About Andrew Bellis
Andrew was born in Bournemouth and educated to sixth-form level in local schools. He started playing the violin at the age of seven, changing to the viola at fifteen when the length of his arms and the gap in the school orchestra demanded it! A good teacher and places in both Hampshire and Dorset Youth Orchestras ensured his musical future. Originally intending to study engineering, an appendicitis operation just before his ‘A’ level examinations meant an opportunity to reconsider and instead he gained a place at what was then the Birmingham School of Music to study the viola with John Brearley and later John White, and conducting with Harold Gray.
The need for a good instrument of manageable size led Andrew to consider constructing his own, due to low student finances. Model making experience helped, as well as books on the subject and the luthier’s supplies shop of Sydney Evans (by then run his son, David Evans), so in 1978 Birmingham was the first venue to be shocked by one of Andrew’s trapezoidal bodied violas even though it was from a design first published in 1819. The 1970’s were a nadir for British instrument making; the impetus of the 1950’s had been lost and the skills that went with it, and most beginner makers then (with a very few notable exceptions) were turning out the shiny, ‘perfect’ blonde ‘see-through’ varnish instruments because good varnish materials were difficult to find – look at the photographs in the 1978 book ‘The Violin Makers’ by Mary Anne Alburger.
A student colleague joked that without a bow the home made outfit was incomplete, but the hint was taken and work started the following week using a very kindly gifted blank and a purchased nut. Shortcomings of that first bow were remedied after expert advice was sought following a fortunate personal introduction to Arthur Bultitude who was at that time the finest bow maker in England, and Andrew realised that making new bows and studying old ones represented an ideal compromise between engineering and music. Andrew also had some tuition from John Clutterbuck. During Andrew’s last year at Birmingham, interest in a career as an orchestral violist waned as bow making flourished and with the help of his parents he set up his own business back in Bournemouth in 1980. Although Andrew had set up and repaired his own instruments from 1976 he felt some professional advice would be helpful before he started working on instruments belonging to others, so he went to Ronald Roberts in Exeter who had been Arthur Richardson’s only pupil – Ron collaborated with Arthur developing the Richardson/Tertis viola. In 1990 Andrew commenced teaching short courses in bow maintenance and, a year later, bow making at the Faculty of Music, Oxford which houses the Bate Collection of Historical Musical Instruments. That collection contains some fine bows and an exhibit of a complete bow maker’s workshop, the contents belonging to William Retford who taught Arthur Bultitude.
When not making or repairing bows Andrew often has the chance to play his viola in both choral society orchestras and chamber music including viola and piano recitals, but for alternative relaxation he travels the countryside of Dorset by riding one of his collection of patiently restored 1950’s lightweight cycles.