Edinburgh Piano Company closure sparks £500k auction

ONE OF the largest collections of pianos in Scotland is expected to fetch up to £500,000 when it goes under the hammer in Edinburgh on Sunday.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 11th February 2016, 1:27 pm
Updated Tuesday, 15th March 2016, 11:43 am

The Edinburgh Piano Company, which is set to close, has supplied pianos for famous musicians including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Luciano Pavarotti and Van Morrison, who have visited Edinburgh over more than 30 years.

The auction is the culmination of the business, as the company’s owner, James Cameron, is set to retire.

Some 90 pianos, ranging from £300 to £35,000 for the “Rolls Royce” of the instrument -- a stunning Bösendorfer from Vienna -- will be sold to collectors worldwide by specialist piano auctioneers Piano Auctions Ltd at James’ showroom in Joppa, Edinburgh.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

James, 73, started the business in the early 1980s after he arrived in the capital to study musical instrument technology.

He began to buy and sell old pianos to supplement his meagre income, often carrying them up and down the stairs from his basement flat.

But over the years he has been thrilled to listen to his pianos provide the music for some of the world’s biggest stars.

James, 73, said: “As I cleared my desk I come across a drawer full of back stage passes covering many years of hiring our pianos for concerts, events, festivals and theatres.

“I remember Frank Sinatra at Ibrox Stadium back in 1990 when we provided a Bösendorfer Imperial grand, and then there was Pavarotti at the SECC with our Bösendorfer 275, and tours with Evelyn Glennie round the Highlands and Islands of Scotland with a little Steinway.

“We’ve looked after a roll call of famous musicians, from a cheery young Jamie Cullum and a grumpy Van Morrison.

“More recently on the classical front LangLang for the BBC and Benjamin Grosvenor -- Young Musician of the Year, and previous winner of that title the charming Nicola Benedetti.”

James, who plans to set up a musical centre in his country home near Biggar, and host jazz nights, said the stars had given him some thrilling -- and some worrying -- moments.

He said: “When I got the call from Frank Sinatra’s musical director saying Sinatra wanted a piano I was terrified.

“We were just getting started at that stage so it was a huge excitement and a real coup for us. But it was a thrill to watch Sinatra sing My Way and Fly Me To The Moon accompanied by our piano.

“When Tony Bennett played in Princes Street Gardens he came out afterwards to speak to us and tell me ‘thank you for the piano, boys, great job’. He was a lovely man and very charming.”

James also watched Jamie Cullum, who famously works his audiences from the stage by climbing on to his piano and by playing notes with his feet.

He said: “You’re not too happy when you see things like that. It can be a worry too -- can you imagine a note going out of tune during My Way?

“On one occasion at the Lyceum Theatre the pedals fell off and stage technician had to crawl out from the side and hold them up.

“The funniest was at the Fringe Festival, one performer filled the inside of the grand piano with ping pong balls so when he played they jumped up and down.”

James, whose own piano performing career peaked with a residence in a Stranraer hotel many years ago, added: “I was never a professional pianist by any means -- I played in the North West Castle Hotel in Stranraer and that was my level.

“I never play piano now because people would come in to my showroom and play so wonderfully, I’d think ‘oh, I’ll never play again’.

“It will be sad to close the doors, as it’s been an enjoyable business.

It would be too difficult to watch the sale, but I hope they go to good homes.”

Séan McIlroy for Piano Auctions Ltd, who will conduct the auction, said “This is going to be a very special sale.

“James Cameron has been the largest dealer of pianos in Edinburgh and probably in Scotland.

“He has rented pianos to people like Frank Sinatra, Jamie Cullum and Van Morrison -- a who’s who of music.

“The pianos we are selling vary in price from a small grand at £300 up to a brand new Bösendorfer for £35,000. There’s even a forklift truck as the last lot in the auction to move them with.

“They will go to every corner of the world -- we have people registered to bid online from Israel, China, Australia and America.

“It’s really the end of an era.”

Edinburgh Piano Company’s first shop was at Balgreen Road, near Murrayfield. Over the years they progressed to bigger and better premises eventually to the City showroom at Inverleith which they occupied for many years and finally to the massive former car showroom and warehouse where the sale is to be held on Joppa Road.