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Tivoli Doors Open Days 2006, 2007 & 2008 Index   Scottish Music Hall Society Dedications Index  SMH&VTS Exhibition & Show 2007 Tivoli & Area Improvements (Oct. 2013)

 

and everything prepared for the new show, it was a long day, not getting finished until around 11pm and two performances later, with just a break between Midday and 5.30pm. Monday to Saturday. The Union did gain us a 'day off''
but you still had to go in at 8.30 in the morning until midday.

In the case of certain props, that search started the week before. A football was required for one show and you couldn't go out and buy just any football! a trip to Aberdeen's Pittodrie Football ground and a request for a lone of a
football is what it took. Of course, Pittodrie got a plug during the show and in the programmes and the local team 'The Dons' received a cheer from the audience, so everyone was happy. Similar dealings were agreed between numerous
shops and businesses in the city.

Some goods, and especially any electrical replacement for the theatre would come up from England by train and had to be collected at the goods station. I once picked up a couple of 1000 watt lamps that came from A. E. C. in Rugby but
for some reason had reached Aberdeen station via Banff! When I asked why, the goods depot worker said, ''Because that's the way it is''. A lesson for my future employment, perhaps!!!

Large instruments such as a Hammond Organ would come by a large delivery truck with a lift. The rear stage entrance was set a good 10 feet above street level and that was quite a task to perform.

Most of the costumes and small personal props arrived by train in large wicker type laundry baskets, that would take two people to cart upstairs or drag into the dressing rooms. The stars' dressing room was on the second floor a short
walk from the stage entrance, while the chorus dressing rooms were on the first floor and the remainder on third and fourth floors. As electrician it was my job to replace or repair all the dressing room and mirror lights.

Monday was busy with removing and storing the previous weeks scenery, changing curtain set-ups etc then setting up everything for the new show, backcloths set props etc. I would watch as each artists or set piece was being rehearsed
and enquire about the lighting and any cues required. In most cases the star of the show, or the producer would seek me out and let me know the routine and the catch line that formed the 'cue' for a blackout.  I had to discuss with the
producer and set down all the lighting routines for the individual performers and the set musical pieces that always concluded the first half of the show and the individual artists' songs etc during their act. The  'cue' line for an instant
blackout at the end of a joke or routine was very critical. This had to be precise, as too soon or too late would ruin audience reaction.

One instance during the first performance of a Jack Milroy Show, I waited for the cue line and snapped the lights off, usually a delay of approx. 3 seconds. Afterwards Jack came to me and explained that I had switched off too quickly. During
the second show I counted 3 seconds longer and switched off. Again Jack said that while it was better it could be a little longer. What I didn't realise was that the tag line was linked to a large printed card that Jack was holding and he required
time to turn it towards the audiance to make the joke work. I explained that he was standing too close to my side of the stage and well below me and couldn't see what was happening and didn't see this move. I aways had to be careful not to
move too close to the side window otherwise the audiance would see me. For the remainder of the week Jack moved a little closer to centre stage so that I could follow the routine fully. There was no harsh words or grumbles, simply accepting
that these things happen. However, I must admit, the laughter from the audiance was quite marked.

Likewise I had to make a copy of my own routine so that the Lime Operators knew what was happening and which colours to use on a singer or whoever as rhythm and moods changed, and of course, the inevitable 'blackout'. There was no
voice communications between us and a buzzer code existed so that when I pressed the button, one two or three buzzes,  it gave them time to react.. The Lime boys were very experienced and many moves could be worked out as they went
along. Likewise, for myself. For the first show of the week we would all work to the 'book' but once you knew the routine I could operate the lights more relaxed and time changes of colours etc more smoothly and precisely.

