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Everything posted by MusingMuso

  1. One of the forum members very recently and kindly sent me a copy of an informal interview with a retired member of the Compton company. It was quite fascinating listening to it, yet with some satisfaction, I found that I didn't actually learn anything new, other than specific mention of people, places and the factory methods employed at the Compton works. It is over six years ago that I mentioned the prospect of writing about the life and work of John Compton and the Compton company, and even on this forum, it has accounted for 260 replies to date and may well be the longest running thread of all. In reality, I have been collecting information for about a decade, and with a few reservations, I feel that the time has come to make a start on the first draft of the Compton story, which I feel sure will be quite unlike anything ever written previously about an organ-building company. There are still holes in my knowledge and some gaps in the information which, I hope, will be filled as time goes on. If not, in addition to being a fascinating story of technology AND organ building, I will be able to add mystery to the list of things I associate with John Compton. Apart from being a conventional story, there are moments of real comedy, tragedy, genius, innovation and, in the final years, a real sense of sadness at what the company became. It also has elements of a typical old-style "Boy's Own" story, where lots of crazy boffins did lots of apparently crazy things, and even helped to change the world in the process! So I have made a start, and I am on page two, because if I don't get on with it, there's the real possibility that I could be dead before it ever gets completed. I don't want to be like Schumann, where people say, "Well, the last symphony is good, so far as it goes!" Best, MM PS: For Schumann read Schubert....I knew the name began with 'S'
  2. ============================= The equivalents have to be the two big reeds at Hull City Hall, which in combination can clearly be heard outside in the streets below! I have yet to discover the exact source of Compton reeds. Some were clearly quite ordinary, but others were quite extraordinary, and it is known that W C "Billy" Jones was involved in at least some of them. However, another source of information suggests that Hill, Norman & Beard sometimes supplied reeds to Compton, and if so, it opens up a whole new can....not of worms, I hasten to add. If you ever want to hear big Tubas and absolutely scorching big Trumpets, you don't need to look further than Hill, Norman & Beard. The seriously snappy Trumpets found on many of the Chrsitie theatre organs are the equivalent to English Mustard, in that one's eyebrows shoot up and return only slowly. (Eg: those at the Brighton Pavilion) Within the H,N & B empire was a father and son reed-voicing dynasty, Arthur and Brian Rundell, who were probably as great as Fr Willis IMHO. It wasn't just the big reeds, but the small ones too, which were always quite excellent, with superb examples of Clarinets, Vox Humanas and Orchestral Oboes, for instance. I don't for one minute think that "Billy" Jones was their equal, but others may think differently. Without the slightest evidence, and only instinct on which to go, I'd almost be bold enough to wager that those "special" reeds at Hull and Southampton are Hill, Norman & Beard registers, because I don't know others found in Compton instruments of a comparable tonal quality. As for accolade of loudest Tuba, it is probably the big 'un at Liverpool, but such is the scale of the building, it probably doesn't have quite the impact it would have in a smaller building. In a given room, I would suggest that the bottom end of the Tuba unit at Hull City Hall, when it goes towards the bottom of the 16ft pitches, is probably the loudest reed in England. To quote an American expression, it's a real "barn burner" of a stop. I know that when I was practising on that organ and drew the 16ft Tuba on the pedal, the person turning the pages burst into laughter when I stopped dead with sheer shock and proclaimed, "Dear God Almighty! It's the start of the apocolypse!" OIf course, as I mentioned previously, a group of like-minded, organ-playing schoolboys, back in the 1960's, would often do silly imitations of the York monster, which always saw us grinning and falling about laughing; such was the blatant irregularity of that stop. It's a long time since I heard it, but I hope it hasn't been spoiled by being made more polite and uniform. After all, even English Mustard has a place in the world. Best, MM
  3. ===================== Great minds and all that.....I always wondered why they didn't bring out a souped up Allegro Vivace. Best, MM
  4. ============================== Quite right, because at Bangor, I believe the Compton mutations were all derived from a single, extended Dulciana rank, which has since been altered. The mutations wree there beause it was possible for them to BE there at little extra cost, save for the stop-heads and a bit of extra switching/wiring. I don't think that reflects badly on Compton, but does point to the fact that an understanding of classical voicing/scaling/pipe structure was for the next generation to re-discover. It's fascinating to think that apart from the Hill, N & B organ for Susi Jeans, (pipework supplied be Eule I believe), one of the earliest companies to re-discover true baroque mutations was Grant, Degens & Rippin; largely comprising of ex-Compton men! The era of John Compton was really a development of Casson's concepts, and quite removed from the classical origins of the instrument, but my words, no other builder ever saw fit to pursue the concept of proper chorus-work topped by plenty of upperwork between 1910 and 1950. The fact that he could do this while using the extension principle was, to put it mildly, nothing short of tonal genius. Best, MM
