Also in my garage: organs and classics in perfect harmony

| 10 Dec 2019
Classic & Sports Car – Also in my garage – Martyn Warsop

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It’s not just four-wheeled treasures that classic car enthusiasts keep in their garages as C&SC meets owners and discovers their other passions

Diploma-standard organist – and gold-standard organ enthusiast – Martyn Warsop has played some of Britain’s most revered instruments, including in Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace.

He’s a keen member of the Cambridge Organists’ Association, and compares it favourably to… the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club.

“People are so knowledgeable and helpful,” he says. “It’s a similar fellowship to the organ world.”

For Warsop, meeting Kenneth Tickell was a life-changer: “He was the greatest organ-builder of his generation. A self-effacing genius and unusual in having engineering skills and musical ability. One day, he asked me to stand in for him playing at a wedding. Then he asked me to work with him. I was working for the county council and hated it, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ I was never a builder, though, just a general factotum.”

Classic & Sports Car – Also in my garage – Martyn Warsop

It was the early ’80s and Tickell was forging his reputation as he designed, built and installed chamber organs in Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s, and the main organs in Worcester and Newcastle Roman Catholic cathedrals: “We also did organ transplants – rescuing organs from one church and putting them in another – which is where I came in. The two of us shifted a huge one from Ripley to Stoke Bruerne; I don’t know how we did it, but I still play it now. Ken was a mentor to me. His brilliance was in making sure the organ always looked right for the building.”

Warsop’s grandfather worked at Joseph Mason Paints, supplier of Rolls-Royce ‘Mason’s Black’, and took one of Martyn’s toy Rollers to work to paint it in the famous liquid, which derived its gloss from fish scales.

The solvent was so strong it melted the plastic windows, and Warsop yearned for a real Royce: “I bought my 1979 Shadow II in 2004 after I was left some money by an eccentric uncle. It was the first one I looked at, so that was probably a mistake, but it’s rare, one of 75 ‘red-badge’ UK anniversary cars.

“Since then, it’s done more than 100,000 miles and I use it all the time. That’s the best way with a Silver Shadow: if you don’t use them regularly, you’re constantly recommissioning them, and Rolls-Royces keep going even when they’re dropping to bits. Rather like organs, really.”

The car shares garage space with one of his two vintage American reed organs: “I’ve had it since the late ’60s. It was in a church army hostel chapel in Derby that closed down, and they gave it to me.”

The other, a rare portable battlefield example, hogs a corner of the living room, jostling for space with a vast collection of recordings and a clavichord, the first instrument Tickell built from scratch in 1981: “Clavichords hit the strings, whereas harpsichords pluck them. Every key is handmade; they look like wooden wheel spokes. It was in Ken’s factory for years and one day his widow just gave it to me.”

Tickell passed away in 2014, leaving his team to complete his swansong, an enormous organ for Manchester Cathedral. Warsop then went into the hi-fi industry, using his highly sensitive ear for organ timbre to fine-tune the equipment for discerning audiophiles.

“It’s often where you play an organ that inspires you,” he says. “You can live with a terrible organ in a magnificent building because of the surroundings. But if you manage the double whammy – for me that would be Worcester Cathedral – that’s wonderful.”


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