Refering back to the 'window' where I viewed the stage and auditorium from the lighting panal, the only people in direct line with me were in the Boxes on the opposite side of the auditorium. I learned to ignore them but some would stare for
a while or wave. During one of Jack's shows a single figure sat in the lower box and he would often wave or give the thumbs up after certain lighting moves. He had a very mischivious grin and appeared to be joining in the fun of watching me
at work. At the end of the show when Jack gave a little speech he introduced the character, who was the late Welsh actor and singer, Ivor Emmanuel. Apparently he and Jack were friends and as he was in town he had dropped in to catch the
show. Ivor went on to star in a key role in the film Zulu, in 1964 and appeared on TV singing Welsh songs. Again, from J. H. Littlejohns' book, records that Ivor Emmanuel appeared at the Tivoli, along with Keith singer, John Dunbar, in
November 1963.

I found that Wednesdays were the worst days! On a Monday you would be all keyed up and eager to learn and get things right and by the second show everything would be in it's place. On a Tuesday everything ran smoothly, but come
Wednesday and everyone appeared to have over relaxed and taking things a bit for granted and that was when numerous silly errors would happen. From artist to stagehand we all seemed to fall for that on a Wednesday. The rest of the week
would usually go well, with mainly electrical problems having to be overcome, or replacement props for those that broke or got lost.

Rehearsals started on a Wednesday, which may have caused these errors, as it must be difficult for the artists to stop thinking about the new material they had just learned and go back into the daily routine of the present show. Mornings were
mainly used up resetting the stage and props and general cleaning. replacing bulbs and fuses was always ongoing. Cleaning down and resetting the lighting panel and platform was also a daily chore. There were lines of fuses on the Lighting
panel and one or more would generally pop when first switching on full lighting. Fresh fuses were always kept at hand.

About the worst job in the building was replacing the 120 watt 'cleaner's lamp'. This single lamp hung from the center of the theatre ceiling, above the chandelier and gave out more than enough light for the cleaners. It saved on having the
theatre side lights or main lights on. However, to replace the lamp I had to go right up into the rafters of the building and unscrew the mains lead from the lamp holder and untie the lamp from it's fittings and lower it to just above seat level in the
Stalls and then go back down to replace the lamp and clean the shade etc, then all the way back up again to haul the lamp back up and tie it on and refit the mains leads. You needed a head for heights as you were looking down through small
wooden slats directly to the seating about 80 feet below and you wouldn't want to slip into the well otherwise you would be in among the seats in a flash. However I did once hit my head on the large electric fan just above the cleaning lamp
fittings and I not only saw stars for a while but the blades of the fan rang out so loud that the Stage and Theatre Manager came out of their rooms and looked up to see if I was all right.

This happened in the middle of 1962 when the theatre was closed for some weeks, as it had been doing on an alarming scale. TV had been affecting audiences as it had with the cinemas and the theatre was only opening when a show with some
pulling power could be put on for a fixed period. During this long closure most of the staff were kept on and we worked daily setting to and cleaning just about every corner of the theatre that we could get to. I know, I cleaned virtually every lamp
in the building, including shades. The same routine as mentioned above with the changing of the 'cleaners' lamp took place when cleaning the chandeliers. The rows of front and side stage lighting was heavy going and I know just how heavy, as
when I got Dave to lift one section of the front lights to get to some fittings, he accidentally dropped it and I went around with a black thumb nail for weeks afterwards.  Charlie, the painter busied himself washing and painting all the walls and
ceilings. I did help him at one stage to wash out the Lime Room. Dave worked on fitting a new electric fan into the Stall's Bar. Not as easy as it sounded as he had to punch a hole some inches deep in the stone and plaster to reach the other side
and it was a long dusty job.

Another interesting experience for me was that during this period I did a bit of overtime, acting as caretaker on a Saturday morning until late afternoon when the regular fireman would take over. The Tivoli was over 80 years old by then and a well
established building, even to having it's own 'ghost'! Which, of course, I didn't believe in. However, when you are suddenly left alone in a massive building such as this, you soon become aware of all sorts of noises. Most are just aged timbers
creaking. The ropes and heavy backcloths high in the Fly's also had their own sounds. After a while you would swear you heard something or someone moving in the wooden walkways around the Fly's. 

