... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

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.)


  1. My next door neighbours' son attends school in Rye in Sussex. They have a Wurlitzer in the school hall which, as you say, does the classic thing of rising and sinking from below the stage. They have a society devoted to its upkeep, and to ensuing that pupils, if they wish, can learn to play it. Next door son was on this scheme, and even got to go on a trip to America to see organs there ( I believe all for free)
    Among events organised as fund raisers they have had recitals and, rather more excitingly, they had an evening of silent movies shown with the Wurlitzer playing the appropriate music. It was great!!!

  2. I have enjoyed your write-up of Saltaire and look forward to the next Big Day Out. It sounds as though wherever it is may struggle to match Titus's place.