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Graham Dukes

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Posts posted by Graham Dukes

  1. MM/Colin,


    Thanks for your quick reply. Even ten pages of Compton history is further than anyone else has ever got!


    Just briefly:

    a. I didn't know that Henry Royce had made items for Robert Hope-Jones, and that doesn't seem to be mentioned in any of the Royce biographies. Henry tried lots of things in his days as a an electrical manufacturer, ranging from overhead cranes to domestic doorbells, so I'm not surprised that he tried organ components as well.

    b.I will have a go at the Pilling family history later this week and see how far I get.

    c. You are certainly right that Compton didn't have the clout to compete in the electronic field with the likes of Yamaha. They didn't have the financial resources nor the marketing insight to do it. That was my conclusion after talking twice to Alan Lord in the mid-sixties when he sold me a modified CH2 and I introduced him to Eminent in Holland; Compton and Eminent agreed to represent each other but it had little effect. I had the same impression of deficient marketing insight when I met Colonel Peathy-Johns whose firm (EPTA Electronics) bought John Compton after it gone into receivership and re-established it as Compton Organs Ltd. Their main interest was to use part of the Compton factory to manufacture EPTA products, and electronic organ manufacture was rather pushed aside. Within no time, Compton Organs Ltd had gone into receivership as well, and the name was sold to Compton-Makin on the one hand and Compton-Edwards on the other. Successive advertisements in Musical Opinion tell the story.

    I'll get back to you when I have some news.

    All the best,

    Graham Dukes

  2. I was active on this topic two years ago, but during 2012 I was so fully occupied with other things that I was unable to contribute. I am delighted that MusingMuso is now at work on a draft text of the Compton history, and that so much has been pieced together in recent months thanks to this forum.

    I am no more than an amateur organist but I have written and edited a lot of books in other fields, and I remain willing to provide any help I can to move this project ahead.

    You might like to contact Mr David Clegg, who only quite recently retired from the general manager's position at Makin Organs, and who worked with John Pilling from 1980 onwards - he must know a lot about him, his situation and his family. He is a very pleasant and helpful man. If there is any residual problem regarding the family links between Samuel and John Pilling I can also have a look in the family history archiving services, with which I have worked several times.

    I do not think it is quite correct to say that Compton neglected the "entertainment organ" field when developing its electronic products. Around 1964 I went to the Ideal Home Exhibition in London and there was a large Compton stand. Alongside its small classic electrone model (the CH2) it was also offering a home entertainment variant (the HE2) and the lady deminstrating the instruments was concentrating heavily on the "pop" version. However, this was perhaps a one-off event, and in the entertainment field as a whole Compton was overshadowed by the tremendous sales pressure at the time from firms like Hammond, Lowrey and Wurlitzer. The latter were also able to do a great deal more in the way of bells and whistles with their valve systems (later transistor systems) than Compton, that had for financial reasons simplified its electromechanical sound generation system to the point where it produced only seven octaves of sine waves. This greatly weakened its performance both for classical and entertainment purposes, as compared with that of Leslie Bourne's large generators producing complex soundwaves and fairly rich upperwork.


    Graham Dukes

  3. David Drinkell: Some weeks ago you asked on this forum whether I was the same Graham Dukes who fifty years ago wrote a paper on "two manuals, pedals and a budget" in The Organ. I am indeed - because of several weeks work in Kenya I am replying very late. I never put any of my specifications to the text ending up with a 10-stop instrument by Pels and Van Leeuwen of Holland.


    Graham Dukes, mngdukes@gmail.com

    Oslo, Norway

    Tim Hortons (www.timhortons.com) is a defining aspect of life in Canada. I quite often have a Timmie's tea on the bass jamb when I'm practising, and on Sundays I pick up an extra large tea and frosted cinnamon roll before going to play for the 9:15. I eat the cinnamon roll in the Song Room and take the tea up to the service. Most of it gets drunk during the sermon. Sometimes I have a little over to drink during choir practice before the 11:00. I might call at Timmie's on the way to Evensong too.


    To illustrate how sacred Tim Horton's is, one of my former layclerks from Belfast phoned to say that a local store had started carrying a small range.


    'The place is full of bloody Canadians', he said, 'all clutching their double-doubles with tears in their eyes!'.


    On the other hand, I hate to see bottled water being consumed in the choir-stalls. A surreptitious mint is one thing, but swigging from a plastic bottle is not on at all.


