William J. Ball was born in Bristol on 1st January 1915, the first of three sons born to Sydney and Nellie Ball. At the end of the First World War the depression was in full swing, jobs were hard to find and the Ball family faced an uncertain future. Sydney, who had a variety of jobs throughout his life (including factory work and a job in a nearby tannery), was frequently out of work. He supplemented his income by earning money as an odd-job man and, as a keen banjoist, gave lessons on the banjo and acted as a part time agent for the Clifford Essex Music Company selling sheet music, strings and the occasional instrument.

Family Group 1926 - William far right

Birthplace - 58 Marling Road, St. George, Bristol.

Nellie and Sidney Ball - promenading in high style along the sea front at Weston Super Mare. Bill had a great affection for Weston, the nearest seaside resort to Bristol. In the later years of his life we often sat on the promenade or the pier, eating ice-creams.

William, Harold and Len 1926

Joe Morley’s Banjo Tutor which Bill absorbed in his early years as a student of the banjo.

Alone among the three brothers, William inherited his fathers love of music (his brother Len played the ukelele for a while), initially devoting his attentions to the old piano in the parlour. He showed such promise that, despite their meager income, his parents paid for piano tuition at “nine pence” per session. The lessons were to continue for only nine months and were halted when his father was made redundant due to ill health. It wasn’t until after the war that Bill was to take up the study of the piano again.

As a substitute for the piano lessons he loved Bill was taught the banjo from the age of eleven by his father. He was a keen pupil, devouring whatever music he could find and working his way through “Joe Morley’s Banjo Tutor” and Emile Grimshaw’s “The Banjo And How To Play It”. It wasn’t long before he was sufficiently proficient to accompany his father on the banjo and piano at local concerts and dinners .

Sydney Walter Ball - 1930. Odd job man and part time agent for Clifford Essex, he taught his son to play the banjo in the ‘Morley’ style. Emile Grimshaws ‘Return of the Regiment’ and Joe Morleys ‘Apple Blossoms’ were among his favourite pieces.
He preferred the zither banjo which he played with his nails and is seen here with a Barnes and Mullins banjo reduced from 45gns to £26. The money for this major investment had to be borrowed


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