My third and final Tredegar sound file blog is based on a jingle written for the Garden Festival of Wales in 1992, which although anonymous was presumably written by a Tredegar resident. The National Garden Festival was held nearby in Ebbw Vale.
The jingle was probably written for a competition – I doubt it was a winner, or at least it was not used for news clips at the time but there are enough similarities to the wording of the refrain to suggest that “the thing to do in 1992” was a prompt given by competition organisers. It is extremely long for a jingle – 14 verses, plus intro, outro, key change, and an instrumental bridge! Perhaps this did not lend a competitive edge.
The sound file contains no identifying information about the artists (singer, guitarist, bass, and drums) or song writer(s), but I would say it was written by someone who grew up listening to the Beatles and who lived through the ‘groovy and hip’ seventies, with a penchant for the Americanism ‘gonna’.
Even though the jingle was written five years prior to Ground Force taking the UK by storm, Alan Titchmarsh gets a mention. In 1992, he was presenter of Songs of Praise and had been co-presenter of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show since 1988. Titchmarsh’s Travels was one year old, so he was evidently popular enough for verse seven.
Otherwise, the jingle is amusing in that it provides a snapshot of the British backyard gardener at the time through its many verses. There’s a definite sense of excitement from the get-go in verse one:
“Get ready, it’s gonna be soon. Ebbw Vale’s gonna be in bloom.”
Followed by the jaunty refrain: “It’s gonna be the thing to do… in 1992. (Boop boo de doo)” which goes really well with the festival’s little gnome mascot, Gryff, shown playing a saxophone on the cover of the souvenir brochure.
The background story to Ebbw Vale’s festival is quite incredible. It was the last of the National Garden Festival programmes introduced by Michael Heseltine in the 1980s to help communities to regenerate after the closure of major industry in the area – in this case, the Ebbw Vale Steelworks. It was also the most successful festival for two reasons. Firstly, it attracted over 2 million visitors bringing with them spending money which went into the local coffers; secondly, unlike the festivals in Glasgow and Newcastle, the site stayed live becoming the Festival Park shopping experience.
The bottom line was that after a closure of the steelworks which took place over a period of 25 years, the deprivation in the Blaenau Gwent area was horrific, the environment spoiled and the town of Ebbw Vale surrounded by slag heaps and other eyesores from the decommissioned works.
Blaenau Gwent Borough Council applied for the garden festival scheme, hoping for the injection of investment monies (estimated between £25 and £70 million per area) to regenerate the area and showcase the results over six months, bringing in further tourism income in the short and long term.
Originally, the Ebbw Vale application was not successful – Wales being left out of the scheme altogether. Not to be deterred, Brian Scully, then leader of the council, took this inequality to the Secretary of State for Wales, Lord Crickhowell. It took several months of putting pressure on the government, but it was agreed that Wales should be represented. Nineteen local authorities submitted a bid and on 19 November 1986, Ebbw Vale was the announced winner.
The project began with a budget of £8m, which stretched to £18m. This paid for the removal of slag heaps, building 1000 homes and a church, planting over 300,000 trees (not to mention over half a million shrubs, flowers, and bulbs in the Welsh culture-themed gardens), a giant waterfall, and the mechanical clock built by sculptor Andy Plant which was affectionately named “In the Nick of Time”. There was also a funicular, a land train, and a sky shuttle to transport visitors around the site.
t appears that 1992 was the year of ‘staycations’ as most of Wales came to Ebbw Vale on holiday to enjoy the festival, which was attended by stars and personalities from all over Britain. Every pupil in the area was brought on a school trip to hunt for bugs and adventure within the 1.75-mile landscape. Best of all, the festival provided hundreds of jobs, alleviating the area’s desperate poverty.
Today the site looks a lot different. The shopping centre still has the original pagoda, there is an owl sanctuary on site as well as a playground and the UK’s longest tub-ride. Nowadays, anglers are allowed to fish in the festival lake, which has enjoyed a happy overgrowth. The Blaenau Gwent council has moved two of its offices to the site, and there is a Premier Inn to welcome holiday makers during the busy summer season. The Festival Church runs a food bank and a community radio station; however, the funicular is gone, and the mechanical clock now sits in the middle of a roundabout in Llanwern.
Despite some people’s concerns that more of the festival site could have been preserved after the event was over, the real positive story is summed up in the words of Brian Scully: “Blaenau Gwent was no longer a place that lacked confidence after losing its industry. It was willing to change and modernise”. The council is currently attempting to buy the Festival Park to convert it to a tourist attraction, after it was purchased in February 2019 by a London-based investor. Sadly, the almost immediate pandemic undermined plans to turn it into a mecca for climbers and mountain bikers, and with the closure of several shops, the site went back on the market.
To tie this all in with the Sound Archives… as it happens, I came across a mention of the Garden Festival Wales in a file I was listening to for clearing purposes this week. It was in the last part of an interview with potter, Tony White, who had relocated to Wales (near Tregaron) from Leicester in 1983, and who took the opportunity to become one of the artisans who held stalls during the festival. His experience was overwhelmingly positive, and his Welsh business boomed as a result – to paraphrase: even if only 1% of the millions of visitors stopped by the stall, that was more exposure than most artists get in a lifetime.
It appears that most people interviewed for various anniversaries of the event, have positive memories of their time as children, visitors, players of Gryff and other walk-about characters, employees, and stall holders.
In another part of my life, in a land far, far away (British Columbia) I was a music graduate; my main instruments were voice and percussion – tympani being my favourite.
For several years, I had the pleasure of playing in the mischievous back row of a community concert band, so I was delighted to find out that one of my assigned sound files was the complete first CD by the Tredegar Town Band (TTB), recorded in 1992 after they placed third at the 1991 European Championships.
This band has an illustrious history, which is partially outlined (thanks to Heritage Lottery funding) on their website when they celebrated 140 years in 2017. Although there isn’t much modern information, the band has been alive and well, and very successful in various championships right up until COVID forced them into a hiatus.
