Working Lives

The Norfolk piano tuner (1976-2020)

Location: Norfolk

Julie talks about how she got into her unusual career as a piano tuner and her role in founding a brewery with her husband.

Well, I’m a Norfolk girl, and a pub girl, through and through. I was born in 1960 in the Hockering Victoria. I come from generations of Huguenots on my father’s side. I’ve traced my family back to the 1500s. I’m number three of four daughters born in the pub. I just gravitated towards the old honkytonk piano in the pub and started having piano lessons at seven years old.

Learning the piano

I went to school a couple of miles down the road in North Tuddenham. I was the only one in that year who passed the 11-plus, and in 1970 went off to Dereham High School for Girls. I lost an awful lot of my friends from the village because they considered me to be a snob and didn’t want to know me!

I started the piano with the local schoolmistress in Lyng. In those days all school teachers, especially primary teachers, had to learn how to play the piano. There was no music as such. You had hymns every morning and the only form of musical recreation was if the teacher could play. Otherwise, I can remember doing a little bit of country dancing to records.

I went to piano lessons with this little old lady. I just took to it like a duck to water and in a few years caught her up. When I was about 10 years old I was put on to another teacher in the same village by my parents and he said, ‘I don’t take just anyone, you know! Yes, I’ll teach her, but she’s got to practice and she must put the effort in.’ I went to him when I was about ten years old and he really made me work. I had started lessons at seven but had to quit for a year because I ran out in front of a car and broke my legs and arms.

By the time I left school I could play well. The teacher put me into the grades [exams]; then every year there was the Cromer Festival. He’d enter us into sight reading classes. I can’t remember when I was younger having any fear. When I was a little kid it was just something you did. In the teenage years, nerves kicked in.

At about 14, all of a sudden ‘boys’ came along, and going out, finding other things to do. I did keep it on, and my boyfriend would run me down for my music lessons. It got harder as the grades got higher and I needed more or more practice. So I drifted a little bit from practicing on the old pub piano. But more and more people said ‘What are you doing this for?’

You could be the first girl piano tuner

At school we were taught to be nice young ladies, to do our best. In Norfolk, unless you were in the real top academic stream, university and A levels were not in our sphere. We were pushed towards the Norwich Union, a job for life. Girls needed two O-levels to get in and the boys four or five, because girls weren’t expected to stay. Otherwise, there was nursing, or shop work, or hairdressing. I wasn’t particularly academic – I was a daydreamer. I played the piano, I sang, I painted, I drew, I just read and read and read. And daydreamed my time away. It was a bit of a shock when I had to think about what I wanted to do and I had no idea.

I left school at 16 with a clutch of exams, my five O-levels. I was one of those who could have done better. There was no career guidance, just a box file in the library with jobs that were suitable for girls. It was the usual thing, nursing or hairdressing. I didn’t want to do any of them. I had an older sister who was a hairdresser, and I had another who’d done Pitman’s shorthand and typing at Underwood’s college in Norwich. I thought about that as well.

So, during the long hot summer of 1976 when I was awaiting my O-level results, I had no idea what to do. I started to wander into my parents’ pub and talk to people, and they were all full of suggestions. But one day the piano tuner came and my mum asked me to go and talk to him because she knew nothing about pianos.

I wandered through and got talking to him and I was absolutely fascinated. I still remember his name, it was Mr Bunnage. I kept asking him these questions, ‘Why are you doing that? How do you know which pin? How do you know when it sounds right?’ I just found it magical. I said, ‘Yes, I play’ and, ‘No, I don’t know what I am going to do. I’m here and I don’t know what I am going to do for a living’. As a little girl I always imagined I was going to be a concert pianist and of course I realized I wasn’t good enough.’

He said, ‘Well, have you thought about doing piano tuning?’ I said, ‘I can’t do that, it’s a job for little old men, and the boys. You get in by an apprenticeship and I couldn’t get on with that, I’m a girl. He said, ‘Don’t give up, you can always be the first.’ It was a lightbulb moment. I could be the first!

