Instead of the usual 'How I Got Started' I thought that recounting the persons that have helped me over the many years would be of interest.
So first on the list are the Pettigrove brothers. They used to bring their gallopers to our village and we lads got the job of fetch and carry, for this we got the last ride free. This was my first encounter with the fair organ. Little did I realise what would follow.
My mother, a strong-willed Yorkshire-lass played the piano for her own amusement and so I was introduced to the pianoforte early on. My mother therefore was next on the list. After a while it became evident that due to a muscle problem my hands were not up to the job of playing.
We must skip a few years in which I indulged in various hobbies and visits to the medical chaps. Even in those days there were waiting lists!
In the early sixties, the late Tom Barrie and I were driving around the Woburn Park area and saw a sign which proclaimed 'Traction Engine Rally - Engines and Organs. Sat/Sun'
Tom couldn't go but I did. This was something I could get into, or so I thought, until I found out the cost of even a 46 key organ outside my means and so just visiting was all I managed!
I went to a rally at Great Wymondley in Herts. where there were two organs playing; a Gavioli and a Gaudin, both first time out in preservation.
Then at the Bovington Rally sometime later these two organs again were present. I was watching the music going through the Gaudin when it fell on the floor, so I got up on the truck and collected the book up. The owner came to see what had happened and I told him. He then asked if I would look after the organ for while he looked round the rally and as a result of this meeting I looked after this organ for several years until it was sold to Chris Edmonds.
The third person therefore was Charles Dudman. He was one of the first people in the preservation movement and through him I found out the workings of the organ and how the music scale was set out and marked.
At this time rallies were few and far between and so most Sundays I spent at Charles Hart's museum in St Albans. Sometimes I put a few books through an organ and once I was allowed to play the 121 key Decap, an honour!
About this time there was talk of someone in the Luton area with a fair organ in his front room but nothing came of it so we all thought it was just a rumour (more later!)
When you are working an organ people come up for a chat and over the years you get to know them quite well. One such person Stood out in particular; carrying a Ferrograph recorder with a huge battery and converter, plus daughter who doubled up as pack carrier! And so I met my fourth personality who would play a large part in my life - his name - Bob Minney!
The Gaudin was sold and it was time to move on. It was now 1969 and Bob had acquired a Bruder barrel organ and so I found myself turning a wheel which was much harder on the arms. Ever since then Bob and l have been good mates.
Most of the instruments I have he got for me and if they needed work, which was nearly always the case, Bob was there to help.
It was with Bob's help that I managed to get the Molzer barrel organ and I think we were the only people to exhibit this type of organ at that time. The organ in the front room? Possibly an orchestrion in Bob's garage!
When the Gaudin went I was lucky to get involved with Ted Reed of Amersham. His 89 key organ was sometimes in the gallopers and sometimes on an open trailer with tarpaulin to cover it. When Ted sold the gallopers the organ went in a lorry.
When Ted bought the Marenghi I used to operate the Gavioli mostly which suited me fine as it is a lovely organ and by the was the other organ at Gt. Wymondley.
Knowing Ted had other advantages, for instance he took me to victor Chiappa's works and had long chats with George Cushing about the old days, and so I stayed with Ted until my hips needed replacement and I decided just to watch on the sideline.
Then my hips were done and I had the house to myself and I could do as I wished. But still I was unable to locate an early book organ that I oould afford. Thus Mike Dean became my next personality.
Many years ago I first met Mike, but where I cannot remember. He had a 30 keyless organ and I found him interesting. Bearing all this in mind I asked him to make one for me; but with a few extras, namely a two rank bass and accompaniment with a rank of violins. The extra bass pipe makes it speak more promptly and the two pipes on the accompaniment gives a more positive counter melody.
The year was 1980 and a letter and tape arrived announcing that the organ was finished. For some time I had been trying my hand at arranging, trying them out on Peter Pank's Chiappa, but now I had the ideal solution with an organ on the premises.
I then set out to produce a unique library of mainly traditional fairground tunes. So many thanks to Mike Dean for the help over the years. My only regret was that we didn't appear together on the rally field.
About two years ago I began to have trouble with the leg that I used to operate the punching machine. As my collection of music was now quite large I decided it was time to stop But what to do now? The answer was handed to me almost straight away as John Smith of Flitwick paid me a visit bringing a 20-note organ he had built for someone and although I had not done any roll music except for organettes, I decided to give it a go.
John built an organ and supplied a hand operated punching machine but I soon found the limitations of the 20 note scale irksome. John had meanwhile built a larger organ using a scale devised by Ian Alderman of 26 notes. The extra notes are A bass, G#, C#, A#, C# and top F. As an extra I have a slider which can alternate from A bass to D#. So with this new model it is all Systems go and John Smith qualifies for inclusion.
Finally we should all remember Victor Chiappa. It was through him keeping the few organs that the really dedicated showmen still used in working order that the interest was kept alive and that there are so many still in existence.
Norman Woodford (c) 2000