  5. ====================== They probably fled when people heard the organs the family had made. Best, MM
  6. ===================== DON'T put this on your CV. Best, MM
  7. ==================== I once saw a Lancia Stratos dropped from the top of a car-transporter before the start of the RAC rally. That didn't go too well afterwards! The Italians thought it hilarious. Best, MM
  8. ==================== I shall attend to this immediately. Best, MM
  9. ================================== On every Compton organ I've ever come across, the Tierce has nothing to do with wide scale anything. The mutations on a typical Compton Choir Organ were wonderful for producing all sorts of colour and synthetic effects, such as synthetic Orchestral Oboes using a Viole and Nazard in combination. They were absolutely wonderful for psalm accompaniment, as the late Dr Leslie Paul showed me at Bangor Cathedral. With anything Compton, one has to think tonal synthesis before all other considerations. Best, MM
  10. ===================== It was meant to be nonsense. However, my suspicions about anything electronic and French suggests that they are well founded. They have a fondness for technical novelty which often fails spectacularly after only a short time. Best, MM
  11. I've recently discovered that after the death of John Compton, (1957), and Jimmy Taylor the year after (1958), not only was Clifford Hawtin around, a certain Arthur Lord became General Manager. I have yet to discover who the directors of the company were at this time, but the fact that Arthur Lord was involved in running things must have had some significant effects. Arthur Lord was a former cinema organist who broadcast regularly on radio, and it seems that he and Leslie Bourn worked closely on electronic developments. One wonders if the electronic side of the business wasn't, at the time, becoming the main thrust of the business; perhaps serving a need for less expensive organs. It's interesting that Compton Organs Ltd., as they had then become, did not pursue the then lucrative light-entertainment, home organ market, at a time when all sorts of names rushed to supply a need. (Thomas, Farfisa, Yamaha, Baldwin, Hammond etc etc) Clearly, there was some sort of connection or association with Kenneth Burg, who at some point had established Livingstone-Burg, who supplied any number of electronic organs, especially to military chapels and such. Arthur Lord doesn't seem to have stayed long at Compton's, and within a few years, he had established the company which still exists to-day......Wyvern Organs. Clearly, this thrust towards the electronic market confirms what must be an etsablished truth, which Ian Bell pointed out in the BIOS article. Clearly, Compton's just didn't change tac when the classical revival started to dominate the organ-world, whereas a company like Mander Organs, as well as J W Walker & Sons Ltd., Hill, Norman & Beard and others, responded quickly to the new style with some success. The sadness is, that with the likes of Ted Rippen and Maurice Forsythe-Grant, there was both the skill, willingness and intelligence to pursue the neo-classical path, yet they had to form their own company in order to achieve this. I'm not sure what information may come to light in due course, but the circumstantial evidence certainly points towards a company having lost direction and innovation in pipe-organ matters. Clearly, by 1960, the writing was on the wall for the company. Best, MM
  12. ============================== It was French !!!!!!! Best, MM
  13. The on-going research has just taken a very interesting turn when I set out to discover something more about one of the Directors of the Compton Organ Co., A H Midgley, who seemed to have stormed out after a row,. I am absolutely staggered to discover that, as an electrical engineer, he had almost 200 patents on which his name is cited as the inventor. The patents are principally concerned with three main categories of work. The first appears to be work on dynamos and synchronous motors, the second concerned with automotive electrics and self-starter machanisms and the third, rather more sinister, that of designing fuses for bombs and artillery shells, including the infamous "earthquake bomb" designed by Barnes Wallace. He seems to have been connected with the Vandervell Company, who I think had a factory in Acton, no doubt supplying people like Renault, possibly Rolls-Royce, Napier and others; some of which were based in or around North Acton in the vicinity of the Compton works when the area was a centre for motor-vehicle and engine production. A H Midgley appears to have been a director of a company styled as Midgley-Harmer Ltd. It's easy to see why he could readily forsake Compton Organs and go his own way, for he really was quite a prolific inventor with considerable connections outside organ-building. Best, MM PS: Correction - Vanderwell bearings was created after the acquisition of CAV. CAV stood for C A Vanderwell, later to become CAV-Lucas Ltd.. They were active from the early days of the motor-industry as suppliers of dynamos, self-starters and magnetos (etc) and based in Acton Vale.
