Words Darren Hawes
Photography Kirk Truman
“I suppose it’s what you call a ‘destination store’… so being in a really desirable part of London is really important for us. Fitzrovia fits that well indeed.”
Nietzsche once said that “in a world whose essence is Will to Power, [we] may be reminded that Schopenhauer, although a pessimist, ACTUALLY–played the flute.” It wouldn’t be a stretch to see this wonderfully, usually so soothing an instrument as a symbol of peace, something that can turn even the most ardent pessimists into hopeful cherubs. I met with Nigel James, director of All Flutes Plus to see how this concept can be made into a successful specialist business that starts in Fitzrovia and makes it all over the world.
60-61 Warren Street is a rather unassuming premises, but it contains a veritable treasure trove for music. Stepping into All Flutes Plus, I was reminded of a jewellery store with the glimmering shine of instruments kept behind their glass cases – here is a place that self-evidently cares for the artistic quality and integrity of its specialism.
Another thing I noted about the shop, it really gets busy. Nigel took me downstairs into the Warren Room (a practise room that doubles as a place for events) for a chat, saying “I might have to leave from time to time if people come in.” He’s adamant of giving the customer the utmost care and attention.
Nigel’s brother opened the original All Flutes Plus on Dorset Street in 1990 but Nigel started working there soon after. In time, the team “outgrew” (as Nigel puts it) the building in Marylebone and relocated to the two floored building in Fitzrovia. “It’s a lovely area, it’s incredibly accessible, which is what we need.” I’m told of the reasons behind opening the new shop here. “I suppose it’s what you call a ‘destination store’, good transport links to all mainline stations. And there are customers coming to us all over the world, so being in a really desirable part of London is really important for us. Fitzrovia fits that well indeed.” Nigel’s enthusiasm for the area cements the business’ booming state. I ask him if there is a lot of custom from around Fitzrovia. “We have the West-end musicians. One or two of them live locally. Then there are the schools for the educational side of music, we do a lot of business with these.” But it isn’t just the local clientele that Nigel aims for, “for us it’s the location which is great. Being situated on Warren Street is brilliant because it’s actually quite quiet, but close to Tottenham Court Road and Euston Road, which are busy but not quiet. So it’s ideal.” The location, I notice, means that a lot of the foot traffic coming from around the busier streets opens up the business to a world of clientele.
Of course, it isn’t just the wandering eye of a passing traveller that All Flutes Plus rely on, although they’re always happy to help you. As Nigel says, “If it’s a complete beginner we can guide them in terms of what the quality and budget they have to find a suitable instrument.” If you’re a seasoned player, there are also services on offer for you too. Nigel’s view if you want a change in instrument is simple, “Let’s try lots and see!” When it comes to the flute, whatever your skill, level or interest you’ll get quality service here. They also offer a range of services to schools, “We try and promote the instruments. We will organise workshops around different schools: Sometimes with just flutes, sometimes we’ll work with other companies that specialise in other instruments, like Brass.” Nigel tells me, “and we’ll go and organise workshops in schools. Beyond anything, we want to promote instrumental uses. And that’s crucial to education. It’s been proven over and over again that learning an instrument helps brain function: particularly with mathematics.”
The team comprises of music specialists (all of whom are skilled players in their own right) and technicians (for any servicing and refurbishments you may need). “Most of our staff are highly trained musicians. So they know instruments, they know music.” Nigel seems incredibly, and understandably, proud of the quality of his staff. “Importantly, they know what customers need.” On top of this, there are the workshop staff, Eliana Amos and Antonio Fernandez Obelliero who, as Nigel tells me, “if you have a problem they can fix it.”
I ask Nigel about the sorts of issues they see to from time to time. “A common issue is with some of the students at the conservatoires – we’re just up the road from the Royal Academy. They’re so busy practising all the time; they can’t find time to organise in their schedule to plan a few days when they can book the flute in for a proper servicing.” Giving an uncomfortable laugh he goes on to highlight the problem with this, “So, inevitably what happens is that they’ll have an important audition, exam, rehearsal, whatever, and ‘Oh dear!’ Their flute packs up on them.” Nigel tells me that in such situations they do what they can to get the flute in full working order (sometimes in the space of only two hours!) Service is a last resort, however, and Nigel does urge players to keep their instrument in good condition. I asked if they should get regular check, “Yeah, if it’s a player that’s using it a huge amount get it serviced regularly, rather than waiting until it packs up on you.” If you want to avoid the stresses caused by a broken instrument, All Flutes Plus offer many services that will help keep it in good working order.
Finally, Nigel tells me that they keep a close relationship with their suppliers and manufacturers. “We have personal contacts with most of the good quality manufacturers in the world; a lot of them are Japanese and America and we even have a few individual makers and craftsmen in the UK. The quality of Asian products has gotten better and better.” He tells me that Chinese products used to be rather poor but are now becoming good quality. “We check everything as it comes here.” All Flutes Plus offers unrivalled quality and an internationally renowned service.
I can see why Nietzsche was surprised to learn that a pessimist still played the flute, but why should this instrument be just for the few? It really is a beautiful instrument that requires a lot of care and attention. And you can find that right here in Fitzrovia.