    Last time I played Roger Fisher's organ, I had a big glass of a rather nice sauvignon blanc next to me. Clarion Doublette is right - it's a lovely instrument.


    I once had an organ scholar who kept a bottle of sherry behind the music desk.


    Doesn't the Rieger at Ratzeburg Cathedral have a stop marked 'Rauschwerk' that causes a drinks tray to slide out when drawn?

  4. Since several of us have touched on the topic of children's hymns, sometimes sung by adults, one indeed wonders what children themselves make of them. Growing up in the 1940's I was convinced, with others around me, that "Fight the good fight" was an exhortation to beat Hitler. That belief was strengthened by liberal doses of "Jerusalem" and "Onward Christian Soldiers". We didn't pick up our swords of burnished gold, since we didn't have any, but we did run out into the playground after Assembly enthusiastically brandishing our toy Spitfires and making aggressive zooming noises.


    Graham Dukes

  5. I fail to see what is wrong with the words of "All things b & B" - it's a hymn for children and goes through various wonders of nature - "God made them all". What on earth is wrong with that? It does NOT say that All things are beautiful; but those that are - God made them. The one objectionable verse (the rich man in his castle etc.) is not in any hymn book nowadays.


    It amazes me that adult congregations sing so many children's hymns these days: Once in Royal, O little town of Bethlehem, It is a thing most wonderful, There is a green hill, etc. All for children, not to be solemnly sung by adults. I wouldn't expect a hymn for little Sunday School children to be full of weighty theology, myself.


    I also don't see what is wrong with the versification of St Patrick's Breastplate. Wonderful words, I think, and probably give a flavour of the original, although I know no Irish.

  6. Thanks for your quick and encouraging response MM. I also had a positive letter from Ian Bell, whom I contacted directly, and who is one of the few people to have written a short biography of John Compton (for BIOS). He is as fully occupied as we all are, but wants to keep in touch with the venture. Let's wait a few more days and see if more people turn up. I agree that electronic publishing might be the best approach, and one might also think of working with BIOS who could be interested in making this the subject of one of their meetings, with various speakers dealing with the different aspects of the subject. I also wonder what happened to the Compton archives; some may have gone to Rushworth, (so what happened to their material?), some to Compton-Makin. Alan Lord's son may have some clues. One could indeed well rope in the Compton List. Michael Foley was with Comptons during their final years, but I have lost touch with him. Let's see where we are in a week's time.


    Graham Dukes






    You've identified the problem Graham, because I can't think of anyone who could claim to cover all the various disciplines and therefore act as a lead author. It would be like writing about Volvo....cars, trucks, buses, earth-moving equipment, marine, jet engines, agriculture, chemical industries etc etc etc.


    No "Compton Story" could never be complete without reference to so many things, including air-defence RADAR during WWII.


    However, there already exists "The Compton List," which could be expanded to include just such a venture, because a pdf file as a download, would take up very little bandwith and may even bring money in to support the site. Electronic publishing is probably the only sound economic way to go about this, because the generation which might have been very interest, has now almost totally passed. We must also be aware of the significance of the dual-purpose concert organs and the theatre organs, which were a considerable source of income; not just to Compton, but to other organ-builders at work in the lean years of the depression, who acted as sub-contractors.


    I'm very much "in on this"....but it's getting the right people together to create something coherent, accurate and above all, musically stimulating.



  7. Having re-read much that has been written here and elsewhere about John Compton (including Ian Bell's writings) I wonder: there seems to be broad agreement that a book is needed but do we have to give up on the idea because we are all too busy? I mentioned earlier that I am an experienced editor and writer (mostly in the medicolegal field) as well as being an organist with a lot of interest in the Compton story and contacts with the JC factory in its sad latter days, BUT I simply lack the technical knowledge to tackle this topic alone.

    Is it not possible that a group of us could work together to produce a decent book? I myself live in Norway but I could envisage having a small group meeting of potential contributors sometime this summer in Britain. I have to be in Cambridge on July 2nd, but Birmingham might be more convenient for a get-together. I am not in the least ambitious to take the lead but I hope we could identify a lead author, and I would gladly assist with spadework and editing. Might BIOS be interested in joining in?


    Graham Dukes


  8. Just now and again, these forum discussions touch on the problem of turning the pages while playing, but I haven't observed any really practical solutions except for the recruitment of a page-turner.

    Has anyone tried using an electronic book to do the job? It should be possible to scan multiple pages of music into such a device and then turn the pages by a light touch to a switch or the screen. Using two or more electronic books side by side to show consecutive pages would make it even simpler, shifting the images further on at any convenient moment when one has a free hand.

