When we were kids, travelling along the M4 in the back of the Triumph 2000, my brother and I would always crane our necks so that we could say we were the first one to see the Severn Bridge. Shortly after crossing, I always used to feel a tingle of excitement as we passed the sign with the red dragon which proudly said, “Croeso i Gymru”. My dad smiled as the mountains of home gradually rose up in the distance and the crackly radio was tuned to a Welsh speaking station, unfamiliar on my tongue yet welcoming to my ear. But it was always about JPR, Phil and Gareth. In those days, the M4 stopped somewhere around Cardiff and so it was a tortuous cross country journey to Cwmllynfell, near Swansea to see Gran. But we knew that when we got there, the fires would be roaring, a meal would be on the table, the dog from next door would be round on the scrounge and the Western Mail would be ready for dad to read in the chair by the Rayburn. Happy days.
I am very lucky in the LSO to travel to some fabulous places and play in some wonderful concert halls. This year though, no concert was more important for me than last Saturday night in Brangwyn Hall, Swansea. Not only was half my family there but we were giving the Welsh Premiere of Quirk by Karl Jenkins in which I am one of the soloists. Some of you will have seen us play this already in the Barbican back in 2005 as part of the centenary celebrations. If you did, you’ll know what great fun it is, with John Alley and Neil Percy racing about the stage trying to play about 35 different instruments between them! As the icing on the cake Karl, officially a national treasure in Wales, was conducting, with Sir Colin conducting the rest of the show.
The weather in Swansea was, a little wet to say the least, and most of the orchestra turned up looking a little bedraggled. Alan, our stage manager and Mark Richardson who was doing just about everything backstage had already lifted all the orchestral instruments up the steps into the hall, but also the extra piano, harmonium, honkey tonk piano and celeste that John needed. Oh, and also the marimba, xylophone, vibraphone, glockenspiel and assorted drums, cymbals, triangles, woodblocks and rainsticks that Neil needed! They were wet and disappeared to get something to eat while we began our rehearsal.
Now the reason I’m writing this is that a lot of us stayed overnight, which technically makes it a tour. I tell you this because after our rehearsal with Karl, Sir Colin came up to me and asked if I was staying over at the Dragon hotel. I replied that I was, and asked why he wanted to know. He said he had tried to check in, they asked him his name
“Davis”, he said
“And your first name?”
The lady behind the desk said, “I’m very sorry Mr Davis, but we only have a room booked for Gareth Davies”
Its amazing the difference an E can make in Swansea. He did of course get a room, although I could have gone and stayed with my aunty Sally in Gwaun Cae Gurwen if they were full.
Despite spending a lot of time in Swansea, I had never played in Brangwyn hall before, and it was a very pleasant surprise indeed. It is a traditional shoebox shape and made the orchestra sound fabulous. Why designers don’t build halls in this shape these days is beyond me, they always sound the best. The concert was a sell out, and the audience was very attentive. I could see them as the lights aren’t dimmed, which is always nice, otherwise it can feel like you are playing to an empty hall. Karl was greeted with a rapturous reception and Quirk went down very well. In the second half, Andrew Haveron once again dazzled us with his playing of the Lark. I don’t think I’ve heard an audience held in silence for such a long time at the end before. The last piece was the Enigma Variations. I have to be honest with you, having played this piece many, many times, every time it appears on the schedule I think-not again! However, whenever Colin conducts it, it reminds me why it is such a popular piece, it sounds great. Variations are often lots of little bit stuck together, but Colin makes the piece a whole. Judging by the applause we got at the end, I’m sure many people would have liked more music, but it was already past ten and had been a long day.
Some of us went to a reception held by the friends of the festival, where we were made most welcome after which John and I went for a quick bite to eat and then finally ran out of steam. I woke up a bit bleary eyed the next morning and drove over to my aunty’s house and had tea and a chat before setting off through some of the beautiful Brecon National park on a rambling route back towards London.
It was a great weekend, and brought back some happy memories for me and my family. My dad got to see me play in his home town at last and during our rehearsal he even went to see Cwmllynfell beat Dunvant at home in pouring rain, better swimmers see.
I hope we can go back soon.
Diolch yn fawr Abertawe. Does un man yn debyg i gartref !