They now post most of their information on their Twitter and YouTube accounts, and it looks like rehearsals have started up again under their current director, Ian Porthouse.
The band’s very first ‘gig’ was reported in the Monmouthshire Merlin in 1849; the TTB played the opening of a “splendid new mill” at Samuel Homfray’s ironworks in Tredegar. This was a very special occasion – all the town shops were closed for the day, bunting everywhere, and the procession involved 1600 people with thousands more spectators. The band played “a sprightly tune” after Mr Homfray’s speech, and later that night, gave a full performance at the celebratory dinner held in the Town Hall contributing “to the gratification of the assembly” and ending with ‘God Save the Queen’.
From this time forward, the band had some challenges but increasingly many successes. They were called to play at many processions, community gatherings and important openings. The first official concert, to raised funds for the band, appears to have taken place in 1873, the next year a ‘new brass band’ led by Mr Joseph Gwyer won first prize of £1 10 shillings at the Tredegar Eisteddfod; TTB went on to win first prize and the gold medal at the National Eisteddfod in Wrexham in 1876 and this laid the foundation for future successes both in the Eisteddfod tradition but also the international circuit. By 1883, the band’s patron was Lord Tredegar, and the prize money had increased to £5.
Lord Tredegar presided over the first National Eisteddfod to be held in London (1909) and presumably took his ‘band’ with him to compete – however, the band’s website timeline has not been updated past 1904.
The CD is a source of delight to many I’m sure and is still available on iTunes! The band has its own YouTube channel as well; a live version of this programme can also be found on the Tredegar Wales YouTube channel — performed at the Garden Festival Wales in Ebbw Vale in 1992 under the baton of Nigel Weeks.
Playing for Wales! is a fun compilation of classical standards and music popular in the early 1990s. It begins with James Curnow’s ‘Blenheim Flourishes’ which, during the 1991 competition would have set the tone for their whole performance.
I have been unable to find out the name of the principal cornet player at that time, but their solo in the band’s arrangement of Marvin Hamlisch’s ‘The Way We Were’ is truly stunning, as is the cadenza work throughout. The CD continues with an overture by Carl G Reissiger, a trumpet showcase by Harold Walters, the more popular ‘Pasadena’ by Harry Warren, and Richard Wagner’s ‘Procession to the Minster’.
This is followed with the Honest Toil March (William Rimmer), which I would assume went down very well in the mining community of Tredegar. There are two romances – ‘Je crois entendre encore’ by Georges Bizet, and Gilbert Vintner’s ‘Salute to Youth, which are placed either side of my favourite tune on the album – a concert band arrangement of Jerry Herman’s ‘Mack and Mabel.
The CD concludes with the theme from the film E.T. which was celebrating its tenth anniversary, of course composed by the iconic John Williams, who has probably contributed more music for concert band than any other composer of the 20th century.
Wearing their resplendent red coats, the members of the band are pictured during their contest performance, on the recording’s cover, at the De Doelen Hall in Rotterdam. The recording is testament not only to their conductor, Nigel Weeks, but to the players themselves – precise articulation and rhythmic control, superb attention to dynamics and some very talented solo players. The repertoire was well chosen reflecting the preferences of the time with a selection of exciting marches, romantic ballads, showcase tunes, a jazzy carnival waltz and movie music. Sadly, there was no Welsh content but two of the three percussionists were women, which puts me in good company.
As I’ve said earlier, the band is still an impressive band with consistent successes. In more recent times, TTB have won the British Open title in 2010 and 2013; they provided a major part of the score (as well as an on-screen cameo) for the movie ‘Pride’ which won a BAFTA in 2014; the next year they performed at the Old Vic Theatre, London for Tim Minchin, and in 2016 became the Band Cymru title, becoming Champion Band of Wales for the 11th time. Last year, they played on Britain’s Got Talent – the only performance during the pandemic until recently when competitions were allowed again.
Although TTB celebrated 140 years in 2016, the band really has been an exceptional part of Welsh musical history for 172 years – thirty-two years before incorporation in 1876. I’m personally very glad that I discovered the band because of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project and the files assigned to me. The National Library holds several electronic resources showcasing the band in its catalogue, much of it in the BBC Radio Wales collection or from S4C/HTV Wales. There is even one score available of ‘Fanfares & Scherzo for Brass Band’ commissioned by the band from Wyndham Thomas. I heartily recommend listening to the Tredegar Town Band in whatever format you fancy.
Tredegar Town Band logo, available in various places online
I was given three sound files relating to the town of Tredegar, all recorded in 1992, but so different in content that I asked if I could write three blogs to do each file justice.
The three files include the first CD released by the Tredegar Town Band, which had just won third place in the 1991 European Championships; a jingle written for the very last Garden Festival Wales; and a narration based on life-time resident William Cliff Smith’s memories of the Tredegar between 1912 and 1926. I am going to start with Mr Smith.
Tredegar is a town which maintains a hugely popular community following – not only does it have its championship brass band, but it is home to the Tredegar Orpheus Male Voice choir (started in the 1880s), at least three websites and several open forums which were very helpful for fact and name checking. Most of these are available through the umbrella site www.tredegar.co.uk which was set up in 1991.
My sound file is a clean copy (with added organ music) of a cassette tape recording available on YouTube. It begins with the narrator (presumed to be Barry Davies thanks to some investigative digging on one of the forum sites) saying:
“It could be truthfully said of Cliff Smith that he sincerely loved Tredegar, and this underlying dedication to Tredegar is evident in his two books: “Tredegar, My Town” and “Tredegar’s Yesterdays’.”
W C Smith “Tredegar’s Yesterdays” book cover – found on Amazon
Thus begins an interesting recollection of life after the turn of the century, up to and including the Great Miners’ Strike of 1926, covering all aspects from housing and living conditions, the daily routine of ‘the housewife’ (beginning at 5am) to the realities of washing day in a mining town. Men took care of their own clothes on Saturdays while the children were at one of the four cinemas in Tredegar, and the wives chatted with their neighbours, knowing their official washing day was on a Monday.
