Another highlight of my year was the reopening concert on August 22 of the Trocadero Wurlitzer. This, the largest Wurlitzer cinema organ ever imported into Europe, was originally installed in the Trocadero cinema at the Elephant and Castle, where the organist for some years was Quentin Maclean, one of the two or three finest of all British cinema organists. The Trocadero was pulled down in 1963 when the district was redeveloped (look out of the window of your Thameslink train and weep…) but the organ was saved by the Cinema Organ Society, and after some years sounding at South Bank University, and some years of silence in store has now been installed in the Troxy, Stepney.
In short, as I have written elsewhere:
Since the Trocadero
Has long since been reduced to zero,
Must act as its proxy.
But what a proxy. John Abson and his team of volunteers who have restored, reinstalled and voiced the organ by devoting long hours of spare time over several years have done a superb job which I cannot possibly praise highly enough, and two fine but contrasting organists, Richard Hills and Robert Wolfe, demonstrated by their technique and musicianship the scale of the achievement.
The Troxy itself, now converted into a concert hall and conference centre, was like the Trocadero one of London’s super-cinemas. Since few of these are left the Troxy, with its decoration intact, is itself an archive, preserving the sensation of taking part in communal mass entertainment in the days before television. The sheer size impresses – and the auditorium was well-filled – but just because of the size the astonishingly clear acoustic is a pleasurable shock. At one point the microphone through which Richard Hills was announcing his items failed; he used his unamplified voice instead but was still clearly audible to me in one of the further-flung rows on the balcony. The exuberance of the decoration testifies to the exuberance of the mind which created it. I like to think of the effect of both scale and spectacle on those who appreciated it in its heyday as a cinema. What leap of mind and spirit there must have been when those used to their local fleapit came here. There could be no more fitting home for the Trocadero Wurlitzer: a home of the kind, and on the scale, it was designed for.
I believe that such undertakings as the restoration of old cinema organs are important political acts. Against the bland, the corporate and the over-familiar they strike a blow for the unusual and the idiosyncratic, for the small-scale and local, and for the volunteer and the enthusiast. And they not only preserve a corner of existence which might have disappeared but bring it regularly to life for our delectation.