Wurlitzer Organ Trust of Auckland

Hollywood Cinema, Avondale, Auckland

New Zealand


The Following Extract from “Pipes & Percussion” –

Newsletter for the “Friends of the Wurlitzer”.

Editor: James Duncan




Our three recent shows at the Hollywood Cinema have each, in their own way, been spectacular! 


In August we welcomed 20 year-old David Gray from Scotland, who looked for all-the world like teen pop idol Justin Beiber!  However it was quickly apparent that David had far more going for him than young Justin, and a very pleasant week was spent in his company.


David was at the tail-end of the seven week “Down Under” concert tour, which encompasses the leading theatre organ venues in Australia; from Perth right through to Brisbane, including Tasmania! 


David was full of happy memories of the places he’d visited and the things his hosts in Australia had taken him to see – high on the list was the chance to pet a Kangaroo and cuddle a Koala!


How could I compete with all that?  Well our first trip around Auckland enabled him to spot the Sky Tower from the many vantage points dotted round our city, and it was this that really captured his imagination.  His first question was “Can you jump off it?”  


How does one answer that question, when one knows that the person asking it is booked for a show on the coming Sunday, and a broken neck or leg just doesn’t feature in that equation!!


So, with my heart in my hands, we entered the Sky Jump section at the Sky Tower and David was kitted up with enough safety gear and harnesses to allay all my fears. Minutes later he was at the top and descending in what they call a “controlled fall”, which is still at an alarming speed, but saw him land safely at the bottom and absolutely ecstatic!!  “Now”, he announced “That beats the kangaroos and koala’s hands-down!!”


So with the Sky Tower jump in mind, he certainly had no issues with the high organ console lift at the Hollywood Cinema! 


It was fascinating to watch one so young work his way around the stop-rail, trying out the Hollywood Wurlitzer’s various voices and creating new sounds by mixing the different ranks of pipes in his combination settings. 


To add some spice to David’s show, the wonderful people at Atwaters Musicworks in Hobson St, had provided a top-of-the-line Yamaha Clavinova digital piano for David’s show. 


Bill Ridge’s camera catches captures David Gray “in action” during his show, including the very popular “LIVE” video link to the BIG screen.


With David's current studies in piano performance at the Royal Academy of Music in London, we were to be treated to some breathtaking music in a selection of piano solos. Plus, David pre-programmed some piano accompaniments on the Clavinova, which he featured together with the Wurlitzer pipe organ. As he said, it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “playing with yourself”!


An audience of just over 260 were on hand to enjoy David’s varied and very balanced program.  Having heard him in the 2005 American Theatre Organ Society "Young Organist" competition, I knew that five years on, he would be more musically "amazing" than he was then, and that we were in for a musical treat - I was certainly not disappointed!


His thrilling program concluded with the Overture to "Die Fledermaus", and following shouts for more, he wandered over to the Clavinova, hit the play button and as the first few bars of the Twefth Street Rag started, he raced up to the Wurlitzer console and joined in on a “wild” arrangement of this piece in the style of Sidney Torch, Britain’s famous theatre organist of the 1930s & 40s.  David used every percussion instrument on the organ individually for a few bars, including the huge Carillon Chimes and the tuned sleigh bells, much to the huge amusement of both the audience and himself!   A fun end to a great afternoon of music.

It’s smiles all round after the show! David Gray pictured with
Wurlitzer Organ Trust Chairman – James Duncan. Photo – Bill Ridge


A few weeks after David’s return to Scotland, we welcomed Ken Double back to Auckland. As the CEO and President of the American Theatre Organ Society, Ken Double is the first ATOS President to take any interest in the microscopic theatre organ doings, way down at the bottom end of the world here in N.Z!  Over the years, Ken has been so supportive and encouraging to this small but enthusiastic group here in Auckland.  He has even held Auckland up to venues in the USA as an example of a successful theatre organ venue, doing things “right” to ensure that audiences are kept interested and coming back for more!