I could not even persuade my parents to buy me a better piano, even though. I knew various musical people from buying sheet music and talking to my teacher. So I put pen to paper and I wrote away to all the places I could think of. At that time in Norwich there was Cookes, Suttons and Aldens, and Wilson and Ramshaw. In Yarmouth and Lowestoft there was Rawlings. I wrote a duplicate letter to all of them, saying, ‘Here am I, just left school, I’m waiting for my O levels and I want to be a piano tuner.’

People did reply in those days, but they all said: ‘Sorry but to get an apprenticeship, (1) we don’t have any, and (2) if we did that would go to a young lad, apprenticeships are only offered to boys. But we’ll let you know if anything comes up in the sheet music department.’

My O levels came through and I just started to write away for any old office job. Anything just to get a job. Unemployment was quite high at that time. I might have been allowed to go back and do A levels, but I didn’t want to become an academic. I didn’t want to become a music teacher. I was never going to get into science or anything like that. It was English literature, art. So go out and get a job, and I got offered two or three.

One of the jobs I got offered was to do ear-piercing and selling wigs for, I think it was Vidal Sassoon, in Top Shop on Haymarket. For a 16-year-old to do ear piercing, I don’t think so! Training was two hours. I lasted about a week. I was too nervous, my hand shook. What does a 16-year-old know about wigs? And then I walked into an office job, as a very minor auditor. Adding up columns of figures on an adding machine. Boring!

You’ve got to give me an interview

I kept scanning the EDP for jobs vacant and saw that Suttons pianos in Norwich in Exchange Street were advertising an apprenticeship for a young boy, a lad 16 or 17 to join their piano repair department. I was furious. Absolutely livid. I bunked off work the next day and I caught the bus from Dereham into Norwich. I went down Exchange Street armed with my letter and a copy of the EDP to go and confront them.

Shops in Norwich in those days closed for lunch, so I waited and walked up and down Exchange Street and finally they came back from the Berni Inn Tavern next door.

‘Yes, young lady, what can we do for you? Are you after sheet music?’ ‘No, I’m after the Manager.’ I confronted them with this advert and my letter of rejection and said, ‘You haven’t let me know about this.’ The salesman was a bit sheepish. All sorts of excuses. They wanted a young lad. I said, ‘Well at least give me an interview.’ Finally the Manager came over and I thought, he’s going to tell me to naff off as well. I stood my ground. ‘At least give me an interview, please, I’m begging, please. I want an interview, please, please.’

He took one look at me and said, ‘I’ll think about it and let you know.’ It was obvious I was wasting my time. Until three days later I got a letter saying they’d like to offer me the job! I don’t know to this day whether they had no other lads, or whether they saw the determination, or – bolshiness…

Suttons pianos

I started a week later in the piano workshops in cellars below the main shop. No sunlight, no daylight at all. I started by dismantling pianos, unscrewing the little bits, buffing up keys, dusting things down, really basic stuff. There were three of us down in the workshop. A couple of lads and me. We were overseen by the workshop manager who spent time also out on the road doing estimates. We basically had old pianos to work on, to restore. At that time, 1976, home organs were coming in, and a lot of easy payments, HP terms had come in. People were swapping their old pianos for modern all-singing and dancing organs that more or less played themselves. There were new pianos being sold in the showroom. New pianos. Lovely, lovely. lovely new pianos, that sounded so much better than the honkytonk thing I had back at my parents’ pub.

Our job was to restore the pianos that were brought in for restoration or were exchanged for the new instruments. They took them in any condition just to get these new organs and pianos sold. The real wrecks went into a storage unit somewhere and the ones that were half decent we would restore and they’d be sold as reconditioned pianos. There were some beautiful instruments but there was also an awful lot of rubbish there. Suttons would hire in a big lorry with a tail lift on the back and we’d book a slot at Mile Cross dump. I went on one or two of these journeys. I can remember the lorry backing up to a big hole in the ground and one by one we’d push these wrecks of pianos onto the tail lift, push them over the side into this great big hole in the ground.

