More than a musical footnote Joe Gregory, popular accordionist and band leader


Joe Gregory’s name crops up online from time to time, usually as a mention in the history of “the oldest record shop” Spillers Records in Cardiff. An album launch by big name rock band The Pixies at the shop got it (and Joe) page 3 attention in The Guardian (14th September print edition) {1}.

There’s not much on the web about Joe, accordionist and band leader originally from Bush Houses, Tonypandy and a first cousin twice removed, so here’s a start at collating what is out there and adding to it. There must be many more memories of him and his enterprises, please do share them via Comments below.

Play on

From The Guardian’s Spillers Records shop history:

In the early 1920s, Henry’s son, Edward, took over and, with the aid of accordionist and band leader Joe Gregory, sold musical instruments alongside prerecorded music.

An article on Wales Online, although wrongly stating Joe was involved in its founding (he was only born in 1900!), is a bit more specific in that “in the late 1920s they added musical instruments to the range of stock.” Spillers was established in 1894 in the Queen’s Arcade, moving in the 1940s to The Hayes.

Musical notes

National Jazz Archive, extract from Musical News and Dance Band magazine, Vol. 3 No. 27 December 1937, page titled Accordion Aphorisms: “Clean Sweep . . . Joe Gregory takes four more cups back to Cardiff.  Won All England Championship, Intermediate Section (first and third place) and Beginners Section. Ever tried Littlewoods, Joe?”

Old copies on ebay of the sheet music of Valse Valerie, for 48 Basses and upwards, No.16 in the Hohner popular series of piano accordion music. Composer Joe Gregory, published 1939. (Note: 48 bass is the type of instrument, not the number of players needed!)

Poor quality image extract from ebay via picclick

Radio Times archive (BBC):

Extracted from ‘West and Wales’ listing section for Monday 26th April 1937, 6.30pm to 7pm.

“Joe Gregory and his Cardiff Piano Accordion Band’. The programme includes another tune shown as Joe’s, ‘Cymric March’, with the Suppé Medley arranged by him too. Is there more sheet music of his around? A google comes up with a Library of Congress copyright catalogue for musical compositions which includes Cymric March – “pf accordion, 120, 80, 48 & 24 basses, 5th March 1936 … Hohner Concessionaires Ltd, London.”

From telephone directories (on Ancestry):

  • 1946, band leader, 11 Claude Place, Cardiff
  • 1957, band leader, 35 Castle Arcade, Cardiff
  • 1958, musical instruments, Pandy Square, Tonypandy
Crowds at Joe’s music shop, Tonypandy 1960

Photograph cheekily sourced from Facebook 6th Sep 2017, posted by Mervin Austin: “Teenagers looking in the window of Joe Gregory’s record shop on ‘Pandy square (1960)”. A separate Facebook comment on a link to the Guardian article above (Sep. 2019): “Loved the record shop on Tonypandy square back in 50s/60s.”

Personal memories

Joe in later life

Valerie:

My Uncle Joe had an accordion band. I know at least one cousin, John Gregory, was in the band. I believe the band went to the Royal Albert Hall to play in a competition. I remember his shop in Cardiff, I think it was near the castle – but can’t be sure. Joe was a lot of fun, I remember him playing the piano and singing “Cigareets and Whisky and Wild Wild Women” to me in his living room in Cardiff.

Brian, from comments on Feeling Bushed:

… best known as an accordion-band leader and, in his later years, a popular organist at the Treco Bay caravan site. If you ever saw a Jaguar over Bush you could be sure it would be Joe’s.

Playing a different tune

Joe appears in various written records with a rather different job description. At the time that the 1939 register was taken, he is a grocer in Cardiff. The probate record of his cousin Emma Evans (nee Scott) in 1961 has him as an ironmonger, while for her husband’s probate the same year the title is ‘managing director’ {2}.

Joseph Gregory, born 9th March 1900, grew up in Bush Houses. He was the fourth of twelve children. His father Albert was born in Somerset, and was a coal miner there and later in the Rhondda. Mother Rosina Osborne, from another Somerset family, arrived in Bush Houses by the 1881 census. Most of Joe’s close male relations were coal miners.

Marriage to Rhoda Griffiths was in 1922, resulting in 2 sons and 1 daughter. He died in 1983, his final address 95 Court Street, Tonypandy.

Newspaper cuttings

This section added October 2019, having got a half price FindMyPast sub, which includes access to material on British Newspaper Archives.

There are plenty more radio listings (1939/40 in particular) including Joe Gregory’s Accordion Band – sometimes including ‘Champion’ in the title.

Obituary, The Stage, 17th November 1983

Notes

  1. This recycles material from a 2006 Guardian article, when Spillers was struggling for survival. The shop also has a Wikipedia page.
  2. Still awaiting electronic copy of the will to confirm the details.
  3. Apologies for the lack of a credit to whoever supplied the photo of Joe (the original includes wife and young children).
  4. See A Bunch of Artists for other musicians (and arty types) in the family.

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