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One of the finest guitarists to appear with the great British dance bands of the 1920's and 30's, Len Fillis was born in 1903 and grew up in Cape Town, South Africa. He moved to London in 1923 going on to play and record with Jack Hylton, Fred Elizalde, Al Starita, Fred Astaire, Elsie Carlisle, and Al Bowlly to name a few. In addition Len made several solo recordings showcasing his virtuosity on the steel guitar, banjo, ukulele and tenor guitar.
Though Len is pictured here with an early 16-inch L-5, he often appeared with a Selmer Maccaferri guitar.
Syd Vernon is pictured (left) in the April 1930 edition of BMG (Banjo, Mandolin and Guitar) with an early L-5, a National Tricone, an unidentified flattop, a bowlback mandolin and two expensive looking banjos. The writer mentions that Syd “teaches the banjo, tenor banjo, Hawaiian guitar, Spanish guitar, theory of music and harmony in Bradford.”
The National guitar appears to be a Style 2 Hawaiian (square neck) Triplate, which had a German silver body that was engraved with a fancy ‘Wild Rose’ pattern. Introduced in 1927, the model cost $125.
Syd also appears in the October 1932 edition of BMG (right) where he is described as “an expert player of fretted instruments.” He still has his L-5 and National but has upgraded to an Gibson F-5 Master Model mandolin!
Syd is pictured here (left) in the March 1933 issue of BMG with Miss Kitty Wilson and Mr Bert Redstone. BMG magazine describes Bert as “a performer of outstanding ability on the Hawaiian guitar, having acquired the correct native method of playing in Honolulu,” while Kitty “Specialises in the Hawaiian Hula Dance.”
“An attractive team that should do well.” The magazine concludes.
Frolich’s Banjo Quintet January 1933
Hailing from Norway and directed by one Guttorm Frølich – who taught guitar at at the Conservatory of Music in Oslo - Frølich’s Banjo Quintet consisted of three tenor banjos, a plectrum banjo and a bass fiddle.
The magazine article from which the picture comes (January 1933) notes that “The Quintet may often be heard broadcasting from Oslo.”
No mention is made however of the two archtops, which appear in the foreground. The guitar on the left of the picture is clearly a 16-inch L-5 but the one on the right had us stumped.
Our buddy Paul Fox (author of The Other Brands Of Gibson) came to the rescue identifying it as a Swedish built 1930 Levin Model 175! This recording of Avalon by Norwegian drummer and sax player Alf Søgaard (below) dates from 1941 and features Guttorm Frølich on guitar:
The BMG article mentioned above notes that Syd has “played publicly with (American banjo player) Eddie Peabody on many occasions when that player was appearing in this country recently.”
Eddie Peabody said of Syd: “Mr. Sydney Vernon, of Bradford, England, a very fine player and teacher who organised a banjo band bearing my name, - incidentally, we made a phonograph record together and played together at the Paramount Theatre, Manchester, England.”