  9. Apologies to our hosts for this little bit of publicity


    After a few years of toying with the idea, I have decided (as a sideline to teaching) to buy and sell books and periodicals associated with the organ (all second-hand). My first list is out which is mainly books on the organ (Hopkins and Rimbault et al), I also have large numbers of back-issues of The Organ, ISO Journal, American Organist etc. The books are the first up and I will eventually get around to putting the old numbers of periodicals up as well. I also have a few 'inventaires' from France as well, although these are still boxed up following our recent house move.


    PM me if you would like details of the list.




    Hector: I would indeed like to have your listing of organ books and periodicals.

    Graham Dukes


  10. Perhaps I may be permitted to add a paper that I contributed to Musical Opinion on thius very topic forty years ago. Here it is.....


    Whistles in the Wind


    by Graham Dukes



    Some day, somewhere, someone with an analytical turn of mind is going to produce a truly penetrating study on the Fascination of Organs. When that day comes, there may at last be a way to define and characterise the organ addict.


    Addict? I can find no other term. Dr. Peter Williams, in the "Organ Yearbook", has groped for one (organ-lover, organ-fan, organ-devotee . . .) and confessed his failure. But addicts of course we are, defying draughts and bats and rheumatism and marital disapproval to attain the objects of our veneration.


    Now any herd of addicts, irrespective of what they may be addicted to, tend to have certain secondary traits in common. Do organ addicts? Not at first sight; there are old ones and young ones, left wing and right wing, romantic and baroque; they do not tend to chew (or eschew) shag, nor do they exhibit any evident leaning towards keeping harems or catching butterflies. Yet perhaps I do have a clue to offer. Organ addicts, it would seem, are particularly prone to develop a certain weakness for trains, and more especially for steam engines. Conversely, among the ranks of the railway enthusiasts, there are apparently as many who confess to a hankering after organs.


    It is difficult to recall how this curious fact first dawned upon me. It may have been on an excursion into the steamy Cambrian world of the Tal-y-llyn Railway, when the conversation in the compartment drifted from engines to organs and back again as if it was the most natural thing in the world and as if the train were being pulled to Abergynolwyn by an old organ. Thereafter, there was the odd way that railway trains kept straying into the columns of the musical journals, where they had no place to be. When the Organ Club went to Norwich some years ago, their enthusiastic encounter with the "Flying Scotsman" at Norwich station was dutifully recorded in these columns, the secretary properly observing that organs and trains went together.'


    Again, there was that organ excursion to Southern Germany. when the itinerary included several side-steps to curious railways. And, finally, my own chance discovery that an acquaintance who spent his Sundays at the manuals was now devoting his Saturdays to coaxing an Edwardian steam-tram across the Dutch countryside. Why all this should be so, and what light it throws on organ addiction, I do not quite know. but I am assiduously collating my hypotheses. The most evident of them is that the organ and the steam engine are surely two of the most alive of all the machines devised by man. They breathe. visibly and audibly. panting steam or wind as the case may be. With Bottom the Weaver, they can roar as gently as any sucking dove. They heave and sigh as they come into motion; they creak, leak and groan as old age comes upon them; all this they do with great commotion and greater emotion.


    They are not so much overpoweringly beautiful as beautifully overpowering, yet in essence they are quite simple machines; people who recoil from the intricacies of electronics or internal combustion will tell you how they work (or why they do not). Indeed, much that needs to be said about either can be condensed into a brief formula of figures, dates and names; “ tracker action Snetzler 1761" is a miniature portrayal of a work of art; so. for many people, is 2-4-0 saddle tank Hunslet 1893". Both formulae induce transports of delight in the initiated: both recall an age when these were some of the finest things mechanical built by men.


    Such simple, antediluvian machines, boldly exploiting the elements of wind, fire and water, can, it seems. appeal to the emotions of a certain part of the human race. The organ and the steam engine are our prime examples in this analysis, but much the same can be said of the windmill and the windjammer, both of which enjoy a following of wide-eyed preservationists.


