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Around two years ago, travelling between North Wales and the Cotswolds with circus pals, I had the good fortune to stumble across a combined roadside cafe and vintage shop. Favourite things with favourite people between favourite places! It was an extremely hot day in July, so we slurped our pop and tiptoed around the cool barn admiring many tin baths, wooden chairs, and knick-knacks. It was then I came across what looked like a small child's coffin, and on opening the lid, discovered a beautiful set of keys that produced the most angelic sound. The owner of the establishment appeared and assured me it was a musical instrument that had "arrived that morning, won't stay long as fairly rare, ooh doesn't it make a beautiful sound?! Can you play?" Still unsure if that story was a load of old crock, but I didn't need much persuading! I parted with £45 and we loaded the coffin into the van.
A dulcitone is a member of the keyboard family where the sound is produced in an unusual manner - by little felt-covered hammers hitting a whole range of tuning forks. Yes, tuning forks! The sound created is somewhere between a celeste and a Harry Partch creation - highly beautiful, delicate yet rounded, pleasing and magical. Thomas Machell of Glasgow designed and made these instruments, operating between late 19th and early 20th century, and all keyboards appear to be catalogued and numbered and made to slightly different specs, ranging in octaves, style and materials. My darling dulcitone is of the category described in Wiki as 'Style F - in mahogany or oak with 5 octaves'. Unfortunately he is legless (aren't we all at times) and does not have the beautiful carved word 'Dulcitone' on the side, but he is still quite, quite incredible.
After sitting dormant for a good while, I decided it was time to begin some renovation work so I could use the dulcitone on my forthcoming album. Enter stage left Ant Dickinson (www.antdickinson) who is more fearless than myself with a screwdriver, and has a great insight into the mechanics of key instruments. Whilst I mended the felts and hammers and straightened rods, Ant took care of the inner workings of the dulcitone. We were both excited to find that the insides were in pretty good shape, and it indeed did have a pedal, that I mended with a string stirrup.
I will let the photos do some explaining, but before I do - a special note. One day I was cleaning inside the wooden belly, getting rid of the antique dust, when I hulked the box over under a lamp. It was then I realised there was a signature inside! Ghostly copperplate handwriting, that surely must be the hand of Mr Machell himself? To my eyes it says 'T Machell, Glasgow ....' and a date I believe says 1894. But this is too early...?! I could not quite believe my eyes. If there are any dulcitone nerds out there...do get in touch!