Merseyside veteran cinema organist Dave Nicholas is well known for his lifelong interest in the world of theatre and cinema organs and can clearly recall the heyday of the picture palaces when the organ was an integral part of the evening’s entertainment. He knew many of the talented organists who in their time had entertained thousands of cinema goers each week. These organists were local celebrities and showmen in their own right.
Dave was born opposite to Birkenhead’s Plaza cinema, which as a youngster must have been an inspiration for him to become involved with the cinema organ, although he would admit that it was more likely when he heard the Columbia gramophone recordings of Ken Griffin playing the Hammond organ.
Dave was eager to know much more about the magnificent Comptons, Wurlitizers, etc, which led him to become a member of the recently formed Cinema Organ Society in June of 1954.
The purpose of the society is to encourage members in the preservation and presentation of these marvelous instruments both for present and future generations. He recalls that his first meeting and venue visit was at the Mayfair cinema in Aigburth, Liverpool, during September 1954. Shortly after, a visit to the ABC Regal in Foregate Street, Chester, was arranged by the society during November of the same year. Dave’s acquaintances on these cinema visits included Ron Curtis, who is featured on our Cinema & Theatre Organs page.
During the Chester visit they were to meet the resident organist, Joseph Storer, who was to be one of the final ABC cinema organists retained on the ABC payroll.
Dave remembers Ron Curtis visiting his house to see the reed organ he had at the time, a two manual and pedal board Doherty with an electric blower, which was an amazing instrument. He later recalled Ron Curtis playing at a pub in Wigan on a Hammond in 1955. Dave said that“Between 1954/60 we met on several cinema/theatre visits”.
Dave worked at Butlins in Skegness in 1961, as an entertainer, working alongside fellow Redcoat and TV legend, Johnny Ball. It was here that he gained much of the experience that he stills draws upon today, accompanying artists and film shows.
During 1968/9, when Dave was working for Woods of Bolton, the Conn organ dealership, he had the opportunity to visit Ron Curtis who lived locally. This was before Ron had built on a large studio extension to his home to facilitate the organ equipment and consoles. Dave played there several times. The final visit to the studio was shortly after Ron’s death, when together with Steve Tovey, Doreen Chadwick and Norman Scott they played the organ at Ron’s place.
Dave returned to Merseyside and began work at Rushworth’s store in Liverpool, which was established in 1828 by William Rushworth, a pipe organ builder from Yorkshire. It was still a family run business, inspiring loyalty in staff, customers, and the Beatles!
For two decades, Dave was the store’s organ and piano demonstrator. It was during his time at the store that a chance meeting with Sally and Jack Bennett together with their daughter Myra, resulted with an invitation to visit the iconic Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, where a recording of Dave playing the organ was to be arranged by David Pigott~ horn player, and Myra Pigott~ principal piccolo, in the Philharmonic orchestra. Immediately his talent was recognized when Dave was given this opportunity to play the organ at the city’s most elegant music venue. Eventually he became the proud resident organist, a position that he maintains to this present day.
The Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is the oldest in the world, receiving Royal patronage in 1957.
Dave has many fond memories of playing the organ at various presentations when films were shown on the famous wondrous Walturdaw cinema screen. This rare and unique counterbalanced cinema screen is concealed beneath the stage and at the touch of a button rises majestically centre stage helped by the live accompaniment provided by organist Dave. Walturdaw screens were used in theatres and concert halls for many years. The Liverpool Philharmonic Hall’s screen is now the only one in existence and far from being a piece of cinematic history, it is used frequently when classic films are presented to sold out houses.
Such film programmes are enhanced with a live orchestra backing. Dave plays an important role too in helping to create the unique atmosphere at these screenings at the Philharmonic. For instance, at one such film presentation he provided the solo musical accompaniment to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1927 silent feature “The Lodger”, a first for the organ to accompany an entire film classic. He is also known for playing musical introductions before film screenings.
A special celebration reception was held for Dave Nicholas on the 10th June 2019 at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall when the Chief Executive, Michael Eakin presented Dave with a diploma on stage, acknowledging more than 30 years association with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic as their resident organist, together with a certificate from Liverpool Cathedral signed by professor Ian Tracey, Organist Titulaire, confirming that a French Horn D3 8ft Solo division has been adopted in his name.
Dave Nicholas has always taken the opportunity of playing organs during meetings and concerts at cinemas and theatres around the country including – the Pyramid(Odeon) Sale, Ritz Barnsley, Odeon and Gaumont Manchester, Apollo Ardwick, Ritz Stockport, Ritz Huddersfield, Essoldo Clacton, ABC Carlton Liverpool, Plaza Waterloo, Mayfair Aigburth, ABC Regal Chester, Odeon Southend, Granada Grantham, Astoria Hull, Hull City Hall, Gaumont Chester, Ritz Ipswich, Plaza and Ritz Birkenhead, Rialto Bebington, Winter Gardens New Brighton, Regal Sunderland, New Gallery Regent St, London. Odeon Leicester Square, Astra Llandudno.
He played in Frankfurt 1968 and did duets with Reginald Dixon. Dave commands an amazing recall of these events, the individual characteristics and history of the cinema organs in their various cinemas which he shares with enthusiasts throughout the UK and worldwide.