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Alf Edwards

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If sections of a record collection can be allowed to sprout and expand like a patch of gourmet mushrooms, then English folk music would take over a wide swath of territory. The bubbling sound of this man's concertina would be in good supply as well, because he seems to have been something of an advance scout on the recordings of British folk artists such as Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd, sent ahead to make sure the coast was clear and to provide both sturdy accompaniment and quick-thinking obligatti. His type of instrument is the English concertina, to further define its design and range as well as nationality. In the case of Edwards' music, it couldn't have been more British, an essential part of the '60s folk revival sound and edging into the progressive British folk scene as well. In the case of his concertina, it is actually a musical instrument that is global in concept with historical roots in many musical communities, China and Louisiana being just a couple of the stops along the way. Among the international concertina and accordion crowd, Alf Edwards is a treasure, one of the most precious artifacts being his rare Art of the Concertina vinyl side. "We need a copy," the Concertina Newsletter pleads several times in one of its dispatches. Many think of the English concertina as a music-maker small and cheap enough to be packed aboard a ship for a long voyage, where it no doubt would improve moods even more than a draft of rum. Both conclusions are up for the argument, with the former idea vastly distorted over the years by the appearance of Edwards himself in the 1957 John Huston film adaptation of Moby Dick. Of course, Edwards is shown playing an English concertina on the deck of the ship, while such a thing would actually have been rare. The Anglo version of the instrument would have been the one taken out on a boat. In the meantime, Edward's expertise made it possible for him to play songs that originated on the decks of such ships on stages such as Carnegie Hall. He was considered one of the great accompanists, and always played from sheet music in a sparse, even delicate style. He recorded a great deal of material accompanying different artists for the Topic label and was a collaborator in a series of productions known as radio ballads that began in the late '50s, combining folk music with narration and recording of working people from different trades. The series, resulting in more than a half dozen CD releases, has been widely praised and offers a refreshing political outlook that has been described by some critics as Marxist, and one assumes this is not a reference to a concertina solo by Chico Marx in A Night at the Opera. Some of the documentation of Edwards' activity has temporarily fallen by the wayside, such as his playing on two albums by Dublin singer Frank Harte in 1967 and 1973, waiting to be rediscovered. The film soundtrack to the Academy Award-winning Tony Richardson comedy Tom Jones features some very nice music by Edwards. From the late '70s on, Edwards lived in a nursing home, his fingers sadly no longer capable of making magic on the concertina and no one around to offer up a song. ~ Eugene Chadbourne

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