Garden Festival of Wales, Ebbw Vale 1992 – a little [long] jingle
Discover Sound - Posted 24-11-2021
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.
Ebbw Vale Steelworks © Crown Copyright/ Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales; 2. Garden Festival Wales aerial view © Blaenau Gwent County Council
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.
Mechanical clock taken by Janet Karn © Haverfordwest Town Museum 2021
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.
“All kinds of greenery, all kinds of faces,
We’ll pull ‘em in from all kinds of places,
It’s gonna be the thing to do… in 1992.”
Blaenau Gwent poster ©BG County Council
Rasma Bertz, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Volunteer