We’d take bits off, like nice candlesticks, or a particularly nice piece of marquetry. Also ivories, which were hard to come by. But quite often there wasn’t anything worth restoring.

All of us had different skills. Obviously as we went further on in our training we would have different tasks to do. Adjusting the action, revoicing, hammers. My work in the first couple of years was cleaning, putting together, refelting.

It was very repetitive. Sticking bits on, cutting bits of felt to the same size. With 88 notes in a piano there were five or six springs, five or six bits of felt to each note. Chipping up, sticking, sticking, sticking. We had a pot with glue that was made from cattle hoofs. Bits of bone in it. The first job in the morning was to put the glue pot on to get the glue to start bubbling up. Later on we started to use tubes of Evostick but in the early days it was the glue pots.

Julie as a 16-year old apprentice working at the bench on a stripped down piano at Suttons in 1976.

As it went on you were give more and more responsibility. After about three years I would be given the job of restoring a piano totally. Later on I got onto things like restringing.

This was looking forward towards piano tuning. The whole apprenticeship was that you started off at the bottom, as you became more capable you started to tune the pianos in the workshop. First getting them into a rough state, then doing the finer tuning and then presenting that to the workshop manager or one of the other tuners. If you had particular problems they’d come in and give you a bit of guidance. But you basically sat and tuned and learnt how to tune on your own.

I didn’t find tuning easy at all. Knowing how to play, and being musical, had nothing at all to do with it. Yes, I could play, but to actually know the science behind tuning, I hadn’t an idea. The tuners had learned like me, they just did it because that was what you did, and that was how you went about it and you either got it or you didn’t get it. People left because although they could do all the repair work, they couldn’t get the tuning. I thought I was going to be one of those.

As you got better, you were expected to go and keep the new pianos in the showroom up to tune. The new pianos weren’t stable as pianos and they had to be tuned virtually every other day to keep them in some form. The shop was still closed at lunchtime but that meant that I got the chance to play on all the pianos! Which revived my interest in playing. I was still going for lessons and I could now have the pick of all these beautiful pianos in the shop, so I really got back into my playing and that pushed me on to finish my grades.

I started to go out to tune pianos but it was so difficult. I wasn’t aware that the firm was starting to have trouble. There were no children for the founder to pass the business on to and as he got older, he sold the business out to existing staff there. Four or five former salesmen became directors, all in charge of different departments. One was in charge of pianos, one the hi fi, one small instruments like guitars and band instruments. Another one oversaw the piano side. Unfortunately, they all pushed their own weight and over the space of the next two to three years, all that business went.

Sandwich course at the London College of Furniture

Because apprenticeships were coming to an end, technical colleges were coming in, and the City and Guilds scheme was set up to give apprentices some sort of formal qualification. They were trying to pioneer a course in musical instrument technology and they’d earmarked two colleges to do this. One was in Newark and the other one was at the London College of Furniture. All the piano repair places were asked if they had any candidates who might be interested in going on this pioneer course. By which time I was the last trainee in this workshop. The tuners had to be out on the road all the time to try and bring money in and didn’t have time to sit in the workshop with me. I was repairing all these pianos non-stop -getting very bored and fed up with it. So I jumped at the chance. It was a three-year sandwich course. There were grants for this. The firm had to release me for it and they had to give me some expenses. I enrolled on the course and I was back at work for two weeks and on the course for one week, but I was still employed by Suttons.

I was the only girl there and spent a lot of the time going over things that I had already learnt. But it was the tuning that I wanted to do. The first thing on this college course was the hearing test, because if you couldn’t hear the upper end of the hearing spectrum you were never ever going to make a tuner. I had already done about four years and was it all going to come down to my hearing wasn’t good enough?

