Doin’ a Melba (or a Farnsy)

Number 20, pictured here in this Geo. Borgfeldt 1899 Catalogue, is an Aussie branded mouth organ named in reference to our world famous opera singer Dame Nellie Melba. Nellie was born Helen Porter Mitchell in Richmond (an inner city suburb of Melbourne, Victoria Australia) and while learning the ropes in London in 1886, she adopted the stage moniker Melba – an abridgement of her birth citys name. The Melba has the trademark graphic of two bees which represents the ‘B’s’ of Borgfeldt of Berlin. Borgfeldt’s were predominantly associated with toys and they would acquire exclusive distribution rights from various manufacturers.

Holmes Samuel Chipman, a Sydney merchant, didn’t just specialise in musical instruments as he had his finger in many pies. Holmes had been a busy beaver placing many applications for patents – ranging from farm machinery to medicines. In 1895 he trademarked the name Melba for his musical instrument range and the Melba mouth organ is possibly the Borgfeldt & Co’s, however it was trademarked four years earlier and Borgfeldt’s included the definite article, ‘the’. Maybe Holmes never used the TM and it had lapsed.

Holmes would go belly up in 1904 after a well documented court case which revealed a somewhat unscrupulous method of obtaining resources from the banks. Holmes had registered a number of companies that he suggested were to run various departments of his business. Smells like shell companies and that’s not oil.

Holmes was born in Nova Scotia on the 22nd December 1850. He arrived to the colony in 1879 where he operated his extensive merchant business. Somewhere after his insolvency he was in New York reestablishing some of his original patents. He died back in his birthplace in Canada on the 9th September 1941 aged ninety.

Flights Music Store, in Mitchell Street Bendigo, were selling the new Melba in 1904 as the best six pence model in the world. Presumably this was the F A Bohm mouth organ, who registered the Melba trademark in the same year. Allan’s in Melbourne also had this model in their range.

One other interesting byline is a Trademark court ruling on the use of the name Melba in 1922. This occurred after the Gramophone Company of America tried to register the name Melba for sound recording and record producing machines. Allan & Co had two registrations for accordions and for musical instruments of all kinds other than accordions and had used the trademark on mouth organs since 1906 and talking machines since 1908.

Allan & Co’s objection was rejected by the authorities stating they were too dissimilar to cause any confusion. Allan’s had to pay costs. Their second objection of not having Nellie’s permission to use her name on the talking machines, was also rejected on the grounds the word Melba here did not suggest the famous singer. Oh really! What did it suggest? The application was passed to registration for the Gramophone Company of America.

There has been no comeback for The Melba mouth organ by the way. Don’t think there is even one in existence.

Benoit’s new release Valley is exquisite both musically and in the poetic imagery each song purveys. Most of these tunes were scribed in 2019 before COVID changed the world to what it is today. The album does provide a historical reflection of that year in Australia of bushfires, division and culpability. Perhaps not too dissimilar to today as there is a great divide. Benoit laid down his vocal and guitar in early 2020 before we went into our (Melbourne’s) first big lockdown. I’m often asked how my association with Benoit came about. It was a chance tete-a-tete between my wife and the singer songwriter at a school swim meet where they were seated together as officials at the results table. From this encounter a bit of country harp appeared on the first tune of Benoit’s debut album Bluebird – released in 2019.

Not long after the Bluebird CD release at the Selby Folk Club gig in November 2019, Benoit sent me a couple more tunes to flavour with a bit of harp. Then in early 2020 a couple more (he’s a prolific writer) were fired my way with the other two being shelved (at least for the time being). When out of lockdown in December of 2020, I headed across the mountain to Dave Miller’s Fretwire recording studio to lay down my harp pieces. At that stage Dave hadn’t been able to do any meaningful production, so we listened to Benoit’s other tunes and one jumped out immediately that I thought I could play something tasty on. Returning the next day the job was done. That song was Someday I’ll Find My Way and Dave has produced a toasty little mix for the album. It has to be the single. Hear’s a little appetiser.

Valley, while short on number of tracks (seven), is high in quality. The lead off tune is another standout. When the waters up to my knees has guest artists Ben Langdon (Bean Project and Grand Baxter) backing on acoustic guitar and Ashleigh Conn supplying warm harmonies. Another track I’d like to highlight is The Autumn Leaves are falling where Dylan Knur (Parkville) provides smooth Cello and violin to the groove. Benoit is a serious wordsmith and an underrated talent (but not by those who know him). Do yourself a treat and head over to Bandcamp to support and purchase. Tell your friends and local radio station programmers.

Hear Benoit chatting (and playing selected tracks from ‘Valley’) with Dave Miller on 3MDR’s ‘The Dotted Line’.

Nice to have this beauty at Shep’s Shack – straight to the Pool Room Bar. Brother-In-Law Mal’s trip to Warbie last month really had a harmonica vibe. Remember he sent me a photo of a box of harps displayed in the front window of a local antique emporium. The discourse on their journey home resulted in Ferdinand’s harmonica being provided sanctuary by yours truly.

Well would you believe Hohner have now produced a Low F# Rocket harmonica. Readers may recall I had to source a Low F# from Seydel in Germany to record a harp riff on a Benoit tune as I couldn’t source one from my team.

COVID at that point of time meant Seydel couldn’t post to Australia, but they were able to send it via the States. Funnily enough it arrived quicker than an item bought interstate on the same day! In fact, it bobbed up within a week. Giddy up. See Bakelite Brevities for the original mention. And would you believe after the cost and effort in sourcing the Low F# harp, it was bumped from the mix! That’s how it goes out on the road and everyone knows that’s just the way it goes.

Next month’s HRR feature article takes a peek at the early music festivals held in Australia. Although I wasn’t a participant my formative years were shaped by the music of many of these bands and they ignited my life long musical journey.

There’s a wee bit more info on the ill fated Launching Place festival, interesting titbits from other festivals (that include Max Merrit’s arrest) and great photographs of Wallacia courtesy of Fred Harden’s camera. Hope to see you there?

Cheers EssDawg

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s