by Bill Powrie
Bill Powrie's Hohner Shand Morino
Shand Morino No.56 ex Forbes Dundee 1955.
My uncle, Bill Powrie,
died in 1980 at the age of 48, after a massive heart attack at the
Mull Accordion and Fiddle Festival. I suppose for a musician, that
is as good a way to go as any. It is just a pity that he was taken
from us at such a young age, and I often wonder where his playing
career would have taken him if he had still been with us today.
As we were leaving, I
picked up his maroon accordion case containing his beloved Shand
Morino. I figured that he would have wanted either me, or my younger
brother Graham to have it, as we were the only two that could just
about knock out a tune on it. However I was told in no uncertain
terms by both Mum and Mary, that it now belonged to his estate and
that I should put it back.
As a 28 year old I could not afford to buy it and promised myself
that one day I would make enough money to buy it back.
Bill Powrie's Borsini BCC# 80 Bass
I was so chuffed to have returned the Morino back into the Powrie family, that I decided to post this news on melodeon.net, a forum for melodeon and button accordion players. I received a surprising reply from Bill Young from Largs, a regular contributor to Box & Fiddle, who said that if I was Bill Powrie’s nephew, that I might just be interested in a series of photographs of a 3 row stepped keyboard Borsini that had been submitted by Peter Dunk from Isle of Oxney, Kent. Peter wanted to know if it might have at one time belonged to somebody famous, as this would potentially have increased its value. As it was, it was a bit of wreck!
Bill Young had gone to some trouble to identify the box as having belonged to my late uncle. He dug out his copy of the book “Who’s on the Dance Music Tonight?” (by James L. Helm, Ayr), and magnified the photo of the Borsini, to show up a black mark on the top left hand side, near the word “Castelfidardo”.
This same mark was
evident on Peter’s images, and Bill even went further by identifying
two patches on the pearloid where the pattern matched too.
List of repairs.
Here is Will’s list of what was wrong with it!
On the way home to Finzean I called in to see John Crawford, with my heart in my mouth, suspecting that if it had been a car it would have been a write-off, and fearing that John would tell me, as Peter Dunk had already done, to keep it in its case as an artifact, but that it was beyond repair. On the contrary, John saw no insurmountable obstacles to repairing it, and set about the task. After a week, I borrowed it back before it was properly ready, to display in a Button Box Exhibition, arranged by Jim Brown from Newtyle, in the Masonic Hall in Glamis. Here Ian Cruickshanks and a few others had a chance to play it, and by all accounts it was sounding good. John had tuned it much wider than it would have been (-24/+25), when Bill played it in the Jim Cameron Band from 1955 to 1964. He explained that it had been tuned to blend in with May Cameron’s piano box and the fiddle. Ian Cruickshank’s first comments on hearing it were “It sounds just like a Morino!!
John completed the repairs, and I left the box with Ian Cruickshanks who kindly offered to play a couple of tunes on it in a broadcast, as a tribute to Bill.
Robbie Shepherd was kind enough to read out my email outlining my search for the Borsini, and I was delighted to hear from Malcolm (Mac) Harcus, who had heard the broadcast. Mac had been with Bill on the very day that Bill had brought the box home to Bankhead for the first time, and they played a tune together in the open air! Thanks to Mac’s good memory, we are able to put a year on that day, which was in 1944!
On the reed blocks there are two numbers, 11 on the treble and 12 on the bass side. This suggests that the box would have been made up in the factory, the reeds then taken out until delivery. When re assembling the box it appears that two different sides have been put together. I am still waiting for Borsini to confirm the date of manufacture, so Mac’s date is all I have to go on.
It is possible that it was made as a continental accordion and converted just prior to sale into a British Chromatic Accordion (BCA). The air valve is undersized for a bisonoric box, and one set of bass reeds (the larger ones), have been removed presumably to conserve air.
According to John Crawford these larger reeds do not sound unless a
long bass note is sustained, and this is not really a feature of
traditional Scottish music. Added to the stepped keyboard, the lack
of air presents a bit of a challenge in playing it, and only
enhances my admiration for Bill’s playing ability.
The Powrie Band circa 1949: Stan Peacock (drums), Jack Ewan (piano accordion), Bert Smith (bass), Ian Powrie (fiddle), Chick Ewan (piano) and Bill on the Borsini.
