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Cinema organs and organists

Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
#1
Today I have been to a memorial concert in memory of a former neighbour of mine, Tony Moss, who was a co-founder of the Cinema Organ Society and Vice President (I believe) of the Cinema Theatre Association. Tony had an incredible knowledge of cinemas and cinema organs, and has left a collection of 25 000 pictures to the CTA, as well as a mass of other memorabilia.
When I was tiny and my dad had recently started work as a teacher at Loxton Street, he also became organist at St Mark's Church, Washwood Heath to make a few pennies and exercise his talents. When the The Beaufort Cinema, opposite the "Fox and Goose" was but a few years old (it was opened in 1929) and they had a resident named Reginald New. My father got to know him very well, and I have quite a few recollections of "Uncle Reggie", although he soon moved on to the Regal, Beckenham, not far from where he grew up or where I live today. He used to do tours of different cinemas round the country, and he usually came to see us when he was in Brum. The last time was in 1958, when he was far from well, and rheumatism made it painful for him to play. Unlike many cinema organists at that time he had had a full musical training and was a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists - he was as much at home with the classics as busking a selection of popular tunes.
As I remember he was replaced at the Beaufort by Eric Spruce (Uncle Eric to me of course), but I see from the Cleggs' "Dream Palaces of Birmingham" that the organ was removed to the Parlophone studio in Abbey Road (yes, where the Beatles did their stuff) in 1937.
Cinema organists were among the biggest bearners in show business in the 1930s.
My dad occasionally did a night at a cinema before the war, but he also played the piano on the radio a few times, always popular but sedate stuff. He made a bit more work for himself demonstrating Hammond Organs for a Mr Richards, who had a showroom in Islington Row, by Fie Ways.
During the war he volunteered for the RAF to be able to choose what he did, and was posted in Bournemouth for two years entertaining British and Canadian airmen, many of whom were mentally shattered after their experiences. He got to know an outstanding African organist Fela Sowanda, whose playing was magic.
After the war my dad was demobbed and was more involved with church organ work, including demonstrating and opening organs which were being removed from cinemas and installed in chapels and churches - I remember Chadsmoor Methodist Church near Hednesford in 1947 and Hurst Green Methodist Church in 1948-49. He did only one gig I can remember, shortly after he was demobbed, at a cvinema in Wednesbury, billed as "Alan Walker, the International Swing Organist" (he had just come back from India).
Hearing a cinema organ played live today for the first time for about 50 years I couldn't help think it was a rather terrible noise, and my wife Barbara thought the same. I have spoken to other people tonight, and some of them agree that the cinema organ could make an awful noise. Why did organists have to play like that, when the instrument could make some beautiful sounds?
Peter, 23.07.05
 
#2
The first time I ever went to the cinema was to the Gaumont to see "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", I was about 4 years old and I remember even now the organ rising from the floor, it was wondrous to me at that age.
 

rowan

Born a Brummie
#3
My beloved is a keen collector of theatre organ records, tapes and cds, he has hundreds! :)

How he remembers what he has got in the collection is beyond me but he raraly duplicates any! :D
 

jennyann

master brummie
Staff member
#4
I love Organ music of all kinds. I always listen to Nigel Ogden on
BBC 2 Radio. He often tells stories and anecdotes about Britain's famous organs and organists on his programme. There are organists playing all kinds of music on organs all over Britain every week it seems and he always reads a list of where you can go to hear this music. The organ at Blackpool Tower is often featured with recordings of Reginald Dixon who many remember from his playing the organ there for a very long time. I like this page about the Blackpool Wurlitzer Organ https://www.girdwood.co.uk/britorg1.html. The Ballroom is an amazing place.

That's a very interesting story Peter about your Father being an organist.
i enjoyed reading it. The Beaufort was a very imposing cinema.
 

lencops

gone but not forgotten
#5
jennyann, What a great website, hav`nt looked at it all yet but i am enjoying looking through it, Reginald Foort was my favourite, always listened to him on the wireless (aka the radio).
 
M

malvern

Guest
#6
Last time I went to Blackpool Tower theatre I was the guest of Chris Taylor who was playing--you guessed it, the organ (electric) Anyone remember the Taylor family, owners of Birmingham's famous recording studios in Handsworth?

Brummy born and bread, Chris was also the musical director for 'Take That' at one time.
 
W

Wendy

Guest
#7
When my aunt and uncle retired they went to live in a retirement appartment at Ladbrook Hall Lemington Spa. Reginald Dixon lived next door.
 
L

linett

Guest
#8
My aunt was a cinema organist ..........her name was Beatrice Ashton (later Truby)
I dont know where she played, but the family lived in and around the Sparkhill/Sparkbrook area between the 20s & 40s
My dad used to go to listen to her as a special treat but says he was always terrified to see the floor swallowing his big sister as she disappeared at the end of her session!
Does anyone remember her playing anywhere?
 

