Sidney White’s Electric Coliseum Bioscope & Variety Show. How 1960’s and hip-hip-hippie can you get, eh? Forget The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and/or Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band, this was the real thing.
1967 – the Summer of Love, kaftans, Hendrix, incense, patchouli oil and Sgt Pepper. For me it conjures up visions of long-haired folk in purple velvet loon pants parading up and down the King’s Road in Chelsea and turning on, tuning in and dropping out. For the gilded few this was the way it was, however I suspect our cultural memories of the time have been a bit skewed.
Check out this little beauty and come face to face with Britain in 1967. A gaggle of somewhat sturdy ladies and gents all uniformly clad in drab overcoats, every woman sporting a dowdy headscarf, standing around under a leaden sky crowded around a rather large* fair ground organ which is partially obscured by a tarpaulin. The party is on.
The LP Mammoth Gavioli Fair Organ Gavioli Showtime is basically a large steam-powered organ playing a selection of 16 show tunes. Delivered in 1909 it toured fair grounds as part of Mr White’s extravagantly named travelling show, predominantly in South Wales, until 1914 when the rise of a new-fangled technology called cinema spelled the end of its’ drawing power it fell into dereliction and disrepair before being lovingly restored and repaired in the 50s and going out on tour of all the various steam engine rallies out there. I don’t know its current whereabouts but it was up for sale last year. It’s an indestructible giant relic of a bye gone era, held together by having all its moving parts retooled, replaced and tended to by devoted acolytes; sort of a bit like Lemmy.
But I’m not here to sneer. I inherited Gavioli Showtime when my grandparents passed, 17 or so years ago and it reminds me of them and how much I find myself missing them; in fact last weekend I was close to where they lived in Somerset. Not that I ever heard them play this album, in fact the only LP I can ever remember being played in their house was one of carols occasionally on Christmas morning. When I was offered them I took a couple of LPs of soundtracks from the musicals, a controversial one and this.
Ignoring this LP as a musical entity (which is totally not the point of albums but normal rules do not apply here) there is something quaintly and reassuringly warm about Gavioli Showtime. It harks back to a less-cluttered, less-demanding, more innocent era when folk would turn out in reasonable numbers to see, in effect, a gigantic musical box put through its paces, usually in November in the rain, I’d imagine from the cover. It’s sweet.
What is interesting is that there was clearly a decent market for this type of record in the late 60s. The Mammoth Gavioli Fair Organ recorded, amongst others, Famous Overtures & Marches and Marching With The Mammoth Gavioli, and there were others in on the act, Mammoth Marenghi Fair Organ, the 112-Key Mortier Dance Organ and the Van Der Beeck Organ to name but three. I like to imagine that there was an intense, borderline murderous, rivalry between the Gavioli and the Marenghi – all manner of skulduggery and dirty deeds taking place, a sort of Game of Keys, if you will.
Whether I ever listen to it again or not, Gavioli Showtime is a link to the past for me, my own and a link to a seldom visited cultural corner.