Harmonica Shop

Do you remember it?

By Stefan Bremner-Morris

I wonder if anybody else remembers the tiny Harmonica shop at the bottom of West Street on the right. It was just as you are about to turn into Dyke Road by the Clock Tower?

A grimy window
I used to peer into the grimy window at the gleaming Hohners on my way down from the station in the '50s and early '60s. Even then, I wondered how on earth anybody could make a living from such a business. Was there really a huge demand for mouth organs (Larry Adler preferred that apellation!) in Brighton? Was the proprietor a former virtuoso on the instrument who just couldn't 'let go'? Did the mighty Hohner ever send a rep to check out this far flung outlet for their products?

Tardis like space?
I never went in, largely because I had no spare cash, but also the thought occurred to me that I might enter a Tardis like space from which I would never return to the jostling crowds of central Brighton. I hope that this conjures up some memory from a 'local' who might recall the the emporium, and add some inside information?

This page was added on 22/12/2008.
Comments about this page

I do remember a small music shop at the bottom of Queens Road near the Clock Tower I think it was called Haylars. I did go in once to buy a blues harmonica after listening to Canvey Island based R&B band Dr Feelgood. I remember a helpful grey haired man showing me the harmonica and instruction book I required and saying good luck as I purchased them. Another thing I remember, he had a set of special hand bellows on the counter that checked all the ports on the harmonica worked. This was used so he didn't put harmonica in his mouth before he sold it. This was a great little shop cramed full of musical instruments and sheet music, I think this may be the shop you are thinking of.

By Michael Brittain (23/12/2008)

I'm sure that the one--it was at 7 Queen's Road and called Hayllar's. It was indeed a very crowded shop, the way good shops used to be. I bought a mandolin there in c.1973 (£20, if my memory's right) and a penny whistle on another occasion. I also bought clarinet reeds and possibly guitar strings. I may still have the sleeve somewhere that the reeds came in. The elderly Mr Hayllar, if it was he, was certainly very knowledgeable and helpful.

By David Fisher (24/12/2008)

I bought a "Ruidy Muik" (Ruddy Muck) trombone mouthpiece there. I think that was when I was with the RAF Halton Apprentices band, about 1960. Still got the mouthpiece but do not play now.

By Raymond (Dickie) Bird (25/12/2008)

I don't remember Hayllar's harmonica shop, but I do have memories of another small musical instrument shop: Needham's in Ann Street, just off London Road, opposite what used to be Bellman's. My maternal grandmother was a former professional musician who played violin in trios in the Grand and other hotels, and Mr Needham was a personal friend of hers who sold her violin strings, resin and other bits of musicalia. When I was about twelve I discovered I could get a tune out of a plastic harmonica that I bought from Woollies for sevenpence and played until the plastic reeds broke (about five minutes later). My grandmother told me to go and see Mr Needham, and he very generously sold me a Hohner Chrometta 10 chromatic harmonica, price 13/9d, which he allowed me to pay off at ninepence a week (this would have been in about 1961). After a few weeks I stopped paying him, and to this day I regret defaulting on such a kind offer from a generous and friendly man. Mr Needham must have closed up many years ago, but if you walk up Ann Street the frontage of the shop is still there on the left hand side with "I. Needham" in faded lettering over the window - or it was last time I was in Brighton, about two years ago. I also remember, from slightly later, an impossibly glamourous musical instrument shop in Kensington Gardens which sold electric guitars at the height of the Beat Boom, around 1964. I couldn't possibly have afforded one of these - my mother ended up buying me the cheapest possible acoustic guitar from Woollies (again) and I painted the front red with a white "scratchplate" to make it look like an electric guitar - but I did scrape the pennies together to buy a pair of maraccas from the Kensington Gardens shop after seeing Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones and Paul Jones of Manfred Mann using these on Top Of The Pops. Does anyone remember anything about this shop? It would have been about half way along Kensington Gardens on the right, as you faced towards North Road.

By Len Liechti (25/12/2008)

I knew I could rely on the 'Brighton-Hove' people to come up with the goods. Brilliant! Looking at another site, I see that Haylar/Hayler is something of a Sussex name. Perhaps there is a relative who knows more? Maybe someone took a photo of the shop, even by accident in the old days? Thanks anyhow, Stefan.

