Last piano-maker in UK closes down

Brian Kemble at the keyboard of one of the last Kemble pianos in the UK

Brian Kemble at the keyboard of one of the last Kemble pianos in the UK

The last piano-maker in Britain, which started life in the heart of north London’s Jewish community, has closed its doors just 18 months short of its centenary.

Michael Kemble started Kemble and Co in Stoke Newington in 1903 and now his grandson, Brian, has completed the last two pianos to be made in the UK — literally. He put the last strings in the last piano himself.

Now production has been taken over by the Japanese company Yamaha, with which Kemble has worked since 1968.

Brian Kemble, 57, who received the MBE for services to piano-making, explained: “This was a true family business. My grandfather started it in partnership with his friends, the Jacobs family. When my father Robert succeeded my grandfather Michael, he was joint managing director with Denzil Jacobs and that continued until the early 80s.

“My uncle Stanley, who is now 87, was in the business, as were my brother Andrew and my cousin Roy before distribution moved to Yamaha. We became their UK distributors in 1968.”

He himself worked in the company’s factory during his school holidays.

In 1969 the company moved from Stoke Newington to its current site in Milton Keynes.

His mother, Joyce, donated a Kemble piano to the London Jewish Cultural Centre in Golders Green in memory of her husband Robert, who died in 2002 aged 83.

Both Mr Kemble’s parents had a long association with Brady Youth Club. Mrs Kemble was a former vice chair of Norwood Child Care and was involved with the Jewish Country Holiday Home.

All the Kembles play the piano, Mr Kemble said — his father Robert played in concert halls around the world, demonstrating the Kemble tone.

Kemble have made 350,000 pianos in its 98-year history. Some owners include Lord Lloyd Webber, Tony Blair, jazz musician Corinne Bailey Rae, and the rock groups Oasis and Coldplay.

Mr Kemble said: “We are closing because Yamaha conducted a worldwide review and we cannot compete with the costs of making the pianos in the Far East. We didn’t want to close in our centenary year, so we finished a bit early.”

He added: “We are a victim of our own success in that our pianos last too long. They stay in families for years. It’s certainly not anything to do with children playing less — quite the opposite, there are more people playing piano now than ever before.”

The last piano made in the UK will be used to celebrate Chopin’s bicentenary in a competition to find the best young Chopin pianist next year.

    Last updated: 4:42pm, November 5 2009