Beloved Brethren .... (harumpphh)
Well here I am once more seated in front of the keys of the trusty COMPAQ PRESSARIO lap-top to share with you the JOYOUS TIDINGS that in STOCKPORT TOWN HALL, we have a MAJOR NEW THEATRE ORGAN VENUE. The four manual, twenty rank Publix #1 Wurlitzer was premiered last Friday evening in its new home by Australia's splendid Tony Fenelon and our own Nigel Ogden.
The Wurlitzer was originally supplied for the Paramount Theatre in Manchester and it was opened in 1930, on the same day as the Hindenburg Airship Disaster. Following 43 years of service in the Paramount, later Odeon, Manchester, the organ was declared redundant so far as the cinema was concerned, and thanks to the foresight of certain individuals, the Lancastrian Theatre Organ Trust was born - to step in should just such an eventuality occur.
The organ found its new home in Manchester's Free Trade Hall, and it was opened in a major public concert in 1977 (I think it was Easter Sunday - but I am getting old, senile and forgetful) - what I do remember was a glorious public event with much applause, a letter from Her Majesty, the Queen wishing the "Queen Wurlitzer" every success, and there was much hope for the future. It seemed that the organ had it made in the shade - a superb venue and much opportunity for use.
However, as a casual bystander, it seems to me that the Free Trade Hall was not the greatest success for the LTOT. It was an huge venue, and even two or three hundred people at a concert were completely lost! Moreover, access to the Hall was, I gather, something of a nightmare - and I shudder to speculate what the costs of presenting a concert would have been.
So when the Halle Orchestra announced that they were moving to a new purpose built venue, this may well have been the miracle that the LTOT needed. Some miracle huh? The LTOT technical team, under the superb Eric Halsall probably never dreamed that they would be moving the organ AGAIN!!!! some twenty years later. But it was true, the organ had to go.
Various venues were mentioned, including the Hulme Hippodrome and others, but suddenly the name STOCKPORT TOWN HALL was mentioned and the rest is history.
Last Friday was my first PASTORAL VISIT to STOCKPORT TOWN HALL, and my first impression of the building was "WOW!" It is very impressive building - with a clock tower.... Entrance to the Hall was via a sort of side door - which opens into an attractive foyer - which in turn leads into an exceedingly beautiful hall, gorgeously decorated in many colours, with plaster fruit and leaves providing an interesting decor. It is also a very huge room, elegant in the extreme. I would estimate (Vicar's guess) that there were in the region of a thousand seats set out for the opening concert. A quick look around revealed a stage in the liturgical east and the chambers are at the liturgical west end. (Hmm ... a west gallery organ!) There is a fully licensed bar (which I thought may well come in useful - as indeed it did!) (diet coke you understand!)
The Hall was packed on this occasion with Civic Dignitaries. There was also a goodly number of well known faces from the UK theatre organ scene. As soon as I arrived the first persons I met were David Shepherd and Simon Gledhill, and in the evening I also spotted Trevor Bolshaw, Len Rawle, Frank Hare, John Smallwood, Joyce Alldred and many many other familiar and friendly faces.
The opening formalities were to me (sentimental fool that I am), very touching. I thought of John Potter IN GLORY - looking down on the occasion with great satisfaction. The last time the organ was opened, he was "in charge". Without a doubt the angels in heaven rejoiced with him. The Mayor of Stockport was invited onto the stage. She was a genial lassie methought, with bags of personality -- she announced that when she was made Mayor, she was delighted to discover that the highlight of her Year of Office was to be the opening of the Wurlitzer.
The formalities over, the first artiste was announced - our own Nigel Ogden. The strains of the Wurlitzer flooded the room with sound. The chambers are at the rear of the building and so for a moment all heads (including mine!) turned.
The sound is BIG! In fact it is huge! There is a degree of reverberation in the hall, though it was difficult to judge how much with so many bodies filling the space. It is known to be quite loud - and I suspect that it may need a degree of taming. The reeds in particular seemed very potent indeed; but another feature was a very good strong pedal! There is no doubt, that the Stockport Wurlitzer is an entirely new sound. I suspect that Nigel Ogden was doing his darndest to make the Wurlitzer sound somewhat reminiscent of Blackpool Tower's 3/14 special. Perhaps there is a hint of that, but I think not. This Publix #1 is made of classy stuff! Having said that, I think that the trems could do with some regulation - a more "American" sound would be very nice (but I admit that this is a matter of personal preference). I gather that a new post horn has been installed, to replace the 1947 rank (which replaced the second of two Vox Humanas).
If all heads turned at the sound of the Wurlitzer, then they swiftly turned back as the newly refurbished console rose slowly and majestically from the depths with Nigel on board.
Let me be the first to congratulate the LTOT on line! The console is STUNNING! The top rail of stops has been filled in, and I gather that the action is now fully electric. It is just SO magnificent. Nigel Ogden started off with a tribute to "The Great Little Army" of workers who had done so much work. In a programme lasting an hour, and including a demonstration of a wide range of sounds, Nigel did his utmost (most successfully in an Improvisation on "Three Blind Mice") to reveal that Stockport now have a most versatile organ of which they should be proud. The hour shot by, and Nigel left his audience wanting "MORE!!"
A lengthy interval then followed, and an opportunity to have a look at the console in the pit! Wow! it goes down a long way!
Following the Interval came Tony Fenelon from Australia. He brought the console up with Waltzing Matilda and again, it was a musical "tour de force" as we heard such as Buddy Cole's "Sassy Brass"; a sublime "Petite Waltz" demonstrated the organ's playback mechanism as Tony went over to the (rather heavily over-amplified grand piano) I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that the whole evening was just pure THEATRE ORGAN JOY!!!!!!
I noticed that the Wurlitzer was less well behaved for Tony than it was for Nigel. In fact there was a significant number of ciphers - including a very naughty one at the end of the show - computer related we are told!
A trip into the chambers with Eric Halsall showed the expected high standard of workmanship and beautifully cleaned and restored Wurlitzer pipework.
So then, what shall we say? I shall be a regular visitor to Stockport. I suspect that whilst comparisons are odious, the LTOT has just about the best theatre organ in preservation in the land of UK! ( I admit that I haven't heard them all, but I did hear the comments of others. )
When it has settled in a little more and all the bugs are out of the system, and perhaps when it has been tamed a little (so far as the volume is concerned) and perhaps when we have got those Trems doing what a Wurlitzer tremulant should do(!) it will leave all the others behind!
So I am well pleased! The LTOT have done a terrific job and they deserve our highest praise. A toast to them all!