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Blackpool Tower

A Taste of the Tower

ICONS has scaled Blackpool Tower to film the characters who keep the attraction at the top of its game. Meet one of the organists, a lift attendant and the maintenance manager - they all have a story to tell...

  

Click on a question to hear Chris Hopkins' answer.

How long have you been a Tower organist?

This forthcoming season is 2006 that will be my tenth season. Now being an organist at the Tower that’s relatively short. There’s four of us here that do the job day to day within the season from ten in the morning right through to 11 in the evening. There’s four organists, one of the organists, Phil Kelsall, he’s been here 32 years this year so the ten years is relatively minute to his time here.

How did you decide you wanted to become one?

What it was I used to visit the Tower ballroom. I used to be a truck driver and every time I got a day off or whatever, I’d come and sit and listen to the music in the Tower ballroom and decided I wanted to buy an electronic organ and play this kind of thing, so to speak. So it all stemmed from there really.

Tell us a little about the organ itself

Yes, there’s four organists, as I say, we have two organs here. Of course the Wurlitzer Organ that was installed in the late 1920s so I think that’s celebrating about 76 years old this year and that was installed at the cost of around about £2,000. Now if we were to do the job in this day and age it would run into about £700,000.

Where did you learn to play?

I taught myself. [Really?] Yes, yes. When I was 21. It had always been my dream as many other people, to play at the Tower ballroom because of its uniqueness and unique sound it has, and luckily when I was 26 I got that chance to do that. I was only supposed to be here for two weeks and I’m still here now, ten years later!

Are you conscious of following in the footsteps of the great Reg Dixon?

No no. I tend to think of it as more of a challenge for me personally musically. I’d rather not try and copy anyone. Certainly, I don’t think anybody could follow in the footsteps of a legend like that. He was here at a time when, when he was here he was supposed to be like, I should imagine it was like the Beatles. They were at the time when they were supposed to be here. Yes Reg Dixon, an icon and I don’t think anyone could copy him. Do you choose your own music when you play for the ballroom? We’re free to; obviously we’re limited to what dances the dancers do. You obviously read you audience. Today is a Wednesday afternoon and we get quite a lot of elderly people in, so we’re not going to be throwing salsas and sambas and that kind of thing in. But more so at the weekend when the younger generation come in, that’s when we do all the rock n roll, jive and the modern Latin. And do you take requests? Oh yes, definitely, for songs as well as dances.

Is the elevating Wurlitzer platform as old as the Tower itself?

No no. The mechanism that the Wurlitzer sits on is from 1956 because, if you remember, there was a fire in 1956 and the whole ballroom was gutted. And the Wurlitzer Organ pre that used to sit on a stage and travel backwards so they decided they needed the space for the stage so they dug out a 12ft by 12ft 6ft foot deep pit as they say and they left the Wurlitzer on a hydraulic lift. So since 1956, yes.

Have you made any recordings?

Yes, I’ve made three recordings and I’m about to release the latest one which is Dance music? Yes yes, all dance music. Wonderful.