ABERDEEN THEATRE ORGAN TRUST (Scottish Charity SCO44203)
Aberdeen Theatre Organ Trust was first formed in 1984 as a charity with the aim of ensuring the preservation of the 3 manual 8 rank Compton organ of the Capitol, Aberdeen. With the support of the theatre's then owners Messrs Donald, the organ was kept playing and occasional concerts were presented over the 1980s and 1990s. Even after the Capitol closed in December 1998 the Trust continued to be granted access pending a decision as to the future of the building, and thus the organ remained operational until the sale of the premises for conversion to a restaurant and nightclub in 2002.
Under the building's new function it was agreed that the organ, a listed feature, would remain in situ and would continue as part of the old Capitol's new identity. However, things did not go to plan. The extensive conversion work on the building gave rise to such a degree of dirt, dust and vibration that the organ (already in need of attention) was rendered completely unplayable. Only a complete restoration could bring it back to life but as the organ did not belong to the Trust and was also situated in a nightclub where its long-term preservation could not be assured, we were unable to attract any funding support.
Under those unfortunate and frustrating circumstances we were able only to watch from the sidelines as the nightclub venture continued for a few years then faltered and finally closed in 2009. For about four years the organ lay in an empty and deteriorating building but in 2013 there came a breakthrough. Thanks to a member of the Donald family we were put in touch with the building's present-day owners, Knight Property Group who are redeveloping the much-altered and now decaying auditorium and who, like ourselves, wish to see the organ restored and reinstalled in a new home where it can be heard in public once again. We arranged an inspection and found that while extremely dirty and (of course) in need of thorough-going restoration the Compton had remained remarkably unscathed. It was however in immediate danger from water penetration of the building and planning consent was sought to remove it to safety. Aberdeen Theatre Organ Trust, though dormant, had never been wound up and it was a simple matter to relaunch it as a Scottish Charity.
Consent having been granted, in October 2013 removal of the organ took place under the aegis of Knight Property Group who have not only placed the organ with Aberdeen Theatre Organ Trust but who have gone to great lengths to ensure its safe and efficient journey to storage. Two local firms were brought in to help. Plant Shifters (Aberdeen) undertook the lifting to floor level of the organ's heavy and bulky parts following dismantling by the ATOT team up in the lofty chambers, plus the dismantling of the console lift and blower machinery. Shore Porters Society quickly and efficiently moved the dismantled instrument to the dry, secure store where it now resides. How often do you hear of that in the world of theatre orgah preservation? Few projects this kind can have been accorded such a degree of help and encouragement by a building's owners and we gratefully acknowledge this kindness.
So the search begins for new quarters for the Compton. As anyone in the theatre organ world knows, relocation of one of these instruments can be a long, complicated and sometimes frustrating business with ramifications far beyond the simple taking down and putting up of an organ, but we have here a good project with a very worthwhile end result.
Opened on Saturday 4 February 1933, the Capitol was North East Scotland's premier super cinema, fully equipped for cine-variety. The organ, opened by Edward O'Henry, was (and is) a good and typical example of the more modest-sized instrument that was to be found in cinemas all over Britain. It was originally designed as a 7-ranker (Tibia, Diapason, Flute, Violin, Celeste, Tuba, Vox Humana) but at the last minute it gained an eighth rank, an 8 foot Trumpet. It was installed in two chambers behind grilles to the right of the proscenium arch with the console (of the 'wooden sunburst' pattern popular during the 1930s) on a lift in the centre of the orchestra pit.
Edward O'Henry played for the Capitol's first six weeks then Harold Coombs took over as first resident organist. In 1938 Jack Scott, Edward Harold and Douglas Walker made guest appearances then that June F. Rowland Tims commenced a residency which was to last for twelve years. For a while after Tims' retirement in 1950 George Blackmore doubled the organs of the Capitol and his base theatre the Astoria, Aberdeen which contained a 3/8 Compton of 1934 with illuminating console surround. Over 1951 to 1953 George, given charge of the booking of organists for the Capitol, secured the services of Donald Thorne and Howard Jennings. Thereafter he played both organs as occasion demanded until he left Aberdeen in May 1957. The organ then ceased to be a daily part of the Capitol's entertainment but it made appearances over 1958 and 1959 in the hands of George Blackmore pupil Duncan Sinclair and Bobby Pagan who had been organist of the Astoria from 1940 to 1947 and whose demonstration of the Compton in the Regal, Glasgow many years before had convinced the Capitol's directors to install an organ.
Between 1958 and 1977 the Compton was played in private - and occasionally in public - by Bob Leys, a well known Aberdeen organist who, as head music teacher at Powis (now St Machar) Academy, masterminded the reinstallation of the Astoria organ in the school hall during the late 1960s. (Tragically this instrument was completely destroyed in an arson attack which badly damaged the school buildings in 1982.) Following the introduction of regular live stage shows at the Capitol in 1973 a stage apron was built over the orchestra pit but the organ was not lost to view - the console now appeared through trap doors, which was not only an effective arrangement but it provided invaluable protection for the console on crowded show nights. In 1977 Bob Leys left for a new teaching post in the south of Scotland and Mike Thomson began looking after the instrument, co-founding Aberdeen Theatre Organ Trust in 1984 with its treasurer Alan Morrison.
Since that time things have changed drastically, but now Britain's most northerly theatre organ has been saved and awaits its return once a new home has been found for it.
Organists at the Capitol (see Picture Gallery}
Edward O'Henry (1896 - c.1963) was born in the Brislington area of Bristol. He had an early education in art and music and like most of his theatre organ peers had a background in classical organ playing. He was no stranger to Scotland, having opened the Christie organ in La Scala Glasgow in 1928. From 1928 until 1932 he was organist at Madame Tussaud's Cinema, London, playing the Wurlitzer there. For a time after that he is said to have freelanced for Compton's, opening the Capitol organ and also the smaller Compton at the Playhouse, Windsor. Residencies at other theatres followed, ending up at the Forum, Jersey, whose Compton organ had a console of the same design as the Capitol's. On the eve of German occupation in 1940 he escaped to the mainland where he played at many theatres over the war years. At the war's end he returned to Jersey where he appears to have spent the rest of his life.
Harold Coombs (1903 - 1964) was born in Sheffield where he began his musical career in his early teens as a 'wonder boy pianist' and became a church organist at the age of 14. He came to the Capitol from the Abbeydale Picture House, Sheffield where for 11 years he had played what was by then a rather old-fashioned 'straight' silent film organ. In this his first appointment at a 'modern' theatre organ he immediately realised the importance of absorbing the Scottish idiom, adopting as his signature tune the Scott Skinner air 'The Bonny Lass of Bon Accord'.
In addition to his usual interludes he accompanied the stage presentation which from time to time were part of the programme in the Capitol's earlier years. Popular and hard working, he would spend each morning in practice, beginning with an hour of basic scales and keyboard exercises. The gusto with which he delivered his livelier numbers earned him the affectionate nickname of 'bouncing Harold' among his Capitol colleagues. He was quite a local personality and the willingness with which he participated in other musical events in the city was very much appreciated. He gave more than 50 BBC broadcasts from the Capitol and in 1937 compered a local BBC programme entitled 'Unaccustomed As We Are' in which well known Aberdeen broadcasting personalities were heard in roles quite unfamiliar to the listening public.
His farewell performance was on Saturday 27 November 1937 and he then moved to the new ABC Westover Cinema, Bournemouth. From 1939 until 1942 he played at the ABC theatre in Woking and Aldershot, also entertaining at the army camps there as part of the war effort. He made one return visit to the Capitol as special guest in a Sandy MacPherson BBC broadcast 'I'll Play To You', transmitted live on 28 August 1945. This special edition of Sandy's long-running programme also included singers and a pianist, Ruby Duncan. Always a popular and well-respected figure, he became Borough Organist of Bournemouth in 1946 and presided at the Bournemouth Pavilion's large dual-purpose Compton until his retiral in 1962. It appears that Harold Coombs never forgot the Capitol - one day in the early 1960s the manager Jack Wright received a phone call from him out of the blue, just to enquire whether the old place was still there. Mt Wright was happy to assure him that indeed it was!
Jack Scott was a Scotsman who got around. Born in Dunfermline in 1902, he entered the cinema organ world in the USA during the 1920s as a pupil of Dr Emil Velazco, chief organist of one of America's great landmark theatres, the Roxy, New York. After holding the post of organist at various theatres around New Jersey he returned to Britain and took the post of organist at Lozells Picture House, Birmingham. In 1930-1931 he was on the move again, this time to South Africa where he spent six years. His visit to the Capitol in 1938 must presumably have been made between his return from South Africa and his appointment as organist at the Regent, Poole, where he remained up until the war. After the war he joined the ABC circuit.
Edward Harold (Harold Edward Haley) was one of the many who played the smaller, less famous organs in Britain's cinemas, enjoying comparatively little of the national limelight. Information about him is scant. Our photo shows him at the small Compton in the Regent, Swindon, where he was resident from 1934 to 1937. The late Bert Ewen, operator at the Capitol from the opening day until the 1950s, once told us that when Edward Harold failed to appear at interlude time one evening he went to the organist's room to investigate and found that the unfortunate man had collapsed, having suffered an epileptic fit. We have no corroboration of this and it was not the kind of matter that would have been made public in those days, but we have heard nothing of his musical career after this time and we wonder whether this might be the reason.
