The Free-Reed Journal
Articles and Essays Featuring Classical Free-Reed Instruments and Performers

Reminiscences: Gibraltar, 1953

by Mike O'Regan

In 1953 -- forty-seven years ago -- I was serving in Gibraltar in the British Army. It was around the time of the Royal Tour of the Commonwealth by the newly crowned Elizabeth II and Gibraltar was due for a visit. General Franco took exception to this and closed the border with Spain. This meant that both the Garrison and the civil population of Gibraltar were effectively confined to "The Rock" and it was up to us to provide our own amusements.

This led to my getting together with another soldier in my unit (a skilled pianist) to form a small dance-band. We had little money and no instruments at the time and so cast around for ideas. I knew that the small "leave camp" on the Rock had a music room, with a number of (largely unused) instruments. These included a drum kit, a string bass, and an accordion.

We asked the Warden (a canny Scotsman named Jock Brown) for permission to try out the instruments. In the meantime we had contacted a couple of Airmen to play bass and drums. I was told that the accordion (which was designated as my instrument) was in poor shape and unplayable.

Undeterred, I promised Jock to have a look at the instrument. The case, as usual battered almost beyond recognition, was an indication of its contents. I tried out the accordion, which turned out to be a pre-war Sivori. At first it seemed that the description of "unplayable" was about right. The bellows moved freely to and fro with no sound except a rush of wind. There was also an ominous rattle when the accordion was gently shaken. Removing the bellows-pins, I soon discovered that the main fault was that the reed blocks had slipped their moorings (probably due to a shock) and there were about half a dozen loose reeds sloshing about inside. I managed to match the reeds with gaps in the reed-blocks and secure them with the aid of a small block of wax and a miniature soldering iron. Securing the reed-blocks was only a question of tightening the clips, and I soon had the accordion in playing condition. Surprisingly it was in reasonable tune.

We asked Jock if there was any chance of borrowing the bass, drums, and accordion on a long-term basis, as they were not being otherwise used. Only too pleased that I had restored his accordion to playing condition, he agreed to hire the three instruments to us for the princely sum of 5 shillings per week.

After some perfunctory practice, the "Toc H Quartet" was born, named for the Leave Camp from where we hired the instruments. We played in many locations over the next two years, including street parties and, once, on top of a billiard table dressed as pirates!

Looking back with affection, I see this period as my introduction to making music in public. We played exclusively for ballroom dancing (remember it!). After many years playing and teaching organs and keyboards I have quite recently, at the tender age of 65, returned to my first love - the accordion.

(Article written in August 2000)

Photograph: The TocH Quartet, Gibraltar 1954.

Mike O'Regan wrote, "I'm afraid that, after 47 years, I cannot remember the names of the drummer and bassist. I do recall that the drummer was an RAF Sergeant and the bassist an RAF Corporal. Our pianist (who unfortunately died two years ago and knew their names) was Sgt. Peter Longman, RAOC. On the accordion is Sgt Mike O'Regan, RAOC, of course. Attached to the piano is a Maestrovox - an example of an early monophonic analog synthesizer."

Invitation to Contributors / Submission Guidelines
Back to The Free-Reed Journal Contents Page
Back to The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. Home Page