The descriptions and naming of the various hawkers – from food to underclothing to coal and oil – are interesting and detailed. There’s a real sense of neighbourhood during this timeframe. Each of Tredegar’s neighbourhoods had established door-to-door salespeople, including packmen who unrolled their wares on the stoop and women who came on their cobs from as far away as Crickhowell to sell chickens and vegetables. Commercial Street lives up to its name as the hub for shops, some of which were the pick-up locations for the vendors who then dispersed to their associated neighbourhood.
I particularly enjoyed the story about the fish mongers who came from Merthyr in a fleet of flat-top, horse drawn carts on Tuesdays and Fridays. Since there was a bylaw in Merthyr about unsold fish, there arose a tradition of these fish carts lining up, at the end of the route, outside a tea shop called The Rice Pudding owned by spinsters, the Misses Price. Their café served pudding for a penny and tea for a half penny and while the fish men enjoyed their break, elderly townsfolk would gather around the carts to see what was left. They were able to buy a fish for a penny, while the remainder was distributed for free to the poor.
Another section of the sound file was allocated to nicknames of the various hawkers, including Jack Lookup (who sold everything imaginable from his high cart and who serviced the whole town), Billy Dumpling (baker), Trevor the Milk (whose descendent was awarded an MBE to go with the appellation in 2008), Mott the Oil and others.
Townsfolk also earned memorable nicknames. There was Dai Backrent who collected for the Tredegar Iron & Coal Co., Billy Born-Drunk, Jackie Banjo and Jim Drummer, Billy Kidgloves (temperament or affectation?) and Dai Bluemark, so called because of a scar on his face which, because of coal dust impregnation, turned blue on healing. George Pierce became so well-known for his tall stories, that anyone caught telling a white lie was called a ‘george pudding’. The three Jones brothers of Whitworth were called Jimmy Hallelujah, Tommy Saviour and Billy Cow-and-Calf. The first two were converted at a Tent Appeal in 1912; presumably Billy missed out on that but due to his small holding was awarded a nickname too.
Cliff recalls the ice cream vendors on pedal carts, a similar cart was also used by Mrs Morris, the lady who ran a fish & chip cart with a tubular chimney – smoke billowing out “like a first world war naval dreadnaught.” Apparently, her chips were golden brown and her batter unrivalled. Then there were the milk ladies – Angelina and her sister, and the one-eyed cockle man from Dowlais. There was as much friendly competition between the fruit and veg sellers as there was on the allotments to see who could grow the biggest cabbage. Consequently, there was a greengrocer on almost every street.
The memoirs overall show a great spirit of community – every shop on the high street thriving, the poorest section of the population cared for in some way or other, but also the realities of living in a mining town. Towards the end of the file, the depravations experienced by the town due to major strikes in 1921 and 1926, bring home the importance of community pulling together.
Even before the lean years, allotments, chicken coops and pigsties were a common site around Tredegar. The allotments were cared for by the miners who began the growing year with a May Day celebration of digging and sowing seeds. I loved the description of the children going around with a soapbox trolley gathering up horse manure – deposited daily and imperative for the allotment plots. In some areas, the street sweeper would anticipate the trolley by shifting the manure into a tidy pile ready for collection on a street corner.
Side two of the sound file, which was digitised by the Sound Archive, is dedicated to stories of Cliff’s early work life in a brick kiln from the age of thirteen, and his love of dancing which started when he was fifteen.
Life was hard in these days – everyone worked from an early age and long hours, but they enjoyed life as well. There was a rhythm to the town; everyone knew the routine of industry into which home life fit as a harmony. The descant to this lifestyle was made from the moments of social pleasure, which came in the form of music (the band and choirs which had started in the late 1800s, glee parties, the dancehalls) and the cinemas – Palace, Workman’s Hall, Olympia and the Top Cinema (officially the Queen).
These were the days before talkies and Cliff’s adolescent heart was stolen by the actress, Pearl White. Although the films were silent, the audience were incredibly noisy with adults shouting to read the captions aloud for their unschooled friends and the pandemonium of the children on a sugar high screaming whenever the villain appeared on screen.
After the Saturday morning chores, eight-year-old Cliff and his sister would rush off to the closest sweet shop to load up on marble rocks before heading to the cinema for the weekly dose of Pearl’s serial “Trail of Hearts”. After the movie, the two would go to a fish shop on Commercial Street where they would gorge on “fish batter and chips strainings”. This part of the recording had me salivating!
By the time Cliff was a teenager, there was excellent choice in dancehalls – the Town Hall at the top or the Drill Hall at the bottom of Tredegar. The north end of town was looked after by a band leader named Tom James, and several times a year dances were held, under special licence, at the Crwsiad Hall at the catholic school.
Walking was popular and one of Cliff’s favourite summer routes would commence at the end of the afternoon shift crossing in Cefn Golau (now a nature reserve), descending into Rhymney, and then circling north to Princetown and Tafarnaubach. Cliff and his friends would arrive back home at Dukestown between 1am and 2am. Some days he got up at 3am to walk to the Dyffryn to pick mushrooms or winberries.
Proposed 9-mile walking route taken by Cliff Smith and his friends from the brickyards in Georgetown – using the OS map route planning open-source software
The end of the second side is depressing. By 1926, Cliff had been appointed secretary of a soup kitchen. Financial aid came from the Orpheus Choir which split into touring groups, holding concerts in London, Liverpool, and Birmingham, sending donations to the Cooperative Society, which in turn, bought the produce required for Tredegar’s four soup kitchens. Cliff’s post at Ebenezer Chapel fed 130 men and boys every day. Cliff relates the realities of the morning task of peeling five sacks of potatoes. The peelings went to a pig dealer who traded for a few packets of cigarettes, which were split between the men. Cliff passed his allocation on to his father.