  14. I shall be completely unadventurous as usual, because we have carol singing prior to Mass, with bits of organ music. So I'm afraid it's the Bach Sinfonia (Cantata 29) to wake everyone up at the start, then a couple of Noels by Daquin and two of the Bach "In dulci jubilo" CP's. Afterwards, it will be the Widor, for the simple reason that it is a very long Mass and people will be stampeding towards the west door and making a lot of noise. I'll be lucky of half a dozen remain seated to listen, and they always ask for the Widor. I'm happy with that! I don't think Derthier's "Christmas" would work too well on a baroke job, but it could be interesting! Actually, the Derthier doesn't look unplayable, but I view it with the same attitude as that hugely long Lemare Improvisation on various sea-songs and military marches....no.1 I think. It's playable, but at 15 pages in length, one wonders why, even if it is quite effective on the right instrument. I hope someone is going to play, somwehere, that lovely "La Nativite" by Langlais, which I would play but for the fact that it doesn't work at all on the organ I play. Best, MM
  15. ========================== Thank you Malcolm for this fascinating insight to this extraordinary person. I stumbled across your performances of Whitlock and others on Youtube, played on the organ of St Bride's....a very welcome addition indeed, and magnificantly performed on that superb instrument. I know that when I played a couple of recitals there about 30 years ago, I enjoyed the organ tremendously, and the sheer comfort of that console was exemplary. I think one of the reasons I like Compton organs, must be the fact that I won the organ class playing one at the Wharfedale Festival. Best, MM
  16. ================= Thanks for the correction. You never know with trade names and the like! I've come across a fascinating and very extended article about electronic organs; one of the authors being a certain Mr A M Midgley who makes reference to a certain A H Midgley, with a learned reply from a certain Mr Bourn criticising some of the details in what seems to be a slightly scathing manner. Do I sense a certain schism between the Midgleys and Compton's Mr Bourn, I wonder, or simply someone who was far cleverer? Best, MM
  17. ========================= Thank you for this. I note that on checking on Google Earth and associated maps, this address no longer exists; the house probably since demolished. The thing which strikes me is how parochial Compton was at that time. First from a tiny hamlet, to working in Measham about 2 miles away, living close to Nottingham and then starting his own company in the locality. I'd almost like to wager that very few people in Nottingham and the surrounding area have ANY idea just how significant these names, (and others associated with Compton), actually were. There is absolutely no mention in the various on-line histories of anything Compton: not even in the village of his birth. I suspect a lot of it has to do with John Compton himself, whom I gather was rather shy and introvert, and never one to seek either fame or publicity. Best, MM
  18. ================================ Every so often a piece of information falls into my lap which rocks me back on my heels, and this is one of those moments. Just how brilliant a mind did Jimmy Taylor possess? From the information you have supplied, Jimmy Taylor was all of 16 years of age when the manager of a cinema in Stafford contacted John Compton following a crisis with his string trio. The cinema manager had the idea of installing an organ, and if the reports I have read are true, Jimmy Taylor electrified a pneumatic player-roll piano and added some ranks of organ pipes, thus creating the world's first theatre organ which wasn't a traditional classical organ. That's mind-blowing enough, but the idea was so successful, there were about 10,000 such instruments built around the world, yet only two or three here in the UK. Other makers included the well know firms of Gulbransen, Rudoplh Wurlitzer and Robert Morton, with business links also to the Pianola Company. Now I'm not sure if Compton and Taylor didn't patent the idea without checking, but I seem to think that they did. However, the next astonishing fact is that this precocious 16 year old then went on to play the darned thing to accompany silent films at the first night for the instrument!! So not only was he obviously talented as an organ-builder and electrical engineer, he was also a very able musician indeed; his time at St Bride's testimony to that. Now we discover that he dabbled in gearboxes and control systems, which is what a pre-selector box is! What astonishes me is the humble nature of his background. I had expected to eventually discover well off parents and the best possible education at one of the better schools. Instead, we find a father who was a caretaker and a kid who'd obviously left school and gone to work at an early age. It begs the question