Douglas Walker was a Yorkshireman with a solid classical music training, gaining diplomas with honours from the Royal Academy and Royal College of Music as a pianist while still a youngster. He moved first to the church organ then to the theatre organ as a pupil of Harry Davidson, organist of the Commodore, Hammersmith and later to become well known as an orchestra leader. Starting at the Palace, Goole with its 'straight' silent film organ, he moved around various cinemas including the Gaumont, Exeter where he was first resident organist, his successor in 1933 being Edward Harold. Eventually he joined the Union Cinemas circuit which was soon to become part of ABC. Our photo shows him at the Compton organ of the Luxor, Eastbourne where he played just prior to his Capitol visit. The circumstances of his brief sojourn in Aberdeen are not known - he returned to ABC, rejoining that circuit's organist team after war service.
F. Rowland Tims (1887 - 1956) (the F stood for Frederick) was a highly powered member of the musical profession long before entering the theatre organ world. His musical career began as a chorister at the Cathedral of his home town of Truro. He became articled organ pupil and eventually assistant organist, which post he held from 1902 to 1907, by which time he held a Fellowship of the Royal College of Organists, the highest qualification. He was organist of Horsham Parish Church then of Croydon Minster up to 1918 then in 1923 became a concert organist, touring theatres with a large transportable Hill, Norman and Beard pipe organ. Owned by Major Harvey Bathurst, this remarkable instrument formed the centrepiece of a concert party of singers, instrumentalists and dancers billed as 'Vaudeville's Greatest Attraction - The Musical Romance'. The programme was based on the classics and light classics that were to be heard in the 'higher-class' cinemas of the day and it is thought that his signature tune, the Prelude to Act 3 of Richard Wagner's Lohengrin, may have been part of the introductory music to this show.
In 1925 he entered the cinema world with a short spell at the Hill, Norman and Beard 'Orchestral' organ of the Regent, Brighton, moving thereafter to the similar instrument at the new Capitol (later Gaumont), Haymarket, London. These were silent film concert organs which the theatre unit organ was already making obsolete but the Haymarket one, with a little up-dating, was accepted for broadcasting and recording, Tims cutting his first sides on it for HMV in 1928. It seems that he became quite attached to this instrument as when talkies arrived he drew up a scheme for its rebuilding along modern lines. However in mid 1930 it was supplanted by a Compton , for which three out of the HNB's five chambers were emptied for reuse, leaving Tims to manage along on the remainder over the transition period! The Compton was by all accounts a good one but for some reason HMV did not record it and Tims' last sessions were on the superb new Compton of the New Victoria, London. By this time the Depression had hit and Tims, like a number of other hitherto recording organists, was dropped from the recording companies' rosters - a great loss, to judge from those last few sides.
Tims moved to Union Cinemas as musical director in April 1934 and from there he went to Liverpool, playing the large Compton in the new Paramount (later Odeon) theatre there. From the Paramount he made many broadcasts on home and foreign wavelengths; it is said that those listening to his night-time transmissions to the Empire may have been rather surprised had they known that he was playing to them in his pyjamas! In 1937 he was at the new Ritz, Birkenhead where there was another large Compton and come the summer of 1938 he was freelancing. It was from a guest engagement at the Regal (Odeon), St Peter's Port, Guernsey that he was flown (a big story at the time) direct to Aberdeen to play his first interlude at thew Capitol that same night, 27 June 1938, with a presentation entitled 'Holiday Reminiscences'.
In addition to his Capitol duties, he took up the post of organist first at Gilcomston South Church on Aberdeen's main street just opposite the Capitol then, in 1946, West St Andrews (later Langstane Kirk) just a few doors down from the cinema. He and his wife Violet lived in an upstairs flat (now a hairdressing salon) between the two and he had only to step out of his back window and cross a couple of flats roofs and ledges to reach the Capitol's operating box.
Tims was a big fish in a relatively small musical pond, with many pupils who went on to become eminent musicians. He was a highly methodical man, by all accounts capable of 'putting his foot down' in a manner not necessarily appreciated by everyone, but it was universally acknowledged that he knew his job. Nothing was left to chance and his claim that he never practised could be taken seriously given that once he knew a piece it could be dusted off with no trouble at all. He brought the Capitol organ back to the airwaves and was constantly in search for something novel for his weekly presentations, in which he was kept right from the audience point of view by Violet who herself had a stage background. His reason for coming all the way to Aberdeen from the 'bright lights' is not clear, but the atmosphere of the times was changing as the international situation grew ever more tense. Another clue may lie in the fact that he had previously been freelancing - by the late 1930s the major circuits were taking on fewer organists, if any at all, and theatre posts were becoming far less easy to obtain. It has been said that a trade paper advertisement for the Capitol post stated 'large Compton organ' and Tims was rather disappointed to find a fairly modest 8 ranker, but if that was the case he appears to have been content enough with it. He and Violet found the relatively quiet Aberdeen of 1938 a pleasant place to live and very much enjoyed their frequent car trips into the surrounding country side.
During the war years F. Rowland Tims was kept busy running a highly successful scheme whereby members of the forces could write in with requests, the dedicatees of which were invited to come as special guests and hear the numbers played. He took part in the city's musical activities as Harold Coombs had done before him, latterly becoming conductor of the Male Voice Choir of Hall Russell's shipyard. There were business activities as well - for a time during the war the Tims operated the Capitol's restaurant and at one point thay also had a small cafe on the corner of Bath Street and Windmill Brae, not far from their flat.
'RT' retired from the Capitol in 1950 and from then on concentrated on his choir work and other musical activities, remaining a prominent figure in Aberdeen until his death from a stroke in 1956. He was survived for many years by Violet, and the family's musical tradition was carried on by his son Carl who for some years ran an organ studio in Stroud, Gloucestershire.
Canadian-born Sandy MacPherson (1897 - 1975) arrived in London in 1928, supposedly for the launching of the magnificent Wurlitzer of the Empire, Leicester Square, but spent a decade at the Empire before being appointed BBC Theatre Organist in succession to Reginald Foort. This appointment turned out to be a particularly fortuitous one as Sandy, with his reassuring on-air presence, became a central personality in war-time broadcasting. In addition to running a variety of request programmes he toured organ-equipped theatres (in undisclosed locations, of course) playing requests for servicemen abroad from their friends, wives and relatives who read out their own messages live on the air. He made three visits to the Capitol, the first being on 14 May 1942 for his 'Sandy Calling' series. Next came 'Sandy's Half Hour' in March 1944 then 'I'll Play To You' on 28 August 1945, at which Harold Coombs also appeared.
George Blackmore (1921 - 1994) was a native of Rochester where he commenced his musical studies as a chorister, attending the Cathedral Choir School. At the age of 12 he became the youngest ever to win the organ scholarship at King's School, Rochester. Soon he developed an interest in the capabilities of the theatre organ and after early playing opportunities on the Compton at the Palace, Chatham he began occasional deputy work at the fine Compton in the Majestic, Rochester where he finally became organist in 1939 and made his first broadcast in 1941. Broadcasting continued during his war service in the RAF and at this time he also became involved in band and orchestra work.
His first visit to Aberdeen was in 1946, in charge of a seven-piece band sent out by RAF Central Band, Uxbridge to tour remote bases in the North of Scotland. On arrival he went to visit Bobby Pagan at the Astoria and the following day went to the large NAAFI club in the city centre where he met his future wife, well known Aberdeen soprano Joyce Hampton. Demobbed later that year he took up the post of organist at the Gaumont, Birmingham and it was in Birmingham that the Blackmores began their married life. However, the Rank Organisation who now ran Gaumont and Odeon theatres began to make cuts in the numbers of circuit organists and in February 1950 George found himself out of a job. In 1948 Bobby Pagan's successor at the Astoria, Norman Whitehead, who George had met on one visit to Aberdeen, had written to say that he was leaving and to suggest that George apply for the post. George did not take action at the time, but on his next Aberdeen visit he made the acquaintance of Lambert Wilson, Musical Director at His (now Her) Majesty's Theatre which in those days was controlled by Messrs Donald. The post was still vacant and George spent seven years in Aberdeen as organist at the Astoria and the Capitol, broadcasting frequently and also acting as Musical Director for Donalds' other live entertainments which benefitted greatly from his skills as composer and arranger. He also held the post of organist at St John's Episcopal Church.
Finally in 1957, concerned at the general downturn in cinema-going, George left to become editor and arranger at Bosworth's, the London firm of music publishers which had already printed a number of his compositions. He returned one more time to Aberdeen as Musical Director for the 1959 season of the Capitol's 'Music For the Millions' stage shows, taking the opportunity to give one last broadcast from the Astoria. Soon he returned to full-time organ playing, initially as demonstrator for manufacturers of electronic instruments and then as one of Britains' foremost freelance performers on both pipes and electronics, his concert tours taking him to the USA and Australia. He recorded frequently and also undertook a huge quantity of studio work. In 1969 he reopened the Astoria organ in its new home at Powis (St Machar) Academy and on three occasions during the 1980s he revisited the Capitol to give concerts for Powis Academy and Aberdeen Theatre Organ Trust. His death in 1994 robbed the organ world of one of its most popular and talented figures.
During the late 1920s Donald Thorne was a pianist and arranger with top London dance bands, notably Jack Hylton and His Orchestra and the Starita brothers' Piccadilly Revels Band. Moving to the theatre organ in the 30s, he became a member of Granada Theatres' legendary team of white-suited console aces, playing, broadcasting and recording the splendid instruments on the circuit. He also became involved with the Hammond organ when that began to gather popularity in the later 1930s and he continued to play electronic organs long after his theatre organ days had ended. Like so many other organists, he became a victim of the post-war cuts and by the time of his Capitol visit he was freelancing via an agent. It is said that he could have had a residency but this never came about and the Capitol must have been among his last professional cinema engagements.
