AN ITV DOCUMENTARY MADE IN 2013
The Early Years
Maldwyn Pope was born in Brynhyfryd, Swansea in May 1960. There was always plenty of music in the house with either Mal’s mum or grandmother playing the piano. Mal’s grandmother, Myfanwy, was only just over 5 foot tall but she was a very accomplished organist.
One of Mal’s earliest musical memories is watching her feet dancing over the pedals as she practiced for some big church event or another. In fact the chapel and gospel music would play a very big part in Mal’s musical development. His great grandfather had been the conductor of one of the local chapel orchestras around the turn of the last century and had made quite an impact as a hymn writer.
Making music and going to church would become second nature as he grew up. The Gospel Hall in Manselton, Swansea where Mal was taken to as a babe in arms was unusual in that musical instruments were not allowed to be played on Sunday mornings. The reason was that it would interrupt the worship experience for the one who had to play. Instead, everyone sang, not in unison, but in harmony. It seemed quite natural for a lad brought up in that environment to pick a note and join in.
Life was to change in 1967 when Mal’s eldest brother David went on a school trip to Spain and came back with a guitar. Mal would borrow it when his big brother wasn’t there and inspired by David’s record collection (Cat Stevens, Simon & Garfunkel, Donovan) he would try to play it. Two years later he had started to write his own songs. At school Mal was encouraged by Peter Williams, a bongo playing young teacher who would make Mal play his songs in front of the school at the drop of a hat. Band practices consisted of a couple of kids and the teacher sitting down to learn the latest songs by Ralph McTell or the Beatles.
The John Peel Influence
Although not really old enough to go to the Sunday evening youth group at another local church, occasionally Mal would be allowed to go so long as he would play his songs to the very appreciative audience who would go to Mike Nicholson’s house after the service.
It was Mike who suggested that Mal send a tape of his songs to John Peel on BBC Radio1. John Peel had championed many new artists, from Elton John to Marc Bolan, but as his programme started at 10 o’clock, after Mal’s bedtime, Mal had no idea who John Peel was. Sending a tape off blind Mal waited eagerly for the post.
A couple of weeks later a letter dropped on the mat which would change Maldwyn’s life forever.
Dressed in a new suit and accompanied by brothers David and Gareth, off he went. John Peel trailed the session for weeks and even contacted his friends to make sure they listened.
John Peel with Maldwyn at his first radio session 10th July 1973
From that first Radio One Top Gear session – Dream Castle
Six weeks passed and Mal signed to Elton John’s newly formed Rocket Record Company. The reason Mal’s parents said yes was down to the fact that the managing director, Steve Brown, had been brought up in the Salvation Army and that was good enough for them.
Over the next six years Mal would spend most of his school holidays going to London to record. At the first session a telegram was waiting from Elton wishing Mal all the best.
Telegram addressed to ‘Madwyn’ Pope. Elton had trouble early on with Rocket’s new signing’s unusual name referring to him initially as Blodwyn Pig.
Elton at the time was touring the USA but after 48 cities coast to coast. Elton drove straight from the airport to meet Mal and his Dad at the Rocket offices. He had to be quick because Mal had to catch a train home that night. He had school in the morning!As well as guiding Mal’s musical career Elton and the Rocket Record Company went out of their way to spoil Mal, treating him as the record company mascot.
At Elton’s famous Christmas parties Elton would take him around to meet guests like Ringo Starr,and Harry Nilsson and make sure they signed Mal’s autograph book. He would also take Mal training with his new Football club Watford FC. One of Mal’s great claims to fame is beating Elton at Subbutteo football.
David Costa produced Maldwyn’s early sessions and a debut single ‘I don’t know how to say Goodbye’ nudged the lower reaches of the charts.
The trouble was that in-between recording session’s nature was taking its course and Maldwyn’s voice was noticeably changing.
The single got quite a lot of airplay and even resulted in a cover recording by Andy Williams’ nephews The Williams Twins which charted in the USA. (Record produced by David Paich of Toto)
Some internal changes at the Record Company saw Steve Brown leave and Gus Dudgeon, Elton’s producer, taking a more active role in Mal’s career. These all night sessions featured members of Elton’s own band and were squeezed in with mixing sessions of Elton’s new album ‘Captain Fantastic’. In fact Gus Dudgeon was always keen to remind Mal that he had cine footage of Mal fast asleep in the studio as Gus mixed Elton John and John Lennon live at Madison Square Garden.
Another single ‘When You’re Away’ was released but as had happened a couple of years earlier internal changes at Rocket led to Gus Dudgeon leaving and Elton himself taking on the role of Record producer.