of how he may have picked up so much skill in so short a time and at such a tender age. What I do know is that Jimmy Taylor lived in some style; his home in Ealing being a large, detached property, then newly built, so I am not surprised to learn of a substantial estate when he died: equivalent to around £700,000 to-day. The depth and range of talent within the Compton Company takes a new twist, and that's before we even get a handle on the war-work in radar and the equally brilliant mind of Maurice Forsythe-Grant; one of the founders of Racal, which eventually became Vodafone and the first billion pound company in the UK!! This is a story rather than just a history, and a rather daunting one in many ways. How I would love to discover a link between Sir Bernard Lovell and Compton's, but wanting to find something would be bad research. Many thanks for your contribution. Best, MM
  19. =============================== I normally have quite a forensic mind and a good instinct, but A H Midgley really has posed a problem for me, even though I have been able to locate two of his home adresses which still remain to this day. I was probably diverted by the fact that he ended up in Wiltshire after WW2. Quite what he did in the meantime remains a mystery, but from the information you have given, it suggests that his work in pipeless instruments continued, as well as the other bits and bats I stumbled across when searching among patent applications. A more extended search of those archives may reveal the nature of his career and life-work, but how relevant that is to Compton I cannot know as yet. It tends to suggest that he was a very talented electrical engineer and early electronics man, but it may be that he was overshadowed by Leslie Bourn during his Compton years. The J W Walker connection is especially interesting, considering the links between Walker and Compton in the depression years. One wonders whether A H Midgley wasn't their intermediary during that time, which could explain his continuing relationship with Walker's after he left Compton's. I just wonder if he didn't pursue his career working, (perhaps directing), a none organ related company, yet continued to dabble in electronic organs. I had no idea that Walker's ever got involved with pipeless instruments. Just one point......was your reference to "Midley Walker" a typo, or was this the actual name? Anyway, this is a bit of a breakthrough for me, and it may help to flesh out what I already know. Many thanks. Best, MM
  20. =============================== Now this is wonderful David, because it makes sense of something I've been scratching my head about. There are separate patents for the electronic production of musical tones; some of which are American filed patents dated 1929 -1935. Other patents were jointly submitted by Compton’s and A H Midgley.. I believe they also include patents submitted jointly by J I Taylor & A H Midgley; one of which is connected with the luminous lights of the jelly-mould Compton theatre organs; probably circa 1935. Other references to A H Midgley include an improvement to telephones, suggesting that they either pre-date or post-date his days at Compton, Certainly, Midgley moved from Sudbury in Middlesex, to a new address in Wiltshire circa.1945, which must indicate a permanent separation from Compton’s. I wonder speculatively, whether Midgley wasn't hoping to make a bit of cash from his inventions, which may or may not have been invented as part of his work at Compton's. If that were the case, (and I'm not suggesting it is without evidence), there would be an immediate legal conflict as to whom the patents belonged. Normally, the company would be the beneficiary in such circumstances, and it may be that Midgley was hoping to benefit from his inventions personally. It may be possible to discover from the patent dates when Midgley departed, because there seems to be a point when only the names of Leslie Bourn, James I Taylor and the Compton company appear on the patent applications. It's probably the sort of thing which will forever remain a mystery, but the fact that Maurice Forsythe-Grant wrote about it, does tend to suggest that the conflict was irreparable and of some significance. What strikes me as I read more about the finer details, is the sheer hot-house talent within the Compton company....John Compton himself, Jimmy Taylor (a fine electrical and general engineer as well as an organ-builder), Leslie Bourn, A H Midgley and Maurice Forsythe-Grant . It’s quite an impressive line-up. I must try and get hold of a copy of “21 years in organ-building” and get hold of a copy of Elvin’s “Pipes & Actions”, even if the patents are possibly a better source of detail. Anyway, many thanks for this very significant piece of information, all of which goes into the growing database. I just know that pulling it all together is going to be a nightmare! Best, MM PS: Compton's birth year has now been confirmed as 1876 rather than 1874.