    Yet the organ and the steam engine have at times had much more substantial links than those in the eye of the beholder. There was once a brief, glorious epoch during which church organs were equipped with steam engines to blow them; one coaled them up well before morning communion, and then they puffed and sizzled happily for all of Sunday, occasionally blowing off steam during the sermon, consuming vast quantities of water and steam coal until they were quenched by the verger after evensong. For a much longer period there were steam organs on every fairground. George Irvin & Sons, the roundabout people, still have a fine specimen with an 89- key Marenghi organ, and the Fairground Organ Preservation Society ensures that others find their way to traction engine rallies across the countryside. For a continental treat, travellers through Southern Holland pause at the Efteling pleasure gardens near Kaatsheuvel, where a true Belgian steam carrousel has been preserved in working order, down to the last horse-tail, coal bucket and bourdon celeste.


    There is one group of individuals who are almost notorious for their double addiction to both steam and wind: I refer to the clergy. It is not surprising to find parsons chasing organs. but it is a little disconcerting to find so many of them chasing - and catching - steam engines. The scriptwriter who put a bishop and a vicar onto the footplate of the legendary “Titfield Thunderbolt” had prepared his ground well: for, from Bishop Eric Treacy who is President of the Worth Valley Railway to the Rev. Teddy Boston who has a railway in his garden, railway preservation (like organ adulation) is saturated with Holy Orders.


    Clergymen apart, the followers of steam and wind regularly demonstrate their common mentality. Both groups cherish their dogmas. their competing schools of design and their obstinate national traditions. A certain Mr. Roberts who is currently taking the Festiniog Railway to task for importing an American locomotive ("an eyesore in the Welsh hills”) expresses himself in just the same terms as the gentlemen who became so irate when the Flentrop arrived from Holland in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. And right they all are, for British is best, at least for many of the British.


    No less characteristic and curious is the fact that the organ and the engine are revered by their connoisseurs as objects in themselves, and not simply as means to an end. Set three organ enthusiasts in a cell and they will very probably argue not about cadences in Buxtehude but about wind pressures, cone tuning and the scaling of diapasons. Your three railway men, under the same conditions. will be found to debate on superheating, coupling rods and the Giesl ejector; the fact that trains fitted with these devices are actually intended to take people to great and wonderful places is a matter to which they appear largely indifferent.


    All the same, it is difficult to define the true nature of the emotions experienced by either group. If these contraptions evoked deep stirrings of the mind and thereby truly poetic feelings they would surely have inspired better verse than Pope's doggerel about solemn organs and better songs than the Lost Chord. Yet it is of itself striking that the steam train should have inspired so much music at all, ranging from the juke box success of the “Acheson, Topeka and Santa Fe” to the Philharmonic pretensions of “Coronation Scot". Who, after all, ever heard of a musical ode to a combine harvester? And what other machine has ever qualified for such an honour as the issue of stereo records made in shunting yards and on the Lickey incline?


    Nor are the emotions, once evoked, always positive. A lot of people who do not actually love organs appear to loathe them, and the same applies to steam trains; very few of us have a soul so dead as to be entirely unmoved by objects of such character. They are strong. bold and patient. They endure endless coats of ill- applied paint and suffer rebuilds with fortitude. waiting philosophically for the day of restoration. They go on for ever and ever, or, at least, for much longer than the mere mortals who command and serve them. And if they do die or disintegrate, their relics are lovingly preserved. When the Royal College of Organists auctioned off the last loose vestiges of its old organ, people actually came forward and bought all those keys and stop knobs. I cherish a suspicion that at least some of them are now decorating the same mantelpieces as the nameplates and chimewhistles (mixtures?) of the engines of yesteryear, which are hawked around from month to month in the Railway Magazine.


    Maybe their owners, and we with them, are in fact seeking to relive in their addiction the wonders of childhood, when the very spirit of a family Sunday was the organ thundering out Onward, Christian Soldiers, and when summer holidays meant careering thrillingly down to Minehead in clouds of steam. Such sentimentality we shall of course indignantly deny, but then we must find some other explanation for the fact that these creatures of steam and wind can bring a lump into the throat and a glint into the eye in a way that the brainchildren of Mr. Hammond and Dr. Diesel do not. Organs and engines, we tell ourselves solemnly, are fine and stately things, set about with craftsmanship and art. If, however. we are a little more honest with ourselves we should then add that these things can also be deliciously absurd. crowned as they are with brass domes or fat cherubins: but because the absurdity is so delicious, we polish the former gild the latter, and then tell ourselves that organs engines are not absurd at all. Yet they are — if only, as a physicist will tell you, because they are in analysis grossly inefficient at turning electricity into sound or coal into motion as the case may be. Indeed, the twentieth century has yet to produce anything so mechanically hopeless as to compare with them, unless it be that rattling conundrum, the helicopter, which expends most of its energy at staying in the air at all; that at least provides our grandchildren with something delicious to venerate and preserve in the twenty-first century.


