Horwich man Ron Baugh has come a long way from playing the organ at Bolton's former Navada ballroom and skating rink.

Thanks to a national newspaper, he travelled 5,000 miles to caress the keys of one of the world's biggest and most famous organs, the Mormon Tabernacle organ in Salt Lake City.

And it is an experience 71-year-old Ron from Moorland Drive will never forget.

Each year, senior organist of the Tabernacle Organ, John Longhurst receives more than 500 requests to play the instrument. "Normally, we allow only organists of great stature - the famous concert organists - to play it but we decided to make an exception for Roland," he said.

Ron had spotted the organ while visiting Salt Lake City four years ago. Like hundreds of others he wrote requesting an opportunity to play on the organ, and like hundreds of others he was turned down.

Founded by Wild West pioneer Brigham Young in 1847, the city is the centre of the Church of the Jesus of Latterday Saints, or Mormons.

At the heart of their worship is Temple Square, home to the Mormon Temple and Tabernacle. The dome-shaped Tabernacle was completed in 1867 and is one of the finest auditoriums in the world, so acoustically sensitive that a pin dropped at one end can be clearly heard at the other 170ft away. As well as being home to the world famous 350-voice Tabernacle Choir, the focus of the building is the organ. First played in 1987, it has been substantially modified and now boasts 11,623 individual pipes, the largest of which are sheathed in gold leaf and stretch 32 ft to the roof.

As a comparison, the organ in Bolton Town Hall boasts 3,309 pipes, and is a third of the size of the Tabernacle organ.

Ron began his love affair with music as a 10-year-old Horwich schoolboy with piano lessons. By 13 he was the school pianist at Horwich Junior Technical College.

He was introduced to the organ at Horwich Independent Methodist Church, and quickly progressed to playing Handel's Messiah from cover to cover.

After school he signed on as an apprentice at Horwich Loco Works. But the lure of the bright lights of showbusiness proved too much for trainee engineer - especially after a visit to the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool.

RON recalls: "I was hooked on the idea of becoming a theatre organist because the job looked so glamorous - you could wear a white tuxedo jacket, rise up from the depths in a blaze of spotlights for around three 15-minute periods a day, and people actually asked for your autograph.

"You have to remember that back in the 40s and 50s organists were the pop stars of the day."

But like most so-called 'glamorous' jobs, reality turned out to be rather different. It was hard work, although well-rewarded. As an apprentice he was picking up £6 a week but would earn £11 as an organist.

After being coached in the art of the cinema organ by Reginald Liversidge at the Lido Cinema in Bolton, Ron set about forging a career.

Following a lengthy spell with ABC Cinemas in Preston and Barrow-in-Furness, Ron became resident organist at the Odeon, Manchester, home to Europe's largest Wurlitzer, before moving to the Navada, where he remained for 30 years.

During his years there he was known as Ron Stuart, and worked with big names like Ted Heath, Joe Loss, Johnny Dankworth, Cleo Laine and Kenny Ball, to name but a few. When he first started at Navada, he worked with a 16-piece big band led by Phil Foster. But by 1985, when the rink was destroyed in a massive blaze, all that remained of the band was Ron.

Although his playing days were over after the fire, Ron continued to "keep his arm in" by giving private lessons to talented children, including Robert Mitchell and Clare Williams, both pupils at Rivington and Blackrod High School.

And organ music continues to play an important role in the life of Ron and his family, son Stuart, daughter Adrienne and six grandchildren.

His proudest moments, he says, were playing at the wedding of his son and accompanying his grandson Matthew as he played the violin for his music GCSE.

And he's still open to professional offers. "I don't rule anything out," he said with a wink.

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