Perhaps I had ambitions to be an MP - or an undertaker!

Friday, May 13, 2011

No, your eyes are not deceiving you!

This is a fence decorated with women’s bras.

It all started at Christmas 1999 when four bras were found on the wire fence at Cardrona in Central Otago, New Zealand. Within a few days more were added and soon the idea had caught on; by October of 2000 there were around 200 bras hanging on the fence.

In 2006 the number was estimated to be 800 and the local authorities, declaring the display to be a traffic hazard, had the fence removed.



Elsewhere in this blog I’ve made many references to my keen interest in all kinds of music and of the great enjoyment I had performing semi-professionally.

When I was a boy my favourite radio programmes were dance bands and cinema organists. It was quite a thrill for me when I was given the opportunity of practising on the church organ and I thought how wonderful it would be to play in a cinema.

Some time later I decided to find out about cinema organ lessons. It surprises me now to think that I was brave enough to go in to the Odeon in Glasgow and ask to see the organist, Lyndon Laird. He came to the vestibule and explained that, because of wartime restrictions on the use of electricity, the times when the organ could be used were severly limited. However he took me in to a seat in the back stalls, gave me a cigarette and left me to enjoy a free show. I visited him once or twice, and each time we sat at the back of the cinema, discussing music in whispers.

There was just the one occasion when I had a “go” on a cinema organ. I had contacted Frank Olsen (about lessons) who played the Gaumont cinemas in Glasgow and he arranged to meet me in the New Savoy one Saturday morning.

The instrument, a 2 manual Christie, which probably dated from early in the century, had been in the Tivoli, Glasgow before coming to the New Savoy in 1935. I was surprised to find the keys yellow and worn with age, and disappointed to see that the console was fixed and didn’t come up from the depths!

The New Savoy console

What did I play? I can remember two of the pieces. The Giant Fugue by Bach (nicknamed Giant not because of its difficulty or its length, but just because the pedal part was said to resemble the wide strides of a giant) and a popular tune “Memories of You.”

In 1958 the New Savoy closed down and, as usually happened to unwanted organs, the instrument was broken up. I’ve no doubt parts went to augment organs in churches all over the country.

A few weeks later I got my calling up papers for National Service, and I didn’t pursue the idea any further.

However, more than 40 years later, after I retired from office work, I was given the opportunity to play the kind of music the cinema organists used to play. I found that all the local care homes for older folk had electronic organs, and I volunteered to visit them every week and entertain the residents. I played Sousa marches, Strauss waltzes, light classical pieces, songs from the shows and always finishing with a sing-along medley. I was in my element!!!

This is a video of John Bowdler on the famous Wurlitzer at the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool. He plays “Pure Imagination” one of the songs from “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” The video uploaded by “RitaSueBob”


Here are a few memories from the days I entertained old folk.

I remember the first visit I made to one of the homes. I mounted the platform, sat down at the organ, smiled down to my audience, and one VERY old lady said to her neighbours "He was at school with me!"

At another place, there was a old chap who had played sax in a dance band. The old tunes that I played must have brought back memories to him, for occasionally he wiped tears from his eyes.

I was often asked for requests. One old lady wanted the same tune every week "I'll See You in my Dreams," and in the end I always concluded my programme with that number.

On the days when I was expected at the homes, the residents were always seated waiting for me. At one particular place, as soon as I walked into the room, one old woman would get up, walk out and not return till I had finished playing. Someone suggested she was a music-lover!!!



David said...

Funny how four bras on a fence can turn into what may eventually become a riot.

M.L said...

Hi John
Loved reading about your experiences of the Glasgow Paramount Compton organ, and the New Savoy Christie organ. The Paramount organ is currently in storage.
Im 22, I live down in Ayr, Im currently restoring a little Compton organ from High Wycombe!
Would be great to hear more. My email is
Best Wishes
Ross McNeillie