Blackpool Accordion Festival 2017 – Review

March 31st 2017 saw the start of the 2nd Carillon Accordion Festival in the north of the UK. The Carousel Hotel, near the Pleasure Beach complex on the Blackpool seafront is the new annual home for this great accordion event. Blackpool has a bit of a reputation of being a little run down and perhaps not the most high class of seaside towns but this great boutique hotel venue however bucks this reputation and shows off how Blackpool is changing and moving a little more upmarket.

As with most Carillon events Friday afternoon started off with check in, a complimentary tea/coffee and music from the inimitable Harry Hussey. This enabled guests to gently settle into their comfortable new surroundings.

A short break ensued to get unpacked and a really high quality dinner from the hotel Bistro restaurant followed. Once everyone was fed and watered the serious business of more accordion music soon followed. Gary Blair kicked things off with a mix of dance and concert music. It wasn’t until after his spot that it became evident he was truly suffering from a very bad bought of sciatica, something that was to plague him for the whole weekend. Being the true professional that he is though and with the aid of as many pain killers as allowed, he battled through. Next up was Thom Hardaker. This was Thom’s first visit to a Carillon event and his mentor Oleg Sharov would have been proud of his performance. John Romero finished the concerts off by playing a series of acoustic solo’s before moving on to the accordion electronics for which he is probably more associated with. The night finished with the gentle sound of Harry playing Jazz for those that just didn’t want to give in to sleep.

Next morning and after all had been treated to a substantial ‘Full English’ breakfast, Caroline Hussey (Harry’s daughter) got the Saturday orchestras started. The hotel soon filled with sounds from the Balkans, one of Carolines favourite musical genres. It took a while but slowly smiles evolved from the players as they got the hang of some more unusual time signatures involved. Gary brought the sound of the Scots to the hotel with the next orchestra and it wasn’t long before even the reception staff had a little dance. After lunch lessons continued from Harry (jazz and chords) & John (orchestra), and the afternoon finished with a busking session before dinner.

As if all this wasn’t enough the festival traders had a busy day in an excellent trade hall room behind the concert hall. Acorn Instruments, Harry Kipling’s “Accordion Treasures”, Rob Howard, Scotland Accordions and Carillon Music all had prospective customers examining their wares. Accordions were tested, Accordion books examined, sheet music poured over and even old LP records were sold. Colin from ScotlandAccordions told us “The festival was a great success and the venue was brilliant. A particularly nice feature was the adjacent exhibitors room which was a relaxed meeting place for the performers and attendees with comfortable seating and good displays. The atmosphere was excellent and relaxed with superb concerts and the food was very good”.

After yet another scrumptious meal the Saturday evening programme began with a players guest concert. Harry, Rob and Zena (with a gentle amount of persuasion) all then played their party pieces to a very attentive audience.

Unfortunately even with all the best laid plans, this is where the evening went sadly off track and one of the festival guests was taken seriously ill in the concert room. Sally Haigh fell unconscious, paramedics and an ambulance were immediately called. To the relief of everyone she regained consciousness, however she was then taken to hospital as a precautionary measure. As it turned out she didn’t make it back to the hotel until Monday but we are very pleased to be able to report after a scan and a lot of fuss from the superb doctors & nurses at the local hospital she is fine and now back at home safe and sound. She has asked that thanks be passed to all especially Thom who ferried Husband Harry to the hospital several times.

Knowing Sally was in safe hands and was recovering, everyone took a moment to grab a breath (and a drink). Caroline Hussey then did a magnificent job in continuing the night as planned, even if a little late. A wide musical selection ensued that included some of the days earlier Balkan music and a few numbers from her recent appearance in the play “A bench on the road”. More on this can be found here. Thom Hardaker continued where he had left off the night before with a concert set that was quite heavily classical and included some Sharov arrangements, the highlight of which was probably Sugar Plum Fairy (Tchaikovsky). Gary Blair is often press ganged into a Saturday night ceildh when playing at a Carillon Festival. This time however it was a concert spot on each evening which was probably just as well with his Sciatica still playing up. John finished the evening and music from War of the worlds, River dance and more. Although a little more subdued than usual due to the prior events the music was enjoyed by all.

To the uninitiated, much of Sunday would seem to have been the same as Saturday, however the orchestras were now much more practised and after the complimentary afternoon tea and coffee break, the final orchestra concerts ensued. John’s kicked off first with arrangements by Otto Eklemann, Ceilto Lindo and Tennessee Waltz. Carolines Balkan orchestra was next followed by Gary with a March Set and some lovely lilting Scottish Waltzes. After yet another great dinner, another festival first as Caroline (and dad) Harry took to the stage with their very first professional concert together. Thom followed with his last concert, this time with a set that included the Frossini arrangement of Carnival of Venice.

John and Jackie Romero have for sometime supported the Winstons Wish charity for bereaved children and their families. This festival hit another landmark as their total fundraising broke the amazing £13,000 barrier. A variety of raffle prizes were handed out including a very nice bottle of Scotch. More details of their charity work can be found here and more about Winstons Wish here.

Thanks were passed out, reminders for Bournemouth Accordion Festival (Oktoberfest) in October, Eastbourne and of course next years Blackpool festival and then it was back to the music. Of course a Carillon festival just wouldn’t be the same without the obligatory jam session. John started with a couple of solos then invited Julie Best and Jean Corrighan who were visiting for the day for a couple of duets. This followed with another that included Harry Hussey. With the presets performed all the professionals involved got up for the main jam session. Samba’s, French waltz’s and generally whatever occurred to the group at the time got the party moving. It wasn’t long though before time ran out and so a last sing-along and Auld Lang Zyne were played. Now that should have been the end of the story but quite a few refused to go to bed and a guest busking session started up while John & Jackie dismantled the staging.

The Carousel hotel attracted some of the best audience comment cards a Carillon festival has ever seen. ‘Great food’, ‘Such friendly helpful staff’, ‘So warm and comfy’. With comments such as these this new Blackpool accordion venue can only become more popular…

For the full article and additional pictures please visit AccordionCentral.com