1944 The Borsini is brought home to Bankhead for the first time.
1949 Bill plays it in the original Powrie Band. Line up is: Stan Peacock (drums), Jack Ewan (piano box), Bert Smith (bass), Ian Powrie (fiddle), Chick Ewan (piano) and Bill on the Borsini.
1952 At enormous expense, my Granny Powrie airfreights out Bill’s box to Hong Kong* where he is on National Service, as he is “hameseek” for his beloved Borsini! (See note* below) (If you are in that photo or recognise any of the faces please get in touch with me!)
1955-1964 Returning from National Service, Jimmy Blue is in the button box seat in the Powrie Band and Bill plays for Jim Cameron’s Band
1972 John Crawford repairs it in Bill Wilkie’s shop. His initials and date are still on the inside of the bellows
1972-1993 Bill McHardy from Friockheim reckons he bought it from a chap in Glencarse but cannot remember his name, or the person to whom he sold it. (If any reader knows anything about this period, especially the name of the man from Glencarse, please get in touch with me!)
1993 Matthew Wright buys it from an antique shop in Southampton! (How on earth did it get away doon there?)
July 2009 Due to illness, Matthew sells it to Peter Dunk. Peter says, ‘The stepping on the Borsini was huge by comparison to my Serenellini and this, combined with massive air leaks, caused me to put the box aside to concentrate on a few other boxes I was fettling at the time.’
October 2011 Peter sells it to Will Nesbitt from Nottingham
June 2013 Will sells it to me, and it is back in the Powrie family once again
*Bill came second in an “Opportunity Knocks” style talent show on the radio. The following day the phone rang on the RAF base, and a voice asked for LAC Powrie. It was the Chief of Hong Kong Police, an old friend of Bill’s father, who had heard him play on the radio. Bill was invited for afternoon tea with the Chief and was given a police motorbike, with the freedom to travel anywhere he liked! All of this, because of his Scottish family connection, his musical talent, and his beloved Borsini!
Bill plays both boxes (not at the same time!) on The Bankhead Tapes CD TRCD0701 (available from several suppliers e.g. Music in Scotland and The Music Box ). I arranged to have this CD made in 2007 by David Cunningham at Thane Multimedia in Cupar, from a reel-to-reel tape of Bill playing at the farm on Dupplin Estate, near Forteviot, where my grandfather was farm manager. Bill plays 17 solos, and 6 duets with my grandfather Will Powrie, who was known as the Angus Ploughman, who recorded 78’s on the Beltona label in the 1930s, often accompanied by my uncle Ian Powrie at 9 years old.
I will leave the last word to Ian Cruickshanks who had the Borsini on loan to do a broadcast with it as a tribute to Bill on 'Take The Floor' (BBC Radio Scotland; broadcast 18th January 2014).
“The first time I heard this Borsini was this summer (2013) at a Button Box display at the Masonic Hall in Glamis, and I was amazed at how good it sounded. My late Uncle Angus told me countless times about Bill Powrie and his Borsini wi' the stepped keyboard, as Angus danced a lot to Jim Cameron's Band. My Grandfather, Alexander Cruickshanks, was in the bothy at The Reidie farm just outside Kirrie with Jim Cameron round about WW1, and whenever Angus was at a dance, Jim Cameron aye asked after his faither, so Angus got to know the band members quite well.
I was delighted when the present Bill
Powrie offered me a shot of the box, and to play it for a while.
Naturally, I find the stepped keyboard very strange and cannot look
at my fingers when I'm playing it. I do have to lift my fingers
higher than normal to get across the rows, but it is surprisingly
good in tone and quality, and I do wonder if the Shand Morino hadn't
come into being, whether we would all be playing one of these. This
box has some lovely internal harmonics going on, and the bass is
lovely as most Italian boxes are.
I would like to thank Gillian Powrie (Bill’s daughter), Ian Cruickshanks and Peter Dunk for the use of their photographs
©2014 Bill Powrie
(Anyone with information about the history of the Borsini box, or anyone in the RAF Mess photo, is invited to contact Bill Powrie via the Forum PM system (members only, link above) or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org).