The Daily Telegraph

Restored to glory: accordion that raised spirits in the Blitz

Today’s throwaway culture is no match for a faithful instrument of 80 years, says India Sturgis


It’s not a song that usually brings a tear to the eye. Neverthele­ss, when she hears the first few chords of She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain, 94-year-old Iris Brialey is overcome with emotion. Her verdict is succinct: “Smashing!” But the surge of feeling is understand­able: the accordion is being played by Sarah, Iris’s 21-yearold granddaugh­ter, and it is the same one that has been by Iris’s side for nearly 80 years – from her first knockkneed performanc­e as a schoolgirl, to playing in air raid shelters during the war, and eventually lifting her out of despair when her mother and husband died in the same year.

The occasion is a surprise recital to celebrate the instrument’s repair. After almost eight decades of use, a key had broken and Sarah, without her grandmothe­r’s knowledge, had had it fixed and learnt the song – Iris’s favourite.

In today’s single-use, throwaway culture, Iris’s accordion is testament to hardier times. Our increasing reluctance to “make do and mend” is a subject explored in The Repair Shop, a new BBC Two series starting tonight. With help from furniture restorers, horologist­s (specialist­s in clocks and watches) and other craft workers, the aim is to show that, in the right hands, beloved possession­s can be restored to glory. The accordion was the team’s first challenge, and one of the subjects of tonight’s episode.

Iris was first given an accordion by her mother in 1935, when she was 13 and living with her parents in Paddington. “I always wanted to play the piano, but there was no space with only two rooms between us,” chortles Iris. So, the portable instrument was the next best thing.

Her first performanc­e was at school, tucked behind a curtain providing accompanim­ent for classmates’ songs. At 16, with her first week’s wages from a job at Asprey on Bond Street in her pocket, Iris upgraded to the larger model she would play at cricket matches and with other local players.

But in 1939, war arrived. “We were rehearsing and they started daylight bombing so we had to give up. That really stopped everything for me. I had no life. I went to work and then straight to public shelters.”

Sometimes Iris, then 18, and her mother would be in the shelter for hours on end, listening to the crunch of bombs above ground, hoping the explosions missed their home. To drown out the sound of destructio­n and lift spirits, Iris hatched a plan.

“We could see the children that were there were fed up. They were only youngsters, they didn’t know what was going on.”

From then on she took the accordion to the air raid shelter to encourage sing-alongs to tunes such as My Old Man’s a Dustman. Others took their own instrument­s: a violin, trumpet and a drum.

“We got a little band going. The children used to come in and dance – it took their mind off what was happening.”

After the war ended, Iris married, had two children and normal life resumed. The accordion slipped from view, coming out only at parties and New Year celebratio­ns.

Years later, when both her beloved husband, Ronald, and mother died of cancer a month apart from each other in 1987, Iris hit an emotional wall. A friend who lived nearby eventually persuaded her to join the over-fifties club in the village hall. Iris hung back at first, but when she realised they needed entertainm­ent the accordion was brought out of retirement. Her friend, also in her eighties, would dress up as Carmen Miranda as Iris played; they called themselves The Has-Beens. “We used to cause hilarity,” she laughs.

Following a stroke last year, Iris has passed on the instrument to her granddaugh­ter Sarah, a music student at Nottingham University.

“My mother’s attitude, and now mine, is hang on to it, you never know, you might need it again,” says Iris.

And as Sarah’s new pastime shows, that mindset has prevailed.

The Repair Shop is on tonight at 6.30pm on BBC Two

‘I wanted to play the piano but there was no space– we only had two rooms to live in’

 ??  ?? Iris Brialey in the Forties, and, below, today with her granddaugh­ter Sarah
Iris Brialey in the Forties, and, below, today with her granddaugh­ter Sarah
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom