Sunday, 26 March 2017

Where to next?

I wasn't going to select my next random destination until after I'd written the very last Saltaire post. However, in was in the pub on Tuesday (the very good Rutland Arms, even if they do have rather a posey website) with a couple of friends, and I was explaining the Big Days Out concept, in the course of which I showed them how I set to choose a number between 101 and 186 for me. It then would have seemed churlish not to ask one of them to hit the button to determine the next port of call, which I then cross referenced with the Town Class Sticker Album.

And oh dear. If Saltaire was a really lucky first pick, this one's going to be a lot harder. Until I looked it up I had only the vaguest idea of where it is (other than a long way away). It's a small place, and doesn't seem to be famous for anything, unless you count golf, which is not something I can get passionate about. I guess I may have to learn, as that is, in part at least, what the Big Day Out is all about. The station could be interesting, as it might (according to Wikipedia) be the oldest in the country. It's going to take me around five and a quarter hours to get there (but only one change; Sheffield's a handy place to start, being on the Cross Country route) and will cost me £120. So I could get there and back in a day and still have about five hours to explore...

It may be a while before I get round to this one though, as there's a bit of boating to do first...

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Saltaire summary

For each Big Day Out I shall create one final post with links to all the others, which will then be listed in the widget to the right.

My Saltaire sortie will probably turn out to be one of the cheaper ones, coming out under fifty pounds in total, made up as follows:
Off-peak day return train fare from Sheffield: £12.50
Shipley Glen Tramway day ticket £2
Tramway history book £2
Ice cream £1.80
First ice cream of the year
Concert ticket £10
Concert tea and cake £3.50
Raffle tickets (non-winning) £1
Dinner and drinks (approx) £16

I got a Cross Country service from Sheffield to Leeds, and Northern from there to Saltaire. On the way back I should have caught the train at Shipley, but missed it, so David kindly gave me a lift to Bradford to pick one up there. The outward journey took just over an hour.

Other posts:
Trains and stations
The journey there (and Saltaire station)
Roberts Park
Saltaire village
The Shipley Glen Tramway
Saltaire in sanitaryware
Salts Mill steps
The arcana of the cinema organ
The Saltaire Wurlitzer
The concert

Friday, 24 March 2017

In concert

Saltaire's Victoria Hall was opened in 1871 as the Saltaire Institute. Work had begun on building it four years previously, and the cost was £25,000.
The outside is stunning, and the interior is beautifully restored and maintained.

But I wasn't there for the architecture - at least not primarily. I was there for this:
And so were these people, who started gathering well in advance of the two o'clock advertised 'doors open' time.
I have to say that the policy of admitting under-25s for free is unlikely to bankrupt the Cinema Organ Society any time soon. Indeed, they could raise it to fifty with no discernable effect on their revenue. Which is both a shame, and an inexplicable one. I mean, you can understand the cinema organ being more popular with people who remember it from their youth, but for it to have no traction at all not only with teenagers, but even with middle aged people like I must now be... Maybe it's since Radio 2 moved The Organist Entertains (my introduction to the genre) to its 11 pm graveyard slot some years ago.

David also made an interesting point - that children of his generation (which was just about one before mine) were privileged in having a contstant stream and variety of good quality music piped via the wireless into their homes as they grew up, when the Light Programme (later to become Radio 2) broadcast live performances of a range of different musical genres. (They also got all the National Health orange juice of course, sweet rationing, and real food, whereas my generation was raised on Findus Crispy Pancakes and Angel Delight.)

Anyway, back to the Victoria Hall and Nicholas Martin. For the first half I sat three rows back from the front , having first collected my cup of tea and slice of buttered Yorkshire teabread and chatted to a couple of other audience members - one of whom (rightly) confided to me in an awed whisper that I was 'in for a treat.' I also got to eavesdrop on the men behind me talking arcanely (I wrote this down): ''s wired and winded and on the stop rail...'. I think they might have been talking about the new krumet. One of these same men caught up with me afterwards and showed me photos of the 3/4 size replica Wurlitzer console he'd built in his bedroom.