I passed that, so I was accepted onto the course. I did two years, coming back to Norwich, talking with the tuners about what I was learning, and then times in the classroom, the technicalities behind things. I learnt why things had to be done, why a key worked like that, why the balance worked like that, why you had to put weights on keys, why there was a difference in scales and things like that.

In college we were put in little soundproof boxes and we worked on ex-factory pianos. Some of them weren’t brilliant, and a tutor came round and was giving us guidance all the while. I found it incredibly difficult, it didn’t come easy and I was in tears sometimes. Some picked it up like ducks to water. I did find the tuning really hard. But one day, another lightbulb moment, it just slipped into place. I realized that I was trying to make something too perfect and I wasn’t making it imperfect enough.

There’s no difference between tuning a concert piano and an ordinary one. There is mathematics behind it. You have to have a well-adjusted scale. Some intervals have to be sharp and some intervals have to be flat. The only intervals in music that are pure are the octaves. Each time you go up an octave you double the frequency of the sound waves.

‘Concert pitch’ is a standard pitch, A440, that is adopted mostly worldwide now. Countries would have all their different pitches and when orchestras travelled the piano would be adjusted to one pitch and the others adjusted to another pitch. There were such dissonances, awful problems, and International Concert Pitch to A440 was adopted so that all musicians tuned into that and all instruments would match that. Everywhere now you start off with tuning fork at A440.

Then, I had just started my third year in college. I stayed with my older sister in Sutton, right at the end of the Northern Line. It was a long journey into the East End to Commercial Road to the London College of Furniture. I got up early and I stayed with her so I didn’t have any living expenses. I would do the week at the college and then I’d come back on the train on the Saturday. Bur one Monday morning of the week at Suttons. I found a notice on the door: receivers had been called in.

I’d been made redundant. The tuning round had been hived off to the existing tuners; there was no money left in the coffers. All I knew was there was nothing for me and no job for me and that was it. Suttons went under and never opened again.

Piano tuner at last

I’d finished my apprenticeship by then but I wasn’t really qualified – I decided that whatever happened I must keep this college course going. The part of the fees that my firm had to pay had already been paid. I could stay with my sister but I had to find my own way to London and back. To sign on for two weeks and then off for one was going to be too complicated. My boyfriend and I decided that we’d do it and so I finished the remaining nine months of the course at college. Somehow I survived it. And I started to put word out to friends that I was tuning pianos and I picked up one or two tunings. I don’t think some of them were very good. Some people gave me some work. My father bought me an old piano to do up that I could possibly then go on and sell. I just did little bits and bobs.

When I finished the course and qualified, I felt more capable, I had passed the exam, I could tune to a good standard. But I needed the experience I would have got in my apprenticeship. Because as you moved up, taking orders, you’d then start going out with the tuners. From doing the pianos in the shop you’d be taken out by the tuner and go round with them for a few days. You’d go to the customer’s house and you’d tune and they would make any adjustments if something was a little bit ropey, or they’d pass it and say, yes that’s good enough, its fine. As you got more and more confident, you’d go out on the road and eventually you’d be given a little van on your own. With a couple of years’ experience under your belt you’d be a fully-fledged tuner. Of course I never got that and I had to do it on my own.

After I qualified I started to put adverts around. My sister worked at the Eastern Daily Press offices on Rouen Road, Norwich. She was on the front desk, and she would get me a staff discount and put a little ad in the EDP for me every day. I’d put in a two-line ad, the cheapest I could do: ‘Julie Savory, piano tuner’. And my phone number. And I made sure that I put the name Julie in so that people knew I was a girl. I got a lot of work off that. A lot of telephone calls from people saying, ‘I’m not happy with my piano tuner, but I see you’re a girl. I thought I’d give you a go and see if and see if a girl can do it.’ I could tune, but it was getting the customer experience, trying to get the time down as well. In those days it took me probably twice as long as it takes me now. Also didn’t have the confidence to hold my head up and walk into a customer’s house, do the work, and then charge them. I did struggle in the early years and I doubted myself a lot. It came as it would have come with anyone else.

