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Town Hall, Malvern
Photo: Maurice Austin
The series of milestones which culminated in the opening of Malvern Town Hall's Compton organ in 1992 had their genesis nearly thirty years earlier. In October, 1994, under the heading "First Ever Compton organ coming to Australia", Julien Arnold wrote as follows:
"The editor's ear, planted firmly in the ground, has detected strong rumblings in certain quarters of Melbourne of a 3/11 COMPTON theatre pipe organ coming to Melbourne. The purchaser, and the qua-ter from where these rumblings are coming, is, at present, a secret, but the 'importer' is known to members of the Society [TOSA] as a real eager beaver.
This organ, when it arrives, piece by piece, will be the first Compton pipe organ ever to come to this country. So far, a very fine three-manual console has been found, along with relays, pipes, chests, etc., all in excellent shape." [Vox, October, 1964, p. 3]
Few details were revealed at that time, although it was reported in England that the console and relays from the 1930 three-manual, ten rank Compton at the Piccadilly Cinema, Sparkbrook, Birmingham, had been sold to Australia. ["Organ News", Theatre Organ Review, Leeds, England, Vol.XIX, No. 73, March, 1965, p. 22]
It was not until 1969 that the details of the mysterious instrument were revealed. The instrument was a composite of parts from several Compton organs. The console was from the Astoria, Old Kent Road, London, a twin-console three-manual, twelve-rank organ opened in March, 1930 by Elton Roberts. [Bartlett, Ralph, "'Roberto' ... Otherwise, Elton Roberts," Theatre Organ Review, Leeds, England, Vol. XII, No. 46, June, 1958, p. 4] The console that came to Melbourne had been on a dolly on the stage in that theatre (the other console was in the pit, on a lift). The relays came from the Piccadilly Cinema, Sparkbrook, as did some of the pipes. It was also stated that some pipes came from the Odeon Cinema, Twickenham (2/6 Compton), but that was not correct - I played the Twickenam organ (not far from my then home) several times in the early 1970s, and would certainly have noticed if pipes had been missing! The pipes shipped were: Metal Flute, Vox Humana, Wood Tibia (to 16ft) String and Diapason (to 16ft). The organ parts had been stored since purchase, and considerable water damage had occurred before British organ dealer (and self-professed organ builder) George Barlow shipped them to Australia in 1968.
George was the "sod" (I can't think of a better word to describe him at this point...that I could print on this esteemed list) who collected a pile of Compton stuff for shipment to Australia.
It was all quite good stuff, except he packed it in crates and then put it outside in the rain while he collected more to pack and send.
When he eventually got around to sending it, it had gained considerably in weight.....British rain water!
When it got unpacked, the great manual in the centre had all but disintegrated, while the wooden Tibia 2 footers were actually floating, in pieces, in a wooden crate. All the chests and other pipework was in a very sorry state.
Insurance was attempted, but it was found to be rain water, NOT salt water, so no payout!
Well, all this mess was slowly dried out, and a TOSA craftsman, Ed Titley by name, dried out all the Tibia pieces, matched them up, inserted thin veneers where necessary, and rebuilt the pipes one by one. These are the pipes you now hear in the Malvern Town Hall 3/17 Compton, recently recorded by John Atwell.
The Compton chests were also dried out, but never worked properly again. The Console was totally rebuilt, and the great manual restored.
Thanks a lot George Barlow!!!! You have been cursed many times.
