CD Duration: 60.47 / Year: 2012
2012 release containing unpublished recordings from Blackpool, featuring Watson Holmes, Ernest Broadbent, Horace Finch and Reginald Dixon.
WATSON HOLMES AT THE OPERA HOUSE (1966):
Polly / Valse Bleu / Hallelujah / Lover Come Back to Me / Bless This House / Jolly Good Company
ERNEST BROADBENT AT THE TOWER BALLROOM (1974):
Wedding of the Painted Doll / Vaya con Dios / ‘Deed I Do / Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue / Sweet Sue, Just You / Sweet Georgia Brown / All My Loving / Autumn Leaves / Lara’s Theme (from Dr. Zhivago) / Come to the Cabaret / Just One of Those Things / Lullaby of Broadway / Rhapsody in Blue / S’Wonderful / Someone to Watch Over Me / Fascinating Rhythm / Love Walked In / I Got Rhythm
HORACE FINCH AT THE EMPRESS BALLROOM (1959/1960):
On the Prom, Prom, Prom, Prom Promenade / These Foolish Things / Over My Shoulder / Joeys Song / The Man I Love / Tin Can Fusiliers / Signature Tune
REGINALD DIXON AT THE TOWER BALLROOM (1934 taken from Metal Masters):
London Bridge March / La Paloma / Aloha Oe / O Sole Mio / La Cucaracha / Blaze Away / With Sword and Lance / I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside
There’s a famous seaside place called Blackpool, that’s famous for fresh air and fun. Well you know the rest. But when Marriott Edgar wrote his timeless monologue, he probably was not thinking of the pleasure that three Wurlitzer organs were to give to thousands of annual visitors. The organ in the Tower Ballroom has perhaps always overshadowed that in the Winter Gardens Empress Ballroom, also that in the Opera House, which, has the distinction of being the last Wurlitzer to be delivered to Britain in 1939 just four months before Prime Minister Chamberlain delivered his formal declaration of war. All four of the organists featured, served with distinction in the armed forces and when peace returned, all were able to resume their musical careers. Ernest Broadbent joined the Tower Company in 1952. The fifties could be described as the boom years. Britain was still recovering from the ravages of war. The budget packaged holiday was still a travel agent’s dream, while in the world of entertainment, variety theatres, radio and 78rpm records held sway. People flocked to the resort in their thousands, many by train which placed severe operating difficulties on the town’s three railway stations. As for the ballrooms, it was “dancing wet or fine” and each of our artists became minor celebrities at the centre of this recreational hub. Biographical details of each organist can be found overleaf, along with some of the stories which lead to the gathering of the archive collection of recordings. As Producer of the CD, may I share with you some of my own memories of the organists in ‘behind the scenes’ reminiscences of their lives in the world of organ concerts. Sadly, I never met Horace Finch but was to learn much about him from my late wife who was a pupil of his during the early fifties. He could be somewhat forgetful and would return to the organ pit twice, and sometimes three times to check if he had switched off the blower motor. Watson Holmes, I first met through my recording colleague, Les Brumpton. ‘Wattie’ was always asking us to record him at the Opera House, which we finally did. I came to know him better in his days when playing the Hammond organ at the Co-operative Club in Blackpool. He often said it was so easy that he should have done it years ago! My first meeting with Ernest Broadbent was at his house in Blackpool when I was producing a cassette in conjunction with Eric Lord about Ernest’s career, along with Reg Dixon’s, at the Tower. Ernest’s only stipulation was that his cover photo should be the same size as RD’s! I last saw him in the BLESMA Home at Blackpool just three weeks before he died. When Reg Dixon retired from the Tower and started concert touring playing a Baldwin organ, I was asked by Victor Lanza of EMI if I would handle the sales of LPs at his concerts. I think Reg made more out of it than I did! My last endearing memory of him was driving him to his hotel after a concert in Peterborough and discussing the merits of my new Volkswagen Beetle. My regret is that I did not take a photo of him having a test drive around the hotel car park.
WATSON HOLMES. His real name was Sleightholme and he was born in Gateshead in 1901. He studied the classical organ under Dr. William Ellis at Newcastle Cathedral and gained the Associateship of the Royal College of Organists in 1927. He joined the Granada Theatres group and stayed 8 years, subsequently becoming resident at the Granada, Mansfield. War service with the Royal Corps of Signals began in 1941, but he was discharged after two years and was appointed organist at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool until Horace Finch returned from the R.A.F. In 1952 a Wurlirzer was installed in the Palace Ballroom and Watson was appointed resident, giving regular broadcasts from both the Palace and the Opera House. As ‘Wattie’ neared retirement in 1966 he was keen to have some recordings made of his playing at the Opera House organ and several times he contacted Les Brumpton to say when the theatre was available. The opportunity finally came when Les and I were booked as the sound crew on a TV documentary about Jazz singer George Melly, involving some location work in Blackpool. George, however, was taken ill giving us two free days in the town at the TV company’s expense. Wattie was there the next day with a selection of tunes that he regularly broadcast and just sat down and played. Not having the full kit of stands and microphones for a theatre organ recording, we knew it was a now or never chance to record him at the last Wurlitzer to be delivered to England. Wattie was happy. We made two 7” 45rpm discs for him (the new Compact Cassette was still in it’s infancy) and I have often wondered if they ever survived and now form part of someone’s rare organ collection.
