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Northern Ireland accordion master Fred Hanna

By Rob Howard

Northern Ireland man Fred Hanna (born 1924) studied both played piano and piano accordion as a young boy, and played his first dance gig on accordion at the age of 10.

He was taught the accordion by the late Alec Martin, from Bainbridge, County Down.

During WW2 Fred Hanna served in the Royal Navy, and in 1945 following demobilisation made his first broadcast for BBC Northern Ireland in Belfast.

This happened by accident as the BBC mistakenly thought they had booked the well-known Scottish accordionist Will Hannah, but led to many more broadcasts over several decades, both with the BBC and on Radio Eireann.

Fred recalled that on arrival at BBC Belfast the producer asked “Did you have a good crossing?”, and only then was the booking error realised.

From the mid-1940s to the early-1960s Fred Hanna’s trio (accordion, bass and drums) and sextet (accordion, fiddle, piano, drums, bass, saxophone) were amongst the leading ceili bands in Ireland. In the 1960s and 70s, during a time of changing trends, he led the Fred Hanna Showband.

In the early 1950s Fred began a long and very successful recording career. He recorded on a succession of formats: 10" LPs, 12" LPS, 78s, 45s, and CDs, with recordings made both under his own name and also anonymously as ‘The Diamond Accordion Band’.

The Diamond Accordion Band recordings began in 1968, when Fred plus a drummer and multi-tracking created a big band sound for ‘The Orange Walk’, an LP of well-known tunes from the Protestant Orange tradition.

The success of the first Diamond Accordion Band album led to a succession of LPs and CDs that also sold well, where the formula of presenting melodic music in straightforward arrangements proved to be enduringly popular. Accordionists Trefor Owens, Wilcil McDowell, and Ivan Black also contributed to some of the Diamond Accordion Band recordings.

Fred Hanna, primarily a dance musician with an unerring sense of tempo, played for ceili and ballroom dancing from the 1930s until he was overtaken by arthritis and mobility problems only a few years ago.

In recent times he used a Gabbanelli 96-bass accordion with midi, creating a one man band sound. He also taught the accordion at his home in Newtownabbey, Belfast, one of his students being Amanda Robinson, winner of many NAO and other competitions.

Fred Hanna was a widower with a longtime partner, Hetty, and great-grandchildren. He was much respected by fellow musicians, a regular at the Northern Accordion Fiddle Club, and was a much loved character who will be sadly missed. He passed away in hospital in Belfast on February 9 at the age of 89.

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