John is the Founder, Managing Director, and Chairman of John Hornby-Skewes
Ltd, now the largest privately owned musical instrument & accessories distribution company in the UK. By telephone, John kindly shared some of his
reminiscences of working for Henry Weill between 1963 and 1965, firstly as a salaried sales rep covering the
North of England, and later as a semi-independent commission-only agent, which enabled him to branch out into other products and eventually form JHS. He doesn't remember specific details of the Fenton-Weill guitars and amps he sold after all this time, but does recall that they were generally well-made and competitively
priced; hence they sold well.
Henry Weill was of German-Jewish extraction, and came to the UK in the late 1930s, presumably to escape the rise of the Third Reich. John recalls Henry's involvement with Jim Burns in 1959 (John started work for Hohner in 1960) and by the time he joined Fenton-Weill in 1963 a factory was in operation at 96 Lots Road, London SW10, employing up to 15 people engaged in the manufacture of guitars and amplifiers. Apparently guitar parts were mainly bought from Germany and assembled at the factory, although pick-ups and amps were made in-house.
John remembers Henry as a lovely, big jovial guy, but no businessman. His main interest was in design and innovation, and once a product was developed he lost interest in it and moved onto the next. A lot of his time went into inventing products like fibreglass guitars, which were innovative for the time but not a commercial success. The factory opened at 8 am, but Henry frequently wouldn't arrive until 10.30, before which very little work was done !! This may have contributed to why Fenton-Weill went bankrupt in 1965, and Henry Weill subsequently set up another company (possibly Fenton-Weill Export) working out of the basement of his home at 237 Acton Lane, which accords with other accounts we have of his operations later in the 60s, concentrating more on PA and disco installations rather than guitars and amps.
John recalls that Fenton-Weill were the first UK company to exhibit at the Frankfurt Music Fair in 1964, because Henry still had connections including a brother in Germany. John had the task of driving a van full of equipment to Frankfurt, a dual novelty as he'd never driven either a van or on the right (wrong) side of the road before ! He also remembers that Henry had a tendency to economise on parts, sometimes opting for price rather than quality. At a British Music Fair, the cheap Fane speaker in a prototype amplifier (an Ampeg copy !) rattled whilst Henry was demonstrating it to a potential customer, so he instructed John to sit on it to try and muffle the rattle !
John last saw Henry at a trade show at the Russell Hotel in London in the early 1980's, at which time Henry was living in Florida, having parted from his wife Betty and their two sons. He also remembers a long-term business partner of Henry's, Ron Larkin, last heard of working for a PLASA company in the late 1970s. (There are several Weills in the west London telephone directory : if any visitors from that area know any, please ask them if they are related).
We are very grateful to John for taking the time to supply this information, and would me most grateful to receive other personal memories of Fenton-Weill from visitors to the website.