Howard Jennings was a Londoner with a classical background in organ playing. Entering the theatre organ world in 1930, he worked his way up via minor posts to an engagement with Shipman and King, a sizeable South of England circuit with a number of organ-equipped theatres, then to two and a half years with Odeon at Bolton. In 1946 he ws at the independent Grand, Southport with its small Compton. We do not know whether the Capitol was his last cinema engagement but the brief 'back to business' post-war boom in cinema-going had now ebbed away and the end was in sight both for the cinema industry as it had been up until that time and for theatre organs and organists as a daily part of cinema entertainment.
Bobby Pagan (Robert Osborne Pagan) came from Cupar, Fife and was named after the well known family firm of solicitors Pagan Osborne which still exists as one of Scotland's foremost law practices. Instead of law, however, Bobby went in for music, becoming a cinema organist in 1926. For a while he was resident organist at La Scala, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow then in 1930 he became first organist at the Regal, also in Sauchiehall Street, demonstrating the fine 3/12 Compton to the Capitol's directors who seemed to take little convincing to buy. In 1933 he moved to London, ending up at the great Trocadero, Elephant and Castle, but on the outbreak of war in 1939 the Trocadero's famous Wurlitzer was closed down for the duration. Hearing that the post of organist at the Astoria was vacant, Bobby made enquiries and was soon on his way to Aberdeen with his family. He spent the war years at the Astoria, returning to play in uniform when on leave from the Navy but returned to London in 1946 when someone in the depths of BBC Glasgow decided (as Bobby later remarked) that cinema organs, even when played in Scotland by a Scot, were not Scottish enough to be retained on Northern schedules! He never forgot Aberdeen, however, and kept in touch with George Blackmore. In January 1958 he spent three weeks in the city as Musical Director of a Johnny Victory variety show at the Tivoli Theatre and took the opportunity of arranging to play at the Astoria and Capitol daily throughout his stay. Messrs Donald were not averse to the idea of appointing another organist even so late and Bobby was heavily tipped to return as resident, but this turned out to be mere speculation.
Duncan Sinclair, then a student teacher in Aberdeen, was organist of Gilcomston St Colm's (later Denburn) Church and had the rare distinction of being a George Blackmore pupil. In 1958 and 1959, after George's departure, he kept the flag flying with Thursday 'Music Nights' at the Capitol and Saturday sing-song spots at the Astoria. These were well received, but studies had to take precedence and this proved the last regular public use of either organ. For many years Duncan was a church organist in Glasgow and he is still involved with the theatre organ as an official of the Glasgow-based Scottish Theatre Organ Trust.
THE ORGAN OF THE ASTORIA CINEMA, ABERDEEN
Aberdeen's Astoria Cinema stood on a prominent site in the Kittybrewster area of the city, some distance away from the immediate city centre. Opened on Saturday 8 December 1934, it was built for a group of local businessmen who had seen opportunities in an area that was expanding residentially and had not been catered for by the new 'supers' which were then opening in Aberdeen at the rate of one per year. ABC had yet to arrive in the city and with the only Gaumont-British interest the old 900-seater PCT Picture House of 1914 local men had the ball at their feet.
The most successful cinema project of Aberdeen architect T. Scott Sutherland, the Astoria was of functional, spacious design with a fine frontage in local granite. It was reckoned to be among the best houses in Scotland acoustically and for the quality of its sound system. It appears that much of the responsibility for overseeing its fitting and equipping was placed in the hands of its first manager, Bert Darley, who had been working in Aberdeen's cinema industry since at least the mid 1920s. Legend has it that Mr Darley was undecided about ordering an organ until prompted to go ahead by a neighbour. Go ahead he did, and on that first night in 1934 Astoria audiences were entertained by Harold Titherington (formerly of the Rialto, Blackburn, Lancashire) at the 3 manual 8 rank Compton organ.
This instrument (number A283) had nominally the same ranks as those at the Capitol but was of later and rather more powerful design with Diaphone and rather more unification, notably upward and downward extensions of the Trumpet. This, moreover, was a real open Trumpet rather than that at the Capitol which corresponded more to what would have been described as a 'Muted Trumpet'. The Melotone had yet to make its appearance as a standard part of the Compton theatre organ but the Astoria organ did have an example of Compton's novelty of the time, the Solo Cello. (For full information on this see the late Ivor Buckingham's Compton List website.) Of it a press report said 'It stands apart - as a solo stop should - from the rest of the organ, and yet blends unobtrusively with the general tonal scheme of the instrument'. Stand apart it presumably did, as it disappeared within a very short time of the organ's opening, leaving only a couple of stopkeys ground down and rather roughly pencilled with an 'S' for the Sustainer that replaced it. George Blackmore recalled that the Sustainer was not without its uses for novel effects, though one may imagine that a degree of care must have been required when, for instance, sweeping a nice big upward chord. One wrong note would have spelt disaster! But this was not the end of the story for the Astoria's Solo Cello. It went back to Compton's and Ivor Buckingham identified it as having appeared a few months later alongside a Melotone on the organ of another Astoria, that at Southend-on-Sea. Furthermore it still exists in the ownership of an enthusiast in Germany!
The organ spoke from chambers behind grillework to the left of the stage. As the Astoria was constructed on a bed of concrete above underground streams the sinking of a lift well was impractical. Instead the console, sporting an illuminating etched glass surround in what Ivor Buckingham described as 'rainbow' style, was mounted on a movable platform. When not in use it was kept 'parked' behind a curtain in the wings stage right. At interlude time the curtain would be raised, the organist would begin his signature tune and the console with its multi-hued lights would slide out on rails to centre stage. Motive power for this was a hand-winch in the opposite wings. The console's journey along its rails was not an entirely smooth one and the organist had to master the technique of avoiding unintentional key-changes, especially if the 'winder-on' became overzealous. It also appears that the incidence of sore backs etc among Astoria staff tended to rise sharply around interlude time and it was not uncommon for the manager to have to do the honours himself!
Overall the Astoria Compton was a fine instrument. 'Straight' full organ sounded magnificent in the auditorium's spacious acoustic. The Tibia was a good example of the Compton metal rank of the time and the Diapason and Flute were large and full. The only disappointment was with the strings which were rather thin in tone. Interestingly, the Violin rank was not the one originally intended for the instrument - that went to the organ of the Paramount (Odeon) Glasgow which was opened on 31 December, about three weeks later than the Astoria, but was presumably required to leave the factory earlier. Under tremulation, the Accompaniment section of the Astoria organ was always subject to a pronounced 'double beat' effect produced by the interaction of tremulant and regulator. In later years George Blackmore remarked that no amount of trem adjustment would cure this and eventually the Compton tuner Frank Geiger obtained a new tremulant, specially sent up from Compton's. This was a huge affair with an extra regulation aperture towards the back of the top motor, but unfortunately it still did not solve the double beating, which remained a characteristic of the organ throughout its days!
Though the Astoria was in many ways a great cinema, as a business operation it was just too small, lacking the booking power of its larger rivals when it came to obtaining the major feature films of the day. Its position off the beaten track put it out of the way of the summer visitors who flocked to Aberdeen in those days, while at the same time the city centre was not so far away that a relatively short journey by public transport could not bring the pick of what the city's other cinemas had to offer. Though representing an investment of some £40,000 (a great deal of money in 1934) the Astoria never quite got off the ground financially and in mid 1936 a controlling interest was sold to Messrs Donald whose expanding circuit it joined.
Though management changed organ policy did not. Harold Titherington stayed until May 1939, leaving reputedly after a disagreement over the number of classical items in his interludes. We know little about him; he took part in other musical activities in the city and appears to have been classically trained like so many of his peers. For a time after leaving the Astoria he is said to have taken a job in an Aberdeen paper mill, which may well be true as by that time theatre organ posts were less easy to come by. He appears then to have moved to Wigan. At some point he is said to have met with a disastrous accident as a result of which he lost a leg. There the trail seemed to end until some years ago when the late John Potter of the Lancastrian Theatre Organ Trust saw our writings on the subject and remarked that they explained a long-standing mystery. Many years before he had visited the old Court Cinema, Wigan to see the small Compton there and had been puzzled to discover that the pedalboard had been wired in reverse with the bass end at the top. This may sound bizarre, but for an organist reduced to one leg would it have been so difficult to master the 'code' of where everything was and thereby to be able to keep playing? So is this where Harold Titherington finally ended up?
A couple of weeks after Harold Titherington's departure his place was taken by one of this country's very finest theatre and concert organists, Charles W. Saxby. The Astoria was, it seems, always a 'pops' house and Saxby's entertaining and expertly played interludes (heralded by his signature tune 'Charlie Is My Darling') reflected this. But Saxby too was very much the classical musician and his departure in June 1940 is said to have resulted from a major row over classical repertoire. Organ lore can become confused - did both Titherington and Saxby really leave for the same reason or have the two become conflated? We may never know.
For a time the organ fell silent apart from a short visit by one Jack Lawson, thought to have been a Hammond organ man. The Compton returned to the spotlight in October 1940 when broadcasting organist Bobby Pagan took over, playing all through the war when on leave from the Navy and continuing into the post-war years. After Bobby left in 1946 the organ was not heard again until May 1947 when 'The Rhythm Organist' Norman Whitehead (once of the Granada circuit) arrived for a year's engagement. Over the rest of 1948 and the whole of 1949 the organ was not played at all. Patrons must have wondered when they would ever hear it again, but finally on 20 March 1950 the console rolled out with George Blackmore at the helm, commencing a residency which was to last until the very last days of the organ as a part of cinema entertainment in Britain.
