Chas at the Forum

The 10 Ranks, 3 manual Compton theatre organ was installed in the new Forum Cinema in Southampton in the 1930s. It survived the war in spite of the city being practically raized to the ground although a piece of shrapnel passed diagonally through the console during one bombing raid. The resident organist for much of its time there was Reginald Porter-Brown who made many broadcasts and recordings at the console. During the 1960s the organ became silent and was removed to a private residence a short distance from the city. Organ chambers to the exact dimensions of the original ones on the cinema roof were built in the garden of a bungalow and the pipes were installed there over a period of time. The console was rebuilt in the lounge of the bungalow with the control cable going down the garden to the pipe chambers. A system of microphones brought the sound back to the bungalow where it was heard on a number of loudspeakers. In practice this was not very satisfactory and the new owner eventually sold it on and installed a smaller Compton with space for about 30 cinema seats for an audience in the building originally housing the pipes.

The organ remained in storage for some years and its third owner, a gentleman farmer in East Anglia, then spent many years renovating it and installing it with new digital switching in a large out-building on his farm. Work was completed in August 1998 and an inaugural concert was held with Nigel Ogden doing the honours. The author was invited to play it about a week after that and fell in love with it! He recorded a cassette on his third visit, in August 1999, and samples from some Gershwin tunes played at that time are reproduced below. Unfortunately, the organ only had a short stay in this new location due to the owner's increasing age and has been sold on again. It is hoped that the story can be continued on this page in due course......

Forum Illuminated Console
Console with illuminated surround in its present location.
Forum Pipe Chamber
Ranks of pipes and a glimpse of the swell shutters.

George Gershwin started in New York's "Tin Pan Alley" as a song plugger for a publishing company. His first big hit was Swanee which was sung in the Broadway musical "Sinbad". Rhapsody in Blue was composed over about three weeks in 1924 and scored for piano and jazz band. With full orchestration it immediately became a favourite and elevated its composer to the level of greatness. The success of Rhapsody in Blue was repeated in other compositions for piano and orchestra between 1925 and 1928. These included Concerto in F, Preludes for Piano and An American in Paris.

Between 1924 and 1925 George's compositions were mainly for Broadway musicals with Ira Gershwin as lyracist. The first musical, "Lady Be Good", in 1924 included such songs as Fascinating Rhythm, Oh, Lady be Good and The Man I Love which are just as popular today as they instantly became then. Strike Up the Band and the beautiful Someone to Watch Over Me were written at this time.

In 1930, George and Ira headed for Hollywood where they were to work on film scores for stars like Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Bing Crosby and Judy Garland. One early score was for Girl Crazy in 1932 which featured songs like Bidin' My Time and But Not for Me. This work sadly came to an end in 1937 when George did not survive the surgery to remove a brain tumor.
George and Ira Gershwin
As well as for pure entertainment, much of George's music examined and extended cultures of the time and brought attention to social issues like race and the ghettos. His music lives on and as well as featuring in concert programmes, appears frequently in new movies and as background music in commercials. Words by Virgil Thompson on Rhapsody in Blue sum up not only that composition but all of Gershwin's writing, ".....the most successful orchestral piece ever launched by an American composer...... It is a thoroughly professional job executed by a man who knew how to put over a direct musical idea and one who had a direct musical idea to put over."

Thanks to J. Clark Jolley and Encyclopaedia of the Musical Film by Stanley Green for background information.

"Rhapsody in Blue"

"But Not For Me"

"Someone to Watch Over Me"

"Strike Up the Band"

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Pictures: Organ Chas Girdwood, The Gershwins Page design and text 2000,2001 Chas Girdwood. All Rights Reserved.