History of the Tywyn Wurlitzer

In the mid 1930s the proliferation of cinemas throughout the United Kingdom saw many circuits competing to provide the grandest decor and features to encourage people to desert their homes and their worries for an evening of escapism - 'at the pictures'.

A central feature of this was, for many cinemas - the Mighty Wurlitzer.

Granada cinemas were no exception and installed organs in most their cinemas - mainly Wurlitzers. One of the most spectacular interiors was to be found in their 1937 Woolwich cinema in South East London and included the organ now installed in Neuadd Pendre Community Hall in Tywyn.

All of the nearly 600 pipes and percussions were in two chambers under the stage, and the cream and gold console was on a lift in the centre of the orchestra pit. The opening concert in 1937 was given by none other than Mr. Blackpool, Reginald Dixon. But by the 1960's television had laid claim to the mass home audiences and the organ was no longer played on a regular basis.

At the same time, the Granada Woolwich closed its doors as a cinema but the organ initially remained in situ when the building reopened as a Bingo Hall and from time to time was used to entertain the Bingo players. In fact, David Lowe, who played the opening concert in Tywyn, well remembers playing at Woolwich during this period.

But safety regulations eventually required that the raked cinema seats were replaced on a level floor, and the organ had to be removed. After removal, the organ was acquired by a gentleman in Carlisle and who already had the Ritz, Workington, Wurlitzer installed in his music room. He used part of the Woolwich organ to enlarge his existing instrument and connected the Woolwich console up so that the organ could by played from both consoles.

For the next twenty years the remainder of the instrument was stored in outhouses and attics - and suffered accordingly.

1991 saw both organs offered for sale and acquired by an enthusiast in Edinburgh. This enthusiast was aware that John Smallwood, General Secretary of the Cinema Organ Society, was interested in the instrument whilst his own main interest was in the Workington one.

The result was that John agreed to purchase the Woolwich organ from him and they arranged for the removal of both instruments at the same time. This had been made a condition of the sale.

After a few days of preparatory work - disconnecting wiring etc, both teams arrived with vans on a glorious Saturday in July 1992 and set about the removal of the instruments.

By nine o'clock that evening most of both organs had been dismantled and loaded into the vans and John's cargo arrived safely in Tywyn some six hours later. But it took another van the following weekend to complete the job!

At Tywyn the organ was stored in an old stable in the middle of the town and, over the ensuing months the many hundreds of working parts were checked and overhauled until eventually, at Easter 1993, most of what had been playing in Carlisle was up and running again, even though it was in the totally unsuitable surroundings of the stable!

Work then proceeded on restoring the storage-ravaged parts which had not been used at Carlisle, and this was indeed a big job which took another year and more to complete but brought most of the organ into a playable condition to provide some really entertaining sessions in the stable, albeit for very tiny audiences of about six or eight people!! It was now that ambitious plans to open a new entertainment centre around the organ were drawn up but, for a variety of reasons, they failed to materialise.

The catalyst for installing the Wurlitzer in Neuadd Pendre was the Tywyn Town Council's plan to extend the building which was used mainly as a Youth Club.

Investigations showed that sufficient space could be created at the back of the existing stage, and, with the enthusiastic support of the then Mayor, Cllr Glyndwr Rapps and the Neuadd Pendre Management Committee, the installation of the Wurlitzer became the keystone of a successful application for National Lottery funding from the Arts Council for Wales.

The grant obtained enabled the hall to be completely refurbished, soundproofed and air conditioned and, in January 1996, the installation of the organ got under way in earnest.

It was quite remarkable that by the end of April it was playable (after a fashion) and, by August, was ready for its official opening and the commencement of regular programmes of concerts and dances.

Popular international organist David Lowe, played at the opening concert of The Tywyn Wurlitzer in 1996 and is a frequent guest at our concerts. David is often in Tywyn as a volunteer signalman on the world famous Tal-y-llyn narrow gauge steam railway and always takes advantage of his visits to play the organ and, indeed, to help John Smallwood tune the instrument. His help is invaluable.

That the organ is now singing out so successfully is thanks to the enthusiasm of many people, regrettably far too many to name individually - but to all of them must go everyone's sincere thanks. Tywyn has acquired another major asset and attraction.

Monthly concerts and dances have been held since then with a number of internationally famous organists from the United Kingdom and from the United States of America playing The Tywyn Wurlitzer.
Specifications
It is a three-manual nine-rank Wurlitzer, a pipe organ similar basically to a concert or church instrument. The main differences are that the pipework plays at a higher wind pressure than a church organ and much heavier tremulants are provided but can be turned on or off.
Its nine ranks of pipes are Tibia Clausa, Vox Humana, Trumpet, Concert Flute, Violin, Violin Celeste, Diaphonic Diapason, Clarinet. Orchestral Oboe Tuned percussions are Xylophone, Cathedral Chimes, Glockenspiel and Vibraphone.
The some 657 pipes, together with the other instruments, are contained in two chambers behind the stage of Neuadd Pendre.
The Bluthner Grand Piano can now be played remotely from the organ console.

It also has numerous non-tonal percussions such as Cymbals, Drums, Castanets, Tambourine, Triangle, Sleigh Bells, Fire Gong, Boat Whistle, Door Bell, Horse Hooves, Bird Whistles, etc., all of which are actual instruments and are played pneumatically.