THE HISTORY OF THE COLCHESTER ORGAN SOCIETY
JANUARY 1969 TO MAY 2010
“GREAT OAKS FROM LITTLE ACORNS GROW”
The birth of organ societies in Essex occurred in the early 1960’s Our society started life informally as a small group of music enthusiasts with a common interest in the electronic organ.
In the case of the Colchester Organ Society, George Fulcher, a classically trained church organist with an interest in the electronic organ, persuaded his employers that their piano showrooms should consider retailing electronic organs.
Electronic organs became very popular as a result of many successful promotional concerts, following which Hammond Organs sponsored the birth of the Leigh on Sea Hammond Organ Society that George ran from the shop, producing a monthly newsletter for the members.
After several years George was appointed director and manager, and the new branch in Colchester, which opened on November 5th 1968. Business boomed, and in January 1969 the Colchester Hammond Organ Society was created.
All those who entered the shop were given an open invitation to attend an electronic organ demonstration/concert to be held above the shop in St Botolph’s Street. About twenty music enthusiasts attended that first meeting in January 1969. The Guest artiste was the late George Blackmore. However, interest grew so rapidly that after a year a larger venue became necessary, so the venue transferred to St Boltolph’s Church Hall just round the corner in Priory Street. Many famous organists performed for us there, including Keith Beckingham, Len Rawle, and the late Ena Baga. During the first two years the Society met for a concert on alternate months, with the Hammond Organ Company supplying all the artistes.
Due to the rapid expansion of the shop, George decided that it was time to form a working committee for the Society. With this in mind George held a meeting in The Red Lion Hotel in the High Street, having invited all those interested in forming a working committee to come along. It was agreed that George should become the first President; Alan Pilgrim agreed to become the P.R.O. for one year, Peter Saunders was the first treasurer, with Fred Watts and Ken & Dot Boothby completing the formation of the committee.
Informal concerts had been held every other month, but the new working committee felt that more musically interested, people could be attracted if they met monthly on a regular night.
It was decided to meet monthly, on a Monday evening. This seemed to be the slackest working day at the shop, enabling George, as President to be in attendance on concert evenings.
That was the birth of the Hammond Organ Society, which we now know as The Colchester Organ Society, with the Hammond company providing a professional organist every other month, with the newly appointed P.R.O. having to look round and find artistes for the intervening months.
Interest grew and during the next two years the numbers attending had grown to sixty plus. Dancing lessons with music being provided by a record player, took place in the hall above. However, when George Blackmore entertained us he would play a selection of music for them to dance to.
St Botolph’s Church Hall was soon outgrown and the committee came across the Stanway Village Hall, but there was one small problem to overcome. The Society could only have the hall on a regular basis only if it agreed to change the concert night from a Monday to the first Friday of the month, on whatever date that fell. After due consideration of the question of losing members by changing to a Friday evening, it was decided to take the plunge and move to Stanway Village Hall. The meetings then changed to the first Friday of every month, a tradition that we have stuck to. The move proved to be a success, because since moving there some thirty years ago Colchester Organ Society has gone from strength to strength, with a membership now in excess of 200.
Two years later, at the suggestion of the members, it was decided to rename our Society because other makes of electronic organs were now appearing on the scene; so we became just The Colchester Organ Society.
Since then the Society has celebrated it’s:
* 21st: year with an all-day musical trade show ending with a grand buffet dance
* 25th year we held just a buffet dance
* 30th year we had two artistes, Tony Stace & Brett Wales for a special concert
* 35th year we convened a grand charity concert by The Longhawn Trio, three young brothers from Yorkshire. The concert & raffle plus contributions from local businesses, raised a total of £1800 for the Essex Air Ambulance.
*40th year with Tony Stace and Andrew Nix providing a five-hour marathon concert, with several breaks.
Many visiting artistes have commented openly that some venues they attend have quite small and noisy audiences, with sweets, crisps and drinks being passed round throughout the performances. However we are credited with having, “A very quiet audience”.
Colchester Organ Society usually has a packed hall with an average attendance of 160 persons per concert, some members travelling from as far as St Albans each month. This state of affairs has become about simply because our annual subscriptions and entrance fees are kept low deliberately to encourage membership. This policy by our committee must be effective because membership is up to the capacity permitted by fire regulations.
Top artistes are engaged to entertain members each month, some are very well known to our society, but there are times when we engage an unknown artiste. On these occasions we still hold our monthly numbers, and even at the Annual General Meeting, held in February, we still get in excess of 100 attending. A lot of societies would like to see that number at their concerts. We endeavour to cater for all tastes and greatly encourage our membership to attend all concerts stating that they may be very pleasantly surprised at an artiste`s offering, even though it may not initially appear to be `their cup of tea!`. Talking of tea-we have a very committed band of ladies who make tea/coffee during the interval and there is a raffle then and a `used music stall` where members can purchase organ/piano books and thus further support club financial input. The society prides itself in being one of the most friendliest in the country(artistes will bear this out) and besides being an organ club our meetings are a social gathering where friends with a common interest can meet each month.
Early in 2016 it became necessary to find yet another venue to be able to accommodate at least 300 members at a concert. This we are pleased to say has been done, and now we meet, still on the first Friday of the month but now at Thomas Lord Audley school. Doors are open at 7pm and the concerts start at 7-45.
Anybody wishing to come along to any of our concerts can telephone the P.R.O. Contact details are on the back of the programme card.
Single membership is £5-00 per year and joint family membership £7-00.
Our entrance fee at each meeting is £4-00 for members and £6-00 for guests.
NB in very adverse weather conditions you are politely asked to check with our P.R.O(Alan Pilgrim-recorded message) before travelling to the venue. His telephone number is 01787 269458.
History compiled by Ernest Holland, Edited May 2010.(with extra script by Jennifer Kersey)
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