A ‘guitar doctor’ from Cornwall makes his latest appearance as one of The Repair Shop experts in tonight’s show, which airs on BBC One at 8pm.
Julyan Wallis couldn’t believe it when he received a call out of the blue from the producers of the popular programme, which has proved a huge hit during the past year of lockdowns with its gentle and emotional stories of cherished family heirlooms being brought back to life.
Tonight’s show is the third time Julyan, 52, has appeared as an expert on the show.
So how did a man who repairs guitars in Heamoor, Penzance – in what he calls “right in the toe of the sock of Cornwall” – come to be part of such a hit programme?
Julyan told Cornwall Live: “Blimmin’ heck, I just had this phone call out of the blue in 2019 from the production company saying ‘we like what you do and your website caught our eye’. My mate Todd Barden made a directional video to find me as I’m up a back lane and everyone gets lost; we made this stupid video and they saw that and wanted someone with personality apparently … but they chose me instead!
“I was going to hang up … I thought it was PPI. A production company called Ricochet … I thought I’ve heard of them, and then she said The Repair Shop and I thought I should be on that because I can waffle on. That’s how it all started.”
He added: “From the minute I walked in there, they’re so welcoming. It sounds really weird, but it is like another family, even the crew – they’re all warm and friendly. The show’s so endearing you think it can’t actually be like that, but it is. In fact, it’s better than that. I love them all to bits.”
In tonight’s episode Julyan – or Jules as he is known – is brought a 1960s guitar which belonged to Robyn Griffith’s grandfather, who had a real love of jazz and yet he never had the opportunity to learn to play the instrument.
It has been broken and silent for decades and Jules is Robyn’s last hope for his dream of being able to play his grandfather’s guitar.
Jules carefully pieces the guitar together, replacing the missing mother of pearl inlay, reattaches the peeling bindings and restrings it. Robyn returns with his grandmother, who looks on proudly as her grandson plays her late husband’s jazz guitar for the very first time.
Of The Repair Shop experience, he said: “Filming in Chichester is exactly what you see on the show. You’re thrown right in at the deep end, stood at the bench with Jay Blades who’s an absolute darling. You’ve not met these people and they walk in through these large barn doors and it’s like ‘wow, what have I got here, am I going to be able to do this?’
“You’re right out of your comfort zone. You settle in – the crew big you up and the producer, Sian, is amazing and makes you feel good that what you’re doing is right. You just think, what would I do back at home – it’s exactly the same but I’ve just got 15 people around me.”
Jules added: “Every reveal is emotional even if they’re not crying. They’re full of glee, they’re happy – and that’s an emotion.
“I get so nervous even though I know I’ve done the job right. It’s under that blanket, you’re just about to reveal it and Jay looks at you and raises his eyebrows and says ‘shall we show them?’ and you go ‘yeah, let’s do it’. Their eyes light up and that’s worth a million pounds.”
Since starting his business almost 30 years ago The Guitar Doctor has become an expert in acoustic guitars, electric guitars, bass guitars, bouzouki, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, cavaquinho, dulcimer and the balalaika. Basically, if it’s got strings, he can fix it.
Whether you need a set-up, re-fretting work, repair of structural damage, a neck reset, refinishing, customising or attention to the electronics, Jules can do it.
He started messing around with guitars when he was 12, growing up in Penzance and Newlyn, and dreaming of becoming a rock star.
“I remember leaving school and all my friends went to college. My late dad was a builder and I started being a labourer. One of the guys I worked with asked if I’d teach his daughter guitar and I had this thing about taking guitars apart and putting them back together.
“I knew I wanted to do something with the guitar. At that point I thought I was going to be a rock god. I had the long hair – I thought I was Jules Bon Jovi or something daft.
“I still look back now, 29 years on and think how the hell did I get here and how did I get on The Repair Shop? It beats working for a living … I still feel like the luckiest guy in the world.”
Covid has had an effect on one aspect of his job he loves – teaching guitar in schools in West Cornwall.
Jules said: “I miss teaching all the kids at Alverton and Heamoor primary schools. They’ve supported me for the 22 years I’ve been teaching guitar in schools.”
Over the years he has been lucky to work for thousands of people; somewhere in the region of 6,000 instruments have passed through his Heamoor workshop, among them a few well-known clients.
As a Pink Floyd fan, one of Jules’ dream clients is Cornwall-based Tim Renwick who was the band’s live guitarist for years and also played with everyone from David Bowie to Dionne Warwick.
“If you get a call from someone like Tim Renwick, it’s unbelievable – he was actually a guitarist I admired,” said Jules. “I used to work out solos on the Pink Floyd live albums, not realising it wasn’t just Dave Gilmour it was Tim Renwick.”
The greatest guitar he’s had to work on?
“I would definitely say Tim’s two Fender Strats. One of them he used at Live Aid with Eric Clapton – how big can you get? – and the other he’d used on the last few Floyd tours and possibly albums as well.
“It’s almost like ‘I’m not worthy’. It’s just a plank of wood with metal bits on it like anyone brings in but the provenance makes you take a little breath before you jump on it and just go extra careful.”
Other musicians he’s helped include Graham Smith (Eric Clapton, Al Stewart, Cat Stevens), Graham Jones (Haircut 100), Malcolm Joseph (Massive Attack, Neneh Cherry, Grace Jones), Louis Eliot (Grace Jones, Rialto), Stephen Duffy (The Lilac Time, Duran Duran), Neil Halstead (Slowdive), Edison Lighthouse, Cornish heroes King Creature, Flats and Sharps, Nat Wason (Ben Howard), Rich Thomas (Brothers and Bones, Ben Howard), Eric Faulkner (Bay City Rollers) and Joe Francis (Winter Mountain).
Jules added: “This is my third airing on The Repair Shop and there’s another one to come in a couple of weeks’ time I think. It’s so heartwarming and I’m so glad to be involved – I have to pinch myself.”
The Repair Shop is on BBC One tonight at 8pm or available on catchup on BBC iplayer.