This was in the early eighties. Not so many people were learning the piano, which was a problem, but I also had a lot of luck in that I met some good people. One of these was a little piano shop in Sheringham called Downtides. It was owned by a Sally Army family who worked in lifeboats and crabbing, and fishing. They had a little tearoom and wet fish shop on Sheringham High Street. The next in line for this long family of fishing people inherited it, but his first love was music and he was music master at Gresham’s school.. He had to leave his teaching job to take over the tea room and missed his piano so much that he brought one into the tearoom and would sit and play to the holiday makers. And then he brought in another one and someone asked, ‘Can you find me one?’ Then he was approached by a rep about selling organs. So they closed the wet fish shop down and it became a little music shop.

When his two sons joined him from university they converted the tearoom and turned it into a complete music shop. They needed a piano tuner and they contacted me, they’d seen my ad, and I got a lot of work from them, along the North Norfolk coast.

I was living near Loddon at a village called Seething. So three or four days a week I’d get up early, drive all the way up to North Norfolk. There wasn’t a piano tuner in North Norfolk then, so I got all of their shop work. They then also became the main dealers for an American company called Baldwin and sold Baldwin organs and pianos. That meant they had to run the concert programme for Baldwin. When any American stars came over they had to be the ones to take the Baldwin grand piano into venues all over the place, including concert halls in London. Because they had the dealership, they had to supply the big Baldwin organ and piano to the Billy Graham mission when he came over. So being a tuner, I joined those as well We did six weeks in Scotland and six weeks in London with Billy Graham’s Mission England. What fantastic times they were!

I got more and more confident. I was then 23, 24, having a wonderful time doing all of my work and theirs. At that time I’d think nothing of doing five pianos a day. By then I’d got my time down to an average of about an hour. You spend 20 minutes talking, do your tuning, another half an hour afterwards talking! I was single, I didn’t have anyone on my back. I didn’t have kids, I didn’t have timescales. I could be at the first tuning in North Norfolk at 9 o’clock and I probably didn’t do the last tuning until 6 o’clock at night. I did get tired as the day went on because your ear does start to go.

In my toolkit I have an assortment of tuning levers and different screwdrivers, a tuning fork. Adjustment tools to adjust various parts of the piano, different bits to adjust the touch and repetition and things like that. Specialist tools. I’ve got wedges and felts and spare springs, and spare ivories and spare bits of wood and spare screws … and a tin of WD40! That fixes most things, squeaky pedals. It’s not the WD40, it’s just where and when to spray it.

I have never found any treasures in a piano. In the paper a few months ago there was this story of a restoration company that found a pouch of gold kruger rands. A Jewish family had owned it and they had been stuffed behind the metal plates. I’ve joked with customers a lot over the years that I’d find a roll of notes or something but never did.  still keep looking, you can still dream.

I don’t get to tune really valuable pianos – the new ones from the showrooms or from the concert halls. If I’d gone to London to further my career I could have tried to get jobs in the concert halls. But that’s mostly tied up with Steinway’s or the big companies like Blüthner or Yamaha, who expect to have a tuning contract. A little freelance tuner is never going to get a job like that.

I’ve tuned pianos that are worth £20-£30,000, but there’s not many pianos of that calibre here in Norfolk. We do have some good musicians but we don’t have concert halls. If there are any lovely old Steinways that have been brought down here people tend to go back to where they bought the piano from.

A lot of my work is one-off. A lot of the pianos are really really dire and very infrequently I have to give up on a job.

Sometimes I take one look at it and it’s a can of worms. But there’s usually something you can do to make them sound better. My record is two days trying to make a piano sound better. I should have just taken one look at it and refused to touch it. The owner pleaded with me to try and do something with it but things kept breaking and four hours later I had run out of time. I came back another day and spent the whole day with it just trying to fix things. I don’t think he was impressed, though I did my best. I just charged him the one fee for a tuning. I learnt my lesson from that. I was too young, too stupid, too full of myself and I learnt my lesson the hard way.

