A gentle giant and a musical inspiration
Armando Guselli 1942-2023
Italy’s Emilia-Romagna Region has provided a great many of the 20th Century’s fine accordionists. Gigi Stok, Barimar, Nando Monica, Piero Barbieri, Iller Pattacini, Carlo Venturi, Umberto Allodi, Bruno Allodi, Claudio Allodi, John Brugnoli, Louis Corchia, Louis Ferrari, Tony Murena, Bruno Aragosti, Renato Benelli, Giancarlo Zucchi, Bruno Clair, Attilio Maghenzani, Corrado Medioli, Mauro Carra…the list goes on and on. The province of Mantua, practically next door to the Emilia-Romagna region gave rise to Gorni Kramer and Wolmer Beltrami. Many of these achieved national, international, and some might say, even global fame. It was into this strong accordionistic tradition that Armando Guselli was born into. Born in Fiorenzuola in the province of Piacenza on the 22nd November 1942, he grew up in the Valceno (Ceno Valley) in the municipality of Bardi and early years were spent in Italy where he enjoyed country life in the Apennine Mountains with family and friends.
At the age of 15 his parents brought their family to London to start a new life amongst the Italian community in Clerkenwell where they ran a café just a stone’s throw from St Peter’s Italian Church in the heart of London’s Little Italy. The eldest of four children, he was a wonderful role model to his siblings, Franco, Laura, and Liliano. A kind and gentle elder brother with a keen mind and great sense of humour. Armando was tall, always well turned out with a smart haircut, crisp shirt, and warm smile.
Having taken piano lessons, his father went to Stradella and bought him a Lucchini musette piano accordion whilst on a trip to Italy. Back in Clerkenwell he took up accordion lessons from Bruno Allodi, from whom he later bought a double cassotto Fratelli Crosio accordion which he believed had been owned by Mantovani’s accordionist, Emilio. Playing the accordion became his life’s passion. When he was 19 he made a concert appearance in Bardi’s Cinema Verdi (See photo below). When he was back in the UK, and still keen to perform, he secured a job playing at a theatre in Plymouth. It was here in Plymouth that he met and fell in love with Ann, a beautiful young Scottish girl. They knew they were destined to be together and soon married and moved up to London to be with Armando’s family.
In 1966 his son Rolando was born and when he was two years old the family moved to Bournemouth, and it was here, that with the arrival of two subsequent daughters, Amanda and Daniela the family became five. To get more work playing accordion, Ann would call prospective clients pretending to be Armando’s agent whilst Armando typed furiously away on a typewriter in the background to make it sound like the call was coming form a busy agency office. They shared many happy times in Bournemouth. Armando was working as a professional musician but the early to mid 60s saw a sharp downturn in the popularity of the accordion but Armando, having also studied the piano, turned his hand to playing the Hammond Organ on which he had a fabulous jazzy style and an agile foot to play walking bass on the foot keyboard. The family enjoyed long Sunday walks along the beach with little Amanda, her pockets full of pretty stones weighing her down, begging to be carried on the way back. Family from London would come down for the weekend, and picnics on the beach were had with the kids all collecting fossils on the cliffs.
However, the desire to move and try new things became a trait in the Guselli household. After a while they moved to Salsomaggiore Terme, a beautiful spa town in the foothills of the Apennine mountains in the province of Parma. Ann learnt to speak Italian like a native and found bar work in the many hotels of the town. Armando, a man of many talents had also previously trained in electronics and got a job working for Lira Organs in San Pancrazio, Parma. They loved their life in Salsomaggiore Italy, but the job was short-lived due to the company running into trouble and eventually folding. This coincided with Armando’s mother having a stroke so the family decided to move back to London to help Armando’s elderly father with caring for her but always with a view to one day returning to Salsomaggiore. In the meantime they set about establishing their lives back in the UK, where Armando found work as a technician for JVC, but still made frequent visits to Italy with the family.