I'm actually not going to try to describe the concert, because it's impossible to convey... but one thought I had towards the end was that this is music to wallow in - not emotionally, but literally, aurally. The choice of tunes hardly matters. A nice touch, that worked really well - and also indicates that the audience was largely made up of cognoscenti - was that there were cameras trained on the organist's hands and feet, displayed on a screen to the right.
The console at Saltaire is on a hydraulic lift so that it can do the classic thing of rising up from the stage, already being played. It also of course went back the same way at the end, leading to the rather surreal scene of the MC looking down a hole saying 'Will you be doing an encore, Nick?'

In the interval I was taken down the back stairs by David and shown the organ chamber with its ranks of pipes and other things I'm afraid I can't even remember the names of (at least, not in relation to the right things). What I do remember is that it costs a thousand pounds a year just keeping it at the right temperature so that stays in tune. I snapped a few hurried photos but they really don't do it justice.

David was concerned that I might be being too blasted away by the sound to fully appreciate it from where I was sitting, so for the second half I repaired to the balcony. I must confess that my ears were not sufficiently sensitive or well trained to appreciate the difference, but it was good to have the change of scene and sample the lovely old worn red plush tip-up seats, and look down on the hall.
Looking down from the balcony in the interval
I do apologise for the poor quality snatched photos. The internet can furnish you with many much better ones.

This was of course a fabulous way to round off my first Big Day Out - which wasn't quite finished, as I then went and had tea (dinner to those of you still down south) with David who shared fascinating stories from his playing career before dashing off to catch my train back to Sheffield (and missing it, but all was right in the end).

Massive thanks to David Lowe for making it such a brilliant day.

(This post has been written to the accompaniment of The Organist Entertains via the magic of iPlayer.)

Thursday, 23 March 2017

At last: The Saltaire Wurlitzer

A terrible photo, but mine own. Many better ones are on the COS website (link below)
You probably wondered where I was going with that flight of fancy. Of course I was leading up to the high point of my trip to Saltaire: the organ concert. Saltaire's Victoria Hall has, since 2009 been home to the Wurlitzer cinema organ first installed in Oldham's Gaumont cinema in 1937 (that most significant of years) and owned, since the cinema's closure in 1961, by the Cinema Organ Society, who found it a number of different - and more or less successful - foster homes over the years. All the details, and some super photos of it in its original home, are on their website here.

I was extremely fortunate in that fellow historic boater David Lowe (Swallow and Apollo) is also a cinema organist, leading light of the Cinema Organ Society, and currently tuner of the Saltaire Wurlitzer. David wasn't playing the concert this month (although he is doing the April one) so in between operating the spotlight and checking on the organ, was able to give me a tour of its hidden workings in the interval. I am going to squeeze one more post out of this, so I'll say more about that next time :-)

In the meantime, here is a potted history of the cinema organ that David very kindly sent me when I first revealed my both unformed and uninformed fascination with this most extraordinary of instruments:

The great town hall organs became very orchestrally biased with many imitative stops.  Eccentric English organist and organ builder Robert Hope-Jones took the idea further at the turn of the last century with his organs which also had electric action (so the console could be detached from the organ itself), and even more percussions and effects.  He also advocated the unit system where one rank of pipes serves many purposes so a smaller number of pipes gives greater versatility.  His ideas were not well received in the UK so he emigrated to the USA and after some false starts ended up in partnership with the Wurlitzer company – a well established builder of high quality musical instruments.  Although intended for ballrooms, skating rinks, bars, hotels, town halls, residences, etc., an early Wurlitzer was installed in an early cinema in Chicago in 1910 and this was so successful that most Wurlitzer organs were installed in cinemas thereafter.  Though not designed (as some claim)  to accompany silent films the Wurlitzer (and other similar makes) were ideal for the purpose, far better than the church or concert type pipe organs (or harmoniums or automatic instruments, or a pianist; and cheaper than an orchestra).  With the coming of talkies only the larger  USA cinemas continued using the organs, but in the UK most unit type cinema organs were installed after the coming of talkies (i.e. post 1929), providing interval music, organ interludes etc., though it maybe that some accompanied silent films in the early 30s.  Another important use was for radio broadcasting.  Three Wurlitzer organs were installed in ballrooms in Blackpool (one post-World War 2).  Cinema organ use declined for a number of reasons;  post 1948 cinema audiences were falling off and many full time organists were dispensed with (but ABC Cinemas carried on with a reduced number), and some continued part time.  In the 1960s there was a bit of a revival until removal of organs began in earnest as cinemas closed or were twinned etc.  In the USA the revival was prompted by the early 1950 s ‘hi-fi’ stereo LP records by organists such as George Wright, and by the late 1950s and 60s organs were being re-installed in pizza restaurants, public halls and private residences  or restored in situ – similar over here but not, regrettably, the restaurants – not sure why. The Blackpool Tower ballroom Wurlitzer carried on but with the massive decline in ballroom dancing (now only for aficionados rather than the general public) its use is very much less and numbers on the dance floor very small.  