The unemployed queued with their admission cards; some ate their stew or soup at tables, others brought a jug so they could take their allocation home, which would be watered down to feed the whole family. Another testament to the community spirit of Tredegar is in the words: “Through it all, the miners and their families bravely endured the hardships, exhibiting a spirit of unity and brotherhood which has not been surpassed.”
The sound file finishes with Barry Davies telling the listener that Cliff Smith died on 22 November 1990, aged 84. According to one of the Tredegar forum members, there are at least 24 other cassette tapes recorded by him. I am not sure if the National Library holds them all, or if they have been digitised, but he is an engaging narrator, and with subject matter like Cliff Smith, brings to life the joys and struggles of everyday Wales.
We need your help! The Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project (UOSH) and the Tiger Bay Heritage and Cultural Exchange Organisation is working with freelancers to create a new piece of work inspired by the ‘Tiger Bay and the Rainbow Club’ film and oral histories recorded from the area. We are trying to locate relatives of interviewees who were recorded by the late Butetown History and Arts Centre.
Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is a five-year project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and led by the British Library. The project aims to preserve and provide access to sound recordings across the UK. Ten Network Audio Preservation Centres have been established across the UK and have received funding for three years to deal with the threat facing sound recordings. The project has focused on digitising and preserving rare unique sound recordings, those that are under threat of physical deterioration and those at risk of being lost because the playback equipment is no longer available.
One of the collections digitised by the National Library of Wales consists of oral history recordings relating to people who (used to) live and work in Tiger Bay, or Butetown, and the Cardiff Docks. The interviews conducted between 1984 and 2000 includes several projects such as life histories, Artists interviews, Second World War, Somali Elders and much more.
“The aim of digitising these oral histories is to preserve and make them accessible for future generations. Tiger Bay has developed over the Centuries and the past can now be heard by the voices of the community themselves” Alison Smith, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Hub Project Manager.
“The Heritage & Cultural Exchange is a community based organisation that actively encourages the participation of local people in the development of, and the ongoing use of the collection of oral history tapes and photographs so that everyone can see the achievements and tenacity of their ancestors. We tell the stories of the people who lived and worked in the Docks to schools, colleges and through exhibitions.
We want the world to know we are here and have been for a very long time.
The Heritage & Cultural Exchange wants to give full credit and show respect to those who shared their stories but we need help to identify some of them or their living relatives. Can you help us?” Gaynor Legall, Chair Tiger Bay Heritage & Cultural Exchange
These interviews are a significant piece of the city’s diverse history heard by the voices of everyday people from the Tiger Bay area. This call out is for interviewees or their relatives in order for us to use part of their stories. Do you have any information about James Sapo Mannay, Ronald Jenkins, Joan Duggan, Katie Anderson Johnson, Abbas Abdullah, Christopher Stevens, Sunday and Eva Dennis and Harry Jarret? If so, please contact us on email@example.com
I will put my hand up right away and say that realistically, I bit off more than I could chew with this blog, mostly because I am an entry level Welsh learner, and these sound files, owing somewhat to their complexity and distortion from the digitisation process, require a more fluent speaker.
However, the process of listening to the sound files, which formed part of the adjudication process of the awdl [ode] competition at the 1949 National Eisteddfod in Dolgellau, was a good exercise for my brain. I also found listening to Sir Thomas Herbert Parry-Williams’ voice mesmerising; the words which I did understand painted a picture of his lack of enthusiasm with most of the candidates.
According to historian, Jan Morris, one of the most important events at the Eisteddfod is the ‘chairing of the bard’ – this honour is bestowed on the person who has written the best awdl, in strict meter, based on a theme set by the judges. In 1949, the theme was Y Graig [the rock]; the winning entry, according to the adjudication notes held at the National Library of Wales archives, was titled Coed y Gell which forms the basis for the second sound file in this collection.
‘TH Parry-Williams, number 11/41 from the National Library collection by Julian Sheppard’
Parry-Williams’ disappointment is reflected in his written introduction:
O’r ugain cynnig a ddebynwyd eleni nid oes ond rhyw hanner dwsin “o fewn terfynau gobaith”. Y mae gweddill yr ymgeiswyr i gyd ond un (sef Herbert sydd heb lunio awdl) wedi cynganeddu eu deunydd yn ddygn, ond nid oes ar eu gwaith raen digon gorffenedig i obeithio llwyddo mewn cystadleuaeth fel hon. (Parry-Williams, 1949, p.63)
Parry-Williams opinion that of the twenty entries received in 1949, only six had any redeemable merit “within the bounds of hope”. When the entrants became angry with his judgement, he maintained that their work was not of sufficient standard to succeed in a competition like the Eisteddfod. In fact, he wrote that his complaint is an old complaint – the competitors “mess up” so much that it’s hard to say anything useful about the entries.
In both sound files, Parry-Williams has a measured oration style which switches between his opinion and his recitation of parts of the entries. At the beginning of file one, he announces an entrant – Mr Pwyl, with presumably his address. I feel like an archaeologist, floundering to make sense of a language, knowing that I run the risk of misinterpretation and much of the first sound file for me, is obscure.
With the help of the printed adjudication notes, I muddle through. Early on, there is a reference to an ode title: Glan yr Afon [Riverside] – which points me to a section in the notes where Parry-Williams includes it in a party of five candidates, seen to be at the bottom of the top ten! He deems this poem elegant, but somewhat monotonous; having written the ode on the basis of Crist yn Graig [Christ is a rock], Parry-Williams opines that it is difficult to bring new life to an old theme, and criticises the poet for preaching from the Gospels, and waffling on the way to making a point. However, Parry-Williams appreciates the performer’s pleasantly clear, sweet singing style and encourages them to raise their tone up more before “mynd dow-dow yn dawel i’r diwedd”. (Parry-Williams, 1949, p.67)
At the end of sound file one, to the backdrop of whistling from the Dolgellau train, Parry-Williams mentions Y Graig Gibraltar [Rock of Gibraltar]. This is the subject of the ode titled Uwch y Lli, sung in three parts: Gwyryfdod [Virginity], Gwae [Woe], and Gobaith [Hope]. The singer is apparently a bit cumbersome and jerky, but not without the ability to draw a sense of place. In the notes, Parry-Williams illustrates this by including two verses; unfortunately, he does not read them in the recording, so we cannot listen to them here.