    Perhaps, when that day comes, someone, somewhere, with an analytical turn of mind, will produce a truly penetrating study on the Fascination of Old Helicopters. Let him not labour too mightily. For many of the clues which he needs are already close at hand; some certainly. in the treatises which have been devoted to the fascination of Railways; others, perhaps, in these pages. And the rest, we may hope, will still be whistling in the wind, just as we have left them.


    From: Musical Opinion, London, December 1971, p. 146


    Graham Dukes, Oslo, March 2011

  11. Over the years I have met and befriended a great many organists, of all 'shapes and sizes', but the one thing I have often discovered about them is a passion for all things steam-driven. Of course, we all know of clerical gentlemen (Bishop Treacy being the greatest of all) who take an interest in such things, but what about the rest of us? There must be many others; I certainly know that Adrian Self of Cartmel Priory shares my enthusiasm for steam. Perhaps it's the sheer majesty of power and noise, something common to the organ in the right context! And it's a living thing, as a good organ can be.


    I can understand those who stand on platforms taking numbers (all deference to them if that's their scene) but those who know about Gresley's Conjugated Valvegear, or the thrill of seeing a big engine at night when she's at full chat and throwing sparks, they are the ones to whom I equate!


    And model engineering is common as well. Alan Taylor of capture-actions fame is a member of our local club, so anyone else out there with these interests?



  12. Robert Schneider's "Schlafes Bruder" (Brother of Sleep, a worse movie version exists, too) should be available in English, too. It is quite fascinating story of an Austrian mountain village and a young genious with a special gift of hearing, secretly starting to play the organ and even participating in an improvisation contest.

    The author is the brother to Enjott Schneider, Professor of Movie composition in Munich, who wrote a Toccata "Schlafes Bruder" for that movie.

    The depiction of a genious in an absolutely provincial surrounding (here: The province of Vorarlberg, the region where the Rieger organ factory is located today) is touching.


    Wasn't Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues beyond the Sea" and Captain Nemo from the Nautilus submarine with its house organ mentioned elsewhere?


    For anyone not familiar with it I would recommend Robert N. Roth's superb anthology "Wond'rous Machine" (Scarecrow Press, Lanham (Md) and London, 2000. It is a collection of text relating to the organ, including poems, short stories, mysteries and extracts from novels.


    Graham Dukes


  13. Your comment regarding "no pre-service music to try to stop them all from talking" is a most pertinent observation about a sadly all too common problem in this country! Why does every congregation think that our playing is merely to act as a cover for their 'hen-house cacklings'. I wish I could yell at them, "I'm playing, SHUT UP!". As for afterwards, forget it unless it's something fff.




    Getting way from the issue of chattering congegrations I would just like to comment on the choice of music for

    pre-service playing. I too find that the choice of the 8 short Preludes and Fugues is a good one for such occasions. Irrespective of whether JSB wrote them or not, they are eminently digestible and tuneful and therefore suitable for people who may not normally appreciate organ classics; they seem to like these and you even get appreciative comments from individuals who otherwise regard the instrument merely as a psalm pump.


    Graham Dukes

  14. Several of Bach's Organ works exist only in fragmentary form. The only effort of which I am aware to round them off and therefore render them playable was that by Wolfgang Stockmeier (published by Kistner and Siegel in Cologne in 1969). Do any contributors to the Forum have opinions as to the result? And have any other composers tried the same venture?

    In my view the Fantasie in C (BWV 573), of which only 12 splendid bars survive, was Stockmeier's best effort: the fragment ends in A minor, and he added six bars to bring it back into C. Unfortunately he then went on add several pages more which I find less inspired. Stockmeier also made a brave effort to complete the choral "O Traurigkeit,O Herzeleid" (unnumbered) of which only two bars are known; the completed piece is well worth playing.

    He tackled several other pieces, but the outcome suggests in my view that they could better have been left alone.


    Graham Dukes


  15. ======================


    Thank you Graham for this additional information concerning the last years and eventual demise of the John Compton Organ Co.


    One tiny, niggling thing immediately started rattling at the back of my brain, but I cannot recall the exact details.


