||I PLAYED THE PALLADIUM
A Musicians Tale
Victor Mc Donald recalls playing at the world's most prestigious theatre
For many of the worlds top artistes playing a gig at the London Palladium is the pinnacle of their career. In its heyday in the 1960s many top line American artistes would not bother to do television outside their own country because they felt it was not worthwhile. But an offer to top the bill on Sunday Night at the London Palladium meant so much prestige that they would cross the Atlantic for a single performance.
Essex based international concert organist Victor Mc Donald didn't have to travel quite so far but has been fortunate enough to play there twice. Victor is an all round musician whose career involves him in the roles of not only organist but also pianist, keyboard player, arranger, composer and teacher. His experience of playing at the world’s most prestigious theatre is certainly a memorable one. "I have taken 'The Beast' as I call my instrument, to the Palladium twice. It is a complicated set up and many people ask if I play it or fly it! It's an orchestral instrument rather than the end-of-the pier variety. The first time I played at the Palladium was for an awards ceremony, which I opened, then had my own spot, and then closed." However, it was the second performance that Victor will never forget.
"This was for a Gala Evening charity performance, which was a sell out. It consisted of excerpts from the shows and musicals, and mine was the only solo performance of about twenty five minutes, which when doing it seemed only like twenty five seconds! Having set the thing up, and me seated ready to start thundering away and whilst the curtains were closed, I discovered to my horror that as the instrument is on wheels because of its weight, the damned thing started moving towards me because of the rake or slope of the stage. With only minutes to go before 'Curtain Up' there was much rushing around by the Stage Hands to find wedges - bits of wood - to put under the wheels to stop the instrument continuing its journey - and me along with it - destined for the Orchestra Pit!
There have been many instances of near disasters at the Palladium. On one occasion, famous jazz pianist Oscar Petersen appeared. As he finished his act and the audience applauded Petersen remained seated at his piano and refused to stand up and take his bow. The Producer and Stage Manager were puzzled by this behaviour until the curtains closed and Petersen explained that during his performance one of the piano legs had given way and he had been holding the entire piano up during his performance with his knees!
But as Victor would tell you all musicians have their own particular near disaster stories. "I once played at the old New Gallery Theatre in Regent Street, which had its own theatre organ. The Producer told me to open the show, and then stand up and face the audience for - hopefully applause. Whilst I was thundering away with a lot of peddle work I felt my button and zip give way on my trousers. Remembering my Producer's instruction on finishing I turned round and stood with one hand holding my trousers up and waved to the audience to acknowledge the applause. But suddenly, I spotted a pal in the front row. Forgetting my predicament momentarily I released my other hand from my trousers and waived at my pal - disaster! Down dropped my trousers to even more applause, but my misfortune was lengthened even longer, because I had forgotten I was wearing a pair of briefs a pal had bought me from Blackpool some weeks earlier - bright scarlet with the words written across them 'I LOVE MY ORGAN.' Fortunately the audience thought it part of the act and this brought the applause to thunderous dimensions."
On another occasion, Victor was playing for a wedding on a very hot day. Because it was hot, the doors of the church were left open to cool the place. During the sermon a rather large pigeon flew in and duly landed on top of one of the larger organ pipes - a thirty two footer. "Evidently becoming bored with the clergyman yakking on remorselessly, this feathered creature went to sleep - towards the end of this marathon sermon I made a few adjustments to the organ ready for the next hymn. Evidently the noise of levers etc moving about, woke up this slumbering bird with a start. The poor creature promptly fell backwards down this 'mine shaft' of a pipe. I wondered how on earth am I going to shift this 'plug' bunging up the pipe, so I thought, 'I'm going for broke on this one!' I pulled out the most powerful stops called the 'Bombard', (which speaks for itself) - put down a massive chord and pedal for the opening of the hymn, and to the accompaniment of a great squawk the poor creature was catapulted out of this pipe by the massive propulsion of air, and with great loss of feathers, made a trapezium curve into the back row of the congregation - causing much screaming of the faithful, and landed dead beside a mortified woman who passed out!"
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