By Stefan Bremner-Morris (25/12/2008)

The kind and helpful greyhaired gentleman was not Mr Hayllar but Mr Fred Neale, my father, who married Mary Hayllar in the "60's. The shop belonged to Mary's father and was from where he ran his electrical business; Mary inherited it. My father is a silversmith and originally rented the basement as a workshop for his business. He repaired, cleaned and "dipped" instruments as an additional service. The shop was indeed an emporium and sold absolutely anything to do with music. I always loved going there, it was almost Dickension with all the tiny wooden drawers full of picks, strings and suchlike and I remember the little bellows too! Dad could demonstrate any of the instruments and always seemed to have a clarinet in pieces to clean or mend the inner bits! He and Mary finally retired in the late 70's and still live in Brighton near the station. I don't think I have any photos of the shop but next time I speak to Dad on the phone ( I live in Australia) I will ask him to try and send me one. Stefan, I am happy to try and answer any other queries you have. Please feel free to email me to asilsby@optusnet.com.au

By Patricia Silsby (27/12/2008)

Thanks Patricia! A much better result than even I would have expected. I would love to have a picture of the old shop (if one exists) for my 'memory bank'. I am sure this site would too. I am just sorry I never went inside to have a peek. My loss, obviously. By the way, it was a bit of a jump from silversmith to 'harmonica guru' wasn't it?! I wonder if Rod Stewart ever popped in for a blues Hohner in his Brighton hippie days?

In passing, my aunty Betty had a small musical instrument shop in Bond Street back in the '60's called Gillard and Davis, with her partner, whilst she was living at Wycombe Terrace. I just wonder if anybody recalls that?

By Stefan Bremner-Morris (28/12/2008)

Within the last few months we got chatting to an elderly chap in Lidil's store (we were discussing the pros and cons of the various cheap whiskies on offer!) and it turned out that he was indeed Mr Hallyar. My husband bought his first guitar, a Suzuki, in Mr Hallyar's shop in 1974.

By Jan Hill (01/01/2009)

I had a giggle reading the last comment from Jan. My Dad is quite the comedian on occasions, and is always ready with a grin and a chat to anyone who will listen.... and I stress the word listen ... once he starts you are hard put to get a word in! He is often recognised as the "Man from Hayllars" and never corrects people who address him as Mr Hayllar or ask him if he is that person! In reasonble weather he walks to town each day to shop so if you see him, say hello, he will love it!

By Patricia Silsby (02/01/2009)

I bought my first trombone from Needhams. That would have been about 1955. I've still got it albeit it's somewhat battered now.

By Raymond (Dickie) Bird (03/01/2009)

Hayllar's was a gem of a music emporium from days long past. I bought many of my harmonicas from the store. When they eventually sold up I was crestfallen to find out the shop had disappeared into the history books and somebody else had snapped up that giant Hohner harmonica which hung above the counter. Fred Neale always had time for conversation. On one occasion he told me about his time as a prisoner of war having been captured by the Japanese army. On another he spoke about his love of the bagpipes and I believe he was involved with a local pipe band. That little store was simply magical.

By Richard Taylor (21/04/2010)

I don't know if it's my imagination, but it looks as if the harmonica shop is just visible in the photograph of North Street Quadrant in 1983, on page 263 of the New Encyclopaedia of Brighton, which I have just purchased?

By Stefan Bremner-Morris (17/10/2010)

I bought my first saxophone in Needham's, in the late 1960s. I'd saved £25 from working as a bus conductor in Worthing and Mr Needham told me it wasn't enough to buy a decent instrument. But he let me have a C Melody dance band sax, which I gigged with until I could afford a decent tenor. The shop sign has disappeared recently, but the Aladdin's Cave of Ransoms is still opposite.

By David Burnand (20/11/2010)

Yes! Needhams was indeed a magical place. I spent many an enraptured time in there, looking at various instruments with my good friend Alan Morgan  (both of us now proffessional bassists), but owe a lot to the dusty but very atmospheric labyrinth of a music shop, Needhams, with the very laid back Mr Needham an enigmatic and very generous character! Always ready to help in any way he could.

By Tony Stevens (18/08/2015)

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