The console's constant sideways movement had for some time been causing a problem. The main cable linking console to chambers was well armoured and would stand up to a degree of movement, but it is not hard to imagine that being dragged back and forth behind the console platform over a period of years would constitute a severe test. Breakages among its four hundred or so copper wires became so common that a local engineer was kept busy repairing them, or at least, one would imagine, connecting up spares. Also the fitting of a new wide screen in 1953 necessitated some re-arrangement of the stage and at George Blackmore's suggestion the cable was hitched in a loop from the adjacent wall in the wings, limiting the console's on-stage travel from then onwards. (George's correspondence and sketches concerning this, retained in the Compton archives and passed to Messrs Rushworth and Dreaper on their acquisition of Compton's pipe organ division in 1962, were still held at R & D's Scottish branch when the firm closed and the entire archive was destroyed.)
In the summer of 1952 Compton's were brought in to overhaul the organ and to work on refining the sound which it appears had been altered over the years. George Blackmore kept the theatre organ flag flying in Aberdeen long after many other organs and organists had disappeared. By 1957, however, with changes in cinema-going brought about by the advent of television and now with ABC in town, its first-runs only a bus journey away, the old atmosphere had gone and George's departure in May 1957 did not come as a great surprise. As at the Capitol, Bobby Pagan's brief return in 1958 and Duncan Sinclair's weekly 'spots' over 1958-1959 brought the old way of things to an end, though the Astoria organ went on air for one last time in the summer of 1959 when George Blackmore was brought in as musical director of that year's Capitol stage show season.
By the 1960s the Astoria was struggling. Finally on Saturday 13 August 1966 the curtains closed on the last film, Paul Newman and Lauren Bacall in 'The Moving Target'. A couple of weeks later the Astoria reopened as a Bingo hall, but it seems that even that could not save it. At the end of the year Messrs Donald reluctantly threw in the towel and the doors closed for good. A shopping complex now stands on the site.
What of the organ? Here enter once again Bob Leys, Head Music Teacher at the then Powis Academy, a mere stone's throw away from the cinema. Bob initiated a proposal that if the local education authority would buy the organ the staff and pupils would, as a project, undertake its 'transplanting' to the school's assembly hall where there was adequate under-stage space for two chambers. Following discussion with the authorities and with Messrs Donald, approval was given, money was put up and as preparations for the Astoria's demolition took place, teams of pupils under Bob's guidance descended on the building and carefully took the instrument down, removing it to safe storage at the school. In the course of this operation there came to light in a dusty corner of one of the chambers an ancient bottle of Sloane's Liniment, still with some pep in it. Provenance to this day a mystery.
All cleaning, refurbishment, preparation of chamber spaces and final re-erection of the instrument at the school was the work of the staff and pupils. As the illuminated console surround was not suitable for the hall a new surround in light wood was built, but the multi-coloured lighting system was not wasted - it was made to illuminate the new stage-front grillework through which the organ now spoke via a mixing chamber. Reopened by George Blackmore on Monday 7 March 1969, the organ proved remarkably versatile, many pupils receiving lessons on it. After Bob's departure in the late 1970s it was looked after by enthusiastic staff and served the school well until the night of Saturday 20 November 1982 when it was completely destroyed in an arson attack by a pupil. Only the blackened walls of the assembly hall were left standing. The buldings of what is now St Machar Academy were subsequently restored, but with no organ.
THE ONES THAT GOT AWAY?
It is perhaps a measure of the cinema-mindedness of Aberdonians between the wars that the city had two out of only four organs installed in Scottish cinemas after 1930. Cinemas in Scotland contained quite a variety of instruments including 'home-grown' examples by Ingram of Edinburgh and Hilsdon of Glasgow, but virtually all of these dated from between 1925 and 1930, and more in particular the period from 1928 when talkies were very much on the horizon. They also tended to be of the sweeter, more blending type favoured at the time when organs were expected to combine with cinema orchestras and provide music for silent films in addition to fulfilling a solo role.
Theatre organ design changed when talkies became fully established and the instrument took on a new identity as a spotlit solo attraction in itself. The console lift became de rigeur and console designs fit for a showman were devised, culminating in the illuminating surround's becoming a standard fitting during the second half of the 1930s, while even smaller instruments were given a much more commanding voice than their earlier counterparts.
Why the rarity of such later instruments in Scotland? Was the organ not as popular in Scotland as it was south of the border? Or was it decreasing in popularity as the element of novelty wore off? Or again was it simply felt that seats could be filled without going to the expense of buying organs and paying people to play them? Certainly smaller exhibitors, coming under increasing pressure from their larger rivals as the 1930s went on, may well have felt inclined to keep expenditure to a minimum, but even the ABC giant which had many organ-equipped cinemas throughout England opened its large Regal in Edinburgh with no organ. Unlike in Aberdeen, it was large circuits that installed Scotland's other two later instruments, the fine 1934 Compton 3/10 (11 ranks) at the Paramount (later Odeon) Glasgow and the more workaday 3/6 Compton at the ABC Regal Paisley. Both instruments opened in 1934; the Paramount organ was one of a series of instruments installed in the circuit's major theatres and could perhaps be counted as a standard fixture. However, it also had the Regal's Compton close by while in Paisley the Picture House contained the largest of Hilsdon's unit organs. One might therefore surmise that that the element of competition may in both cases have provided some impetus.
Competition was certainly the watchword in Aberdeen. The city's theatre organs and organists were popular and it is interesting to note that had events taken a different turn Aberdeen could potentially have sported not two but five instruments operating within a close radius of one another.
When, in 1935/36, plans were under consideration for the Majestic, on the site of the old La Scala a couple of hundred yards down Union Street on the opposite side from the Capitol, an organ was spoken of. The plans showed chamber space below the stage, but in the event nothing came of the idea.
Much more concrete was a scheme for a Compton in the Kingsway, King Street, built for Messrs Donald and opened in 1939 as a rival to Aberdeen Picture Palaces' large City Cinema in nearby George Street. Two different specifications, dated December 1938, were drawn up for an instrument of 6 ranks of the kind then being supplied to other exhibitors, though a decorated wood console was indicated instead of what was by then the standard illuminations. Various patterns of wood consoles were available, including the 'sunburst' as used at the Capitol and on a number of other organs more or less throughout the 1930s. Ivor Buckingham was sure that a Compton was ordered for the Kingsway under the factory number A480 and that parts were made, but that the order was among a number that were cancelled. Certainly these were uncertain times with cinema provision becoming saturated and the international situation worsening.
At around the same time, ABC was planning its debut in Aberdeen with a large new Regal on the site of the city's first permanent cinema, the Gaiety (later Palladium / New Palladium) which lay long closed in the Shiprow at the foot of Union Street. William R. Glen's plans of March 1938 show organ chamber space under the stage, though whether any organ would have been provided must remain a matter of conjecture. War broke out before the building could be roofed and so the half-built structure had to wait until 1954 until it was finally completed to revised plans. Hubert Selby entertained at one of ABC's Hammond organs during the Regal's first two weeks, but pipe organ there was none.
Which leaves us with a little mystery from the dim and distant past. Some years ago the well known broadcasting and recording organist David Shepherd noted that the Laigh Kirk in Kilmarnock had an organ by E. H. Lawton of Aberdeen, built in 1921 and said to have been originally intended for an Aberdeen cinema. Now vanished, it was a 3-manual with imitative 'orchestral' stops that might perhaps not have been unexpected on an organ of that period, but which could also indicate that it had indeed been intended as one of the many 'straight' church or concert-style instruments that did service in British cinemas before the arrival of the unit organ in the mid 1920s. In that case, which cinema might have been its intended destination? Two new cinemas were opened in Aberdeen in 1921 - the Torry Picture House and the Playouse, Union Street. The Torry was a relatively modest affair and while it is not impossible that an organ may been contemplated there, the Playhouse seems the more likely candidate. This was Aberdeen Picture Palaces' 1,000-seater flagship house before the Capitol was built, very up-market and occupying a very west-end site at the top of Union Street.. It has to be said that no reference to an organ for the Playhouse has ever been found and that it is not at all clear how a substantial 3-manual 'straight' organ could have been accommodated in the stage area. However, there is no telling what revisions the building's plans may have gone through or what the reasons may have been for what appears to have been the late cancellation of the organ order. It seems that for the present at least the matter will have to remain a mystery. It does however provoke an interesting question as to whether the ordering of the organ for the Capitol might have its roots in a failed scheme at the Playhouse a decade or so before
SOME FURTHER REFLECTIONS ...............
From its opening in February 1933 the Capitol was a popular city-centre landmark, attracting a cinema going public from far and wide, and many have happy memories of it in its heyday when it was a first-run house, for MGM features in particular - a situation which pertained untl 1954 when ABC finally opened their Regal cinema, the construction of which had been held up by the war. Many also have memories of the Compton organ, heard in the hands of some of Britain's finest organists.
