AMBC Autumn Outing – Rye Wurlitzer Concert

At the suggestion of member Colin Durham, who is also a Friend of the Rye Wurlitzer, we planned an AMBC outing to the October concert.

As the editors remarked in the last edition of “Mechanical Music World”, not least of the pleasures of our hobby is the enjoyment of good company and good food. So it seemed only natural to meet for Sunday lunch before repairing to Rye College for the concert. A very good lunch it was too. The Kings Head was packed, confirming that Colin had picked us a winner.

The Wurlitzer, manufactured in the USA in 1925, was only the third to be imported into England. It was installed in the Palace Cinema in Tottenham, where it was first used to accompany silent films. Following the introduction of “talkies” and then television, it gradually began to get used less and less until it was sold to Rye Grammar School in 1957.

There wasn’t enough room in the school hall to install all of the percussion items, which were put into store and eventually got lost. To begin with it was regularly played and maintained, but then began to fall into disuse again.

Over the years there were one or two revivals but its future was finally secured by the founding, in 1993, of a Friends of Rye Wurlitzer Society. It has now been fully restored to its former glory of 1925, including the replacement of the missing percussion items and the mounting of the console on its own lift on the stage.

The Friends have also established “The Wurlitzer Academy” which offers a Theatre Organ Study Course for young people to learn to play and maintain these historic instruments.

When our party arrived at the college we were welcomed as honoured guests and shown to our reserved seating. The organist of the day was John Mann, an exponent of this instrument for more than fifty years. He began his performance with two widely contrasting pieces; Sousa’s march “Under the Double Eagle” and “Ave Maria”. The varied programme continued with items from film, musical theatre, popular tunes and ballads and novelty items such as “The Typewriter”. There was a touching tribute to famous organists from the heyday of the theatre organ, many of them no longer with us. He also included a piece especially for our group; “In the Clockmakers’ Shop”. The music was interspersed with the slightly camp humorous anecdotes, for which he is also known. It all went down well with the sell-out audience including our members, and everyone clapped along with great enthusiasm to his encore piece – the Radetsky March.

More information on the Rye Wurlitzer and the Academy can be found on

Sadly, since writing this report, I have learned that Colin passed away just two weeks after the concert. He will be greatly missed by AMBC and the Friends of Rye Wurlitzer. We can share happy memories of this occasion when he brought his two passionate interests together.