Thirty years ago I had a phone call, could I go and tune a piano? He wanted me to do it on a Saturday. ‘Well, I don’t do weekends. I’m the church organist and on a Saturday, I have washing to do and things to do.’ I nearly said, ‘I’m sorry, you’re going to have to find another tuner.’ But I needed the money. So I turned up at three o’clock on the Saturday and there we go; I met my husband Roger. We clicked!

Getting into brewing

He absolutely hated his job at the Norwich Union, coming up to 40, mid-life crisis. He’d come to a bit of a crossroads in his life. He didn’t like his work and I loved my work, I was then coming up to 30 and absolutely loved what I did. So we married. He was then just a home brewer, but doing it in bigger quantities for family and friends. We married in the October, and if I’d known that in December he was going to quit his job and start a brewery I’d have thrown a wobbly. But I said we’d do it.

Norwich Union were morphing into Aviva and they were offering voluntary redundancies, but at 40 he was too young and they wouldn’t give it to him, even though he’d been there since he was 16. That would have been a lovely payout that would have set the brewery up. But we forged ahead anyway. He set the brewery up in the double garage in the house where I’d been to tune the piano.

To start a brewery you need a little bit of money. No a lot, actually. You need to get to H.M Customs and Excise and convince them that you need to get the licences for it. We were told, ‘Don’t you even think about distilling because that is left to the London gin makers and the Scottish whisky producers.’ And look at all the gin distilleries around now thirty years later! It was a wonderful day when we started the brewery up.

We had a child in 1993 and I was soon back piano tuning. I took him with me in his little car-chair. My regular customers said, ‘Oh, what a lovely baby, let me take him. You go and tune my piano.’ It was wonderful. He sat there and the customers adored him. When he got to the toddler stage it got a little bit more difficult. I couldn’t leave him trapped in his chair so I carried on tuning and Roger looked after him.

At the time the pubs were clamouring for his beer. It was just a good quality beer. You had Greene King and you had Adnams and there was Woodforde’s and really nothing else.  It was whole hop beer, it wasn’t made from kits, it wasn’t made from molasses and additives and whatever. We sourced ingredients from maltsters and hop merchants. He was a one-man band working on his own.

Buffy’s Brewery

We set up as Mardle Hall Brewery (which was the name of where we lived). The EDP approached us and we started in a blaze of glory. Mardle Hall Brewery starting up!! It was going to be Mardle Beer. Then we got a call from Woodforde’s who said, ‘We do a Mardler’s Mild’ and we have registered the name ‘Mardle’. Although ‘mardle’ is a Norfolk word, having a mardle, having a chat, and our house was called Mardle Hall, they reckoned they’d registered the name Mardle and we were not to use mardler, mardling, mardlers anything to do with mardle. We were only just starting and we didn’t need the aggression so we backed down.

I was pregnant and had an appointment with the doctor. He said, ‘You seem agitated, what’s wrong?’ The doctor lived in the village and knew us quite well. I told him about the brewery and that we couldn’t use the name Mardle. We’d got beer sold going out the next day and didn’t know what to call it. He said, ‘What was the name of that old boy who lived in your house 20 years ago?’ ‘Oh you mean Buffy’, I said.

Buffy was the last farm worker, before mechanization, on the farm that our house used to belong to before they separated it from the farm. Ours is old farm workers’ cottage adapted into one big house. I went back to Roger and said, ‘Buffy!! That’s the name, Buffy’s Brewery.’ So the beer went out with Buffy’s Brewery. We had to change it with Customs and Excise and let everybody know quickly!

In those early days we couldn’t make enough and supplied loads of pubs. I didn’t want to get involved in brewing, because I wanted to keep my piano tuning going. But I was doing the accounts and bookwork – I was useless at it …

After a while we took on a brewery help and after that we took on a delivery driver. It was go go go go all the time. We couldn’t make enough beer. We were selling it as quick as we could make it. Beautiful days – in the first years we couldn’t put a foot wrong.

