Weedon Weekly: 12th March 2018

Brian Sharp
Mark Shakespeare


Although I made no headway in music by the accepted routes of 'who you know' and 'luck', I eventually fell (like Alice falling into Wonderland) into exactly the right place for me. The organ world. And what a wonderland it has been! I was fortunate to discover it just as 'orchestral' organs were developed, just as the whole happy organ community was growing like topsy, and just when I expected it least.

My time at music college had been cut short by joint trouble. My foray into the record industry, working at EMI, ended in disaster (that's another story). What on earth was I to do with myself?

I'd just learned to drive, and my mum sent me for my first solo trip to get her some carrots.  I came home completely vegetable-free but with both a job and an organ. I'd chanced upon a new shop with a window shaped like a grand piano. Sneaking in quietly, I saw a youngish fellow playing an instrument in a see-through Perspex case. The sounds coming out were like nothing I'd heard before.  Positively symphonic.  The shop owner, a very trendy chap with bell bottoms, kipper tie, wide lapels and a stage curtain of hair, sidled up and asked me if I liked what I heard.  I nodded.  

'That's Brian Sharp' he waved towards the player.

'He's very good,' I said. 'He ought to take it up professionally!' I still wither with embarrassment when I recall that faux pas.  Many years later, when I shared my stupidity with Brian himself, he was kind enough to laugh uproariously. 

Anyway, I bought that Perspex organ (or rather my long-suffering parents paid for it - I just arranged delivery). And the shop took me on as their travelling music teacher. The organ was an Eminent proto-type and it satisfied my longing to be a conductor.  Here was an entire orchestra at my fingertips.

At this point, organs were selling like hot cakes. It was my job to drive round the leafy lanes of Bucks to the purchasers, and teach them how to use and play their new toy. In many cases, these encounters turned into life-long friendships.  It always seemed to be hot and sunny then. And I always seemed to be offered delicious homemade lemonade and just-cooked biscuits when I arrived. This beat the so called 'fame' I had thought I wanted!

I fell into playing for concerts by chance. One of my pupils ran an organ club, and he booked me to do a workshop and play a few pieces. Then he suggested to Sceptre Promotions that I do the same thing at their massive Caister Festival. What a shock that was - about 1200 people, including countless families with children, ranged round a huge stage listening to me. The spotlights were blinding and I can say I have never been more terrified in my life.

Those were the days of free electronic organ concerts in prestigious venues, staged by the manufacturers - Lowrey, Farfisa, Elka, Hammond, Gulbransen, Baldwin, Godwin, Marlborough, Bird, and of course Yamaha and Technics, to name a few. The demonstrators were heroes of the organ world, including one beautiful youth in his early teens, Mark Shakespeare, who wowed us all at the Wersi kit organ. One of my pupils bought the kit and assembled it over hundreds of hours in his loft - then found he couldn't get it down through the hatch. 

I'm sure many of us remember those heady days. People say now that the organ world has had it. I disagree. But it's certainly in need of urgent help.  What could that be?  Well, I'll mull that over till next time, and would love to hear your thoughts and reminiscences as well.