    I'm sure it would be restricted to the days of electronic organ production, (either as Compton-Makin or as Compton-Edwards), but I remember reading, in one of those huge, yearly company listing books, (I forget the name....it was blue), that Compton-Makin (I think), were a part of the huge Bibby group of companies. That obvioulsy changed in due course, but I wonder if anyone knows why, or how, a company of this magnitude should show an interest in the manufactire of electronic organs on what was obviously a relatively small scale.


    Curiously, I have tenuous link with the current set-up, in that the current MD is into stock-car racing in quite a big way, and I also dabbled in it as a mechanic in my hideously mis-spent youth.


    It shows how one's past has a habit of catching up with you in due course., and Dr Harrington (Makin MD) and myself enjoyed a humourous exchange of e-mails on the subject.


    I agree that it would be a pity if all those with memories of John Compton and the company he founded, disappeared and took the knowledge with them. Compton's contribution, even to the classical revival, was very important. I suspect that the failure to adapt would have been totally alien to John Compton's innovative thinking, but alas, he was no more.


    The interesting thing is the link between some of Compton's former staff and the organ at New College, Oxford, which demonstrates that the talent was there to make the leap forward into the past.






    Dear MM:


    I should add to my message of last night that my belief that the original parent company of Compton-Makin was a Bibby division was simply derived from your own findings on the Bibby association. All that I know was that the direct parent of Compton-Makin when it was set up in 1970 was J & J Makin Ltd of Rochdale. Whether Makin was in turn a daughter of Bibby plc I really don't know.


    Graham Dukes

  16. How interesting, Graham. I am also an organ-playing doctor and I'm sure there must be a few more musical medics.


    I don't suppose you are the same Graham Dukes who used to work for a pharmaceutical company called - wait for it - Organon? If so, what a very appropriately named company to have been with!


    Yes, Contrabombarde, I was the Graham Dukes who was Research Manager of Organon in The Netherlands in the sixties. We had several good organists in the Research Division, and a joke went around that this was the reason why the firm was called Organon. Much later Organon disappeared into the clutches of Scherinbg-Plough, which in turn was absorbed by Merck. I left Organon forty years ago to join the Netherlands Ministry of Health, and later the World Health Organization and the University.

    I'm afraid this discussion has moved off track, but perhaps John Mander will forgive us.


  17. ======================


    Thank you Graham for this additional information concerning the last years and eventual demise of the John Compton Organ Co.


    One tiny, niggling thing immediately started rattling at the back of my brain, but I cannot recall the exact details.


    I'm sure it would be restricted to the days of electronic organ production, (either as Compton-Makin or as Compton-Edwards), but I remember reading, in one of those huge, yearly company listing books, (I forget the name....it was blue), that Compton-Makin (I think), were a part of the huge Bibby group of companies. That obvioulsy changed in due course, but I wonder if anyone knows why, or how, a company of this magnitude should show an interest in the manufactire of electronic organs on what was obviously a relatively small scale.


    Curiously, I have tenuous link with the current set-up, in that the current MD is into stock-car racing in quite a big way, and I also dabbled in it as a mechanic in my hideously mis-spent youth.


    It shows how one's past has a habit of catching up with you in due course., and Dr Harrington (Makin MD) and myself enjoyed a humourous exchange of e-mails on the subject.


    I agree that it would be a pity if all those with memories of John Compton and the company he founded, disappeared and took the knowledge with them. Compton's contribution, even to the classical revival, was very important. I suspect that the failure to adapt would have been totally alien to John Compton's innovative thinking, but alas, he was no more.


    The interesting thing is the link between some of Compton's former staff and the organ at New College, Oxford, which demonstrates that the talent was there to make the leap forward into the past.




    Dear MM,

    I was delighted to read your letter to the Forum.

    The explanation as to how Compton-Makin Organs came into the Bibby group is quite simple. One of the Directors in their paper manufacturing division was a keen amateur organist, John Makin Pilling, who knew the Compton people well. When the final collapse came he put a lot of his own money into acquiring and thus saving the Compton rotating condenser system, recruited some Compton people, and resumed production in a section of the paper factory. He realized the limitations of the system, and developed a fine instrument for his own home in the Lake District in which some of the defects of the condenser approach (lack of upper harmonics) were overcome. I have an LP recording of this instrument.

    In due course Pilling moved production to Oldham, Lancs, and David Clegg was taken on as managing director. Mr Pilling continued to subsidized the company from his own pocket. Progressively, the firm moved away from the condensers and began to build excellent transistor instruments ultimately producing the advanced sampler organs of the present day.

