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Brighton organist John Mann on his 60-year career

PUBLISHED: 10:06 20 September 2016 | UPDATED: 10:06 20 September 2016

John Mann with a Compton cinema organ

John Mann with a Compton cinema organ

Archant

John Mann talks to Duncan Hall about highlights from his 60-year career and why he isn’t about to retire just yet

Currently celebrating his 60th year in showbusiness, Brighton and Hove organist and entertainer John Mann believes himself to be the luckiest person in Sussex.

“You only get out of life what you put into it,” he says as he prepared for the last Eastbourne show of his 35th summer season. “I’ve put in quite a lot. I’m getting past my sell-by date, I was 77 in June, and I’m thinking this could possibly be the last year I do the summer season. I won’t give in though – I’ve already got bookings for 2017.”

He admits that over the years interest in organ music has waned, but he hasn’t noticed a drop in the size of his audiences or his appreciation society. On top of his own shows he can regularly be found playing in churches at weddings and funerals as well as to organ enthusiast societies.

What has changed is the way summer seasons used to be. “You would go to Skegness for 18 to 20 weeks and be a big fish in a little pond,” he says.

“We would play two shows a day, performing a different programme for five nights. Every Saturday morning you would see all the holidaymakers off on the train, and give the new lot coming in a leaflet for the next week.”

John is currently president of the Cinema Organ Society – reflecting a job he once did in the 1960s for ABC when cinemas discovered they could exploit a purchase tax loophole if they hosted a live performance ahead of each screening.

John fell into organ playing almost by accident back in 1956, after two auditions at Brighton’s now demolished sports stadium. Having heard the resident organ player was leaving the then 17-year-old performer had auditioned to replace him but not heard anything back. The following day he returned to try to be one of the ice dancers in the popular Ice Spectacular. As he was about to be accepted into the production the stadium’s manager offered him the organist’s role.

Since then he has rarely been off the road mixing performances on the piano and his Eminent 2000 organ with comedy and variety. “I love everybody,” he says. “My way of thinking is if I can make somebody happy with a bit of music and laughter that’s great.” His long career has earned him achievement awards from Eastbourne and Worthing theatres and the mayor of Brighton and Hove.

He credits his hometown of Brighton for instilling his interest in the organ. “My favourite organ of all time was the one at Brighton Dome,” he says. “It’s what inspired me to play the organ in the first place. My Eminent can almost recreate that pipe organ sound.”


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