  21. =============================== Thanks for this Vox, which could be helpful when it comes to fine detail. What I have discovered thus far, is that John Compton (Snr), (JHC's father) married no less than three times, and judging by the birth years I have of their offsrping, it looks certain that J H C was a product of the third marriage; the year of his boirth given as 1876 in Swepstone, but more likely in the Parish of Swepstone, which I seem to recall may have included Newton Bergusland about a mile away. My interest centres around his father at this stage, because I've discovered that he went to Australia, which makes him out of the ordinary. I'm not too sure, but I seem to recall reading (but failed to make notes at the time) that one of the Compton family died in battle, and I think was Australian, which suggests that he may have been J H C's half brother. Sniffing around at this, I wonder if John Compton Snr may have been a military man? This may explain by J H C went to King Edward VI school, because if his father was a military CO, it is quite likely that his school fees may have been paid by some sort of bursary, which was quite common until recently....the last time I checked, that is. However, this is pure speculation on my part, but sometimes instinct is useful. I'm currently focusing of Leslie Bourn, the electronics wizard, and I'm delighted to report that two of the houses in which he lived are still standing, but thus far, that's about all I know. He was still a signatory and joint applicant to some of the later patents, at a time when he was living in Wiltshire after WW2, which is quite interesting. It also raises questions as to whether he was retired, or perhaps worked for himself or another company. I think we can say with certainty that he didn't commute to North Acton every day! I think the cart-horse needs a bucket of water and a nose-bag full of straw. I've been at this for the past three days almost solidly. Best, MM
  22. ============================= I think Ian Bell was quoting the Musical Opinion obituary, which gave the birth year of Compton as 1874. Other evidence suggests 1876, so I haven't yet got the definitive year. However, this is small beer compared to finding out so many other important things. For reasons I have explained, and the passage of time, first hand accounts of almost anything are now beyond reach. For example, Ian Bell's involvement was as a young apprentice in the last years of the company, by which time it was starting to fail. Too much time has passed, and unravelling the history and biographies is probably not going to be possible, which is why I am taking a very different path. It is the story of Compton "the team" which is uppermost in my mind, rather than details of where the company obtained its wood screws. Time-line history just wouldn't explain anything much at all, and may even be rather boring. On the other hand, the technology and science is fascinating. Best, MM
  23. =========================== Well yes, but by last port of call, I meant the last thing to worry about. Most of the infromation I have, save for the definitive year of his birth, which I suspect will turn out to be 1876 rather than 1874. The birthplace was probably Newton Burgisland, which is a tiny village almost attached to Swepstone, and I suspect that the former probably was or is in the parish of the latter. Of far greater interest are the family details and the sort of occupations in which they were involved, because JC's father had four children by one marriage and at least another four by another; marrying three times it would seem. He obviously had the means to send JC to a top school in Birmingham. It suggests that JC was not a day boy but a border at King Edward VI, where he eventually became head boy, and that must have been quite expensive. At the moment, I am really struggling to find out almost anything about Jimmy Taylor and Leslie Bourn(e), who were absolutely critical to the success of Compton. I find it absolutely fascinating that a very talented organist, (Jimmy Taylor), who was also clearly an incredibly able electrical-engineer, could somehow float through a very productive life with barely a mention anywhere, other than the fact that his name pops up on various very complicated patents. This is the difficulty, because although most companies rely on the skills and experience of their staff, the route Compton took relied on something else.....almost like equal and brilliant kindred spirits working together like perpetual school-boys; forever dreaming up news ideas and clever ways of doing old things in very new ways. More importantly, they made it all work; in some cases for anything up to 80 years, thus demonstrating an astounding grasp of engineering, electronics, electrical engineering, material properties and even the physics of sound. There is nothing else like