Sound file one seems to finish on a happier note, or at least Parry-Williams pauses, and the tone of his voice becomes lighter, less lecturer, more encouraging.
There is a false start to sound file two, but Parry-Williams recites a verse from the winning poem Coed y Gell in a beautiful singsong style and these match a transcription in his notes:
Druan o’r haf a’i feddal betalau Rhyw ias ddiaros yw hedd ei oriau. Dihuno gwig a mynd a wna’i gogau; Gwywa, a bidd doreithiog y beddau.
Towards the end of this file, Parry-Williams changes tone of voice again and the word ‘foundation’ (sylfaen) occurs several times. He makes the audience chuckle a bit and ends his speech to thunderous applause.
It is a shame that the adjudication notes held in the archives do not match the sound files exactly, rather they appear to have been written as an essay after the fact. Apart from making my life easier in terms of transcribing the files (which I was unable to do), it might have made more sense of my assumption that the competitors’ interpretations of Y Graig include such geographical references as Gilbraltar, Ayers Rock, Clogwyn (near Caernarfon), Derwydd (near Ammanford), as well as a confusing discussion about whether various rocks, including Carreg y Drewi, are linked to Newport.
‘Sir T.H. Parry Williams plaque on North Road, Aberystwyth’
Sir Thomas Parry-Williams was a famous poet and scholar himself. He died in Aberystwth in 1975, at his home on North Road, after living a very full but slightly introverted life. He published Ugain o Gerddi [20 Poems] the same year he adjudicated the awdl competition. Some of his poems are about his own “transcendental view of life, especially in relation to the landscape of Snowdonia”. (Price, 2014) Perhaps this is why he was so parsimonious with his praise at the 1949 Dolgellau Eisteddfod.
In the same way that, for some, a picture paints a thousand words, it’s music, that for me is the conduit that transports me to other places, other times and other lives.
Whilst cataloguing the audio recordings of the Tiger Bay Collection from the Butetown History and Arts Centre oral history project I was lucky enough to stumble across a recording of Tiger Bay local and renowned jazz guitarist Victor Parker. The occasion was Victor’s birthday sometime in the mid-seventies (although his age and the actual date have been lost somewhere along the way). On the recording Victor and his band are found whiling away the afternoon in The Quebec Hotel on Bute Street, treating the assembled drinkers, dancers, singers and swooners to a free and easy, laid back run through their repertoire of jazz standards, blues and modern folk. It’s far from an organised, structured concert, the lengthy gaps between numbers see to that, but this relaxed format allows us to eavesdrop of the chatter of the crowd. The laughter, the snippets of gossip and fragments of tales, the layers upon layers of indistinct chat all make for one of the most evocative recordings that I have encountered throughout the whole collection.
Original Shelf Mark Identifier: 101-0021-024 : Catalogue Number: UNLW023/605 in Tiger Bay ‘Lectures and Events’ collection
Granted, this didn’t give us any hard and fast information, there were no detailed descriptions, stories or recollections that we may usually look for in a valuable oral history archive, it is without doubt that any factual, reasoned debate or discussion was the last thing on the minds of the attendees. However, it did offer us something different, something that an interview or a vox-pop never could. The hour and a half of this recording captures and evokes all kinds of imagery, memory and feeling. I’m old enough to remember the 1970s, and I am also able to remember afternoons just like the one captured here (albeit in my case it would have been traditional Irish folk music in a Mancunian shebeen) – but if I close my eyes and listen, I can still feel that 70s afternoon filling my senses. The scratchy polyester itch of my shirt collar, a thick fog of cigarette smoke stinging my eyes, the acrid breath of a companion who had maybe drunk a little too much, and then that clear easing of tensions as people drank, relaxed, danced and sang along to the vibrant, seductive rhythms of the band in the corner of the room. It all seems a lifetime ago, but this recording transports me right back to those heady days in an instant.
Image: from Tiger Bay – Victor Parker YouTube
That is the beauty of oral histories, and in particular audio archives; the written word may well provide a clear, distinct understanding, a route through imagination to empathy, but recordings like this will, for many spark memories of times long gone, and bring them all back, so vividly, in an instant.
A structured interview will often be interesting, important and offer a whole range of vital information that could otherwise have been lost with the passing of time, but a recording like this, which goes such a long way to evoking imagery and prompting memory is unparalleled. To me, above and beyond any number of structured discussions, this recording tells us as much, and maybe even more about how the community in 1970s Tiger Bay filled their leisure time and let down their hair.
John McMahon, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Cataloguer
Hello everyone. I come at you today with another blog post. This time, it is about Ken Jenkins, a singer who is singing his favourite Welsh folk songs and verse. Ken originally came from Rhondda Valley, so there is a multi-cultural crossover between Wales and Canada here. The audio recording was made on July 9th 1974, nearly 50 years ago, which adds another sense of nostalgia to the piece. The audio was quite old, but that wasn’t a bad thing as the sound file gave a feel of timelessness, as if the listener was being let into a secret about Ken’s love of music. It had very nostalgic, warm vibes and the crackling of the background tape was like a fire kindling and spitting on a cold night. Ken Jenkins is introduced, and begins to sing. He has a vibrato type voice, and is really good at singing.
