The Way We Here by Colin Ella: Part 33 - Compton Versus Wurlitzer

The Way We Were by Colin Ella - Part 33, Compton Versus Wurlitzer.
The Way We Were by Colin Ella - Part 33, Compton Versus Wurlitzer.

One of the things that really fascinated me was seeing the theatre’s organ slowly rising from its underground hideaway with the organist riding up with it.

From its rather dimmed pool of light it emerged in all its brilliant splendour.

Soon its gentle melodies and sometimes thundering tones echoed around the auditorium.

The organist gave the projectionist a welcome break and the audience an extra treat as his fingers skilfully drew out the organ’s very wide instrumental potential.

Organists and organs featured a lot at one time and almost daily recitals could be heard on the radio played by famous players of the time. Then, even earlier, the silent films needed piano or organ accompaniment and the latter was able to provide dozens of sound effects such as firebells, sirens, whistles, drums, rattles, sighs, groans, and a certain London organ even had the sound of sea surf and aeroplanes.

When sound tracks were added to films a lot of musicians were out of work as the keyboard instruments became redundant.

From this change the organists then took on the role of playing well known tunes in the intermissions and sing-alongs were very popular in the 1940s.

The American designed Wurlitzer organ stole the show amongst the giant instruments although the Christies and the Comptons had no lack of admirers.

All three could produce tremendous, vibrating volume that you really felt, and all had a huge array of orchestral devices hidden away in their storehouses. They had cymbals, horns, trumpets, xylophones, tom-toms, sleigh bells and cowbells, and many, many other sounds as required.

Even now we still fondly remember those best known organists as well as many others we knew who were never famous.

They performed in cinemas, dance halls, and theatres countrywide. There was Andy Macpherson, Reginald Foort, and Charles Smart who were all resident organists with the BBC.

The most popular of all was perhaps Reginald Dixon. He had the Tower Ballroom organ specially made for him, and he certainly did it proud, for he played it, in his own inimitable style, for no less than forty years, and who can forget his famous signature tune, ‘I do like to be beside the seaside’.

My chance to enjoy one of these great organs was at Doncaster’s Gaumont Cinema, but such instruments are rarely seen or heard now. They have had their day and have been swallowed up by the ravenous mouth of progressive musical technology. A few are still to be seen here and there, and there have been some that have been bought by real enthusiasts who have fitted them into their own homes. As you travel around you may yet again hear that stirring sound of a great organ.

Next week in Part 34 - This Yellow Belly Business.