Built as a cine-variety theatre, the Capitol's stage facilities saved it where its neighbours the Majestic and Playhouse disappeared during the early 1970s. Stage presentations during the early years appear not to have been entirely successful but the Capitol hosted summer variety seasons during the 1950s and several rock concerts during the following decade. In 1973 live stage shows were introduced as a regular feature, and after films were abandoned in 1995 the Capitol carried on for some time as a live concert venue. Though the writing may have been increasingly on the wall its final closure at the end of 1998 in the face of changed conditions and spiralling costs came as rather a shock. As a category B-listed building it would not disappear overnight - over four year period a great deal of deliberation and controversy went on as to its future. During this time, although the auditorium remained mothballed the bar overlooking Union Street remained in operation. Many (including ourselves) would of course have liked to see the building preserved as a theatre, organ and all, but at the same time it occurred that for all its worth as a prime (and now rare) example of the super-cinema of the 1930s, anyone attempting to bring the Capitol as it was into the 21st century would be faced with a hard and expensive task.. For one thing, after sixty-five years' constant use a complete restoration of the building would have been required. Its multi-hued Holophane house-lighting system, such a central feature of the auditorium and once one of the wonders of the area, had worn out and whether a restoration could have been accomplished in line with present-day requirements is a matter on which we could scarcely speculate. Perhaps its eventual conversion to other purposes was inevitable; Aberdeen Theatre Organ Trust was allowed to continue activities over the interim period but little could be done and the condition of the organ began to deteriorate. The unused auditorium too was deteriorating and as time went on the mood became one of 'let's see the Capitol be used for at least something'. Finally in early 2002 the keys were handed over and work began on converting the building to its new function.
When it reopened those who had known it before may well have had to look twice to recognise it. Where the stalls had been was a central bar with seating around it and a restaurant serving area at the back. The floor's previous rake had been removed and new flooring installed in sections joined by strips of wooden moulding in a flat A section which must have had something of an effect on ankles in the event of an unexpected encounter. Where the stage had been was now a raised seating area which looked out through huge windows that had been inserted in the back wall. Below this was the console under its heavy and cumbersome new floor sections.
A mezzanine floor now extended out on pillars from what had been balcony level and on this the nightclub part of the concern operated under the original ceiling. The proscenium, grilles and organ remained, considerable trouble having been taken in planning for the retention of the organ (an element of the building's listing) in situ and unobstructed. The mezzanine was made to terminate well clear of the proscenium and organ, though the instrument would now be speaking into a greatly reduced space, which caused us some apprehension as to its likely effect. In the event we were not to find out; after the frustrating experiences that followed we felt unable to do more than keep a watch on the situation and hope that something might become possible in the future. However, the eventual closure of the restaurant/nightclub venture precluded that.
By the time that we arrived on the scene again the building had been empty for four years and was in a sad state. It appeared as if its occupants had simply moved out one night leaving behind them a mass of debris. The old bar area, unused since 1998, was a wreck though it contains original features which can be restored when the foyer and bar block is adapted to new purposes. The store rooms below the foyers had been left full of discarded office equipment and other rubbish; from them we were able to retrieve the side doors of the console which had made their way there at some point. In the former auditorium a water leak under the partially dismantled bar (still with dusty glasses, bottles and crockery on its shelves) a water leak was producing an interesting growth of fungi on the carpet while in the restaurant kitchen area could be found frying tanks still containing four year old cooking oil. Worst from our point of view, high on the building's west wall, and very close to the organ chamber area, a choked gutter had been discharging water down the outer brickwork. This must have been going on for some time as the resulting water penetration had soaked and brought down an area of plasterboard in the blower room - fortunately at the opposite end from the blower itself - and was producing further fungal growths on the woodwork of the chamber doors. Water had been soaking along the wooden parquet flooring of the Accompaniment chamber, making it not so much damp as wet in some places. (We found snail eggs under one of the wooden covers which protected a cross-floor wind trunk!) Fortunately as most of the chamber's contents were carried on frames well above floor level any likely damp damage appeared to be confined to bass chests, but with evidence of mildew on some of the frames it was clear that there was scope for far worse if the organ remained in situ for another winter.
For the first time were able to make a close inspection not just of the organ but of the entire chamber area. This revealed that the degree of repair to chamber walls after the work that had gone on around them would have been such that we could in all probability not have been able to restore the instrument to working order without its complete removal and re-erection, at a cost which wood have been prohibitive even if outside funding had been forthcoming.
When it came to planning the instrument's removal we assumed that when first installed it must have been hoisted up, crated, into the grille-less chambers and unpacked there. Some components may well have been brought in via the stage stairways and catwalks, al of which had been removed. The only access to the chambers other than the chamber openings was via a steel ladder and safety cage which ran from floor level to the Accompaniment - a far safer affair than its perilous vertical successor which had run between Solo and Accompaniment but not of much use for the removal of organ parts. With the grillework still in position in front of the chambers and in any case the presence of chests, percussions etc in front of the shutters made access impossible to remove them. Yet we had to get on with the job and safely take out the pipework. After some head-scratching we obtained a medium-sized metal basket which, carefully lowered on a rope, would clear the ladder and cage, allowing its contents to be safely received at floor level and transferred to trays with smaller pipes wrapped by the octave. Thus only larger pipes were left to be passed down by hand. The operation went smoothly with the only distortion to a small number of Tuba pipes which presented more of a balance problem in the basket. Correcting this will present no trouble to whichever organ builder carries out the instrument's restoration.
Once the grillework had been taken down and access had been gained to the shutters the ATOT team was able to make quick progress with the dismantling and moving of chests, percussions, etc. Aided by the professionals who had been brought in by the developers, the parts were safely lowered out of the chambers and deposited at floor level, despite our concerns over the bulky and fragile 'toy counter'. We were able to admire the quality of workmanship that had gone into the organ's construction, 'off the peg' parts or not, and the clever, logical way in which the instrument had been installed.
The cotton-covered wiring, especially in the Accompaniment chamber, had unfortunately been sitting damp for some time and was giving off a smell all of its own. The entire instrument will have to be rewired but the old wiring has been rescued and will be invaluable in determining patterns. The relay cabinets had sat, probably for years, minus their front covers and were full of dirt with some damage to relay bars evident. Whether they will or can be reused remains to be seen. Their one available mode of exit being the Solo chamber opening, we were forced to cut their large wooden frame into two sections for removal, but reassembly would be an easy matter. Every part of the Capitol organ was rescued, even the console lift. All we need now is somewhere to put it!
FROM THE ARCHIVES
During the 1980s and 1990s when Aberdeen Theatre Organ Trust ran as a society, we published a monthly News Sheet containing articles, information and reminiscences about the theatre organ not only in Aberdeen but in general. None of this material has seen the light of day since that time, but we are now taking the opportunity to republish a selection from it on this webpage.
For the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Astoria in December 1984 we contacted Bobby Pagan who had spent the wartime years as organist there, making appearances in uniform while on leave from the Navy. Bobby sent us a very full and informative article on his seven year stay in Aberdeen, and when we wrote to thank him he sent us a further article expanding on the first one. Rather than use up web space by publishing these separately we have distilled the two together, and for the first time in thirty years we bring you:
THE ASTORIA, KITTYBREWSTER – Bobby Pagan Remembers
Soon after the Battle of Britain the London cinemas decided to shut down temporarily. Early in October 1940 falling attendances brought about the discontinuation of the organ interlude and the largest Wurlitzer in Europe [the Trocadero, Elephant and Castle] on which I had succeeded Quentin MacLean, went down to the bottom of the lift shaft for an indefinite period.
There was therefore nothing to do but call upon my frequent benefactor of former days, the John Compton Organ Company, memorably the late Jim Taylor, managing director. How would I like to go to Aberdeen? Three bags full … thank you sir! And he told me of problems at the Astoria – the manager being thumped by a tempestuous gentleman; the replacement by a hopeful Hammond expert who gave himself away by expressing surprise when the ever-helpful manager, John Brown, offered to help with setting the combination pistons. ‘Oh thanks, but the organ maker fixes them!’ He played pleasantly, throwing in the occasional vocal, but but it was clear that he was on unfamiliar territory and nobody could have spotted that quicker than an Astoria audience.
So with a wife and three small boys aged eleven, nine and seven, off I went to Aberdeen, standing in the corridor of a war-battered train at four in the morning. Only my eldest son had a fair recollection of having been born in Glasgow, but these few miles north of Berwick I said, after explaining the removal of the Border sign, ‘But take take it from me, you are in Scotland now!’ Dramatic silence broken by the youngest: ‘Daddy, will porridge be cheaper up here?’ It may or may not be a coincidence that in his adult years he has been Director and Financial Advisor to several sizeable companies. Arriving on Friday 18 October, I met John Brown and ‘Mr Dick’ (Donald) under whose supervision were the Astoria and other cinemas, and who generously enabled me to see Robert Donat in ‘The Devil’s Disciple’ that night. A free seat for a Fifer on his first night in Aberdeen! Much has been made of that one in subsequent years.
By a strange coincidence I started at the Astoria on the Monday, 21 October (Trafalgar Day) and got my calling up papers for the Royal Navy in the spring of 1941 on the anniversary of World War One’s Battle of Jutand.
The Astoria made a tremendous impression on me from various points of view. I had recently returned (reluctantly) from [the Palladium] Copenhagen, and the Kittybrewster cinema had much to induce nostalgia with its uniforms so similar and the spotless appearance of the theatre, looking as though it might have been opened the day before. I was later to learn a Naval expression about a clean ship … ‘you could eat your scran off the deck’. That could be said of all the Donald cinemas.
It was something of a novelty to slide out on rails playing the signature tune against the sometimes violent jerks of the handle, cranked on occasions by a small breathless boy. On that first night I remember playing as an encore ‘The Breeze and I’, sometimes known as ‘Andalusia’, and going off to tremendous applause, having arranged with the handle-cranker to take it slowly so I could do the train noises. Off to a good start!
