Vin Maskell
Coatesville Bowling Club, Bentleigh. Monday 1 November, 2010. Cup Eve.

There was a house-keeping announcement before this concert that could have de-railed the lovely evening: after reminders about the door-prize raffle, tickets for the Christmas dinner, and the Orchestra’s CDs, the host paused.

‘A few here may remember Peggy Monaghan. Well, we have some sad news about Peggy. She hadn’t heard from her son Jeremy for a week or so. Jeremy was found dead at his home. Our thoughts, then, are with Peggy and we wish her well … The concert will begin in a few minutes. Thanks to everyone who brought a plate. There’ll be supper at interval.’

The news was taken in its stride, and then the music began. Soothing music. Soft toe-tapping music. Music eased into the night through all the intricacies that come together in an accordion.

When the song announcer said, ‘And now a tune from the swinging 1960s’, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to hear some Hendrix or Joplin or Dylan or Grateful Dead. Maybe the Beatles. Maybe the Seekers.

‘Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a lovely jazz tune by Bert Kampfert.’

Can’t say I’d ever heard Bert Kampfert before, though one of his records may have been in my parents’ vinyl collection.

The song announcer was wearing a black bow tie, a white shirt and black strides. And his accordion. He was one of 15 members of the Accordion Orchestra of Melbourne which was playing its 14th annual Cup Eve concert. Eleven accordion players, a gentle drummer, a subtle bass player, an amused keyboardist and a nervous percussionist. Young and old, men and women, teenage boys and girls. Anglo-Saxon, European, Asian.

And a conductor, a slim European woman with neat curly hair who conducted quite formally and always turned and smiled and took a bow after each song. She didn’t say a word, though, leaving the hosting duties to the song announcer.

It was, overall, a gentle night of playing. Polkas and waltzes and lullabies. The occasional up-tempo song prompted a spontaneous clap-along or even sing-along. A few solo performances to showcase some individual virtuosity.

When the theme to Phantom Of The Opera was introduced there was a murmur of recognition and excitement amongst the audience of about 100 people.

The audience of family and friends were older rather than younger. The men were balding and their hearing was fading. The women mostly sported neat short grey hair. You could sense quiet contentment rippling through the crowd as wave after gentle wave of accordion-playing rolled through the room, a room adorned with bowling club honour boards.

A no-frills night of bring-a-plate suburban entertainment. A no-frills night full of pride.

In a way the evening was Broadway Danny Rose meets Cocoon. But more moving. Much more moving.

When the song announcer said at the end, ‘And now a medley featuring one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. A man from New York, a man born in New Jersey, ladies and gentlemen, a man I know you all love’,  I was certain I wasn’t going to be hearing Born To Run and Thunder Road and Because The Night and Born In The USA and Nebraska.

No, the Accordion Orchestra Of Melbourne finished their annual Cup Eve concert with a stirring Frank Sinatra medley. Not quite my cup of tea but a Cup Eve to remember.