Unfortunately Stephen passed-away in August 2022 -The information here is written by Stephen.
Some History – By Stephen Simpson
ME? I’m the son of a printer, whose life was making packaging. Mother was the typical working class housewife, trying to bring up five kids in the 50’s and 60’s. We kids were all very different.
Mom and Dad meant well, I suppose, but we were a dysfunctional family, way before that term had ever been thought of.
In those days there were no counselors or shrinks to sort your life out for you and that’s why today our family is the way it is, which saddens me sometimes, but we all have to live with it.
I was the fourth child, went to Grammar School, when they still existed, got a job in a bank at age 16 after failing the medical to join the air force.
I never learned much music at school. The music master was also the choirmaster at the Parish Church and if you could sing you were OK, if not then you were an outsider and not likely to succeed.
My father was an organ nut. Pipe organs and theater organs were his specialty and he had a fair collection of LP records. Among his records were three of mechanical organs, and I took to these as a child.
In my teens I became fascinated with fairground organs and went to steam rallies far and near to hear them. I never dreamed in those days I would ever be able to own one.
Dad’s workmate, Bill, was also a fair organ nut and took me to events and recitals too.
I started to experiment making music, but my parents were not at all encouraging,’ you don’t want to make yourself look a fool!’ was their advice. They preferred to stay in the shadows, the rest of the family did their own things!
I became single-minded and somewhat of a loner for a while. My first marriage failed after I bought my first organ. I guess she didn’t like the sound!
I married again a couple of years later and I’m still very happy 14 years later with my dear wife, Joyce (she prefers the name Joy). Joy has Multiple Sclerosis and has difficulty if getting around, but we travel to events with street organs and have lots of fun.
Apart from organs, what?
I am a real ale fan. Love a real pint of good British beer, preferably Wadworths 6X, or similar. There’s no need to get drunk, a couple of pints of real ale, savoured for the flavour, is miles better than any mass produced near beer with smoothflow or widgets. Lager is fine, so long as it is a good brand, like Beck’s from Germany, but British lager is dishwater.
At the end of 2002 I left the bank after 31 years. The job had changed from what it was and the stress of having to meet targets made me ill. Now I can stay at home and make organ music, or repair organs or go out and make recordings and travel around and show street organs at shows.
I became fascinated watching the cardboard music unfolding through fair organs and in the 1970’s an organ owner, Brian Blockley, allowed me to operate his organ at events.
Watching the music go through the organ I could see the patterns in the holes and how they could be reconciled with the notes the organ played. I wanted to learn more.
In the 1970’s I took a trip over to Belgium to visit the famous organ music arranger, Arthur Prinsen, at his home near Antwerp.
At that time, he was the only music arranger I had met, as they appeared to be a fairly secretive bunch, something I found not to be true very quickly.
Arthur was a gentleman, and was patient enough to answer all my questions as to how the perforated music was made for mechanical organs. He showed me how the tunes were arranged and how the different effects were obtained to change registers on the organ and to play drums and cymbals and the like. He encouraged me to have a go, something my parents didn’t do!
In Arthur’s workshop I saw the machine, which punches out the holes in the card (called a kap-machine) and later heard some newly arranged and cut music being played on an organ. I was hooked.
Another visit, this time to music arranger Albert Decap, also in Belgium, who taught me that mechanical music should not sound mechanical, and that precision in arranging should not mean that the music sounds like a metronome!
Also in Belgium I visited the Decap organ factory in Antwerp and learned some of the ‘tricks’ of mechanical organ building.
Back home I had a go at arranging organ music, but it became woefully apparent that my musical knowledge was inadequate. So I enrolled for lessons and took several courses in musical practise and theory. My playing of the manual organ improved at that time too, with the help of patient tutors.
When I had learned what I needed, I had a tough time trying to make inroads into the world of mechanical music production, so after a year I stopped to follow other pursuits.
In 1988 I bought my first organ. It was supplied as a kit, from Le Ludion company in Toulouse, France. I spent several weeks making the organ. The music available for it was very expensive and I began to make my own music for it from file folders and by cutting the holes with a D-I-Y knife! One of these tunes was ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’. Some 3000 holes I reckon, all cut by hand, and more than enough to make me realise that I needed a cutting machine.
I managed to get one from Holland, and this made life much easier!
At that time there was a new wave of interest in the mechanical organ world and new builders were cropping up and making instruments ordinary people could afford. What’s more, these people needed music and so I started making music for many people.
A few years ago, the late secretary of the British Organ Grinders Association became ill and asked me to take over his duties, and I was happy to do this, at least in part.
With commitment to BOGA and the deterioration in my wife’s condition and my own poor health meant that the production of music was set aside for a while.
Now in 2003,I was made redundant from the bank I had worked at for 31 years, I have time available again
Editor note: Stephens beloved wife Joy died on February 10th, 2005.