Creativita: La Forma "Fantasia"

Alice Dells (1922 - 2005)

Written by: Rob Howard
Publication: General

Alice Dells, one of England's first international accordion star players, died on August 27th at the age of 83. Born Alice Swindells in 1922, was taught the piano, then the piano accordion, before she became a teenager. Alice Dells travelled all the way from Macclesfield to a music shop, Mameloks, in Manchester, every week for accordion lessons with Syd Baxter, who is remembered by many as the composer of the well-known accordion solo Gypsy Mood. In 1936 Alice achieved fame within the accordion world by becoming the All-Britain Advanced Champion, at the Central Hall, Westminster. Winning the national title opened up a career as a professional accordionist that took Alice not only around this country, but also internationally.

Alice worked with many well-known show business names of her era, including vocal duo Anne Ziegler & Webster Booth, pianists Rawicz & Landauer, and the great radio comedy star Jimmy Clitheroe. When she appeared with Rawicz & Landauer, Alice recalls that Maryan Rawicz, a brilliant classical pianist, surprised her by admitting: "I always wanted to learn to play the accordion, but never found the time."
She also recalled the following: -

"I was lucky to have piano tuition, but the accordion took over - much as I loved the piano. Fortunately I had a very good teacher - though it took my dad a whole year to find Syd Baxter. Dad attended one of Syd's 'Accordion Nights', which he enjoyed tremendously. However, war took over, and Syd was called up. I eventually joined ENSA - the Entertainments National Service Association. What lovely people I had the fortune to tour with, and wonderful people to stay with. I cannot describe the kindness we had bestowed on us. After touring Britain, there followed marvelous tours of Egypt, North Africa, Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq. Music and entertainment speak all languages.

Iraq was a very quiet country then, and when we pulled up outside the Hotel Semeramis, I though we were in a back alley! However, the hotel was beautiful inside. After the Middle East, the ENSA party toured Denmark, Germany, Austria, Italy, Holland and France - where I was very honored to play in Lourdes at the Grotto (Schubert's 'Ave Maria'). This was not a professional engagement. Back in England I played in theatres and cabaret venues all over the place, though I never made it to the London Palladium, just the London Casino and Collins Theatre, Islington. Away from London - all the 'posh' theatres, and the 'dumps'! I've always played solo, and then had to, as needed, add a little vocals due to theatrical agents requiring this. I can only wish every accordionist good health to enjoy playing their music."

Alice Dells, enjoyed a long and successful career as a professional accordionist, pianist and accordion teacher. Alice performed in many countries worldwide, but always remained based in the Macclesfield, where she taught the accordion for several decades and was, in the 1930s, the organiser of the local British College of Accordionists' examination centre.

In 1988 Alice was a guest of honour at the first National Accordion Organisation North West Area Accordion Festival held at Stockport Town Hall. Alice became a victim of multiple sclerosis in the 1980s, and her general health also gradually deteriorated. However, she carried on teaching for many years, and never lost any of her great playing ability, even in old age and infirmity.

Rob Howard
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