Jean Martyn in Britain's Got Talent

For all of you out there who don’t know, UK organist Jean Martyn was in the “Britain’s Got Talent” TV show in May/June of this year. She made it through the auditions (with three ‘yesses’) and on to the live Final on June 4th. Unfortunately she came last, but it was still a major achievement for any performer, let alone an organist. Her performances can be seen on YouTube.

Firstly, I should say that Jean Martyn can play rather well. Obviously she can, she’s made a living over the past three decades slogging around the organ clubs up and down the country. She also looks like a nice person, I’ve never met her, but she looks nice. It seems she was planning to retire when she was sixty (which was only a few weeks away), but that’s probably been put back a few years at least. She is now going on the Britain’s Got Talent UK Tour for two weeks.

This piece is in no way meant to be derogatory about Jean, but more of talent shows and the attitude towards organs in general. I wish her all the best with her delayed retirement and I hope the show brings her a nice little nest egg for it when it finally comes.

There have been a several attempts by organists and keyboard players to woo Simon Cowell on “Britain’s Got Talent”, these were all reported by Cled Griffin’s and Organfax websites at the time. However, most auditionees were rejected early on (with a little fun-poking along the way). These people are talented and their auditions were probably very professional, but did the panel and audience care? No, they just saw the organ (even if it was a keyboard, they saw the organ) and it’s just not cool (“it plays itself you know”).

Let’s face it, the organ isn’t a piano and it’s not in fashion (and I’m talking about the views of Joe Public). It had a period in the 1960s and 1970s when it was (a bit), but it isn’t now and hasn’t been for a LONG time. But DO WE CARE?!, well yes we do a bit and ARE WE DISHEARTENED?!… again, yes we are a bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I am 43 and had my first organ when I was 10. I thought it was cool then, but did I shout it from the rooftops? No I didn’t. I still think organs have something to offer over single keyboards, but I have gradually moved away from them and now have a Clavinova, a Korg M3 Synth and various modules (these are cooler and the only reason I don’t shout from the rooftops about these is the fear of burglary). I do have a Wersi Spectra, but it lies neglected in the corner with two massive speakers (so more in the corner, plus half the room). Let’s see a burglar come and get THOSE! I’ve had organs; a Baldwin Skyline, a Yamaha B77n, D65, EL90, Technics E66, G-100 and even a 1937 Hammond Concert E and I enjoyed playing every one.

I still would really like to have a top of the range Hammond, Wersi or Atelier. They do have a certain allure for me and if I won the Lottery, I would certainly buy one (and probably one of each if I won a lot). I even find a thirty year old D65 appealing, especially when you see these £3,000 organs sell for £30 on eBay (another sign of the organs popularity). Unfortunately, I haven’t got a spare corner left.

While I am talking about organs, I should also say that single keyboards aren’t cool either (these are usually called organs by Joe anyway). They are a bit cooler (I was going to use the word ‘tepid’), but they even lose this slight ‘tepidness’ when you put two together with pedals and don’t mention it’s an organ. The only cool organ to Joe is probably a Hammond B3 when it’s in a band, but that’s about it. Theatre organs aren’t and cathedral organs aren’t either, not really.

It’s a shame, because if you showed a non-musical ten year old child around a Wersi Louvre their eyes would light up. Show it to a sixteen year old and they would glaze over.

Back to Jean Martyn and BGT… Had a bubbly, excitable Jean come on and played an up-tempo piece on the piano instead of the organ, would she have made the final…? Probably, yes. How about the banjo…? Yes, the xylophone…? Yes… I think it was her personality and enthusiasm that shined not her ability, the instrument she played was kind of irrelevant. The fact that she played an ORGAN may have even lost her some votes, but it suited her eccentric enthusiasm and you can’t really sing along while playing a xylophone (I never saw Patrick Moore do it anyway).

Has her appearance helped the organ & keyboard scene? I think it highly unlikely. Has it put it back a few decades…? Not really, I think it was already there. Flared trousers came back, the organ didn’t and unless it gets featured in an episode of ‘Glee’ it’s probably destined to remain a love of the few, not of the many.

One thought on “The Organ is Just Not Cool

  1. Ross McNeillie says:

    I don’t think the public knew what she was playing. Most refer to it as a keyboard or a piano. Few have taken note that she was playing notes with her feet too. I think this is due to the organ being too long out of the public eye. However, Jean has got people talking about the organ again to a degree and she’s brought it to the masses. There have been comments scattered over the internet saying that Jean has inspired the person making the comment, or their children to take lessons on organ/keyboard/piano.

    6 people who are entirely new to the organ turned up to a concert on sunday (could it be the Jean effect) and I’ve uploaded recordings of Jean to my YouTube page, where people listening to those recordings, are also listening to and watching other videos of organs on the page. So I think Jean has done the organ/keyboard/piano world some good, as she’s brought it back to the public eye and showed that it doesnt have to be dull and boring etc. That it can be entertaining, and it doesnt have to be “serious”!

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