After a minute or so, it switches to a female singer, who has a lovely voice. The lady, whose name I didn’t catch because the audio is too quiet, but she says that she brought it over from Wales, as her brother heard it from the boys of Bangor. The second one of these finished on a high note, which was a spectacular demonstration of her singing abilities. Then, she progresses to a song she learnt in school. The array of songs she demonstrates is wonderful. She says how as she has no one to accompany her in the song, so she has to come in the melody first then the verses. She can’t remember the name of the song, but she launches into singing it anyway.
Next, she explains that she would tell the crowd in performing her next song that it came from the Eisteddfod, a festival in Wales, where there were five competitors and she was watching the performances. She re-enacts the words she heard them say, but the talking is quite quiet, so is hard to discern exactly what is being said. However, I got the sense that it was a dynamic performance and the female singer is copying them very well. She talks about a choir in Canada that came from a small village in Wood River, that would get into the Welsh spirit, and they would have a free supper at the end of the day to celebrate. They would sing for another 2 and a half hours after the supper and talks about how other groups learned Welsh songs via English words at first. She remembers signing at the Welsh church and goes into detail about the multi-cultural society that is put in place in Canada. In this society, some of the people dressed up in Welsh costumes to sing a 10-minute song within a choir. At the end of the song, a group of 11 children joined the choir, for the grand finale, and sung ‘It’s A Small World After All.’ Each ethnic group was asked to do one line of the chorus in Welsh. She talks about how there was a display of Welsh crafts in the auditorium, as well as Welsh food and other cultural items of significance. She mentions the Welsh cakes she makes, that could survive an international food fair, which she passed the recipe onto her friend, who in turn made them for said international food fair. On the packets of currants they used, they put on the original lady’s recipe for Welsh cakes, which is a really nice touch and honours the female singer.
I really liked the fact that there were snippets of different songs from both of them, and that they both still had their roots coming through as well as their accents from Wales, which shows that they are still connected to Wales even in Canada. This reminds me of one of the previous blog posts I did. A lovely cyclical end to this post. I hope you have enjoyed reading this, because I have enjoyed writing and listening to these audios. See you in the next one.
Alice Tucker, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Volunteer
The recent Covid lockdowns and self-isolation have left many of us to re-evaluate how we work on a day to day basis, needing to work from home I was lucky enough to become involved with the ‘Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’ (UOSH) project at the National Library of Wales.
The British Library led project is a UK-wide exercise that aims to preserve, digitise, and provide public access to a large part of the nation’s sound heritage, with my involvement focusing on the oral histories of Tiger Bay collected by the Butetown History and Arts Centre during the 1980s and 90s.
Whenever I discuss my work at the Library with people unfamiliar with our archives, their perception is often that our collections are focused on primarily academic, staid and quite dry material. The Tiger Bay oral histories definitively prove that idea wrong by giving a voice to the ‘ordinary’ people of a Welsh community that has developed over time to become perhaps one of the most interesting and unique communities in Wales.
The Tiger Bay oral history collection viewed as a whole offers much more than just a snapshot of a community throughout the twentieth century. Through first-hand accounts of residents, we learn how the area developed through migration and immigration to become what is regarded as one of the most multi-cultural and ethnically diverse in the United Kingdom, continually showing the social dynamics of different migrant communities melding to become one, whilst at the same time striving to retain their own distinct identity. Tied together through ongoing sociological and anthropological threads within the discussions the main thing that shines through is the individuality, the identity and the pride of the locals whose histories are recorded.
Subject areas covered by the collection are wonderfully diverse, and the recollections and reminiscences of the day to day lives of the interviewees document clearly a period in history that saw dramatic changes within society. Alongside stories from the Cardiff Docks, of the sea-farers and shipping industry, we hear discussed in exacting detail the impact of wartime on the area, evacuees tell of their time in the Welsh Valleys, whilst those left behind in The Bay speak vividly of air raids, with heartfelt tales of family and friends lost at sea or in bombing raids. We hear how the domestic role of women changed dramatically with wartime opportunities in munitions factories, and perhaps more importantly, how they never looked back once the war was over. More recent times are covered with the redevelopment of Tiger Bay as it became the place that we know today, the unease and reluctance of many to accept sweeping changes and re-structuring of the community and a way of life in the place that they call home is laid bare at public meetings and in discussion groups.
Everything is there, the gossip and chatter as locals reminisce, laugh and cry together, the music and the song as the sea-farers give us shanties and Victor Parker lights up the Quebec Hotel with his jazz standards, the pride and the passion, the anger and the fight as the Cardiff Three recount their story of wrongful conviction. This is the life of a community laid out in its entirety, the good times, and the bad.
There are many things that make a nation, the history, and the geography both play a major role, but what really gives a nation an identity is the people, all of the people. Yes, our academics, our poets and authors, our politicians and protesters, our musicians and our sports stars, they all bring awareness and leadership; but the beating heart of a nation is the people whose lives are inextricably entwined with the place on a day to day basis. These are the people who have openly, freely spoken up on these recordings, their life stories showing us where they came from, where they are now and where they are going. An absolute inspiration.
John McMahon, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Cataloguer
The evolution of recording owes everything to Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931), who invented the phonograph in December 1877. The concept of wax cylinders as the best medium to reproduce sound on disc came about through healthy competition between Alexander Graham Bell and Edison, who eventually pipped Bell to the patent post by releasing his 1888 ‘Perfected Phonograph’.
Although the phonograph’s initial use was either archival or for transcription, the turn of the 20th century opened a market for musical recordings with the advent of moulded cylinders, and hymns enjoyed a heyday at this time.
Sleuthing through some of these recordings was engaging, although the audio quality is understandably poor having been digitised by the Sound Archive from the original wax cylinders with all their imperfections. While the collection description identifies the type of music and the method of recording, there is no information about when these cylinders were recorded, by or for whom. Subsequent information provided in the recordings’ introductions brought some of the picture to light with snippets gleaned from between crackles of wax.