Photo courtesy Faye Moorhouse


This trip to N.Z. was originally planned as an “R&R” trip for Ken. To have a week or so in Auckland in the company of good friends, enjoy some great N.Z. wine, do a show at the Hollywood on one of his favourite Wurlitzers and then return refreshed to start a new business year with the ATOS and all the demands made as CEO and President of this, the world’s largest theatre organ preservation movement.


However, once news broke last December that Ken was performing in Auckland, our friends in Tauranga were on the phone to see if Ken could squeeze in a show on the Wurlitzer organ at Baycourt for the Tauranga Theatre Organ Society. Ken was thrilled to except the invitation and a few days were added to the schedule.


Then New Zealand’s newest theatre organ venue, the Drury Theatre Organ Trust in Christchurch made contact, with an invitation for Ken to play for them.  The DTOT have a beautiful Allen digital theatre organ – known as a Lyn Larsen Special as the particular model they purchased was designed to Lyn Larsen’s specification.  Lyn being one of the USA’s leading and most revered theatre organists of the present day.  Thus a mid-week show was booked for Ken in Christchurch.


So with the scene set, Ken duly arrived on Friday morning September 3rd, and the afternoon was spent getting reacquainted with the Hollywood Wurlitzer organ. Saturday morning we arose, breakfasted and got ready for the late morning drive to Tauranga. I’m sure you can imagine our disbelief at the horrific news breaking on N.Z. radio, regarding the 7.1 early morning earthquake centred 33km west of Christchurch and the huge destruction throughout the city and neighbouring towns.  A quick phone call to the Drury’s as we were leaving for Tauranga was unsuccessful as phone lines were out.


Arriving in Tauranga late in the afternoon, we were hosted by the President of the Tauranga Theatre Organ Society Mrs Deirdre Hamerton and Norm Freeman the Tauranga Wurlitzer’s caretaker.  Saturday evening two of the TTOS committee, Louise & Terry Creighton, took us to a wonderful Italian Restaurant on the Tauranga waterfront for dinner. We can thoroughly recommend Amore!


Sunday morning saw us up with the sparrows so Ken could get familiar with the Tauranga Wurlitzer and preset his combinations ready for the program.  My last visit to Tauranga was also with Ken back in 2008, and there have been wonderful improvements made to the organ in the last year or so. The 2 manual console has had all the wood case work repaired and polished and it looked beautiful.  With changes to the wind lines from the organ blower, which is up on the roof of the Baycourt centre, and feeds the organ itself in the Centenary Theatre, this little Wurlitzer now has a solid set of lungs and held the big finishing chords with ease. 


With seat reservations at almost 350, we were set for a great crowd, but who could have guessed that another 150+ would roll up to the door to buy tickets for the show,  which ultimately saw this beautiful auditorium almost packed to capacity.


Ken Double rose up on the console at start-time to thunderous applause.


Photo Faye Moorhouse


 This console lift is a little unusual in that the artist rises up facing the audience and it is not until the platform reaches the top, that the turntable makes a rapid almost 180degree turn to the normal “playing position” – on an angle with the artist’s back to the audience.  From here, followed a wonderful program of musical all-sorts, including selections from popular shows, a Frank Sinatra tribute, a medley of 60s numbers, and all handled without issue by the ten rank Wurlitzer pipe organ, once the pride of Wellington’s De Luxe (later re-named Embassy) Theatre.


To conclude Ken’s program, he was joined by a popular cornet player on the Tauranga music scene – Brian Geoghan.  Together, they performed around four numbers including a beautiful arrangement of the immortal Stardust.


However, even though the concert was over, Ken’s work in Tauranga was not complete, as on Monday morning he presented two 40 minute shows to around 500 school children bussed in from all over the Bay of Plenty. What a thrill to see their reactions to the Wurlitzer organ, and the glass fronted organ chambers either side of the stage, all lit up to show the pipes and percussion instruments.  This was a first-time-experience for most, if not nearly all these children, and Ken gave them some music they would all know and enjoy.