GER22VAN

master brummie
#9
The first time I ever went to the cinema was to the Gaumont to see "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", I was about 4 years old and I remember even now the organ rising from the floor, it was wondrous to me at that age.
Sylvia I remember the same at the Gaiety in Coleshill Street.
Such a touch of Class.
 

Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
#12
Thanks Lencops for the link to those old cinema organ recordings. What a nice surprise. I bought a few old records years ago, but I haven't got round to playing them for ages.
There is a terrific range of recordings there, and all of them free, even if the quality is a bit shaky — it's the preservation of history that counts.
Peter
 
C

Christopher Witcomb

Guest
#13
I am trying to trace an ancestor Robert James Witcomb born in Tamworth 1839 [and especially his father of same name born about 1806, where? and his mother Louisa 1809- 1887 born and died Birmingham]

Robert junior was born blind and was in the Islington [row?] Blind School [5 ways] in 1851 census and I believe stayed there many years to become a teacher [of music]before starting his own business

He was a pianist and organ player [in church? St Lukes?] and later advertised as a music teacher and possibly a retailer of pianos in the Edgbaston area ?

He was married twice , first to Elizabeth Whitehurst [1837-1885] a marriage which produced two children Charles Percy and Lucy Mary and then later [following death of first wife] to Elizabeth Adcock [who was also blind and may also have been a teacher at the blind school]

He lived to 1909 in Edgbaston area.

I believe the centre opened in 1847 in Islington House Broad St but then relocated to Carpenter rd in 1852 [and closed in 1954]

I have read that many organists , pianists and piano tuners came from blind schools including Birmingham . The opening of these Schools may have been due to the large numbers of blind children in early Victorian times [then an unknown result of parental Syphilis]

I am related to Robert Juniors older brother, John James Witcomb who is my gg grandfather.

I would like to know if there any documents for admission to the blind school [as would be completed by parents]
Also if there is a register of teachers at the institute across the period

I also read somewhere that there was a blind piano tuner and retailer from Islington called Mr Richards who may have been later in same business?

Also is there a list of St Luke organists 1855 - 1907?

Any help , comments appreciated

Best Regards
Chris
 

Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
#14
Hallo Chris,
I can't answer most of your questions, but I can fill in on two points.
In my first post on this thread over four years ago I mentioned a Mr Richards, who ran a showroom which i've just checked in the 1939 Kelly's was owned by Conacher Sheffield & Co. Ltd. at 28 Islington Row. The company was well known previously for its cinema pipe organs, but as I remember, my dad used to demonstrate Hammond organs, which were more suitable for use at home, as you could turn the volume down. I think the Conacher branch in Birmingham must have disappeared during WW2.
I have sharper memories of another Mr Richards who was blind and came to tune our piano and also my grandmother's. I think he was still in business in the early 1950s, although he must have been getting on by then. He was always smart and cheerful. Sadly I know no-one who can give a hint where and how he lived. He always seemed well organised, and found his way round Brum with just a white stick. He must have had a partner who helped look after him.
At least one of these characters answers one of your questions.
Peter
 
W

Wendy

Guest
#15
I am sorry I can't help with your quest but I found this thread so interesting. I remember both schools I went to in Sutton had blind piano tuners. I was told that when one of the senses is lost the others become more heightened this is why many piano tuners were and are blind. I have a friend who is a piano tuner he is not blind. He does a lot more than just tune now though. He became one after he was made redundant when Cincinnati closed in Tamworth. It.s a shame a lot of organs a disappearing in churches now because they become damp in the old Churches. They are very expensive to maintain.
 
#16
I have a business in Rugby and about a year ago an elderly man came in and during our conversation he told me that his father, Frank Newman, had been the organist at Lozells Picture House, prior to 1931 when they had moved to Rugby.
I purchased from him a CD of his father playing the organs at Lozells and here in Rugby. They are still available.
Ted
 

ronald coooer121

knowlegable brummie
#17
At the pavilion cinema Chester rd wylde green 40/50 every Sunday night the organ used to come up from below the stage an the words were put on screen an it was a sing song b4 the film started Ernie edge was the chief projectionist then an manager of our palace cinema minors football club lovely man


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
 

Alberta

Super Moderator
Staff member
#18
Hi Ronald , welcome to the forum and thank you for your contributions.

One small point, we do not usually use 'text speak' on the forum , eg. Before -- b4, you--u.
Tried to message you but it appears you do not take messages,
Alberta.
 

Dave M

Pheasey Born Bumper
#19
At the pavilion cinema Chester rd wylde green 40/50 every Sunday night the organ used to come up from below the stage an the words were put on screen an it was a sing song b4 the film started Ernie edge was the chief projectionist then an manager of our palace cinema minors football club lovely man


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
At some time a Dave Davies used to play the organ there
 
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