What it feels like to ... run Scotland's only working cinema organ

Jack Walker, 87, chairman, Scottish Cinema Organ Trust

IN its cinema heyday in the 1920s and 1930s, Glasgow used to have Wurlitzer organs in no fewer than 17 of its larger cinemas but not a single one is left, which is a shame. They were a big part of the cinema-going experience at that time, but by the 1940s cinemas were no longer installing them. The last Wurlitzer we had any contact with was at the old Odeon in Renfield Street. It was bought by one of our members but he sold it to a man in America, the country's biggest egg producer.

The Trust has the only working cinema organ in Scotland – it bought it from the Ritz Cinema in Stockport, and rebuilt it. It would cost about £200,000 to rebuild, as it's a very intricate business. It was one of the last organs to be bought from the Wurlitzer company and I think that was in 1937.

The Trust started out in East Kilbride and later re-located to Clydebank Town Hall, where the organ was a big attraction. That was successful for a few years; unfortunately, the Clyde burst its banks one day and the whole of the town hall's organ chamber was flooded. The organ had to come out right away, of course. All of its pipes were in an awful mess. Our insurers said they wouldn't renew the insurance if we kept it there. We looked for a new home and found the Pollokshaws Burgh Hall, a very nice place. We had to build a complete organ loft up in the balcony.

Not a lot of people know that the organ plays at the same volume all the time. Whether it plays very softly, which it can do, or very loudly, which it can also do, depends on the organist opening the series of shutters on the instrument. Opening the shutters changes the tone as well as the volume.

We once played a concert on the Wurlitzer for around 700 visitors during a Doors Open Day. Very few of them knew of its existence. That was a revelation for us: we knew we had to get word of the organ out there. Since then, the Wurlitzer has been highly successful.It has a quite wonderful sound. We bring up a concert organist from the south every month. Tomorrow it's the turn of Richard Hills, who happens to be not just the supreme classical organist but is also a wonderful cinema organist. He has won many prizes and was even the American Theatre Organ Society's Organist of the Year in 2010. He will play a fantastic concert for us.

Wurlitzer organs are a wonderful link with the past. In my younger days I was a student in Aberdeen and I remember falling in love with the cinema organ in the Astoria and Capitol cinemas there. Our secretary, Duncan Sinclair, was also a student there. He was taught to play the Astoria organ by George Blackmore, the resident organist, and a very famous organist. Duncan is the last person who ever played the organ at these cinemas.

I don't play the organ myself, unfortunately. I would love to, but you need a mind like a fighter pilot's to be able to play it. It's so complicated. After all, you're playing on three keyboards, and you also have the bass pedals at your feet. You can see the organist playing one phase of whatever tune they're playing while he plans ahead for the next phase. How they do it, I don't know. Most of them have memorised the music: very few read it as they're playing.

Richard Hills' concert tomorrow begins at 2.45pm at Pollokshaws Burgh Halls in Glasgow. See www.scottishcinemaorgantrust.org.uk