Astoria audiences were by this time predominantly female with so many men already in the Services, but evening attendance were increased by men from reserved occupations, OAP’s and those like myself who were still to ‘fall in’. There were also many visitors from RAF Dyce. In view of these predominantly female audiences some film bookings proved to be ever so slight disasters, like the one whole week’s worth of ‘The Westerner’, a real ‘man’s picture’ starring Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan, and with the only woman in the cast a splendid actress of whom nobody in this country had ever heard! Nevertheless I found the film a sheer joy and still play from memory several themes from the brilliant musical score. Among the many quotes from the script is a typical line from the self-appointed hanging sherriff, the growling Brennan – ‘Don’t spill none o’ that liquor, son - … goes right through ma bar!’
One advantage of the Astoria was that there was no nearby property to disturb, and the presence of fire-watchers made it possible to be in the building and rehearse far into the night. This proved to be invaluable when one recalls that the film programme changed on Thursdays and the general policy was fifteen minute recital with a sing-along on Saturdays, the first of which latter in the early afternoon was slanted for the children (Roy Rogers, Trigger, Gabby Hayes, Blondie … Ah yes, I remember it well!) I had an allowance for occasional original material, or borrowed slides from the enormous accumulation at the Capitol.
Then of course there was the additional business of playing for at least twenty minutes at ‘doors open’, so it will be seen that the week expended a great deal of material. In that context I recall that Aberdeen could frequently be isolated by wintry conditions, whereby ‘Film Transport’ could be completely defeated and there would be no film on a Monday. On one such day I went to the organ at 1.25 and some forty minutes later was still playing. This was after I had started appearing in the kilt, and by this time that wee bit of skin between the back of the knee and the stocking was getting well and truly scorched by the decorative coloured lighting which extended into the surround of the bench. I turned round and said ‘I’m sure you will understand if I turn off the lighting … I wonder how many of you have ever sat on a thing like this for three quarters of an hour in a kilt?’ Time went on and I was just about running out of material, and said so. A lady in the stalls whom I remember gratefully to this day said ‘What about ‘The Desert Song’? Bless her; you can spin that one out for at least twenty minutes. I honestly can’t remember at what point it was agreed that I wear the kilt, but I still have like a tape recording in my head the voice of that lady. Good John Brown had been signalling to make that twenty to twenty-five minutes worth of house-opening stretch and stretch, and during that ‘life-saver’ this frying kiltie finally got the signal that a stand-by film had come in.
A kindly Mrs Smith housed the family until we moved to Primrose Hill Gardens, and in those early days I made the acquaintance of the late Arthur Pirie, who was Music Master at Powis School. Many a Sunday afternoon he would come and play the organ, and time and time again he would say ‘Oh,what a fine beastie, I wish we had it in the school.’ Little could he have dreamed that the day would come when it went just there.
At this point a technical note. It was an economy practice of the Compton Organ Company to make the drums, tambourines etc available for the left hand on the lowest manual only to a distance of seven notes above Middle C, whereas on the Wurlitzers they went all the way to the top. This lack of compass meant that I couldn’t do one of my favourite show-offs, that is to play the Sailor’s Hornpipe very fast on the lowest keyboard with the Wood Block on. The point is that the Wood Block has a very fast repeat on it and unless you play the Hornpipe with an absolutely clean staccato you will get unwanted fluffs and flutters. At the Regal in Glasgow back in early 1930s I asked the visiting tuner, Cyril Dunn, if it could be fixed. ‘Yes’, he said, ‘if there are spare contacts running all the way up.’ There were and he did it. I got Comptons’ Roy Skinner to do it on the Astoria job during a general overhaul quite early on. In 1942, on leave from the ship, I strolled down to the cinema to meet Mr Copland, standing in for manager John Brown. Almost at once he said ‘The tuner’s been in, I’ve signed his paper but he might still be in the building – I’m sure he’d be pleased to see you.’ I walked down the stalls and met an absolutely astonished Cyril Dunn. He was a thoroughly conscientious chap who really went through everything with a fine tooth comb, and he said ‘You know, I’ve been thinking about you all morning since I discovered the drums wired up to top C I was sure you must have played here at some time … but fancy bumping into you like this and you in bell-bottoms!’
I did appear in uniform sometimes and on one night on embarkation leave straight out of HMS Collingwood four of my dry-land shipmates took a bow with me, all Aberdonians by the way, and what a riot that was.
One pleasant extra-mural perk was a regular session on the Hammond organ at Donald’s Ballroom in North Silver Street, under the watchful eye of ‘Jimmy’ Donald (subsequently Aberdeen’s Dean Of Guild), who would tap a foot or wag a finger if a tempo was fractionally out!
Flash-back to the day when Ian Whyte and Ronnie Munro came from BBC Glasgow to vet the ‘beastie’ for broadcasting, and approved. Ian Whyte said so graciously, ‘Now Bobby, we haven’t come to vet you, if you’re good enough for Sandy MacPherson you’re good enough for us. We just want to make sure that everything will be all right mechanically.’ So I went on the air as the last item in the then Forces Programme Sunday nights – whereby I was later to learn of another claim to distinction. The late Sir Alan Herbert, in the House of Commons, was campaigning vigorously for some let-up in the Lord’s Day Observance Society’s restrictions on Sunday entertainments. He took the House through the Sunday Radio Times, concluding, as he waved the magazine on high, with the words ‘and finally we close down with Bobby Pagan at the cinema organ’. Sticklers for accuracy are welcome to check with Hansard; the quote was spotted by a family friend and I believe, subject to correction, that Sandy and I are the only cinema organists to have been mentioned in the House.
No record of the cinema organist’s presentation would be in order without reference to co-operation we had from the projection box, notably at the Astoria in the person of John Russell, whose care about spotlighting and the smooth screening of slides for singing or continuity was a constant encouragement and pleasure.
All things come to an end, and in this case the end came when some high-up in BBC Glasgow took the view that there was ‘nothing particularly Scottish about a cinema organ even if a Scotsman played it, and those who care for it can get it on the newly established Light Programme.’ So the Astoria broadcasts were discontinued and I went back to London.
This is beginning to savour of ‘This Is Your Life’ rather than the Astoria story, but as I wrote earlier (and although ‘Gigi’ had not yet arrived then), ‘Ah Yes, I Remember It Well!’
I sign off with every good wish to Aberdeen Theatre Organ Trust, who may not know that in 1932 I came out of my sick-bed to demonstrate the Compton at the Regal, Glasgow to the then Capitol directors. The result is ‘all yours’!
A FOO(R)TNOTE ………..
Bobby also told us a Reginald Foort story that we didn’t know – how in 1928, after the ending of Foort’s brief engagement at the Model F Wurlitzer that, for the mere two months that the theatre ran as a cinema, was installed on stage of the London Palladium, he toured with Mr and Mrs Foort as the Reginald Foort Trio, in which Mrs Foort was violinist and he (Bobby) was pianist. Starting off at Dalston Picture House with its little Compton, they played at more or less any cinema that had an organ and by August Bank Holiday 1928 they had reached the Plaza, Mossley Hill (Allerton), Liverpool where they reopened the Wurlitzer from the Palladium.
Reginald, it seems, was more or less stalling until he could secure the post of solo organist at the superb 4/20 Wurlitzer of the brand-new Empire, Leicester Square. He was determined to have that post, with Bobby as assistant, but when the time came he found himself taken on only as orchestral organist, MGM having brought in their own solo organist from the States. Still he expected to step in as soon as the ‘Transatlantic bod’ went home, and meantime he left Bobby at La Scala, Glasgow whose very basic (and apparently rather inadequate) little Christie Bobby had been playing for a month after its opening by Edward O’Henry, the orchestral pianist having proved to be no organist.
But unfortunately that ‘Transatlantic bod’ was a certain Sandy MacPherson who proved a favourite and whose tenure at the Empire was to last a decade until he left to succeed Foort as BBC Theatre Organist, so the job never did come Foort’s way. But at least Bobby did gain some happy years in Glasgow!
Some little time after Bobby’s Astoria articles were published, we became curious as to what he might be able to tell us about his days at the Regal, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow during the early 1930s – now made all the more relevant by the presence on line of the film snippet which shows him demonstrating its 3/12 Compton. Once again we received a very full and courteous reply which made the basis for an extensive article which we first published in our News Sheet issue for December 1986. This was one of Scotland’s largest theatre organs, dating from what one might call the ‘transitional’ period just as talkies took over, though there can have been little doubt as to the future for motion picture exhibition at the time when the order for the instrument was placed. It appears to have been rather a fine instrument with plain panelled wood console design predating the more showy patterns that were soon to appear. It went back to Compton’s in the early 1950s, presumably for use as spare parts at a time when materials were scarce. Little information about it seems to survive but in republishing Bobby’s article we hope to redress the balance a little. So over to ………
BOBBY PAGAN AT THE REGAL
The Compton organ of the Regal, Glasgow was opened in the early spring of 1930 by Quentin MacLean, who came there almost straight from the Savoy, Brighton where he had just opened a similar instrument. Further Comptons of this period were installed at the Savoy, Dublin and at the great Astorias in Finsbury Park, Streatham, Brixton and Old Kent Road in London.
Quentin’s opening item at the Regal was the complete William Tell Overture, played with consummate skill. He followed it with a selection from one of the current musical films, ‘Gold Diggers Of Broadway’ which contained the well-known ‘Tip-Toe Through the Tulips’, and his encore was Ketelbey’s ‘In a Monastery Garden’.