On one of these trips in the Summer of 1980 when playing at a venue in Berlini near Bardi, Armando met Romano Viazzani, a young 14-year-old aspiring accordionist. Romano’s mother had grown up with Armando in the same group of hamlets near Bardi. Romano was so impressed with Armando’s musicianship and unique style, and the tasteful manner in which he played that Armando became a huge influence on him. The following year in May, in 1981, thrown together for an event at Il Fornello restaurant in London’s Southampton Row to raise money for their parish church’s restoration in Italy, the two met again, along with a young drummer, Andrew Cordani, whose father’s origins also happened to be from the same hamlet near Bardi. A long-lasting friendship was born. It was practically a jam session with an audience that night, but the three gelled really well and the revellers danced and danced all night. Amongst those enjoying the music were two other gentlemen who organised monthly Dinner and Dances in their local church hall in Finchley. At the end of the evening the two gentlemen offered the ad hoc band some monthly functions, which the new band gladly accepted. From this L’Orchestra Rara, and later The High Society Dance Orchestra were born, which, in their combined lifetimes of 21 years, grew from a trio on that first outing, to a quartet for a good while with the addition of Robert Collini on piano, and then eventually to a 9-piece dance band. They started off playing at functions and weddings in the Italian community in the UK and then later, with their expansion in number, broadened their repertoire to play outside of the community and into wider British society and at venues ranging from the top hotels of the capital to the stately homes of countryside.
This was a very happy time for Armando playing with like-minded musicians and friends. After about three years, Armando and Ann decided to pursue their dream of returning to Salsomaggiore but then an opportunity to run a small hotel in a nearby village of Vernasca arose and the family were on the move again. They embraced the hotel business wholeheartedly but the sleepy village was no comparison with Salsomaggiore and the work involved long hours and late and early shifts which were not ideal for a young family. A little over a year later the family returned to the UK and Armando was welcomed back with open arms to the band he loved so much, where he carried on playing in a now expanded band for which he would sometimes compose and arrange music for. He even treated himself to a new accordion. A Stocco, double cassotto 5-voice instrument which combined the benefits of having both musette tuning and straight tuning. He stayed till 1993 after which, Craig Beecham stepped into his shoes.
Armando still played though. He even took up the free-bass accordion after buying a Brandoni piano accordion with B System free bass. At one stage he even lent it to world-famous accordionist Ksenija Sidorova while she was studying at the Royal Academy of Music with Owen Murray because she had her instrument stolen from her digs! Thankfully, with Armando’s help, she was able to continue her studies until a new accordion was ready. The thief was caught on CCTV and the police caught him but sadly he had sold Ksenija’s Excelsior Free Bass converter accordion for £100 down Portobello Road market!
Armando was a regular at Uxbridge Accordion Club which was run by David and Angie Lukins and he attended several accordion festivals where he loved to meet many of his accordion idols like Gervasio Marcosignori and Art Van Damme. There were the Family events too and everyone wanted him to bring his accordion and play. The accordion was such a familiar “Nonno” sound to his many grandchildren.
Romano and Armando would often speak on the phone and would meet up every year for Armando’s birthday, often with other accordionists like Claudio Allodi, Bert Casali and Vito Fulgoni and go for a pub lunch in Loughton near to where he lived.
A gentle man, at times quite shy and modest, an a man of few words and many talents, he was reliable, strong, intelligent, and methodical. Watching how he tackled problems taught us all to take a moment, observe and think before rushing in. There was nothing he couldn’t turn his hand to. He loved animals and they gravitated towards him, they could tell he was a good soul. Daniela, his daughter jokingly called him Dr Doolittle because he seemed to have the ability to talk to the animals. His family was the most important thing in his life. Ann was the love of his life and never failed to put a twinkle in his eye.
More recently he suffered with ill-health which sadly put an end to his being able to play the accordion. He rallied a bit to celebrate his 80th birthday with his family and his two original L’Orchestra Rara teammates Romano Viazzani and Andrew Cordani went visit him too. Sadly Armando passed away in hospital on 21st August 2023 two months shy of what would have been his 81st birthday. He will be missed terribly, not only for his wonderful playing but for his kind nature, his many talents, his super sense of humour, his informed musical opinions and his compassionate heart.
A little photo tribute to Armando Guselli