A brief history of HarmonicaUK
In 1935 the Hohner Company set up the National Harmonica Song Band League (HSB). It was the brain child of Dr Otto Meyer who moved from Germany in 1930 to take over their London Office. He decided to develop a support structure for their major products, accordions and harmonicas. In 1935 they launched a monthly magazine "Accordion Times and Harmonica News". Their timing was perfect as it coincided with the arrival of Larry Adler and Captain James Reilly who boosted the popularity and knowledge of the chromatic harmonica..
The HSB restarted in 1951, launching a new magazine, Harmonica News, and changing its name to the National Harmonica League (NHL). It was now run by Hohner with strong links to the top players. Ronald Chesney became its first President. The National Championships were held in London before large audiences and the winners went on to represent the country in the 'FIH World Championships' which were held around Europe. The popularity of the harmonica began to fall in the 1960s. The NHL was moved into the Accordion organisation, the NAO and its magazine, Accordion Times. Hohner's support reduced even further in 1974.
The present organisation descends directly from a reincarnation which took place in 1977 when Hohner asked an Essex Headmaster, John Tyler, to help them run the harmonica activities and restart the 'Harmonica News' magazine. John recognised that the old membership od chromatic and group players was too exclusive and he invited top players from the jazz and blues world to join the NHL and the membership grew. He organised four "Get Together" events in London, Birmingham and Manchester and interest grew. John Tyler had to return to education in 1981 and Hohner could no longer afford to support this activity.
In 1981 Hohner transferred the organisation to John Walton, a harmonica player and businessman, who had arrived from South Africa. The NHL was now independent of Hohner with John as President and Editor of the magazine. John and his wife Jeanette ran the NHL for 6 years. They tried hard to make it a success but the large membership handed over by Hohner reduced rapidly when a realistic membership fee was charged. They changed the name of the magazine from Harmonica News to Harmonica World and experimented with the size, frequency and target audience. Regular events were set up and links with other countries were established. They looked for someone else to take it on.
John and Jeanette decided they had done what they could and asked Colin Mort to take over in 1987. Colin Mort ran the NHL until he retired at the end of 2000 and he was responsible for its survival and freedom from debt. He set up a committee with himself as Chairman and Larry Adler as President and set out to grow the organisation. New events like the Hoolie and the Blues Saturday were established along with the National Championship. "Harmonica World" developed under the astute editorship of Steve Jennings. Colin realised the increasing importance of the Internet in the NHL website was launched in 1999.
Roger Trobridge took over the Chairmanship from Colin in 2000 and used the increasing potential of email and the Internet to drive the growing organisation, doubling membership and increasing the reputation of the NHL He became editor of "Harmonica News" in 2002. The Chromatic Weekend festival was established in Birmingham to encourage the playing of the chromatic harmonica. Ben Hewlett suggested the Bristol Folk House as a venue for the annual festival. It remained the home of the festival until 2019, becoming a window on the world, bringing many great artists to the attention of members as well as creating many friendships. Paul Jones became President after the death of Larry Adler in 2001. The NHL became a registered charity in 2009.
Roger stood down in 2012 and Ben Hewlett took over the NHL with an able and active committee. Ben continued to look for ways to develop and future proof the organisation. He started the process of changing the name of the organisation to HarmonicaUK and looked for ways to increase the number of younger members. His increasing need to spend more time building his online educational business led him to look for a successor.
Ben handed over to Pete Hewitt at the 2020 AGM, in the midst of the Covid crisis. The online teaching and social activities have continued to develop, opening up the organisation to many people who had not be able to travel and join in the traditional in-person activities. Pete has put together a strong management team that has completely restructured HarmonicaUK. He has pushed through the rebranding project and overseen our extensive online presence. Many volunteers have come forward and the future looks good...
Pete Hewitt stood down from the committee after two years and Barry Elms moved from Vice-Chairman to Chairman at the AGM in October 2022. Barry has continued to develop an inclusive approach to the charity's activities as it rebuilds after the Covid era.
Non-playing ex-Chairman of the NHL, ex-editor of Harmonica World, ex-Website manager and now a dusty archivist surrounded by piles of 78s, EPs, LPs, cassette tapes, VHS tapes, CDs, analogue and digital videotapes, magazines and books and a couple of computers. I joined the NHL in 1998 and my life took a new and rewarding turning. I'm best known for developing Ice Cream Mars Bars.
One of my personal projects is to get recognition for the lesser known early pioneers of blues harmonica in the UK like Cyril Davies, Duster Bennett and Steve Rye.
My music preferences are very broad, taking in 'cool' West Coast jazz, Rhythm n' Blues, piano and guitar - even some harmonica.