The family business that enjoys success on a major scale.
The Welsh are renowned for having a good ear for music, and Cardiff born Horace Gamlin has a more accurate ear than most. Music has always been an important part of Horace's life. His father Archie was a piano tuner, and some of Horace's most vivid childhood memories from the war years are of accompanying his father to the celebrity concerts held of a Sunday at the Empire Theatre, where Archie Gamlin was duty tuner. There, Horace collected autographs from famous guest artistes who appeared along with the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra, including celebrities such as Benno Moiseiwitsch and Eileen Joyce.
Another favourite venue was Cory Hall (now sadly demolished): the BBC program 'Welsh Rarebit', produced by Mair Jones, went out from there every other Thursday, and Harry Secombe, Stan Stennet and other welsh comedians, destined to become household names gained their early experience on this show. Many of you will also remember another very popular radio show, which Horace Gamlin was involved with in later years.
For this program, a different factory in Wales chosen for each broadcast, and Horace used to drive around North and South Wales taking the piano to that day's location: Bert Weedon played guitar: the program was, of course, Workers Playtime. Fourteen year-old Horace followed in his father's footsteps straight from school, taking an apprenticeship as a piano tuner at Dale Forty & company, a well-known piano retailer in Cardiff.
He remained here for nine years, after which he was to work for two other retailers before setting up a business of his own: firstly for RJ Heath, and subsequently for Victor Freed. While he was employed here he met his future wife Maureen, who was at the time working as a salesperson at David Morgan's. After their marriage Horace set up as a piano tuner/technician, working from his own workshop. Local musicians made good use of his wealth of experience and fine skills, and by 1960 the business was sufficiently well established for Horace and Maureen to open their own retail music shop. After much searching, they settled on premises at 248 City Road.
Extensive alteration and redecoration was carried out, and by September 1960, they were ready to open their doors to customers. Pianos were-as they still are-the basis of the business: but as pop music grew into a culture in it's own right and began to exert a whole new range of strong musical influences on the young, Horace was quick to respond to their needs. He stocked the electric guitars, vox amplifiers, sheet music and other accessories, which every budding pop star needed. Gamlins was in fact the first shop in Wales to stock fender guitars and supply the kind of amplifiers that the Shadows and the Beatles were using.
Horace and Maureen's shop became a popular rendezvous spot for the members of local groups, and amongst the regulars who spent many an hour there was a certain Tommy Scott, the singer with the senators: Tommy Scott, of course, is better known today as Tom Jones.
Backed by Horace's technical knowledge and expertise and Maureen's sales experience, the business went from strength to strength. Some two years after opening their shop in City Road, they decided to separate the two sides of the business, moving the pianos and organs into an exclusive showroom in a building just opposite the original premises, in Richmond Road. Then, before the expiration of the lease at City Road, an existing music business in Wyndham Arcade became available following a bereavement. Gamlins bought it, and this became their main outlet.
Before long the Wyndham Arcade shop became so busy that they realised they would have to expand into larger premises. In October1967, they moved to St. Mary's Street, where initially they occupied the ground floor of number 55. Two years later they were able to acquire the first floor of the same building, formerly the home of the City Conservative Club. This meant that they could separate the two sides of the business again: a lift was installed, and the first floor became the piano and organ showroom, with the other instruments and accoutrements downstairs.
This arrangement worked very well: the business developed in all directions, catering for every musical taste from classical, through to popular, to the progressive, experimental, and more offbeat, and offering a full range of traditional instruments while keeping up to date with the latest innovative developments in the electronic field. Then, just as the 14-year lease on 55 St Mary street was nearing its end, an opportunity arose to acquire the larger freehold property next door, at number 56. This was ideal, providing as it did, a much larger area on three floors, with a depth of 170 feet from front to back. Gamlin's secured the building and transferred the business there in 1980, after carrying out major structural alterations which included having a central heating system put in, installing a lift to all three floors, and redecorating.
This has remained Gamlins' home ever since. When St Mary's St was designated an area for regeneration for the new millennium, Gamlins had the exterior of the building restored to its early 20th century glory. The restoration work, which included completely rebuilding the front wall and parapet using modern materials to recreate it's historical and traditional character was nominated for a design award in 1974 under the Lord Mayor's Civic Awards Scheme. Inside the splendid building, Horace and Maureen have used the space to create a departmental music store, with trained staff on hand in each department to offer specialist advice and technical assistance. In the basement is the drum dive, a paradise for percussionists. At the front of the store on the ground floor is the printed music-very much the domain of Mrs. Gamlin - and next to that are the brass and woodwind instruments. A huge display of guitars and basses, and amplifiers and PA equipment can be found at the rear of the shop.
Keyboards and electronic pianos can be found on the first floor as well as a large piano showroom. Which, with it's stock of many grands and uprights, including a selection of second-hand pianos, covers every price bracket, and offers customers a choice of shape and colour with pianos designed to enhance the decor of any home.
A complete delivery service is provided: and for parents who are hesitating to invest in a piano for their child in case it's enthusiasm for learning to play proves short-lived, a rental option is available. Gamlin's also offers a professional concert hire service.
The associated board of the Royal Schools of Music, and is one of the boards largest examining centres outside London. The board stages examinations three times a year, and Gamlin's is responsible for examining more than 3,000 candidates annually. Two studios are used for the exams: each of the three examination sessions last for a six week period, and during that time candidates of all ages, from the very junior to the very senior, come along to take graded theoretical and practical examinations on an extremely wide variety of instruments - while the staff, ever helpful, keep a watchful eye out, ready to render assistance to small or frail candidates bearing large instruments such as harps and double basses!
In 1976 Horace and Maureen's son Phillip joined the business in Cardiff. With Phillip now in charge of the overall management and grandson William and granddaughter Isobel set to follow the family tradition, Gamlins' future looks bright.