I brought along the very first portable radio I ever had, which used an old fashioned ear piece and also my mains reel-reel tape recorder and played lots of music to fill the emptiness. Other times I would tinkle on the Grand Piano or partly raise the
safety curtain and switch on a few well placed stage lights, the amplifier and microphone and sing, or play my harmonica for a while, pretending there was an audience out there. The sound doesn't half travel and I am sure it was heard out in the
street too. The microphone had been used by numerous well known people of the Scottish and British Stage. 

However, at the end of it the theatre looked a treat. You almost had to close your eyes when the full lighting was turned up. The Upper Gallery (The 'Gods'), the Circle and the Stalls, the two 'Boxes' each side and the alcoves with statues and
backlighting all looked as they must have done when brand new. A photograph of this was published in the booklet ''Aberdeen Tivoli'' by J. H. Littlejohn and I feel quite proud every time I see it and knowing that that experience has been recorded
for history.

One of the busiest times I experienced at the theatre was during the annual 'Boy Scouts' Shows. These eager beavers used just about every prop invented for the theatre, all in one show! To get the show ready for the Monday opening we stayed
after the second house on the Saturday night and worked right through Sunday. While we drank plenty of tea I recall only having one food break and that was on the Sunday afternoon when they held a Buffet in the old Great North Of Scotland
Buildings alongside the Station in Guild Street. 

Every act or scene had the stage filled with scenery and props of all sorts and there was dozens of actors and part players milling about the theatre and stage throughout the whole week. One set was of Prince Charlie during his flight after Culloden
and the usual rendering of  'Over The Sea To Skye',  in which there was a storm, where they used a real maritime maroon for the explosion. This was set off inside a dustbin (Litter Can) with a sack cloth over the top. I had to set this off at a given cue,
but while every other person and stage hand had cleared out by the time it was due to go off, I of course had to stay in position, up on the lighting platform and set the Maroon off. Even while being prepared for it the shock would virtually lift me
off my feet and by the end of the week, including Sunday and 14 performances later I was completely shattered by shell shock and long hours of none-stop work. I wonder how Health & Safety would deal with this today!!! The sack cloth
disappeared a number of times, stuck somewhere in the rafters, no doubt. It may still be there yet! If anything, these 'would be' actors were certainly full of enthusiasm, but I doubt if that would have lasted so long, or remained so keen, if they had
to do that every week of their working lives. Once a year, is more than enough.

The Scottish artist who did everything he could to keep the theater open was Calum Kennedy ''The Voice Of The Highlands''. Calum was at the height of his singing profession and had a fantastic team of artists that traveled with him. There was
no doubting that he could pull in the crowds. You couldn't go wrong with names such as Will  Starr, Accordionist and  Ken Swann and Magee on the bill. 

I really enjoyed working alongside Calum and his artists. they were all thoroughly professional and keen to make every show sparkle. Calum was very approachable and took interest in the Tivoli staff. It was also magical to operate the lights for
such a show and when Calum was on stage for his main performance, he had the audience in the palm of his hand from the opening beats of music and would go on and on singing great Scottish songs one after the other. I loved playing the lights
to his singing and music and sang and danced up on the lighting platform changing the lighting to the rhythm and mood and was able to watch both Calum and the Audience's reactions throughout the performance. Calum also specialized in
Gaidhlig songs and I was so taken by these that in the mid 70's I took it upon myself to try and learn the language. I never did become proficient but I still remember enough to make sense of much that I read in Gaidhlig.

In spite of the great shows and drawing full houses at the weekend, the weekdays remained very quiet and the Tivoli continued to close for a number of weeks between further shows. In fact more people turned up for yet another 'final show' than
turned up for everyday shows.

The Tivoli seemed to do best when it presented local artists and Scottish entertainment or brought in a really big name. I shall always remember the local shows such as the 1962 'Your Ain Folk', with Robbie Shepherd, Bobby Watson, The Curly
MacKay Band and the George Sievwright Trio and other local artists. They were pure entertainment and lots of fun and attracted large audiences from all around Aberdeenshire. Perhaps if they presented more of these types of shows and possibly
with just one performance an evening, the Tivoli may have kept going, or at least for a lot longer than it did.

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