    John Makin Pilling died of cancer in 1996. He had set up a trust fund to continue his work, but the trustees did not have the resources to keep things running as they had been. Mr Clegg had already since 1989 good contacts with Gert van der Weerd in Holland, who had founded Johannus and made it a major manufacturer of sampler organs. A form of merger was therefore adopted, with the Dutch holding company buying Makin in January 1998. Manufacture and further development were transferred to Holland, though Makin continued to sample the best English organs, and their samples are used in todays Makins One or two development experts at Makin objected to the merger and left to found Phoenix.

    There is a small firm today selling "Compton" transistor organs of the simpler type. I do not know whether it had any historic links with the earlier ventures (e.g. with Compton-Edwards) or is an entirely new firm.


    So much for the history. Now, what do we do about the John Compton book? I cannot really volunteer to take it on. I am a lawyer, physician and amateur organist and have done a lot of editing and writing, mostly books in the medico-legal field, and some minor literary ventures (including one on our ancient Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost!). However, I simply do not have the knowledge to produce a book like this. What I might consider is an editorial role, pulling together materials and coordinating a good team of experts, each dealing with one Chapter, and ensuring the quality of the whole thing. One drawback to my involvement: I live in Oslo, Norway, and only get to UK now and again. Another: though officially retired, I have a lot to do. What about your possible role?




    Graham Dukes

  18. Some time has gone by since most of the contributions came into the Forum on the subject of John Compton and his contribution to the development of the organ. There was a lot of interest in the proposal to pull together the material for a good technical and musical biography, that among other things could call on the expertise or writings of people like Ian Bell, Roger Taylor, Laurence Elvin or Ivor Buckingham. It would be a great pity if this proposal were to be forgotten - there is still time enough to collect and collate it all, and soon it may be too late.

    One aspect that has hardly been touched on so far is why the Compton firm ultimately failed, some years after John Compton's death. My own contacts with them were precisely during this final period of decline.

    The primary problem, I understood, was that Comptons largely failed to detect and follow the revival of the best classic organ building tradition during the fifties and sixties - one in which Mander played a major role. Although Comptons at their best did build a few excellent instruments at that time (St Albans, Holborn, was well designed and built, but badly voiced through no fault of the firm) they had acquired the reputation of being a firm that messed around with electronics, cinema organs and extension organs (though in all three fields they had tended to act responsibly). Cinemas had already lost interest in organs by 1939, and now the church pipe organ business too fell away because of these prejudices and was sold to Rushworth and Dreaper by 1964.

    After that, with the theatre organist Alan Lord as managing director, the John Compton company had to rely entirely on their electronic instruments to keep the business going. Unfortunately, they ignored some already promising trends in the synthesis of sounds using valves and transistors and trusted completely their thirty year-old system of rotating condensers. What was worse, in order to save money they simplified it. The original design using engravings of complex wave forms and managed some fairly convincing tones (Manchester Free Trade Hall!) though it was always weak on upper harmonics, which condensers cannot handle. In its simplified form, the condensors were engraved with no more than seven octaves of sine waves, which meant that its capabilities were reduced to those of a Hammond. The 2ft voice lost its only harmonic after three octaves and broke back for the top octave.

    Overpriced and under-endowed, the new electronic instruments were unable to compete.

    After a bankruptcy in 1966, the firm, renamed "Compton Organs", was acquired by EPTA electronics, which continued production but used part of the factory to make other electronic devices. On one of my visits, a part of the staff seemed to be out on the street repairing the old Rolls-Royce of the new managing director (an elderly colonel). The new firm soon itself went bankrupt and was sold off in pieces. The rotating condenser system went to Compton-Makin (who soon adopted superior solid-state techniques); the name also went to Compton-Edwards who started making small transistor organs, while some employees set up the Compton Organ Maintenance Company to provide service to old John Compton electronic installatIions.0

    Interestingly, though Compton-Makin in due course dropped the Compton name (and were later merged with Johannus in Holland who took over Makin production), the Makin building in Oldham, Lancs, was until a recent change of address labelled "Compton House."


    Graham Dukes


  19. There is this awful child, who sits near the organ console, and his name is 'Bwyan' because he recently lost a tooth playing football.


    "Bwyan" sits between his mother and his grandmother, who are so wrapped up in their own devotions, they are unaware of the fact that they are in the company a devil-child.


    "Bwyan" is a devil-child because he is so alert, and so capable of sinister, silent communication.


    A single bum note, and there is "Bwyan".....mouth agape and shaking his head from side to side.


