believe that I am an accordionist. This could not be further from the truth. They’re just photographs of me holding an accordion. I got drunk one night after I’d been paid and I bought a cheap one on eBay because I thought I might like it. It surprised me when it arrived some time later. Since then I have occasionally hacked something resembling music together in front of people. The key is to play a tiny tiny snippet and then put it down. Leave them wanting more? Leave them without getting anything in the first place. “Oh, wow,” say the audience. “He can play the accordion too.” And they imagine all the other notes I can play. The poor fools. If only they knew that I’d played those three notes repeatedly for twelvety hundred years until my fingers and ears were bleeding, and there is still a very real chance that at any time I’ll hit a wrong one, lose track and have to style out an abstract cacophony.
A month or so I found a sticker on a lamppost near my flat from someone called Anton. He’s an accordionist from Slovakia looking to pick up some cash by teaching in my area. I rang him up. £35 an hour. Unlike when I was a child I actually want these lessons, so I decided to give it a go.
He’s in a bedsit near Battersea Bridge. I arrive and he’s leaning out the window. He laughs at my antiquated case, which I have to hoik awkwardly in one hand, whilst it hangs half open from a broken strap. I get it up the stairs, and into his flat. “You need a better case,” he tells me, showing me his. It looks expensive, the case. I tell him it’s nice, and I’ll think about it.
He takes my accordion and puts it on. “This sound is bad,” he muses immediately, as he tests the left hand. “I thought that was just when I play,” I attempt, but he’s right. It’s picked up a lisp since Christmas. Some of the reeds are damaged and make a constant sound. I must’ve dropped it. Damn. I need a better case.
He gives me the address of a shop in Lewisham which, he says, shouldn’t be too expensive. The right hand gets his seal of approval, so it’s only half fucked, much like its owner. It works enough for him to teach me on it, so we begin.
I like this guy. He’s patient, and willing to state things that are totally obvious to him. We do some isolated music theory, and he watches as my eyes glaze over, so adjusts to practically teaching the application of theory and watches as I perk up again. I know a bit more about how these weird noisy external lungs work. Probably about time considering I’ve played them in five different shows now!
It all started at Guildhall. With the only bit of third year show casting I got in the main theatre, apart from the musical. I was playing a 93 year old Patagonian domino enthusiast who could only express himself by playing “The Grey Song of Absence” on his accordion, until the end of the show where he has a three page senile monologue about memory, war and friendship and dies. Commercial casting that. Hell yeah. I still grabbed it with both hands and practiced that song for weeks and weeks and weeks non stop. By the time we got to performance I had a handle on it. It went fine in the shows. And I knew I had found my instrument. So I’m grateful to drunk Al for buying one many years later.
My fingering is all wrong on the left. That’s the first thing we realise. I’ll have to do some reprogramming. But the lesson has progress and now I’ve got homework.
Maybe next time I end up wheeling the thing out in a show I’ll be know which note corresponds to which button. Maybe next time I play to an audience, nobody will run from the room bleeding from every orifice and desperately howling in a language lost to the world for thousands of years, like the last few times. It’s getting wearing.