The week started with a trip to London in a van. Anyone who has been in a band will know what going to a gig in the back of a Ford Transit feels like but to be honest Monday’s trip was much more comfortable than I remember.
One of my first visits to the House of Commons.
In the old days you borrowed your mates dad’s builders van, packed all of the drums, amps and guitars in the back and then tried to find a way to sit on top of them without falling off going around the bends. Monday was a brand new VW Transporter, 5 seats with seat belts and DAB Radio…luxury.
The band were the ‘concert party’ on their way to perform at The Jubilee Rooms in the House of Commons. We had been invited to perform by Carolyn Harris MP for Swansea East and the driver was her husband Dave. That left 4 seats for me to fill. More of that in a moment.
I’ve been making this trip to Parliament almost every year since 1987. It started with a request made to HTV Wales, as it was known in those days, to see if they could provide some entertainment for a Christmas party. The following year I got the invitation directly and since then as the years have gone on I’ve asked lots of different friends to join me on this ‘Once in a Lifetime ‘experience.
Past concert parties have included broadcasters like Roy Noble, comedians like Rod Hamill and singers like Steve Balsamo. It’s a chance to sing and play for our Parliamentarians and then with a bit of luck have a guided tour of the Palace of Westminster.
Mal, Wal, Mike, Tony and Luke in the Jubilee Rooms.
The makeup of the concert party rather depends on who is free. Nov/Dec can be a busy time for professional musicians but with the party called for a Monday night I was hopeful I could find the right band. My long term bass player Andrew ‘Wal’ Coughlan said he could do with a trip to the smoke. We started playing in a band called ‘Malvin Bishop’s Originals’ when we were about 15. We were both delighted that our original drummer, Tony Kiley from Cecil Street, said he could make it too.
Tony left Swansea to join a band called the Blow Monkeys and although we catch up when he’s home we rarely get the chance to play together these days. He had just been on a tour of the UK with a band called ‘The Illegal Eagles’. Luckily Monday was a night off, also being based in Southend meant we still had 2 free seats in the van.
Wal suggested we ask Luke Evans, a guitarist from Neath to join us. Wal said he’s a great player and lovely lad too so when he said yes that left the final seat to fill.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been acting as MC for the Ospreys home games. It’s a great opportunity to meet lots of old friends and also interview some of the Ospreys stars past and present. It’s also given me the chance to renew a friendship with Grand Slam Winning Welsh Coach Mike Ruddock.
Prior to Covid I had been part of a weekly podcast ‘Hooked On Rugby’ presented by James Hook. Mike was one of the final guests and when he arrived at the studio he came with a guitar. It wasn’t long before we started jamming together and I think there’s a video of our unique collaboration on YouTube somewhere. Mike mentioned he and his band had a gig at Venue 42 in Mumbles on 9th December to support the RNLI and wondered if I’d pop down and do some songs with them. I said yes so long as he agreed to do a gig with me first.
It’s hard to actually describe the trip to the House of Commons. It’s a gig yes, but it’s more of a social, live Karaoke affair where we go with a list of songs but have to be prepared for whether the evening throws at us.
Obviously what goes on tour stays on tour but what I can say is the trip up in the van was peppered with the usually mix of very poor jokes from Wal the bass player and it wasn’t long before all of us had descended to his level!! We stopped as you have to at Leigh Delamare on the way and the way back and in between we had a night which I think none of us will ever forget.
By Wednesday I had recovered enough to head for Aberystwyth. I had been asked to sing at another event with another legendary Welsh coach Shaun Edwards. Earlier in the year I had sung at a joint Scarlets Aberystwyth Centenary dinner and it can’t have gone too badly as they asked me back again.
The room at the Marine Hotel was full of old friends who thoroughly enjoyed the banter and chat. Local lad and current Welsh Fly Half Gareth Davies was also there having been volunteered to chat by his father who had booked a couple of tables.
My performance ended with a standing ovation. I’d love to take the credit but when you sing the National Anthem at a Rugby night in Aberystwyth you know you’re on to a sure fire hit.
Thursday night I was with another Welsh icon Bronwen Lewis. The event was billed as a ‘Concert & Auction of Mining Related Items organised by the Neath, Dulais & Swansea Valley Miners Support Group in aid of the Onllwyn Welfare Hall’.
Next year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Miners Strike and if you’ve seen the film Pride you’ll know all about Sian James and the people of Dulais who found support and love from the London Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners group.
This concert would eb one of the final actions by the group and it was such an honour to be asked to be a part of this celebration. The Dulais Male Voice Choir were wonderful; as was Bronwen and the welcome I received for just being there on a cold wintry night was overwhelming.
Friday was a trip to Swansea Market to help launch ‘Everyone Deserves a Christmas- 2023’. The week had been marked by an unexpected notification on my phone. ‘Sir Rod Stewart wants to send you a message’.
Now we’ve all had attempts at scamming us on our phones I’m sure but Rod Stewart??? I looked a little deeper and found Sir Rod wanted to connect on Instagram to share a video of our new Everyone Christmas song. Carolyn Harris had sent the song and he liked it so much he sent it out to his 1.4 million followers!!
The launch went well with support from the Pentrehafod School Choir and the DVLA Ladies and we now hope the song and video help raise funds and awareness for this wonderful charity.
Rehearsing in Tabernacle.
Tonight after watching the Swans I’m heading to Morriston Tabernacle to sing a few songs at the Morriston Orpheus Christmas Concert and tomorrow I’ll be joining Steve Balsamo, Ria Jones and Kev Johns amongst others to perform at Swansea Arena supporting Maggies.
Christmas is turning out to be quite a busy time of year already.