Lewis “Scan” Tester

Scan Tester playing his bandoneon.

Lewis “Scan” Tester was born in 1887 at Chelwood Common, Sussex, and lived in villages in and around the Ashdown Forest all his life. His father was a publican, brick maker and fish seller, and Scan learnt those trades as a boy. He learnt to play the Anglo concertina from his elder brother, Trayton, but also, from an early age spent time in the company of older musicians, from whom he learnt tunes that they had learnt in the mid 1850’s.

In his lifetime he was a gardener, a sawyer and building worker. He very early on added to his income by playing music for social dancing at village events and servants’ dances.

During his lifetime he could play melodeon, tambourine, concertina, bandoneon, fiddle, tin whistle and cornet. He played by ear (or memory) and never learnt to read music. From an early age he was a step dancer, and like many English country musicians, he sang well.

From about 1924 to 1931 he ran the Testers Imperial Band with his daughter Daisy on piano, his second wife Sarah on drums, and with his brother Will and Scan swapping Anglo concertina, fiddle and bandoneon between them, as both could play all three. They played at village dances, many of which were organised by the family.

The tunes he played included schottisches, polkas, jigs, waltzes, step dances, quadrilles, hornpipes; he was also adept at taking any popular song from music hall items to 1960 pop chart hits, and turning them into functional dance tunes.

In 1955 the folk revival “discovered” Scan, and he suddenly found an enthusiastic younger audience at folk festivals and clubs that favoured traditional English music.

Scan died in May 1972, aged 84, and was buried in Horsted Keynes churchyard.

His tunes, many of which he had no title for, are still played enthusiastically in Sussex, and way beyond.

The definitive book on Scan is entitled “I never played to many posh dances: Scan Tester, Sussex musicians” by Reg Hall. Musical Traditions, 1990. There are many recordings of his playing, talking and singing, mostly on the Topic label. Especially the one edited by Reg Hall in 2009 (Topic TSCD581D).

(Will Duke 2015)

Profile of Scan Tester, by Will Duke

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Lewis ‘Scan’ Tester (1887-1972), by Clive Bennett

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Interview with Scan Tester, by Vic Smith

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Article on Scan Tester (1972)

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Obituary for Scan Tester

Scan Tester, by Hugh and Hilda Gibson

HASTE TO THE WEDDING

British Music Makers No.13: Scan Tester, Concertina Player

STEPDANCE TUNE / ROAMING IN THE GLOAMING / I LOVE A LASSIE

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