A "Tribute" to the late George Barlow by Julien Arnold - Theatreorgans-L Internet List - 12/12/01
At its General Meeting in July, 1969, TOSA (Vic) voted to purchase the parts from Frank Douglas, who had imported them, with a view to assembling an instrument of three manuals and twelve ranks of pipes. ["Victorian Division Buys 3 Manual Compton", Vox, August, 1969, p. 3]
The first task was to restore the water-damaged console, which was successfully accomplished, whereupon it was placed into storage at Cinema North, Reservoir. Mean-while, a proposed specification was drawn up by local organists with input from British organist Vic Hammett and American organist Jonas Nordwall, [Cross, David,correspondence dated 10 June, 1974] and a "shopping list" of parts and pipework needed was prepared. Suitable sources of supply in England were investigated and parts were purchased. By 1976, nine ranks of pipes were in stock, and discussions were in hand towards installing the organ in the Balwyn International Cinema, North Balwyn. [Vox, June, 1976, pages 3 and 9]
The console in storage in 1975
The Balwyn plans did not go ahead, and the organ, which had been stored in a southside factory, was moved to Auburn and Upwey, later again to premises in Flemington, where all the parts could be gathered together and worked on. By the mid 1980s, the organ had swelled in size to twelve ranks, although some concern was being expressed within TOSA as to when this long-running project was going to be finalised. To add to the project team's worries, several parts of the organ, which had been loaned to assist other Society projects had gone missing, and an appeal for the return of those parts was made. [Philpot, Wally, "TOSAVIC's Third Organ," SA TOSA News, TOSA (SA), Adelaide, October, 1986, p. 10]
Three years later, a breakthrough came, when on 28 August, 1989, a Council meeting of the City of Malvern agreed to accept TOSA's proposal to install the organ in Malvern Town Hall. ["Exciting News from TOSA Victoria", SA TOSA News, TOSA (SA), Adelaide, October, 1989, p. 10]
Heartened by this news, the TOSA team's energy and enthusiasm resurged, and work proceeded apace on the installation. The organ's size increased to fifteen ranks as it was installed in chambers on either side of the proscenium, behind attractive grilles carved from single sheets of wood by Clarrie Findlay, one of the TOSA volunteers working on the project.
Because much of the organ had suffered water damage while awaiting shipment from England, it was decided to use all Wurlitzer chests for the pipework, winded from Wurlitzer-style regulators and with Wurlitzer-style tremulants. John Andrews of Sydney constructed a solid-state relay and combination mechanism.
Another incident in the organ's eventful history came when the console fell off the truck in which it was being transported. Fortunately, it was able to be repaired and additional stopkeys were added during the process.
The organ was finally inaugurated on Saturday, 11 July, 1992, by British organist George Blackmore (who had opened TOSA's first organ at the Dendy in 1967), who commenced, appropriately, with his own composition Festival Day:
"This was the first time that some of us had heard a Compton 'live', so it was exciting to listen and pick put the various sounds from this instrument. The organ is very powerful - capable of 'pinning you to the back wall', in fact. It has some lovely strings, tibias, trumpets and tubas, to name a few. The tremulants seemed to be shallower than we are accustomed to with Wurlitzer, but the over-all sound was pleasing to the ear." [Ward, Gail, "TOSA (Victorian Division) Opens its New Compton Theatre Pipe Organ", SA TOSA News, TOSA (SA), August, 1992, p. 9]
On the following day, John Atwell and Tony Fenelon played a second concert to ensure that the organ was well and truly inaugurated.
John Atwell at the console.
Photo: Maurice Austin
The organ at the time of its opening comprised fifteen ranks of pipes, located in cahmbers of either side of the hall. Since then , a Trivo Saxophone has been added, later a second (Wurlitzer) Vox Humana, both in the Solo Chamber.
MAIN (left of stage)
Vox Humana 8' (Compton)
Clarinet 8' (Compton)
Violin 8'-4' (Robert Morton)
Violin Celeste 8'-4' (Robert Morton)
Concert Flute 16-2' (Compton)
Diapason 16'-4' (Compton - bottom 12 Wurlitzer)
Tibia Clausa 8'-2' (Hill,Norman&Beard)
Tuba 16'-4' (Compton)
SOLO (right of stage)
Viol d'Orchestre 8-2' (Compton)
8'-2'Viol Celeste (Compton)
8'(tc) Quintedena (Moller)
8' Krumet (Compton)
8' Oboe Horn (Stephens)
16'- 4' Tibia Clausa (Compton-wood)
8' Trumpet (Unknown)
8' Saxophone (Trivo - brassless)
8' Vox Humana (Wurlitzer)
In 1994, it was decided to replace the blower with one of larger capacity. A Spencer Orgoblo, built in 1948 for an eighteen-rank instrument, was installed in its place. At the same time, the glockenspiel, which was unreliable in operation through the water damage it had suffered in England, was overhauled and fitted with a re-iterating mechanism (Orchestral Bells). [Ardley, Bruce, "Malvern Town Hall Compton Has a New Blower", SA TOSA News, TOSA (SA), June, 1994, p. 8]
In 2000, John Atwell released an excellent CD "Here's Malvern", showing the many facets of this special organ.
In October, 2001, the organ was taken out of commission for six months so that work on the console, including the fitting of new syndynes, could be carried out.
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