The Regal’s manager was one Graham Morrison, formerly Exploitation Manager for Paramount Pictures. He had been in charge of putting on Paramount’s trade shows at La Scala where I was organist and where I played his audiences in for about forty-five minutes at the beginning of each show. He was among my greatest admirers and assured me that he would do everything he could to put me in the job at the Regal after Mac’s initial week. Then one day he had to break it to me – the cinema’s directors were interested in a man called John Williamson who had just arrived back from the States. And that appeared to be that.
I wasn’t going to be the only organist not to pay Mac the compliment of a visit, so on the Wednesday afternoon I waited in the foyer with Graham Morrison, who was beginning to sweat more than slightly because Mac was cutting it a bit fine. He was quite celebrated for this; he’d arrive with only minutes to spare, would quickly get ready, and be at the console just in time to begin his interlude. On this occasion he had been over to Edinburgh with Kevin Buckley, organist at the Picture House just across Sauchiehall Street, to see the Hope-Jones organ in the MacEwen Hall. Kevin Buckley, who went on from Glasgow to make a big hit at the Regent, Bournemouth, was a great friend of Mac’s through professional and religious connections, both being very devout Roman Catholics. Anyway, Mac did arrive just in time to change his shoes in a pay-box before dashing to the console. After his performance he invited me to come back after ‘shut-down’ and try the Compton. I thought to myself ‘Even if I never play that organ again I’ll do just that thing!’
At twelve ranks the organ was then the largest in a Scottish cinema. So far as I can recall it had a Diapason, a Flute, Harmonic Flute, String and Celeste, Oboe, French Horn, Trumpet, Tibia and Vox Humana. There was also a synthetic Clarinet. The stopkey layout was peculiar to this model in that all the ranks were arranged in ‘bunches’, eg. Tibia 16, 8, 4, 2 2/3 and 2 all side by side, with usual double-touch cancelling. I was invited to try out the individual ranks for Mac who, in company with with Messrs J.J. Broad and James I. Taylor of Compton’s, listened from various parts of the hall. The organ’s chambers were under the stage and we found that the effect was good everywhere except under the balcony, where the impact of the instrument was considerably lessened. Anyway, there I am having a whale of a time when all of a sudden I get a whiff of a cigar. Morrison is at my elbow saying ‘Keep going, Bobby – there’s a conspiracy afoot!’ Shortly afterwards Mac came down and asked what I’d be doing in the morning. I said ‘I thought you were coming to La Scala to see the worst Christie ever installed!’ ‘Look’, said Mac, ‘I’d like you to be here at eleven to play to David Stewart’ (Managing Director of Scottish and Variety Theatres, for whom the Regal was built). ‘Play Danny Boy and the job’s yours.’ ‘What about Williamson?’, I asked. ‘He has not been signed on and we don’t think he’s right for the Regal.’ So Williamson went to La Scala and worked my two weeks’ notice while I went to the Regal and started in Mac’s wake on the Monday.
There was no lift or microphone. At the beginning of each presentation one had to simply walk to the console, which was centrally placed on the floor in front of the stage. We couldn’t have a lift because we were actually on the first storey. Imagine – there was a garage under the stalls! To make announcements either you spoke up good and loud or the titles of your items were displayed on a large card by one of the page-boys who popped through the table centre-stage, saluted smartly and disappeared again. All very Regal.
While touring with Reginald Foort and his wife, Reginald persuaded me to use my middle name professionally because he didn’t think ‘Pagan’ looked attractive on posters. But Morrison felt that there were too many ‘Tommies, Dickies and Harrys’, and that I should become ‘R. Osborne Pagan’. So exit ‘Bobby Osborne’.
Organ interludes at the Regal were very much appreciated. In its early days the Compton was very reliable mechanically and such pieces as Light Cavalry Overture were a joy to play. Often the applause would go on right into the credits of the fim – and in connection with this, an amusing story. On just such an occasion I was walking down the lobby, still in my dinner jacket and with the applause ringing in my ears, when I met a man who said, ‘You’re the organist, aren’t you?’ I said ‘Yes’, giving him my recently-spotlit smile. ‘WHAT A BLOODY DRAUGHT YOU ‘AVE ‘ERE! WHERE THE ‘ELL DOES IT COME FROM?’ He was a rep from Leeds, travelling for a diamond firm, and we became good friends – he came in about three times a year.
Compton’s had available at that time a special shaftless lift and the Company’s directors were sounded out as to whether they would care to invest in one for their organ. Unfortunately they weren’t favourably minded, but they were persuaded to let us have a platform with castors so that the console could be put on the stage. One Saturday night Roy Skinner (brother-in-law of John Compton’s right-hand man J.I. Taylor), aided by a few others, disconnected the console and lifted it on to the stage trolley. At one point we ran out of solder and I had to rush outside and get directions from a policeman as to where I could find some more. Apart from that little problem everything went well, and by the Monday the organ was all ready for the Big Surprise.
That afternoon, to the astonishment of a very good house, the spotlight came on to the place where the organ console had been on the Saturday night, illuminating nothing but an enormous bunch of flowers. Then I stepped through the centre of the stage tabs, the drill being to waffle until the boys back-stage got the console in place with the trolley castors pointing the right way for it to be rolled off again at the end of the presentation. When all was ready, one of the crew would thump me in the back through the curtain, with a muffled ‘Right, Bobby, you’re on!’ The encore procedure was as follows – the tabs were controlled from the operating box, so if the applause was big enough and I knew we were okay for time I would take another call and put my left hand on the curtain. ‘The box’ then knew to re-open and it was all very smooth. By this time I had been on the air, playing two half-hour broadcasts each week and not receiving a penny for them. I was the first ‘light entertainment’ over the new radio station at Westerglen, about half way between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Then after all that, in 1933, I had to suffer a considerable salary cut, so I slid off to the Troxy, London, through the good offices of Wurlitzer’s British agent Major S.J. Wright and with strong recommendation from (once again) Quentin MacLean.
My farewell show at the Regal took place one August night. I wore tails for the first time (sheer bravado) and played the same programme as I had on my first night – The Desert Song selection, Toselli’s ‘Serenade’ and, after the final waffle, ‘Auf Wiedersehen My Dear’ with the lights slowly fading down to a black-out and the tabs perfectly timed to the last crotchet by the excellent chief operator Andy Stewart and his colleagues.
Tail piece: in July 1936, on leave from the Palladium, Copenhagen, I was wandering through the Empire Exhibition at Bellahouston Park when I asked a policeman if there would be any point in going up the tower. He said ‘You wouldn’t see much today, and you don’t remember me, do you?’ I had to confess that I didn’t, to which he replied ‘Remember that Sunday afternoon when you ran out of solder at the Regal? I was the one who told you where you could get more!’ And he went on to tell me that if I went round the corner and kept going for two hundred yards I would bump into one Hughie McGibbon, now a patrolman but in my time senior doorman at the Regal. Of course I went to see him, and we had a right old natter. ‘Stonishin’!
In connection with Bobby’s early professional name-changes we ought perhaps to explain that his family background was not a musical one but a legal one – the prominent firm of solicitors Pagan Osborne in his native Cupar, Fife, after which Bobby was named Robert Osborne Pagan. The company still exists though as far as we know it has been in different hands for some years.
We suppose that at this late date we can say that the ‘tempestuous gentleman’ at the Astoria was Bobby’s predecessor Charles W. Saxby, a superb organist but by all accounts rather a stormy character. It is said that the classical repertoire that he favoured versus the pops of the day that he was constantly urged to play for Astoria audiences constituted rather a bone of contention, and we assume that finally things simply boiled over. Mr Donald was sent for but Saxby was already leaving. The Hammond man was of course Jack Lawson who as far as we know never held another cinema post.
As to the Regal organ, it was played by Gerald Shaw during the later 1930s and then by one Alan Kennedy who seems to have vanished without trace from the theatre organ world after the war. The Regal eventually joined the ABC circuit whose team of organists would presumably have kept the instrument in the public eye at least from time to time, but the Compton became an early casualty of the post-war cuts in organs and organists. Its demise came in 1953 with the fitting of a new large screen, an event which occasioned the removal of a number of theatre organs at around this time. The cinema still exists, albeit in altered form, but the organ has long been but a memory.
Google under 'R O Pagan' to see rare British Pathe footage of Bobby at the Regal Glasgow organ in the early 1930s - a unique opportunity to see and hear this long-vanished Compton.
THE FINAL DAYS OF THE ASTORIA ORGAN
As narrated above, the Astoria closed in the Autumn of 1966, reopening as a Bingo hall shortly after, but even that could not save it and in early 1967 it was sold for redevelopment. We well remember this causing something of a shockwave - what about the organ? Nobody expected that it could be saved in its entirety and the concensus of opinion was that we would be lucky if parts of it even survived in church work. An idea was floated by Mr Richard Galloway, then organist of St Andrrw's Episcopal Cathedral, Aberdeen, for the possible rescue of the Tuba rank ro provise a solo register for the Cathedral organ. It was envisaged that the Astoria blower would also be bought for installation at St Andrews to provide the necesssary extra wind. Mr Galloway spent a morning in the closed cinema and was quite impressed with the Compton's 'straight' potential.
However, in the event a buyer was found for the whole instrument. In fact, two bids were placed for it as, without knowing that the instrument could be preserved in Aberdeen, local enthusiasts relayed a (fairly modest) offer from further south simply for the sake of finding a home for it. But it soon turned out that negotiaitions had been entered into between Aberdeen Town Council Education Department and Messrs Donald for the organ's purchase - proposed new siting the then Powis School (later Powis Academy and now St. Machar Academy), very near the Astoria.