He rounded the program off with the Laurel & Hardy silent movie comedy “Big Business” to demonstrate the reason behind the creation of the Wurlitzer organ. What a thrill it was too, to see these children talking so excitedly about the experience as they returned to the buses. One can only hope that maybe one or two of these young people might check out some of the other concerts TTOS present each year, and want to know more about this musical gem.

Faye Moorhouse captures the console rising for first School Show.


For me, it was time to drive back to Auckland, but Ken was off in a different direction.  Over the weekend we had managed to get in touch with the Drury’s and Richard Hore the Musical Director of the Drury Theatre Organ Trust. After much soul searching, Ken, the Drury’s and Richard decided that the Christchurch show should go on; with the venue only sustaining minor cracks in the concrete floor, people might appreciate a little distraction and music to take their minds off the repairs and on-going after-shakes that continued to rock the city.


Thursday September 9 was the day for Ken’s debut in Christchurch and 80 were in attendance to enjoy his concert on the Allen digital organ.  Usually Ray and Nancy Drury would have around 200 at a concert, and as this was their first foray into presenting an international touring artist, it was not the huge success we all wanted for this new venue, so enthusiastic as they are about joining the N.Z. theatre organ concert tour circuit for future visiting artists. Rest assured all is good for 2011.


Ken returned to Auckland the next day, where he met up with his fellow artist for the Auckland show – trumpeter Richard Singleton. Together they plotted out the numbers they were to do and created arrangements for the organ and trumpet. Richard is very much in love with the music of the 1920s & 30s, and Ken is a “swing” 1940s man, but they met in the middle very successfully.


Sunday dawned fine, such a wonderful change from the ever-persistent rain, and almost 230 came along to enjoy Ken Double at the Hollywood Wurlitzer, joined for a selection of numbers by Richard Singleton.  As Ken is CEO of the ATOS, the handful of members from the Kiwi Chapter flew from all over the country to be with us to enjoy the program.  Two of our guests were Fred and Michelle Holloway from Masterton, and I now hand the remainder of this exposition to Michelle for her observations of Ken’s show and the Hollywood Wurlitzer.


* * * * * * * * * * * *


For two country bumpkins from Masterton, the idea of a day trip to Auckland gradually became reality, becoming less daunting and more exciting as the day drew nearer.


Through the very kind offices of James Duncan of the Wurlitzer Organ Trust of Auckland, based at the Hollywood Cinema in Avondale, Michelle and Fred Holloway were being treated to a Wurlitzer Organ concert and on the face of it, flying to Auckland and back in a day just for a concert seems, well, excessively idiotic!  But fly we did, on Sunday September 12, enjoying smooth skies, fantastic cloud formations below and the occasional Google Earth type view of the North Island.


Our Corporate Cab driver was waiting for us inside the airport and chauffeured us the twenty or so kilometres to Avondale, along smooth motorways and gradually into suburban streets, delivering us to the doors of the Hollywood at around 12.30. James met us outside and took us through the stage door and into the theatre where American organist Ken Double was rehearsing with his guest trumpeter Richard Singleton.


The first thing that struck me was the sweetness of tone of this particular Wurlitzer and I could hardly wait to hear the full concert at 2 o'clock.  As people arrived and settled into their seats, the feeling in the Hollywood was one of 'family' and we both felt comfortable and very much at home.


James appeared on stage and introduced the programme, whereupon the sound of the Mighty Wurlitzer heralded the rising of organ and organist from below the stage to warm applause from the nearly half-full house.


Ken was imaginative in his use of the different sounds available and some were meltingly beautiful in a programme which included many old standards – so satisfying to listen to.  Trumpeter and local band member Richard Singleton skilfully played in Harry James style and Ken's accompaniment to Richard's trumpet added to the evocative mood induced by the 1930s (or thereabouts) music.


