Wonderful Wurlitzer wows down in Stepney

Wurlitzer Troxy (supplied)

NOTHING IS quite as cheesy as the Wurlitzer organ. By comparison, the Farfisa and Hammond, staple of many a corny pop song, is an instrument of taste and restraint.

No, the Wurly swamps the room with sounds — drums, cymbals, xylophone, glockenspiel, marimba, piano and of course classic organ — that evoke the 1930s and their social echo, the 1950s, with a charm that can enchant or, after a while, irritate (not everybody loves cheese).

Now an East End theatre has brought back to life what it says is Europe’s biggest Wurlitzer.

The 1,728 pipes of the four-keyboard monster have been installed at the Troxy  in Stepney, the kind of art-deco venue where a Wurly and an organist were popular in the days of cinemas that seated (sated?) several thousand people.

Wurlitzers, with their ability to create the big sound of an orchestra, or at least a simulacrum of one, used to be played to accompany silent movies and in later eras to provide entertainment before shows and during intervals.

Troxy lamp: former cinema 490 Commercial Road, London, E1 0HX now music venue Limehouse London 050314 © david.altheer@gmail.com
Light touch: art deco style at the former cinema in Commercial Road E1 0HX

A surreal touch was that the player would sometimes pop out of the floor and into view on a rising console.

The Troxy’s American-made theatre organ was imported to the Trocadero Super Cinema near Elephant and Castle Tube in 1930 and put into storage after the cinema was demolished in the 1960s, before being installed in London South Bank University.

In 2009 the Troxy got hold of it and commissioned its restoration. That took six years’ work by the Cinema Organ Society, whose members spent more than 5,000 hours on the project.

The society’s Nigel Laflin explains:  “Our ambitions for restoring the Wurlitzer were to bring the sounds back to life to enchant and engage new audiences.

Hannah Reid of London Grammar @ Troxy Limehouse 5mar14 © david.altheer@gmail.com
Muiltipurpose venue: Hannah Reid of London Grammar performs at the Troxy

“Most people probably won’t have heard a Wurlitzer in action, let alone tried playing one.

“We want to make it as widely accessible as possible to ensure that the beautiful sound doesn’t get lost in time.”

The Troxy, having initially opened as a cinema in 1933, wants to recreate such experiences and to create a new experience. It is one of the few independently owned venues in London, ideal for music concerts.

Owner Mohit Sharma, says: “We envisage this being used as walk-up music for the plethora of award ceremonies, as accompaniment to immersive cinema productions, for classic tea dances served with a twist and for the ultimate singalong, or carolling at a Christmas party.”

Hamish Scott 020915

* Picture of Wurlitzer at the Troxy supplied. Other  pix © david.altheer@gmail.com

* Troxy, 490 Commercial Road, Stepney E1 0HX (0207 790 9000). Disabled access good

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