Sunday, February 13, 2011

Old-time Ulster music: The Harmony Trio, Newtownards, 1930s

When you hear or read of the old-time stringed music of the early 20th Century, it is of course the American artists that spring to mind. They were recorded and popularised on 78s and in the early days of radio - the record companies became professionalised and their musicians quickly became "golden geese" who were marketed, photographed and written about with care - selling millions of records and becoming multi-million dollar moneyspinners.

Over here on our side of the Atlantic there were many, but sadly now forgotten, musical groups. One of these was The Harmony Trio, who were three men from Newtownards and Belfast:

• Sandy McDonald (hammer dulcimer)
• Willie Gamble (1897-1985; hammer dulcimer and mandolin)
• Jack Noble (accordion)

In 1932 and 1933 they played on BBC Radio on a late night slot between 9pm - 10pm. Willie Gamble also made two dulcimers; during WW2 the Gambles were evacuated from Belfast to Newtownards, but upon their return to Belfast the dulcimers had become the home for an infestation of woodworm, and so were thrown out. However, the hammers have survived and are still with the family. The BBC Archive at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum doesn't hold any recordings of The Harmony Trio, so apart from photographs, clippings and memories that the families still have, nothing remains.

(Thanks to the family for the information above which they gave me many years ago. Previous blog post about the famous Co Antrim dulcimer player John Rea, 1915-1983, available here)