A little about myself.
I work in Bristol, UK - which is an historic old City and one time important port in the SW of the UK. Its also a County as well as a City, which is very confusing.
I'm just 60 years old and am retired ! I originally trained as a Fine Artist but spent most of my life working as a shopfitter/joiner - amonst other things - to varied to go into !
I've been teaching myself to sail in recent years - and have a 22' sailing cruiser moored a little way down the coast. I must admit, I still find the uncertainty of the work bench a little easier than the uncertainly of the open seas - but I am slowly gaining in confidence.
I've been making and repairing violns since the 1980's when I started to play Irish Traditional fiddle - and am mostly self taught.
..."shipshape and Bristol fashion" -
apparently derives from the old port of Bristol, which was a huge tidal range - and was nearly dry mud at low water. Hence all the vessles keeled over on their sides - so everything had to be stowed securely.
It was not for surviving the high seas - but for surviving the dock ! They flooded it later on so the docks now have water all the time - butt here's nothing outside the gates until the tide comes in !
Every instument is individually made my myself in my Bristol workshop. Each one is made from scratch from selected wedges of tonewood. No pre-routered bits, no Chinese cheapos to practice varnish on. I sometimes make my own tailpieces - and always make my own fingerboards. Suits me.
It struck me once, at a conference of violin making - where there were gathered over a hundred makers from all over the world - what a strangely odd and diverse bunch of people they were !
I trained as a fine artist many years ago - in Coventry, with all the Conceptual Artists of the early 70's and in Canada at NSCAD ( Nova Scotia) in post grad. It was some years later - after having drifted into the construction industry, somewhat disillusioned with the arts set up - that I started to play Irish fiddle.
I was entranced by the the object in found in my hands. I quickly began to make one and several years of night school classes during the 80's, under the guidance of Nick Wooward ( Bristol Violin Shop ) helped a great deal to channel my enthusiasm in the right directions.
But other things were afoot in my life at that time - and I stopped making instruments in about 1988 - mainly to give full attention to my drinking myself to death !
So it was I entered a re-hab program at the Robert Smith Unit in Bristol in 1999 - where I attended for two years. It was a big turning point in my life. The new sober me took a bit of getting used to !
It was a chance reunion with a set of violin ribs I had packed away in a suitcase, along with the back and scroll block that re-awakened those making days. I had started the violin in 1988 - and had packed it away when I moved house. I knew I had to finish it off...
Re-starting that third violin was about four years ago. I realised many things in working again on that instrument. In fact I completed a cello and a viola before it was finally done - and also spent a great deal of time setting up a workshop. It sits with the first instrument that I made.
I have one more to make to complete the set - the '2nd fiddle' - the one made to my own outline and model - the one I lost ( long story ! )
One can regret the past but I do not attempt to erase it, or even hide it - its part of me and very much colours who I am now. There were many missed opportunities over those years - from the early days of the fine arts and to later on, in not pursuing some formal training opportunities in violin making - but in some ways certain other things were gained that I can draw on now and that are unique to me.
You see - as I said above, we are a strange bunch. The path to making good instruments can be very odd indeed. But to my mind it fundamentally needs to be an honest one.
There is much no one can ever see within a finished vioiln. There is trust involved - integrity. There should be no gremlins lurking in there. They should be soundly made, gracefully made and have a 'simple beauty' of the sort that will age with grace.
Maybe some of my past gets built in - who knows?
I've started playing again - but this time around I'm not playing fiddle. I'm trying to teach myself some bits of classical stuff - in the right positions ! Its been interesting - but I don't really think I'm doing Teleman the justice he deserves !
Geoff Richings - Bristol UK - 2010