50 Years

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Keyframe Article
Nottingham Riverside Festival 1996

Nottingham Riverside Festival 1996

by Craig Bennett

[This is the first article ever submitted to The Key Frame by e-mail -Ed]

Once again, the first weekend in August meant a trip to the excellent Nottingham Riverside Festival. Organised by Nottingham City Council, in association with local showmen, the Riverside Festival has become an important feature of the calendar.

This event takes place on the banks of the River Trent on the riverside Embankment, and extends for over a quarter of a mile. The basic layout is to have the organs at each end, with the commercial and charity trade stands, while separating them is a continuous line of fairground amusements, on both sides of the path, thus creating an avenue. A first this year was the appearance of Lawrence Bishton's No. 2 Gallopers, with 48-key organ. This set, which was brand new in recent years, owes much to the work of Frederick Savage. On a modern centre truck, with fibre glass shutters and horses, the spinning frame builds in the traditional way with chamfered wooden swifts and quarterings.

The suspension bridge end of the embankment is a sight to behold. A line-up of seven fairground organs, interspersed with trade stands and the majority attended by showman's engines extends the appearance of the fairground line up and results in a sight and sound not repeated anywhere else. The line-up is reminiscent of old photographs of all the shows together at the Goose Fair before it moved from the city centre, and each organ is close enough to its neighbour to create the visual effect, but distanced enough to enable each instrument to be heard individually from in front.

At this end, starting from the end of the fairground, we had Mr WT Hunt's 'Wonderland' 98-key Marenghi, fully built up and still proudly carrying the name of Pat Collins, in whose ownership it was no stranger to Nottingham. This organ was accompanied all weekend by Mrs Wendy Thompson's 5NHP Foster showman's engine 'Victoria', which was generating the electricity. Next to 'Wonderland', Colin and Liz Bullock's 46-key Alfred Bruder organ was playing as part of the 'Heartlink' charity stand, raising money for this excellent cause.

Further up the line Mrs Susan Varley's 115-key Verbeeck 'Centenary' Organ was playing its own excellent and unique style of music, while accompanied by Wendy Thompson's other delightful little engine. This is the little 4 NHP Foster 'Wellington' Tractor 'Maid Marian'. Next organ along, we had Herbert Epton's art-nouveau fronted 89-key Marenghi, accompanied by yet another Foster, the 4NHP 'Wellington' Tractor 'John Michael'. This organ was acquired by the Epton family from Drakeley's yard, Stechford, Birmingham, in 1960, and its restoration by Chiappa Ltd was reputedly the first rebuild by Victor Chiappa for a preservation owner.

Next to them, the Show Organ Society had White's 'Mammoth' Gavioli playing. Following attention by Mr Norman Smith and team during the winter, this organ is performing better than ever; a real treat to listen to. It is also one of the few organs still in the ownership of the same family to whom it was new in 1909. 'White's' was accompanied and powered by the Burrell Scenic 'Dragon', presented as immaculately as ever by Bill Gale, on behalf of the Chamberlain family.

Next to White's, an organ that I had not seen before was presented in what appeared to be a brand new truck body. This was a Verbeeck; judging by its size, it would be around 72-key scale and a very pleasant sounding organ. Unfortunately, on my time-limited excursions to the end of the line up, I did not have a chance to talk to the people presenting it.

Last but not least, at the end of the line was one of my favourite dance organs. Mrs Jean Watts' 91-key Mortier 'Neptunus' was a pleasure to listen to. Also present at this end were Tony and Maureen Harrison, doing an excellent job with the Society sales stand, relieving all passers-by of their hard-earned cash in exchange for goods!

Going the other way, back past 'Wonderland' and through the fair, there were more organs to be seen and heard. Sam Price's Bruder replica 'Lioness' was playing outside the entrance to the memorial gardens, deep in the heart of the fairground, while further up, Don and Dorothy Robinson's 89-key Gavioli was playing. This organ, driven by Don and Dorothy's fine 1910 Burrell 7NHP showman's engine 'The Bailie', was doing excellent duty fronting a show provided by the Pauline Reader dancers from Derby, and excellently compered by none other than our Society Chairman, Mr Peter Haywood.

Also here could be found, as mentioned, the 48-key organ in Bishton's Gallopers. I know nothing about the origins of this organ except that it is new and I am given to understand that it plays on Mark Waltham's Odeon disk player system. It seems very appropriate that a brand new ride should make the best use of up-to-date mechanical organ technology in a brand new organ and it sounds quite pleasant: infinitely preferable to the alternative which is amplified modern 'music'.

Also up here were George Dawson and sons' Limonaire, accompanied by the Foster 'Wellington' tractor 'Endeavour'. This organ is always pleasant, with the light, delicate voicing of its pipework so typical of the marque. The last organ that I found there was the large McCarthy organ belonging to Micky Green. The line-up of 12 quality instruments was smaller in number than had been present in previous years, but all the organs that were present were of a high standard, and were representative of the old and the new. In addition, to have 12 organs, with no less than five of them driven by showman's engines, is a sight not often seen these days.

The Saturday night always concludes with a vast fireworks display outside the County Hall in West Bridgford, just over the river, and this year's show was no exception. The Saturday night atmosphere is unique, with thousands of people out to enjoy themselves. All age groups gather here and, for one brief weekend, our organs become part of contemporary entertainment for the masses again. For the fourth successive year we have attended as exhibitors and, once again, enjoyed a very good show. For those who have never been, it is a wonderful weekend of entertainment; a show like no other. Unfortunately, during the weekend, the dates for next year were announced and it will clash with the Pickering Steam rally.

© 1996 Craig Bennett

Originally published in edition 4 of The Key Frame 1996.

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