Introducing our Oboe Repair Team: Head Technician Neil Clark, Oboe Technician Dan Stevens and Oboe and Flute Technician Daniel Alcantarilla.
Our Oboe Repair Team are based in our London Showrooms on Chiltern Street. They are a highly trained, experienced, and skilled team who repair, service and overhaul your oboes, they also make bespoke alterations!
Get to know them better, learn what drew them to the career, what instrument they started with, what their most memorable concert was and more.
How long have you been working at Howarth?
Neil: I started working for Howarth in 1979, so 43 years.
Dan: 20 years
Daniel: 15 years?
Do you play an instrument yourself? Why did you choose it?
Dan: I started learning clarinet at school, but it was much too difficult. So I play ukulele now.
Daniel: I play flute but I also love bass guitar.
Neil: I used to play the trombone at junior school, I choose it because I had seen a very funny Hoffnung cartoon of a trombonist but gave it up at grammar school because I didn’t like the teacher.
I can make a jolly sound on the oboe! Well enough to test an instrument to know if it is working, but my colleagues have been known to close their door when I am testing.
What drew you to instrument repair as a career?
Daniel: Actually, I didn’t want to be a professional musician but wanted to work in the music industry.
Neil: It was all a bit unplanned really. I started working at the factory, it was at Partridge Green in those days. The job was better payed (and more healthy!) than the job I had been doing, which was spraying cars and lorries in a repair shop in Eastbourne.
My first job at the factory was cutting out key pieces on a pantograph machine. I became a wood turner for a few years, making the joints for the instruments which were all hand turned in those days. My favourite job was carving the cor anglais bells. I then learned key making, soldering all the pieces together to make the keywork for an instrument.
The factory moved to Worthing in 1980. In the autumn of 1984 I was offered a job at the London shop, to learn repairing under Graham Johnson and Trevor Maloney. I was very keen to move to London, a more exciting place than Worthing. My first job was setting up imported B model oboes, it was very good training. By 1989 I was the only repairer left so I had to build and train a new team. We have trained many repairers over the years. Some move, set up their own business’ in countries around the world and are successful dealers of our instruments. Many have come and gone, before we have the excellent team we have now.
Dan: I can do it whilst listening to Test Match Special.
What have you learnt/interesting thing you have seen from working at Howarth?
Neil: I have become very interested in documenting the development of all the different models of instruments since the first one was made in 1948. I get very excited when an interesting historical instrument arrives in our repair workshops
Dan: It’s fun to work with interesting people, and through work I’ve visited Germany, Canada, Ireland and Norway, which is nice.
Daniel: To search for detail, and to pursue the highest quality possible.
Favourite piece of music?
Dan: ‘Longplayer’ by Jem Finer. A ‘self extending’ piece, that takes 1000 years to perform. Without repetition. You can hear where it’s got to by visiting Bow Creek Lighthouse and sing along with your favourite bits.
Daniel: L’après-midi d’un faune and La Niña de Fuego (Tarantas), a piece of flamenco music.
Neil: That is an impossible question for me to answer, it would have to be a very long list.
Most memorable concert or gig you’ve attended?
Daniel: Jorge Pardo (flamenco flutist) The Homage to Paco de Lucia where the group played Paco’s music.
Neil: I would choose the very first festival I went to; Blackbushe Aerodrome in 1978. Bob Dylan was headlining and he was fantastic. Eric Clapton, Joan Armatrading and Graham Parker were also playing. I have seen Bob Dylan at least five times since, Wembley in 1987 was probably better and more enjoyable, but Blackbushe (also known as The Picnic) was very special.
Dan: Ian Dury and the Blockheads at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. It was known that Ian was terminally ill and the event became a glorious, funky, celebration of his life and music.
Dan: I can’t stand musicals! There’s some brilliant songs that come from shows, but the awkward transition from speech to song makes my skin crawl.
Neil: I don’t really like musicals, but I would make an exception for the Rocky Horror Show. I went to see it at a theatre in Wimbledon, Richard O’Brian played Riff Raff as he did in the film. Great stuff!
Daniel: Paella or fish and chips with a cold pint!
Neil: I’d eat almost anything, but when choosing a restaurant I usually pick Italian.
Dan: Vegetarian Indian, if you’re cooking. Thanks.
Neil: My obsession with documenting the history of oboe development takes up a lot of my spare time, but I also collect coins from all over the world.
Dan: Depends upon whether you consider ukuleles interesting.
Daniel: Street photography and cycling.
Best thing about living/working in London?
Dan: All human life is here.
Daniel: The diversity of cultures and cultural events around the city.
Neil: A wonderful cosmopolitan city, where the restaurants provide food from all the world. Fantastic museums. Magnificent buildings, both historical and modern. and shops that stay open 24 hours a day every day of the year.
Recommendation to do/see/eat in London
Neil: Try the Anacapri, just around the corner from the shop, a lovely old school Italian restaurant. Why not have a pint in the Barley Mow first.
Dan: Eat at the Jaffna House in Tooting. If you like it spicy, it’s the business!
Daniel: Tate Modern and the Hackney Marshes, a bird sanctuary 20 minutes from the city centre.