it anywhere, because before Compton there was only steam and compressed air, and afterwards, only tradition, (if we ignore the developments in transistorised logic switching, followed by modern digital transmission systems). Then you discover that they not only did experimental RADAR work and made electronic organs , but also took out patents on an electric space-heater which was shown at the Ideal Homes Exhibition! There are also hints of real madness. I mean, what other company could place a cathedral pipe-organ in what was virtually a bunker, and then relay the sound via loudspeakers into the body of the church, as they did at Salford? Even the idea of an quite elderly John Compton hacking away at a village church organ in Italy, carrying oujt "tonal experiments" while under detention and surrounded by German soldiers during the war, is the stuff of boy's comics; especially since he probably knew Marconi, who had become something of a fascist on his return to Italy, and actually hailed from the area of Italy where Compton was holed up. Were they in touch, I wonder, because Marconi had spent a lot of time in England? Why else would Compton go to a virtually unknown village on the slopes of the Apennines? Of course, considering what was going on back at the factory in North Acton, why the hell did the fascists release Compton and allow him to go back to England? It's all part of the fun of researching this story, because there are so many aspects to it and not a few blind alleys. Best, MM PS: Remember those old record decks with the notched rim and the light shining onto the notches to control the speed? Another Compton inventon!!
  24. ============================ Don't worry about senility. I wish my problems were so simple, because I thought I was going mad when I tried to make sense of the Compton stop-combination matrix system. Sanity was restored only after a nice cup of Assam and a Worthington's Original. What do you know about Albert Henry Midgley, who's name appears on some of the patents for that fiendishly clever bit of kit? I can't think where I've heard the name before, but something rings a bell, and it may be connected with Manchester, Henry Royce (of Rolls-Royce fame), possibly Hope-Jones and even Radar work. All I know is that he was an Electrical Engineer who lived in either Ealing or Wembley. My God, these guys were clever! Best, MM
  25. =========================== Thank you for this, which may become the final ports of call. What I do know is something of the family history: the fact that Compton had several brothers and sisters and mention of a specific year, 1876, as the year of his birth. This is why I questioned the 1874 date as contained in the Musical Opinion after his death. The birthplace is also given as Swepstone rather than Newton Burgisland. His father married three times by the looks of it, and I'm still trying to work out f Compton's birth mother didn't end her days in Australia! It's all a bit muddy at the moment, but like all such things, the penny eventually drops when all the information is to hand. The "Wikipedia" entry is a bit wide of the mark it would seem; quoting his birth-year as 1865. Far more problematic is the history of Jimmy Taylor, because he was working either with or for John Compton as early as 1906, when the patents were filed for what was the world's first, true theatre organ rather than the earlier straight-organs know previously. This was not the unit extension organ, which followed much later, but the "photoplayer", which used an automatic player piano, electrically connected to organ-pipes, which could be played from a "console" of sorts. I have yet to investigate this fully, but the information lies dormant in my files for the moment. It's also intruiging to see how early some of the tonal experiments were, with one early instrument containing a Quintaton, which was nothing ore than a single stop-drawn combination of an 8ft and a 2.2/3....presumably flute Nazard. Even prior to 1910, Compton was producing all enclosed instruments. The whole project is grindingly difficult to fathom and put into some sort of chrnological order, but things are beginning to take shape; albeit in a mist, inside a concrete swell box inside a cave. With no company records and no codified history, anything I cobble together simply cannot take the usual time-line format, but must look at concepts, influences, experimental work and the eventual zenith of what the company created at Downside and St Bride's. The RADAR work remains....well...below the radar at the moment; shrouded in mystery and something of a problem area unless I can find contacts among the historic radar buffs, who seem to be as eccentric as organ buffs. We plough on with all the speed of a shire horse, but they usually got to the top of the hill eventually. Best, MM
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