    The priest chooses the same hymn two weeks in a row, and "Bwayn" rolls his eyes and then yawns when I play it over.


    I make a mess of the timing of the mass, and there is a slight delay at the "Great Amen".....there is "Bwyan," slapping his own wrist.


    We have a "pop" hymn, and not only do I get into "theatre groove," but our "Bwayn" is swinging his hips, holding an imaginery microphone and playing to the gallery we do not have.


    We have the "Peace" and everyone politely shakes hands and mutters with dubious sincerity, "Peace be with you".....not our "Bwayn", who leaps out of the pew, runs to the organ-console, gives me a gap-toothed grin, winks, offers me a clenched fist and says, "All right mate?"


    There are moments when I dare not look in "Bwayn's" direction, such as when the priest stumbled and couldn't get back up, or the time when the collection was hurled among the poor and needy of the parish by mistake.....it was bad enough just listening to his stifled sobs of laughter.


    I play some spectacular voluntary or other, and feel very proud of the end result, only to turn sideways and find "Bwayn" sitting alone, cross-legged on a pew, wearing an impish grin with his fingers stuck in his ears!


    He is my worst nightmare and my best critic and I hate him for it.


    When I leave, I now make a point of saying, "Bye bye Bwayn," at which point, he gives me a sad look and points a finger at the gap in his teeth.....then sticks his tongue out and waves me off.


    He annoys and torments me constantly, but Mass would be much, much poorer without him.






    Bwayn was clearly sent to try you.. My personal trial was with Arthur (not his real name) when I was playing at a church which had no money for anything, let alone repairs to the organ, an ancient tracker which I suspect had been defective from the start and had got no better after sixty years. Having enjoyed a medical training, I got into the habit of remedying its most acute defects with surgical plaster (on the bellows), forceps (to remove dead bats and suchlike) and self-adhesive bandage (to tie up anything loose). Arthur was an odd-job man who would, free of charge, do little things like changing burnt-out lamps in the nave, tidying up, and tolling the bell when no-one else was around to do it. But I had an increasing suspicion that he was getting ideas about tackling the organ, just as he was wont to tackle washing machines and bicycles. The day came when, turning up early for practice, I found myself playing some wrong notes while depressing the right keys. Sure enough,. Arthur (who had a key to the church) had been around on Saturday and had found evidence of my having stopped a leakage on the windchest by stuffing paper around a couple of pipes, and felt he could make a better job of it. Having taken out a couple of pipes to get better access he had subsequently replaced them in the wrong holes, interchanging D and E flat. Pipes are pipes, aren't they, so what does it matter where they go?

    I bought a padlock for the door to the organ loft next day.



  20. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that a digital instrument at home will be the preferred way of securing regular practice (ie every day, ideally). I am lucky enough to have unrestricted access to a "real" instrument, which I shall (of course) continue to use, but with the best will in the world it is difficult to get there as regularly as I would like to. I have not had the opportunity to play all that many digital instruments, and I'm not aware of any showrooms in my immediate vicinity where I could try out any instruments. I don't desire a lavish five manual cathedral reproduction; I would be quite happy with a modest 2 (maybe 3) manual affair, with the emphasis on quality rather than quantity. However, in a nod to ever so slight self-indulgence, I would prefer a French romantic specification, since this is the music I particularly enjoy, and as I'm paying and it is my hobby, I think I deserve a little self-indulgence. However, the instrument should be capable of allowing decent practice of a range of styles. I have done some internet research and generally have a 'feel' at, least in theory, of what the relevant companies are offering. I'm sure many of you have such instruments at home, so any first-hand advice or recommendations you have would be gratefully received. I don't want to ignite any (further) pipe vs digital debates. (My teacher is of no real help here as he has never had such an instrument and his only advice is to get a small 3 to 4 stop pipe organ. Well, as I'm not made of money and my (soon to be) wife would relish the prospect of headphones being used, this is not an option.) I hope this topic is not entirely outwith the remit of this forum.


    I went round all the well-known brands of electronic instruments nine years ago and found Makin superior to the rest. It has in recent years been built by Johannus in Holland (who now own Makin) but it is a thoroughly English organ, using samples from, Hill, Harrison and others. I bought mine in 1999 and it has been absolutely dependable. This model, a 3-manual Sovereign, has an alternative voicing option with French/German specification, and can similarly be switched to middle tone tuning or Werckmeister at the touch of a thumb piston. The "Sovereign" model has now been superseded but the company always has some good second-hand ones on sale.

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