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Other people's arcana: the cinema organ

When I was a child, and there wasn't much on the telly, sometimes I would be up early on a Sunday morning, before the rest of the household had stirred, and I would watch the Open University. It was invariably someone demonstrating mathematics and I just loved letting the incomprehensibility of it wash over me.

People are passionate about all sorts of different things. Most of those passions I don't share; many I can't even comprehend; some I have an interest in; a curiosity about. But whatever it is you're obsessed with, I get it; I respect it; I admire it. I am passionate about narrow boats (ok, a small subset of them). Other people are passionate about trains, or buses, or the Archers, or Scott Walker - so that I don't have to be (my brain would explode). And I am very, very glad that there are people out there whose passion is cinema organs. Because without them, we wouldn't have any, just as we wouldn't have steam locomotives or big Woolwiches. And they are such extraordinary, marvellous, and almost pointless, things.

They don't transport you from A to B; they don't provide clean water; a Mighty Wurlitzer never, ever, carried goods around the country; you can't even take one on holiday. They provide music, for entertainment - just as countless other instruments and electrical and electronic devices can. They do it at great cost, in terms of space, time and money. If they were animals, they would long be extinct. They are complex, massive, delicate, expensive, greedy, scary... and quite fabulous.

Here is (are?) the arcana. This 'simple glossary' is, in fact, a failsafe way to recreate that Sunday morning Open University feeling. And - on a serious, and professional, note - brings home just how easy it is to forget that something familiar and easy to you (me), whether that be historic narrow boats or Marxist theory, is a foreign language to the uninitiated. Fortunately for me, I don't have to learn it; I can just revel in it. And that's before we've even heard the organ played. That's just the poetry of the naming of its parts.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Following in the footsteps

The steps leading up to the street from Salts Mill, worn by hundreds of feet every day, thousands if not millions over the years. And I very much doubt whether they are the original ones.

You know sometimes when you're working a lock, you can't help but be standing in a puddle? As Pete pointed out to me at the AGM, that's not coincidence; that's a hollow in the stome worn by the boots of those who worked the lock before you. And I find that a pretty amazing thought.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Tiles and toilets

As a boater, of course I need no excuse to introduce the subject of toilets. It is a subject quite dear to my heart, I must confess, and one that frequently haunts my dreams in quite surreal ways (and that is all I am saying on that subject).

A philosopher friend of mine once, he claimed, sought words of wisdom from a venerable and respected sage, and after this guru had thought for a few minutes, this is what he brought forth: 'You never regret going to the toilet.'

Now, I can, hypothetically, conceive of circumstances in which that might not hold true - for example, if there is an axe murderer hiding behind the cubicle door - but as a rule of thumb it has served me well. So I like toilets for their practical value; but I am also very keen on their social history and aesthetics. For example, some old pubs have fabulous Victorian toilets - at least that is what men will tell you. But the ladies' will be sadly disappointing, often a 1960s adjunct - because when the originals were built, ladies didn't go in pubs.

So, when I go off on my travels, I am going to see whether I can find any interesting loos to report on. Not quite in Lucinda Lambton's league, but the third and fourth division of conveniences.

And I struck quite lucky in Saltaire. Firstly, I visited the toilets in Salts Mill. And when I say firstly, I do mean as soon as I got there. Having been there before, I knew this was a safe bet. The sanitaryware itself was very modern, as befits a recently renovated and repurposed building, but the tiles - or in this case, I think, glazed bricks - were rather good.

The basins were very new, but I rather liked them.
It was at the Victoria Hall that I struck sanitaryware gold though. Not original Victorian, but lovely thirties-ish tiles,
and even toilets.
Look at that fabulous cistern. I think it was porcelain, although it might have been enamel. And that pedastal. And what en excellent flush you would get with the help of all that gravity. I do wonder, in these days of saving water and using it more effectively, why the high level cistern hasn't made a comeback.