A group of musicians is bringing the sound of the accordion to Gwent. CARYS THOMAS finds out more.
IT'S quite a family affair at Gwent Accordion Club with membership including three generations of the same family from Pontnewydd.
In total the club, which has been running for the last 12 years, is made up of 12 members which includes five piano accordions, one flute, two keyboard players, one drummer and a bass guitar. The ensemble plays a variety of musical genres such as Latin, folk, Irish and jazz.
Daniel Bailey, 26, musical director, said: "My grandmother taught me and my two sisters to play the accordion. I’ve been playing the accordion for the last 17 years as I started when I was nine-years-old.”
Mr Bailey's grandmother, Mary Haslett, introduced Daniel, along with his sisters Olivia and Joscelyn (corr) to the club after she started going along to play the piano.
In total, the members range from 17-years-old to late 60s and come from all over Gwent including Cwmbran and Newport with two members making the journey from Porthcawl.
Mr Bailey, a carpenter, said: "The accordion is a very enjoyable instrument to play - I get a real kick out of it. I’ve never experienced a livelier instrument and it’s self contained so you can take it anywhere.
“It is quite a heavy instrument; you get the right size to fit your body. There is no tuning required, just servicing and looking after the instrument.”
He added: “I enjoy playing swing and jazz mostly. It is not an easy instrument to learn, you have to do two different things with either hand, pulling the bellows in and out and read the music at the same time – it involves quite a lot of multitasking.
“Playing is an important aspect of my life. I play rugby for Cwmbran - all the boys know I play, occasionally we do get it out and have a sing song.”
The group have played all over the area even at the Big Pit Music Festival where they entertained crowds in the street. They practice once a week at the British Legion in Pontnewydd from 7.30pm until 9.30pm and have regular charity concerts.
Mr Bailey said: “We used to play a lot of charity concerts in a year, going into the double figures. We still visit care homes around Gwent but sadly we no longer have shows every week as there has been a decline in wardens who have the time to arrange our shows at the care homes.
“We all really enjoyed that aspect of playing to the community.”
The youngest member of the group is Mr Bailey’s sister Olivia Bailey who is 17-years-old and attends sixth form at Croesyceiliog Comprehensive School.
She said: “I was maybe three-years-old when I joined the club. I love music, it gives you the freedom to play and I enjoy helping people with the charity concerts we put on.
“I started playing the tambourine and the accordion came later on. It feels like I’ve always played the accordion.”
The teenager also plays piano and has achieved grades in singing exams.
She said: “Most people don’t quite know what an accordion is. It was difficult to learn at first, to play the chords and the key part of it.
“I enjoy playing the jazz pieces. I like all types of music – we do play a variety of genres. I quite enjoy playing Summertime, it’s a jazz piece which has a drum solo.”
She added: “It’s great to be able to socialise and talk with people of different ages, the age gap doesn’t seem to matter.”
Myra Slade has been involved with the club for the last 12 years as their secretary and compere.
She said: “My husband was a singer when we married, we spent a lot of our life going to clubs and things like that. One night we went to a couple of practices and then I became involved with the accordion club.”
Mrs Slade said: “The music is quite lively, as a compere I tend to dress up to try and match the theme of the songs. I have been a tulip and have worn a gorilla costume; it’s generally a lot of fun.
“I dance around while they play. I don’t think the club get enough recognition, we always have a bit of fun and enjoy it.”
While the club's main focus is accordions, they have built up a collection of instruments and with it musicians such as Gerry Bishop, 63, of Newport who has played the drums all over the UK and now keeps the beat for the accordion club.
He said: "Drumming is in my blood, I started playing when I was 13-years-old. I enjoy playing with the club, meeting the band for rehearsals and performing at concerts.
"I was very lucky, the club supplied me with a drum kit. It is a very social group with varied members, I am one of the oldest members, it could be a generation band."
The club recently played a concert at the British Legion in Pontnewydd to raise funds for Leon Mason, an 11-year-old from Griffithstown with cerebral palsy who’s family were trying to raise money for a mobile hoist for him.
Mr Bishop said: "I enjoy playing the charity concerts, it's great to do it for a good cause.
"We have a unique sound, it's quite a nice sound. People seem to enjoy listening to us, several places where we have played have asked us back which is a good sign."
The band usually play two to three sets at the concerts. Mr Bishop was a professional drummer during his 20s and 30s, playing in Monte Carlo and spending 12 months on a cruise ship around the Caribbean islands.
He said:"At the club we play a variety of music, the livelier numbers people do get up and dance. Last week at a care home they were all up dancing, it's nice to see people enjoying themselves.”
The club will be playing at Vittorio’s Resturant, Newport, on May at 7.30pm in aid of St Anne’s Hospice and St David’s Hospice Care, at the community hall on Orchard Lane, St Julian’s on May 12 from 7.30pm and Panteg Hall, New Inn on May 22 from 7.30pm.
Anyone interested in joining the club is asked to contact Myra Slade on 01633 874027.