Mastermind of this project, to be carried out by the school's staff and pupils, was the head music teacher Bob Leys. Bob was a well known figure in musical circles - church organist, a very able theatre organist and for many years Aberdeen's City Carilloneur, presiding at the 48 bell carillon in the tower of St Nicholas Church in the city centre. A multi-talented individual, he latterly specialised in the resroration and driving of vintage vehicles, especially buses.
We turn the narrative over to Bob himself in the words of the brochure written for the 1969 re-opening of the organ in its new home by its one time resident player George Blackmore.
THE POWIS STORY by Bob Leys
The Powis Organ Project came into being quite accidentally. When it became known that the Astoria organ was up for sale the writer became interested in salvaging the Vibraphone unit for use on the City Carillon practise clavier. The Superintentendent of Music, Mr John B. Dalby, autthorised the opening of negotiations. An early opportunity was taken to play the organ on what was thought at the time to be the last occasion on which it would be played. Even the demolition workers (who were on bonus rates!) stopped working to listen to its magnificent sound.
After discussion with Mr W. Riddell, the Principal Teacher of Technical Subjects, and his staff, it was agreed that the Musical and Technical staffs should ask permission to dismantle the organ and rebuild it in the school hall. In trepidation, the writer put this idea to the then Head Teacher, Mr. H.W. Valentine, who gave the project his blessing and support. When negotiations to buy the instrument were opened, it was discovered that the organ would have to be taken out of the cinema within ten days. Agreement was reached with the owners that the instrument could be dismantled and stored at the school until its fate was finally settled. This was the beginning of one of the most colourful periods in the history of the school.
Inside the cinema, demolition work was already in progress. Over the weeked, sketches and notes were made and the various parts of the organ were marked or labelled in order to assist rebuilding. Monday morning saw the boys of class IVB descend like a commando team on the organ chambers, under the watchful eye of the Special Assistant, Technical Subjects, who had been allotted the responsibility of supervising the technical side of the project. The class was divided into smaller groups and given specific jobs; their grasp of the situation was almost professional. After two days they were able to to supervise members of staff and other pupils who reported for duty as they could be spared from normal school routine. Two members of the Technical Staff assisted in the evenings when they were off night school to make sure the deadline was met. Pupils' offers to work in the evenings had to be turned down so that homework would not suffer.
First, all the smal pipes were carefully wrapped and packed into boxes which were taken to school in teachers' cars. The large pipes and wind trunks were carried bodily up Great Northern Road to the astonished stares of passers-by! Then the shutters, wind chests and bellows, along with the percussion units, were transported in a borrowed van. The removal of the relays and the disconnection of of the numerous cables proved to be rather a complicated operation. After the blower motor and lighting dimmer had been dismatled, all that was left in the building was the console, which was on rails running along the front of the stage. The illuminated surround was removed and the console, still mounted on its platform, was swung off the stage on to the auditorium floor by block and tackle suspended from gitders in the roof. The console and relay stack were hoisted on to a low loader by a mobile crane and a very self-conscious music teacher sat at the console as it was driven, as if in state, all the way to the school. Our difficulties were by no means over. The platform was so large that the swing doors to the school and hall had to be taken off to allow the console to be gingerly edged into the hall - which was in the midst of being prepared for the school jumble sale!
For the next six months the organ - resembling a gigantic jig-saw puzzle - lay scattered in hundreds of pieces on the floor of the staorage space under the stage. The pipes were stored in rooms all over the school where space could be spared. The pupils and staff followers - with alternate hopes and fears - the passage of the project through the various meetings of the Town Council. During this period of waiting Mr Valenine retired and Mr George Sinclair was appointed Head Teacher.
At last the school was informed that the organ had been purchased for the school by the Cororation for the sum of £400 and that the project could resume.
The outline of the chamber walls was chalked on to the cement floor and the building of the wlls commenced. The school become used to loads of 'Keystone' blocks being carried underneath the stage by young enthusiastic builders. Squads of pupils - girls and boys - utilised their technical and music periods to work on the many jobs which the project required.
The project plan was to allocate to members of staff the supervision of specific tasks, eg. woodwork in chambers and blower room, cement and brickwork, console case and fittings, metalwork, electrical, needlework, murals, pipework. Because of the enthusiasm of the staff and pupils the organ quickly took shape. After nine monthe the momentous day arrived when the magnets had all been wired up, the pipes had been cleaned and stacked in the racks and the electrical installation amd motor had been checked by the school electrician, who had caught the 'organ bug'. Students and an instructor from from the Technical College had plastered the chamber walls (the only task which the school could not undertake itself) and the chambers themselves were resplendent in fresh paint. All that remained was to press the starter button which would switch on the wind and electric current.
It so happened that at that crucial moment, 1.30 pm on Thursday 3rd October 1968, three people who had possibly done more than anyone else to ensure the success of the project were the sole occupants of the hall. Mr J. Robinson was asked to press the button, Mr R. Buthlay, electrician, stood by the test panel and the writer sat at the console. The resulting sound was so successful that the hall immediately filled with pupils and staff who gathered round the console to hear the first music played on the instrument rebuilt by their own efforts. The pipes had been so carefully handled that the organ was still recognisably in tune!
The objective of the project was to dismantle, remove and rebuild the organ in a way which was not only of of interest but was also of educational value to to both the school and community of Powis. The project was unusual in that it involved the non-academic pupil in carrying out the tasks. No specially selected teams were employed. Classes were allocated various duties which were carried out under staff supervision. Every department cooperated and each in some way contributed to the result.
(Back to our own words)
The organ was installed under the stage with the Solo chamber on the left (looking towards the stage) andthe main on the right. The blower was situated in the space between the Solo chamber and the hall's side wall, while the relays were in the corresponding space on the other side.
The floor of the understage area was several feet below the level of the hall floor, so that the organ shutters actually opened into a deep, narrow well under the front of the stage - only the top shutter or so opened directly on to the auditorium space. Despite this, the organ did not lack volume and the 'mixing chamber' in front of it prevented harshness.
Inside the chambers, the components were arranged as closeaspossible to the shutters, with tremulants well 'buried' to minimise mechanical noise and with all pipes readily accessible for tuning. As the organ's layout had to be altered to fit the new chambers, it was decided that the original metal wind-tubing would be replaced in plastic, which was readily available and easily workable.
The factor that determines the success or failure of any organ installation is one of the most basic of all - does each part of the organ receive correct and sufficient wind pressure at all times? However good the hall may be acoustically, however superbly voiced the pipework or however perfect the organ's mechanics, if the winding is not right the instrument will never speak properly. When a pipe organ is rearranged physically there is no guarantee that problems will not be encountered in wind distribution, especially in the case of a theatre organ with its reliance on copious supply at heavy pressures.
In changing the organ in this way, therefore, Bob and his team were taking something of a chance, but after suitable adjustments it all worked well even though on balance it was felt that perhaps if the blower had been on the Main chamber side rather than feeding directly into the Solo, with its heavy wind demand, results might have been still better.
The console's illuminated surround wasnot used as such New console casework in light oak and a new bench were built in the school's Technivcal Department workshops, together with a moveable rostrum on which the console was now mounted. It was originally intended that console and rostrum should be hoistable on stage, but this was abandoned in view of of the cumbersomeness of the operation and the risk to the main cable which was the original and which had given trouble at the Astoria. For most of the time the console remained at floor level to the right of the stage.
The organ's official inauguration was performed on March 3rd 1969 by its one-time resident player, George Blackmore, with a programme consisting of:
THE ORGAN IN VARIETY 1 (GEORGE BLACKMORE): The Highlander (Blackmore), Swan Lake - ballet selection (Tchaikovsky), Sabre Dance (Khatchaturian), Theme from Exodus (Gold), Samba Medkey (arr. Blackmore), Music From the Shows (Rodgers)
THE ORGAN IN CONCERT (GEORGE BLACKMORE): Festal Day (Blackmore), Carillon de Westminster (Vierne)
THE ORGAN IN SCHOOL (ROBERT F. LEYS) : Hymn 66 (tune 'Powis School), Chorale 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring' (Bach), Ceilito Lindo (trad. arr. Tate)
POWIS SCHOOL BAND WITH ORGAN: March: Getting Organised (Leys)
BON-ACCORD SILVER BAND WITH ORGAN: Rondo Alla Turca (Mozart, arr. Leys), Lily the Pink (arr. Leys)
THE ORGAN IN VARIETY 2 (GEORGE BLACKMORE): Overture 'Masaniello' (Auber),The Music Of Henry Mancini (arr.Blackmore), In a Clock Store (Orth), Medley - The Roaring Twenties (arr Blackmore)
For the next thirteen years the organ remained a great asset to the school, several young organists, both classical and light, beginning their playing careers on it. In 1976 Bob Leys moved on to a new teaching post in the South of Scotland but the organ continued to be watched over by two ennthusiastic members of staff who were able to give 'first aid' when necessary. It was of course regularly tuned and maintained by Messrs Rushworth and Dreaper, successors to the John compton Organ Company, and professional work on it was being contemplated. But disaster struck on that infamous night in October 1982 when a criminal attack left the whole centre of the building a charred ruin. The pre-war hall with its wooden wall linings and seating stood no chance. After the fire other organs were offered to the school but no new project came about. Something unique had been lost which could never be replaced.
And that concludes the story of the Astoria organ. Look out for more from the archives to come!
No concerts were found