For you, it might have been some small gesture, something that seemed like simply the obvious thing to do to help someone out. For the person who benefits from your generosity it might become an event that stays with them forever. In normal circumstances you might never get to know the impact your actions had on someone else. This week I heard first hand how a small act of generosity of spirit has stayed with Max Boyce all of this life.
Johnny Tudor and I started recording podcasts earlier this year. Over the weeks we have chatted about Johnny winning Opportunity Knocks and his friendship with diva and legend Dorothy Squires. We’ve chatted with old friends Wyn Calvin, Mike Doyle and Ruth Madoc and we exchanged stories about working in the clubs and our travels on the road.
When Johnny and I made a list of people we would like to chat to Max Boyce was right at the top of the list. As well as being a massive Max fan I have also travelled around the world as a member of his band. Obviously, from my point of view there were lots of stories we could share…and even more that we couldn’t. Johnny was pretty sure that he and Max had worked together in the early 1970’s, maybe at a club in Briton Ferry.
When we settled down for our chat that’s where we decided to start the conversation.
Johnny threw out the question more in hope than expectation. ‘Max, do you remember us working together in a club maybe in Briton Ferry?’ Max certainly did remember, vividly. At the time Max described himself as a fledgling performer whereas Johnny Tudor was already a big star. Those were days before Max had started writing his songs, serious or comical. Back then he was singing Country and Western songs somehow specialising in songs about train wrecks!!
At the time Max was accompanying himself on a guitar he had bought for 4 guineas from an advert in a local newsagent in Glynneath. He would arrive at the clubs with his Westminster Amplifier into which he plugged his guitar and his microphone. As Max said it wasn’t strong enough to ‘drive a clock’. It was then that the headliner, the star of the show turned to Max and said. ‘do you want to use my PA system?’ Max said using that PA made him sound like the legendary Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli!
Johnny Tudor with Max Boyce, Ruth Madoc and John Jackson
For Johnny it was the obvious thing to do to help and encourage a young performer at the start of their career. He couldn’t really remember doing it, 50 years later and Max couldn’t forget.
During our chat I learnt a lot of things about Max I didn’t know. About his early years in a local chapel amateur dramatics group where one man always gave Max the comedy roles. At the time Max thought it strange but obviously Ossie Powell who ran the group saw something in young Maxwell Boyce that overtime would become obvious to Max and the rest of us too.
There were plenty of setbacks in Max’s career. Max found the Working Men’s clubs hard work as they were looking for more blatant showbiz entertainment. He retreated to the Folk Clubs, where a listening audience helped renew his confidence and gave him the chance to grow as a writer and performer.
An audition for Opportunity Knocks at the Patti Pavilion showed the daring side of Max. When Hughie Green said for audition purposes you start on the green light and stop when the red light comes on, the first thing Max did when he took to the stage was to take the red bulb out of the socket before doing 20 minutes of his act.
He got onto the TV show but after coming second his confidence took another knock especially as his lack of success led to the Neath Rotary Club cancelling a booking.
But sometimes fate takes a hand. Max had recorded an album of his stories and songs at a local venue but because the audience knew Max and his material he was left disappointed by the audience reaction. But that record came into the hands of the record producer Bob Barrett who had been told by Dai Vaughan of the Dunvant Male Voice Choir that Max was one to watch.
After signing a record deal Max decided that he needed to record his next album at a venue which didn’t really know him too well and certainly didn’t know his material. After some deliberation he chose Treorchy Rugby Club.
Looking back at that recording Max still can’t quite believe how magical the event was. The songs were tried and tested, as was Max, but the audience was fresh and receptive. He had learnt how to move from making the audience howl with laughter and sing along to ‘Hymns’ and Arias’ and to then move them to tears with ‘Duw Its Hard’. As Max told us the whole album start to finish is as it was recorded on the night. No edits just one take. That night changed Max’s life forever as the album went on to top the charts.
At the time I had just signed to Elton John’s record label. Gus Dudgeon who had produced David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ and all of Elton John’s hits was about to start producing me. He was recording at Rockfield and came to my house in Brynhyfryd for supper. All night as Gus told us story after story about one world famous rock star after another I insisted on playing the new Max Boyce album in the background.
There were so many other stories Max shared with us. It was also wonderful to hear Johnny and Max talk about the early days of Welsh Television including ‘Disc a dawn’. One episode of ‘Disc a Dawn’ was scheduled to go live straight after Wales played France in rugby. Max had been asked to write one song for Wales winning, and one for them losing. ‘Typical’ said Max, Wales only went on to draw the game!!!
Max Boyce and Band, Freemantle, Australia 1987 (Mal top left)
As a member of Max’s band, I have had the privilege of seeing him work first hand. How he takes the audience on a journey where they will laugh as easily as they will cry. He is still writing as well. At the start of the last lockdown he wrote a poem. He had been asked to write something to support and encourage the key workers. Driving through the strangely deserted streets of Swansea he noticed the low tide. That poem ‘When just the tide went out’ has been viewed over 6 million times on social media and as he read it for me and Johnny I felt my eyes start to water.
Johnny and I are loving these podcasts. A chance to chat to friends old and new. If you’d like to hear the whole story join us on www.themalandjohnnyshow.com next Thursday at 7.30 when we will premiere ‘Mal and Johnny meet Max Boyce’.