Photo: Bill Ridge


Tibias, Kinuras, Voxes – all spoke with pure Theatre Organ honesty, enhanced by the Tremulants and surrounded at times by robust principals and rounded flutes.  And the pedals! Bliss! At times the vibrations could be felt even in the upper circle as Ken added deep rumbles and thrilling reeds to his rhythmic and sometimes energetic bass.   A quiet cipher, peeping away in one of the little pipes at the conclusion of one bracket of songs was not a big deal (well it is a pipe organ!) and the thing that was noticeable to me was that it was able to be snuffed out within a couple of seconds, by a backstage person who it seems, was hovering in professional readiness to cover any contingency that might arise.


Before this report turns into a novel, I must mention the silent Laurel and Hardy movie “Big Business”, which Ken accompanied brilliantly - an unexpected bonus/surprise, especially as Fred is a movie buff. He was enchanted by the Cinema and knew the late owner Jan Grefstad, a fellow buff and collector of old movies.


To conclude (hard to do when there is so much more I could say): This Wurlitzer is in tip-top condition and it was a privilege to be able to hear and see it in all its glory. All through the concert I was wallowing in the sweetness of the sounds it produced and kept comparing it with   the One and Only Blackpool Tower Ballroom organ! (What??!!) Big and white it may not be, but I have heard and seen the Tower Ballroom Wurlitzer live, in concert and for dancing, and the Hollywood organ as played by Ken produced the same sort of happy daze. For goodness sake, I can hardly even remember the names of the songs he played!  But I cannot forget what a gem resides in the Hollywood Cinema and how beautiful it sounds.


Oh, and another bonus: the piano which resides opposite the organ is the ex-Masterton Wurlitzer piano and organ console, which was removed from the Cozy Theatre in the late 1930s. After a few moves around the country, the partial organ manual was removed, leaving the piano action to complement the rich organ sounds.  Ken Double's broadcasting experience shone through as he 'interviewed' Richard and also as he introduced the music – this was a concert of many colours, lit up by the brilliance of the organ.  The Hollywood and the Wurlitzer provided a truly wonderful experience and once again thank you James and friends for your kindness and generosity to us.


PS: The concert finished at 4.45 and we zoomed outside where our taxi was just pulling up. Off to the airport and back to Wellington then home to Masterton. We had left home 7.30am that morning and didn't get home until nearly 10.30pm. What a day!  We were zonked out the next day but it was so worth it!”



Bringing our Mid-Winter three-some to a close was our October artist from the USA, Martin Ellis.  For all our shows, I try very hard to add a little bit of  seasoning” that will compliment the organ and add a fresh dimension to the event, as noted above David had the piano, Ken Double the trumpet, and Martin’s bit of “seasoning” was Auckland Soprano Lyndsay Freer.  What a ZING she brought to the show! We had a wonderful 235 audience and they were given a fabulous program. 


Bill Ridge photo of Martin Ellis at the Hollywood


The console rose with ABBA’s lively Mama Mia which really had the audience on the edge of their seats!! After a few further items, Martin then introduced Lyndsay to the audience and together they performed I feel Pretty & Tonight from “West Side Story”. Opera got an airing next, with Puccini's haunting O Mia Babbino Caro (Oh my beloved father).  Then a salute to Andrew LLoyd Webber with his equally beautiful Pie Jesu.


The spotlight came back to Martin for the organ classic Praise the Lord with Drums and Cymbals which proved how well the Wurlitzer could handle the "straight" stuff.  This was followed by a medley very much of today, with a selection from the Broadway show "Wicked". Lyndsay was back again, this time with Summertime from “Porgy & Bess” then Ivor Novello's Shine through my dreams.  Martin then rounded off the first half with the 1970s hit Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree.


Martin Ellis & Lyndsay Freer  - Bill Ridge photo


A march brought the console up from the movie "1941", followed by Sidney Torch's On a spring note. Some more organ solos followed before Lyndsay was back to join Martin in Mozart's Alleluia then the powerful Impossible Dream from “The Man of La Mancha”.


Martin was on his own again for a couple more numbers including one of my favourites, My heart will go on from the movie “Titanic” - Finally, Lindsay and Martin were together for I dreamed a Dream from “Les Miserables”, before the demands for "MORE"!! had Martin return to the console to take the show out with a stirring Stars & Stripes! WOW – what a show!!



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