ERNEST BROADBENT. Although born in Oldham in 1910, Ernest had to move to his Grandparents in Leeds at the beginning of World War I when his father was killed in action. Early piano lessons led to studying at the Leeds College of Music and so rapid was his progress he was awarded the Marquess of Normandy Diploma for piano and music theory. Anxious to earn money he took the post of organist at the New Cinema, Ilkley and spent the next four years there. A move to London introduced him to the world of light music, meeting such people as Freddy Baco and Frederick Curzon, who was to become a lifelong friend. He then moved to Brighton where he spent the next sixteen years at the Regent Cinema. He managed to fill his Sundays by playing with the Worthing Symphony Orchestra, having amongst his repertoire several piano concertos. In 1948, singer Josef Locke invited him to become his accompanyist, a post which lasted until 1952 when Ernest joined the Tower Company. Probably the most versatile musician that has played at the Tower, Ernest formed a trio playing in the Grand Theatre, Winter Gardens, Opera House and Palace Ballroom. Then Horace Finch had an accident and Ernest was asked to deputise for him, which brought him back to playing the organ full time and would eventually lead to him taking over from Reginald Dixon in 1970. Frank Killinger was an American producer who came to England several times to record theatre organs. In 1974 he produced and directed the film, The Tower and the Glory, a lighthearted documentary about Ernest Broadbent at the Blackpool Tower. A 23 minute sound take of Ernest in rehearsal is all that now survives of this unique footage and is reproduced here, complete with the opening sequence of the film crew at work. The discerning listener may identify a second clapperboard being used as a slave camera and recorder provide extra film and tape capacity.
HORACE FINCH. Horace was already established at Blackpool Tower before the first Wurlitzer organ arrived. He had been a member of the Blackpool Tower Orchestra since 1926 and became a featured solo pianist. He is reputed to have been the first English pianist to perform Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue from memory. In 1935 the first Tower organ was removed to the Empress Ballroom in the Winter Gardens and Horace was appointed to play the now enlarged organ. Regular broadcasts soon followed, along with some early recordings, the most popular being a series entitled ‘Finch Favourites’. Needless to say, these have now become highly prized (and priced!). The featured recordings from Alan Ashton’s collection were made ‘off air’ on a professional Ferrograph machine by a close friend of Horace Finch, and subsequently passed to Alan for safe keeping. They give a good indication of the very reverberative ballroom Horace had to cope with. At the end of hostilities, Horace resumed his playing career at the Winter Gardens and although it was still a period of austerity, he was playing daily to a packed ballroom as holiday makers tried to forget the past six years. In 1962 at the age of 58 he suffered an accident which severely damaged his left hand bringing an end to his public playing career. He did, however, leave some unpublished compositions such as ‘Blackpool Express’ and ‘Get Goin’’ which he would often feature in his broadcasts. Another tune that had a regular airing was ‘Margie’. It being his Mother’s name.
REGINALD DIXON. ‘RD’ was at the Tower for 40 years. Absent only to serve in the R.A.F. where he tried to hide his ‘showbiz’ identity, only to be discovered and sent to Uxbridge to become a musician! He later successfully applied for a commission, forming small dance bands which toured at home and overseas. He arrived at the Tower during Britain’s worst years of depression, but despite this, his name became synonymous with Blackpool and with a steady output of 78rpm records and regular radio broadcasts, it was perhaps inevitable that he would become known as “Mr Blackpool”. His style of playing created the ‘Blackpool Sound’ and is still very much in vogue 70 or so years later. Several Dixon stampers were found in 1975 and rescued from the scrapman. Being of historic interest they have been reproduced on this CD after Stuart Eltham of EMI spent many hours. trying to recover the recorded sound from the delicate metal plated surfaces. By including the commercial for Rex Records we have a accurate dating, as the ‘new’ organ was opened in 1935. It provides a snapshot of the 1930s, rather like peeping into our Grand parents family album. Reg had many stories about his winter touring days. An occasion he never forgot was when the organ was damaged at the Sunderland Empire and he had to go on each night playing the piano, despite the management saying the organ would be ready for Saturday. When the busiest night of the week came and still no organ, Reg walked on to a chorus of boo’s and catcalls. Away from the bright lights of Blackpool, he enjoyed the privacy of his family, making regular trips to the Lake District. He was a keen motorist and even at a late stage of life, he could still recall the registration numbers of all the vehicles he had owned. Reg died in 1985 leaving a legacy of over 300 78 rpm records and at least 60 long playing albums.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: It could be said that this CD has been over thirty years in the production stage. The first seed of an idea fell on stoney ground. Then with the Millennium came a new impetus, but again nothing. It was the passing of my recording colleague, Les Brumpton, that a start was made on the many hundreds of master tapes we had recorded together, along with his wish that these should be made available. My thanks also to Alan Ashton for providing recordings from his very comprehensive collection. Finally, I have to acknowledge the late Stuart Eltham and the heroic task he completed in producing sounds from what at first were thought to be unplayable metal master discs. Some of the technical skills used pre-dates Digital technology by a good many years.