The collection consists of 4 sound files; the original wax cylinders have not been catalogued at National Library of Wales yet. Those cylinders may have more details written on them, identifying performers and dates, but in their absence, the fun of this exercise was in listening and then identifying the hymns before researching the poets and composers, as follows:
Hymn 1: “I am praying for you”, sung by two people with small orchestral accompaniment – mostly obscured by crackling. The announcer is unidentified and the names of the singers partially obscured although the tenor is clearly named Anthony. There is a reference to Hereford, either as place or patronym, but it was impossible to work out the name or the gender of the second singer. Although Hereford suggests the recording was made in the UK, the announcer is clearly American.
This is a Methodist hymn written by Samuel O’Malley Cluff (1860) and set to a tune by Ira David Sankey (1874).
Reverend Cluff was born in Dublin in 1837. He attended Trinity College and became an Anglican minister, pastoring at various locations in Ireland. In 1884, he became the leader of the Plymouth Brethren after which he married Anne Blake Edge, had four children and wrote over 1000 hymn texts and songs, composing many of the melodies as well. Ira Sankey came across “I am praying for you” while holding crusades in Scotland. Inspired by its words about prayer, he composed music for it and it became popular during subsequent crusades. The author credit was given in Sankey’s 1878 publication of Sacred Song & Solos as ‘S. O’M. Clough’.
Although the full hymn has four verses, this recording features only the first verse with a repeated refrain.
I have a Saviour, He’s pleading in glory,
A dear, loving Saviour, though earth-friends be few;
And now He is watching in tenderness o’er me,
But O, that my Saviour were your Saviour, too!
For you I am praying,
For you I am praying,
For you I am praying,
I’m praying for you.
Hymn 2: “Pass me not, O Gentle Saviour” – with this second recording, the announcer gives us a bit more information about the singers, who are the same as in the first recording. It is likely this is a husband-and-wife duo, Anthony & Ann Hereford of Hereford Records, but there is still no geographical location with which to find out more about them. It is also likely that the announcer is Thomas Edison himself because he has a distinctive voice, which can be compared with other online sources; whether Edison was recording in the UK, or if the Herefords were based in the USA is still unclear.
This hymn text was written by Fanny Crosby, who published her poems under an incredible number of pseudonyms, both male and female. Frances Jane Crosby was born in New York state in 1820 and was blinded during an illness at 6 weeks old. She subsequently received an excellent education from the New York Institute of the Blind. This was where she started writing hymn texts for her teacher of music, Dr Geoffrey Root. Between 1864 and her death in 1915, Fanny wrote over 8000 texts, making her the most prolific hymn writer in the English language. The hymn tune was composed by William Howard Doane – prolific composer, American industrialist and philanthropist who supported the work of evangelical campaigns, including those headed by Ira D Sankey, mentioned earlier.
Although another four-verse hymn, the Herefords have chosen to record verses one and four with repeated refrains and an instrumental interlude between verses. There is a charming outro featuring brass and percussion.
1 Pass me not, O gentle Saviour
Hear my humble cry,
While on others Thou art calling
Do not pass me by.
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do no pass me by.
4 Thou the Spring of all my comfort,
More than life to me,
Whom have I on earth beside Thee?
Whom in heav’n by Thee [Refrain]
Hymn 3: “Jesus, Lover of my Soul”, sung by tenor, Mr William McGillis. Unfortunately, his geographical location is obscured completely. The announcer’s voice is American, but different to Thomas Edison, so this cylinder may have been recorded by someone else working in the industry, or on Edison’s behalf.
The text for the hymn was written by Charles Wesley in 1740, published in a collection of Hymns and Sacred Poems. The eighteenth child of Anglican cleric and poet Samuel Wesley, Charles was the younger brother of Methodist founder John Wesley, and contributed the cornerstone of the Methodist hymnody; in fact, of the 770 hymns published in the Wesleyan Hymn Book, 623 were written by Charles, although this represents only 10% of his total output.
Recognised as one of Wesley’s finest hymns – also one of the earliest – it is thought to echo two life experiences of this so-called ‘Bard of Methodism’. The first was the arrival of a small songbird pursued by a hawk who flew through an open window and into Wesley’s arms as he was pondering spiritual difficulties: “let me to Thy bosom fly”; the second might relate to a faith-shattering tempest experienced by John and Charles while sailing on a missionary trip to the colony of Georgia in 1735. The brothers were impressed by a group of fellow passengers from Moravia who sang hymns throughout a raging storm. Wesley’s verses mention waters rolling, a “tempest” and the “storm of life”. But while the Moravians possessed the certainty of Salvation through their faith, John Wesley later confessed that they “had gone to Georgia to convert the people there, finding they themselves had need to be converted.”
This hymn was originally titled “In Temptation” and is a plea for sanctuary for all who are tempted, undeserving or requiring cleansing from sin because there is no other refuge. The tune used for this recording is now known as Celebration 167 in the Baptist Hymnal (2008). It was originally known as Martyn 184.108.40.206.D (reflecting the meter of the hymn) and was composed by Simeon Butler Marsh, who taught music to hundreds of adults and children in career spanning both New York State church and school system over the course of 30 years. McGillis sings verses one and three, with the accompaniment of a brass band.
1 Jesus, lover of my soul
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high:
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide;
O receive my soul at last.
3 Thou, O Christ, art all I want;
More than all in Thee I find:
Raise the fallen, cheer the faint,
Heal the sick and lead the blind:
Just and holy is Thy name,
I am all unrighteousness;
False and full of sin I am,
Thou art full of truth and grace.
Hymn 4: “Stand up, stand up, for Jesus” – this recording is so badly damaged (possibly due to previous use of the wax cylinder for other recordings) that it was almost impossible to identify the hymn or its tune. However, one clear line led to a text written by George Duffield in 1858, and once the full words were on screen, it was possible to hear enough of the rest to confirm the hymn as above. From there the tune was identified as one known as “Morning Light” written by George J Webb on a voyage from England to the USA in 1837.
