Tony Lacey

Working in the style of the previous millennium,
an instrument maker from Wass is hoping to fulfil
his dream for the celebrations of the next
It's worlds away from Greenwich, with its grandiose ambitions and giant plastic dome, but the first confirmed case of millennium fever has broken out in the sleepy Yorkshire village of Wass.

The victim is Tony Lacey, a charming, simple-living craftsman, a Buddhist, and the last person you'd expect to succumb to hype of any kind. The difference is that while le beau monde looks forward to the next millennium, Tony is looking backwards to the last.

Tony makes mediaeval stringed instruments, and it is his dream to recruit a band of like-minded enthusiasts to form a Millennium Orchestra. His idea is to serenade the dawn of the next one thousand years in the authentic music of the last.

"It might not quite be ready in time, though," admits Tony, who only makes three or four instruments per year. He can spend up to three months on carving a Moorish rose on the front of a lute, working on it for a maximum of three hours per day, the most his eyes will stand. "One slip and it would be ruined," he explains.

Tony works entirely by hand, shaving wood to wafer-thin frailty with miniature planes - themselves home made. "I've got to spend time making the wood sing," says Tony. "This wood remembers that it was once part of a tree and that it is alive, but you want it to learn the notes. It's a bit mystical at this point," he laughs.

The other reason he works slowly is that most of his pieces are one-off commissions, whether an 8th century psaltery carved from a single block, a 13th century gittern, or a mandolin choristo copied from the 17th century master, Stradivari. "So it's usually the very first one that I've made," he explains. "I'm learning all the time."
And there are no instructions. "I make what doesn't exist," says Tony. His instruments are masterpieces of detective work, based on contemporary illustrations. He has copied a Gothic harp from one in a painting by Bosch and has sometimes used church carvings as another starting point. Tony Lacey at work
"Angels are always dragging rebecs (a mediaeval instrument shaped like a mandolin) around," he explains.

Tony's work is so specialised - he's one of only three craftsmen in his field - and early music audiences so small, that it would be impossible for his clients to reward him properly in financial terms, but cash is not the motivation for this former schools inspector and astronomer, who changed career on impulse five years ago.

"Instrument makers have never had any status," laughs Tony. "In mediaeval times they were regarded as lower than the servants. But I've got a stream outside my workshop and leaves to look at all day, and I'm doing what I want. Why bother to earn money?"
Reproduced from "Profile Magazine", Harrogate.