Playing The Thing

The Making of "Playing The Thing"

Chris first got interested in the harmonica when studying in the Photography Department at Leicester College of Art in the early 60s. Listening to James King, the harp player for local band, "James King and The Farinas", Cyril Davies, Brian Jones and The Beatles, led to him playing harmonica in a student band called "The Contacts".

After graduating from Leicester, he moved to the Royal College of Art Film School, where he continued to play harmonica. He had contacts with Pete Townsend and he was asked to play on couple of tracks on the Hollywood Dreams album by Thunderclap Newman. Also Chris played improvised harmonica on the music score created by Pete Townshend for a film by Richard Stanley called "The Lone Ranger". After leaving the RCA in 1969, it seemed natural to meet and put on record some of the great harp players around at the time. He knew about the main blues and popular music performers he wanted to interview but a chance meeting with Gautam Choudhury opened some doors to the International Harmonica Conventions in Europe with enthusiasts playing classical music on chromatics and in groups with chord and bass harmonicas. What flowed from this was a very personal but impressive journey from the UK to Europe and the USA to document the world of the harmonica.

The location filming was carried out at his own expense with little idea of what his journey would turn up. Chris directed and filmed the interviews with two other professionals, Richard Stanley (cameraman) and Paul Robinson (audio), with assistance from Chris's wife, Johanna Freudenberg.

The filming was done with Eclair NPR and ACL 16mm cameras using Kodak film and the sound was recorded onto a 1/4" tape Nagra. Back in 1972, 16mm film was expensive and so you had to make every frame count. Film and audio reels lasted for 10-20 mins so they kept running out in the middle of the action. It was very different to the excesses of today's digital filming.

The initial recordings were of Harry Pitch, and Larry Adler in the UK in early 1971.

The team and Gautam then travelled to the World Harmonica Championships in Eindhoven, Holland and recorded discussions, Brian Chaplin, The ABC Trio and the Harmonica Playboys.

The team moved on to Trossingen and filmed the Hohner factory, The Herold Trio and Hohnerklang (28 Oct -7 Nov 1971).

The Julio Finn sequences were filmed near Marble Arch in London in late Nov 1971.

The train sequences were filmed on a train from London to Goring in Feb 1972. This is where the openning shots under the railway bridge were recorded.

Duster Bennett was filmed in the Chelsea College of Art on 7 March 1972.

Harry Fenesey was filmed busking outside the John Barnes store on the Finchley Road in London on 8 April 1972.

The team then travelled to New York from 11-28 April 1972, where they recorded Sonny Terry, Bill Dicey, Andy Paskas, Cham'Ber Huang and the Turtle Bay Orchestra, and finally James Cotton.

The final recording was done with Gautam Choudhury on 23 May 1972.

Toots had agreed to take part, but unfortunately at the last minute he had to drop out.

Attempts to film Magic Dick, Paul Butterfield, King Biscuit Boy and Big Mama Thornton proved impossible in this timeframe in New York.

Over 8 hours of film were recorded and a 30 min short film was edited for public performance. Some of the interviews did not make the finished film and more than 90% of each of the individual interviews included have never been seen until now.

You can watch Playing The Thing here

You can see reconstructed versions of some of the unedited interviews here.

This is a big and complex project and should thought of as 'work in progress'.


© Roger Trobridge