Then towards the end of the 90s there was an explosion in micro-breweries. When we started there were about 400 breweries in the whole of the UK. Now there must be thousands and thousands. They were starting to open up all over the place, everywhere, and competition started up. There was another down the road, and there was another one, and there was another one …! It got very aggressive.

The first five years were brilliant, the middle ten years were dire. On top of that I had a cancer diagnosis and that turned life upside down. The last ten years were really difficult so we called it a day in 2018, when Roger hit 65.

Throughout the brewery days we did all sorts of things. We got involved in outside bars, and wedding venues, we got a couple of pubs of our own. We did a great big show at the Norwich Airport where nobody turned up because it hadn’t been advertised. Garden fetes, music festivals. We did an outside bar for the TV Awards in Anglia studios, where everything had to be carted up in a lift. And nobody drank beer because it was all hospitality on the tables. We learnt the hard way.

Some of these events were fantastic; before the licencing law changed caterers could not provide evening drinks for weddings. They could supply champagne and table wine and do the toast, but they couldn’t do the things in the evening. Then the licensing laws changed and people could do their own alcohol. So we lost all the wedding work. When they had a fund raiser for a garden fete the organizers could get the licences.

However aggressive you are, things change. People started to stay more at home. The pubs became more food-based and with that came the wine list. People no longer went to the pub for a drink, they went out for a meal. From a height of 14, our staff started to leave. Because the cancer knocked me back, I lost all my piano tuning work for about two years and I had to rebuild it all back again.

But Roger fulfilled his dream, and we don’t regret it. We had a good 20 years.

We closed the brewery down and sold the old wreck of a house that needed so much spent on it. The children had left, my kids and my sister’s grandchild we had brought up. Roger had a brain tumour in that time and was going through treatment We looked at each other and said, ‘This is too hard work, we’ve had fun doing it …’ He’d had enormous fun doing it. I vowed that I’d always tune pianos. We let the brewery go. Nowadays it’s not difficult to set up a brewery. The kit is so cheap and some breweries set up and fold within two years. There isn’t much money to be made now and with Covid, I just don’t know how they will survive. We got out at the right time. I would hate to be in it now.

Piano tuning holds up

We moved to a flat above one of our pubs. I’m now 60, my husband’s 70. Our health is not good. We still love what we do. I was born in a pub and I’ll either go out of this pub in a wooden box or if I can’t, then so be it. I don’t how much longer we can run it. My parents ran their pub for 31 years. I’ve done 20. Can I possibly do another eleven years? I love the pub trade; I love the sociability of it. I like pubs for that reason. I’m not interested in Michelin stars. I’m not a chef. I don’t mind cooking nice pub grub for people. We love being sociable. Roger loved his years in the brewery going round pubs, talking to people. I was born into it and brought up in it and it come naturally to me.

But fundamentally I’m a piano tuner. If asked what I do, I don’t say I’m a cook, a cleaner or a pub landlady. I say I’m a piano tuner! I’m still the only girl piano tuner in these parts. We had a couple in our pub a few years ago, father and daughter, and I got talking to them. She was a piano tuner up in Yorkshire. How lovely was that. She’d learnt her trade from her father. And that is the only way now. The colleges for the blind don’t offer that course any more, there’s no career advancement. Steinway take on their own apprentices. There’s no music shops or piano repair shops. They’ve all gone in Norwich. Everyone now is freelance.

I’ve just got enough work for me. Nowhere near like it used to be, but it is still enough for what I need to do. We still run this pub and I shall tune pianos until my hearing goes or my sight goes and I can’t drive any more or I physically can’t do it any more. I don’t know what the future holds but I’ll just go round and round Norfolk in circles tuning pianos.

Julie Savory (b. 1960) talking to WISEArchive on 17th November 2020 by telephone from Wicklewood.

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