Reverend Dr George Duffield (son of a Presbyterian Minister) was born in Pennsylvania in 1818 and followed in his father’s footsteps. When Duffield wrote “Stand Up”, he was a pastor in Philadelphia, but had been pastor of a parish in New Jersey where Webb was living, so the two may have met. According to an entry in Lyra sacra Americana (Cleveland, 1868, p. 298):
“I caught its inspiration from the dying words of that noble young clergyman, Rev. Dudley Atkins Tyng, rector of the Epiphany Church, Philadelphia, who died about 1854. His last words were, ‘Tell them to stand up for Jesus: now let us sing a hymn.’ As he had been much persecuted in those pro-slavery days for his persistent course in pleading the cause of the oppressed, it was thought that these words had a peculiar significance in his mind; as if he had said, ‘Stand up for Jesus in the person of the downtrodden slave.’ (Luke v. 18.)”
After Duffield gave the manuscript to his Sunday School Superintendent, it was first published as a small children’s handbill, where it became known as ‘Soldiers of the Cross’.
As far as can be made out from the timing and meter, the recording is of the first two verses, but both the identity of the singer and the announcer are completely obscured by damage. The singer has a high voice, and although it is impossible to say whether they are female or boy soprano, if a guess at their name were allowed, the candidates would be either Iris or Idris Edwards. The announcer, likewise, sounds more British than American, so this wax cylinder might have been one of the first to be recorded in the UK – after all, the first Phonograph & Gramophone Society was established in 1911 in West London, with many forming over the next decade with Thomas Edison as their patron.
Stand up, stand up for Jesus
ye soldiers of the cross;
lift high his royal banner,
it must not suffer loss:
from vict’ry unto vict’ry
his army he shall lead,
’til ev’ry foe is vanquished,
and Christ is Lord indeed.
Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
the trumpet call obey;
forth to the mighty conflict
in this his glorious day:
ye that are men now serve him
against unnumbered foes;
let courage rise with danger,
and strength to strength oppose.
For those who wish to know more about the phonograph, there are many sources available in the library catalogue, including cylinder histories and personal histories of Edison and Bell, published by the City of London Phonograph and Gramaphone society; Ma Rainey’s phonograph – featured in an article looking at the legacy of black embodiment within the visual-sonic tradition; technical manuals for those who own or are restoring phonographic equipment; and phonographs and popular memory, a look at gathering oral history in America.
If it is agreed that the announcer of the first two cylinders held in this collection is Thomas Edison, and in keeping with other cylinders available to listen online of a similar religious nature, then it is probably safe to assume that these four recordings date from around 1908. By 1912, shortly after the UK caught up to the wax cylinder phenomenon, Edison was selling his commercial disc phonograph, and recording technology continued on its evolutionary path to the digital world we inhabit today.
This audio clip began with the first meeting of the Cardiff Business Club for the season. The unidentified male speaker gives a short introduction as to why they were there and gives an overview of the importance of rugby and community. He talks about the launch a few weeks earlier at Cardiff Bay, and how happy he was that so many new people were coming to see what they were all about. Lots of new members, Vice President and corporate members. I was not lost, even though I was straight into the clip with no context, and it captured my attention from the outset.
Towards the beginning of the clip, this quote stuck with me: ‘A great cross section of Welsh businesses, members of the Welsh government, people from sports, education, media and all kinds of fields of Welsh life’ – this is a poignant quote that shows how deeply the Rugby Society is entrenched in the community side of things. The man talks about how it is so important to attract people from all walks of life together. It shows that community is not just the people closest to you, but comes from the places you would least expect.
The speaker is at the top of the world of rugby, whilst the Rugby World Cup was occurring during the time of this recording, 2015. He mentions how productivity of Welsh spirit and patriotism has increased in businesses around the Wales matches, which in turn boosts morale. Cardiff embraced the spirit of the rugby tournament, which further promotes a sense of Welsh pride. He then introduces the new sponsor of the club, Catherine Finn, who takes the mic to talk a bit before introducing the speaker for the event. She took over from Matthew Hammond as the member of the PWC (Price Water House Coopers) for Wales and the West Country.
She refers to a slide in the room, where she talks about Brett Gosper, who went from an amateur rugby player in the days before rugby became a professional sports career, to a professional player who drove for the commercial success of rugby. This commercial success is tied to the World Cup and to Wales as a home nation, too.
Then, Brett Gosper takes over. He takes up the majority of the audio recording, documenting the objectives of World Rugby, and the opportunities offered by events such as the World Cup and the Olympic Games. He continues, talking about the success of rugby in the entertainment sector, particularly in the uptake of the sport by women and children in a male dominated sport. He expands on Catherine’s earlier point about rugby’s growth in commercial markets and the ambition to inspire new audiences. Advertisement via social media greatly helped the campaign for the Rugby Union, particularly around the Olympics, and he spent a while expanding on that point. He continued, going into detail about how it was important that rugby had a long-term investment strategy, through digital and social engagement. Then, he expanded on how player welfare is extremely important in rugby moving from being a game regulator, as Gosper calls it, to a game promoter.
After that, the floor opens up to a Q&A session – the topics include investment to accession states of the EU in terms of rugby, which was very interesting to learn about, comparisons between football and rugby federations, i.e. World Rugby and FIFA, and engagement of rugby with the world. He also gave advice to in regards to their children’s sport of choice, as any sport a child wants to pursue is always important. He finished off with answering a question about bringing the flair back into the game.
There was a vote of thanks, and that was the conclusion of the clip. It was a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience and I felt like I was there in the atmosphere of being in an event like that. Especially since the world has been deprived of social events during the pandemic, it was really nice to hear the laughter, the background clinking of glasses and general noises of events such as the one that was happening with this Rugby Union. I can just imagine all the people included in their formal wear, having fun whilst also maintaining and creating new contacts.
This was a lovely second listening and I hope I have done this clip justice. I am enjoying writing these blogs posts, so stick around for the next one, and I will see you soon.
Alice Tucker, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage volunteer
A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.
Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.