Henry Krein and the Montmartre Players

Henry KreinHenry Krein was born in England on the 15th April 1905, the son of legendary violinist Yasha Krein who was, for many years, a musical director at the Savoy Hotel, London and founder of a famous Russian Gypsy Orchestra. He had emigrated from Russia to England in 1904 and fathered six children, one of whom was Michael Krein, destined to became famous as the leader of the Michael Krein saxophone quartet and conductor of the London Light Concert Orchestra.

As a boy, Henry Krein studied the piano at the Blackheath Conservatoire under Septimus Webb and Carlo Sabrino but, as an accordionist, he was self-taught. The piano-accordion was virtually unknown in this country until the 1920s, when George Scott-Wood imported one from Italy and introduced it to the general public. It soon became very fashionable and accordionists and accordion bands were regularly recorded and broadcast until the 1960s, when the instrument's popularity began to decline. Nowadays, it is quite rarely heard on radio and television and there are many who seek to disparage it.

In 1933, Henry was playing professionally at the Hungaria Restaurant. The BBC formed their London Studio Players in 1942 and Henry became one of the elite personnel of this orchestra which, in addition to existing in its own right, provided the highest calibre of musicians for dozens of broadcasting orchestras, many of which required an accordion. One such orchestra was the 'Palm Court Orchestra', so long associated with the BBC's long-running series 'Grand Hotel'. Henry Krein's Montmartre Players comprised four musicians - two accordions, bass and guitar. The second accordion was played by another skilled musician, Micky Binelli. Most of the arrangements were done by pianist Gordon Langford and were highly technical and very elaborate. The Montmartre Players, in addition to making a long-playing record, participated in many of the light music programmes broadcast by the BBC, including 'Melody Hour' ,'Serenade in the Night', 'Bright and Early' and nearly two hundred editions of 'Morning Music'. They also participated in 'Music While You Work'. By the early sixties, percussion had been added to the ensemble and its title changed to Henry Krein and his Quartet.

Henry also played for many broadcasting combinations including those of Bernard Monshin, Lou Whiteson, Gerald Crossman and Reginald Leopold. He was also principal accordionist with George Scott-Wood and his Music. At one stage he even played for Mantovani. As a composer, his best known composition was 'Cafe Bonheur' which became his signature tune. Using the pen-name of Gaby Fleury he also wrote 'Piece Caprice' and 'L'Hirondelle' (The Swallow) amongst others.

I met Henry on many occasions; he was a courteous and genial little man. I say 'little' because he was quite diminutive - certainly under five foot tall. He once told me that he liked to take part in pantomimes! When I expressed surprise he said "Well, I've become accustomed to people laughing at me because of my height!" Being somewhat shocked at this, I replied to him "You may be small in stature, Mr. Krein, but as an accordionist you are as big as they come"

Henry Krein and the Montmartre Players
Henry Krein and the Montmartre Players

By the 1980s Henry was an elderly man, and was becoming hard of hearing, but despite this sometimes causing communication problems with conductors he was determined to carry on. He regularly played for the Peter Civil Orchestra on the bandstands of London's Royal Parks and, in the evenings accompanied a gypsy violinist at a London hotel. If this wasn't enough he appeared in some editions of 'Friday Night is Music Night' with his Quartet. When 'Music While You Work' returned for a year in 1983, Henry tried to get his group back on the programme. It was at a recording for a session by the Reg Leopold orchestra that Henry came up to me, quite agitated, telling me that the producer had turned him down, refusing to believe that he had ever appeared on the programme. When I remonstrated with the producer, it became apparent that he thought that Henry was too old and no longer up to it. So 'ageism' is nothing new at the BBC!

I well remember arriving at a London park for a concert when Henry came running up to me, clearly very annoyed. "I ran into that Bernard Monshin at a football match the other day and he had the cheek to tell me that I should retire! I don't have a pension to fall back on. I can't retire; I have to sit by the phone and wait for it ring!" Well, eventually he had no choice but to retire as his sight was diminishing and he was struggling to read the music that was in front of him.

Even in old age, Henry was a keen motor-cyclist and owned a powerful machine. Apparently, one of the sights of London was the diminutive Henry on his motor-bike, accordion strapped to his back, with Reginald Kilbey and his cello on the pillion! Fellow accordionist, Jack Emblow once made the mistake of accepting a lift from Henry Krein, who tore through the streets of London, weaving in and out of the traffic, making a dash for the traffic lights before they changed to red! Jack found it one of the most terrifying experiences of his life!

Henry Krein died in November 1993, but for many years his widow, Betty Krein regularly telephoned London radio stations' 'phone-in' programmes to talk about the husband that she clearly adored and sorely missed.

Click here!
Listen to 'Home to Music'
played by Michael Freedman and his Orchestra
Henry Krein and his Quartet
as broadcast on the BBC Home Service at 6.35pm on 2nd August 1966

Click here!
Listen to 'Music While You Work'
played by Henry Krein and his Quartet
as broadcast circa. 1966

Click here!
Listen to 'Music While You Work'
played by Henry Krein and his Quartet
as broadcast at 10.31 a.m. on 28th February 1966

MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK at 10.31 a.m. on 28th. Feb. 1966
played by Henry Krein and his Quartet

Calling All Workers (Sig)
Spanish Gypsy Dance
Cafe Bonheur
Mexican Shuffle
Continental Holiday
The Gift
Portuguese Washerwoman
My Favourite Occupation
Jangle, Jingle
Calling All Workers (
Eric Coates
Henry Krein
Andre Popp
Van Parys
Eric Coates

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Text by Brian Reynolds : e-mail brian@mastersofmelody.co.uk