Mal arrived at Abbey Road as Elton was putting the finishing touches to a Charity record. By the time Maldwyn arrived much to his disappointment Jimmy Hill had left but he did get to chat to Brian Moore and the legend Eric Morecambe who told Maldwyn the first gig he ever did with Ernie Wise was in Swansea
Just another Teen idol…
With Elton producing and singing backing vocals the results of these sessions were another single ‘If I wasn’t there’.
Not long after this Mal signed to Harvey Goldsmiths new management company AMP. It had been set up by Harvey and Pete Brown (Steve’s brother) after Pete had tired of working as a personal manager for Queen. It was at this time that Mal eventually left Rocket Records. At the time he was actually studying Land Economy at Christ’s College Cambridge and traveling down to London on his days off to record new songs.
Christmas dinner with After The Fire’s Andy Piercy
After leaving University Mal moved to London and started writing songs with, Andy Piercy, the lead singer of another band signed to AMP, ‘After the Fire’. When After the Fire split up after long months touring America supporting Queen and Van Halen it proved impossible to bring them back together even after their last single ‘Der Kommissar’ went top 5 in the States.
As this stage Maldwyn was trying out a new name ‘Max’ taken from Welsh Folk hero Max Boyce and under that name he co-wrote The Techno Twins minor hit Night Time Heaven.
At the time ‘Max was being managed by Harvey Goldmsith and with the After the Fire project gaining momentum a big new publishing deal appeared on the table. There followed months of recording at studios like Maison Rouge and Ridge Farm including sessions featuring the likes of Roger Taylor from Queen on drums.
BUT…as the album neared completion and with plans well underway for an American tour a change of management at the record company led to the album being dropped.
It was clear the world of music was changing and with the charts full of punk music Mal’s melodic rock didn’t really fit in anymore.
Frustrated and very disillusioned, Mal headed for home and started working at BBC Radio Wales as a researcher. One thing led to another and within a year he had become a producer with an emphasis on music production.
He moved to television but another session of new songs played by Andy Peebles on Radio One led to Mal signing a new record deal with Larry Page, legendary 60’s record producer and manager of the Kinks and the Troggs.
Legendary Manager Larry Page with artist Jade and Mal’s new daughter
There followed a minor European hit with ‘Altered State a track that still gets a lot of attention in soem select London and Itailan venues.
For the next 5 years Mal moved from project to project, reaching the final of the British Song for Europe…
Producing Aled Jones…
Writing songs for The Hollies…
and even singing title tracks to cartoons like ‘Fireman Sam’, ‘Joshua Jones’ and ‘Superted’.
Mal had always managed to combine broadcasting and songwriting with touring and producing Gospel artists.
When HTV approached Mal with the idea of producing an hour special for Easter it was the perfect opportunity for Mal to ask old school friends Tony Kiley and Andy ‘Wal’ Coughlan to come home to put together a record they should have made 10 years earlier. Tony, Wal and Mal had played in a band ‘Malvin Bishops Originals’ in 1978 but had split up with Tony going on to join The Blow Monkeys and Wal going on to play for Gary Numan.
RADIO PROJECTS AND FALLING IN LOVE WITH THE DEEP SOUTH
It was 20 years ago that I made a documentary series about 2 greats associated with Memphis called ‘The Kings of Memphis’. One was about the Rev Martin Luther King who was assassinated in that city in 1968, the other was about Elvis Presley.
My first visit to Memphis was on a Sunday in 1999. Nigel Hopkins from Fforstfach and I were in Nashville working on an album and found ourselves with a day off. We hired a car and headed west on the I40 highway ending up on Elvis Presley Boulevard on our way to Graceland. Thinking that this would be our only opportunity to visit the home of the King we bought our tickets for the Platinum tour. That was the day I fell in love with all things Elvis.
It was only a month later that I found myself back in Memphis. As often happens with these things sometime earlier in the year a TV documentary proposal had been submitted…and forgotten about. The idea was that I would explore the similarities between the way Black Gospel Music and Welsh hymn singing had provided solace for the communities where that music was made. With an unexpected sudden gap in a TV schedule the show was commissioned and together with a producer and film crew I headed back to the Deep South. We thought that the music and life of Elvis would be a good way to introduce our audience to the way Black Gospel music had influenced the whole of US popular culture.
I visited all of the Elvis places of pilgrimage in Memphis, including Graceland, before heading down to the town of his birth Tupelo. The idea for the programme was that I would write a verse of a travelogue song at each of the key points of my journey. Our guide in Tupelo was a lovely lady named Pat Rasberry. Pat worked for the local Convention and Visitors centre. As I sang outside the Hardware store on Main Street where Elvis had bought his first guitar Pat complimented me on my voice. By the end of the day she had booked me for the following years Gumtree Festival where I would perform and act as judge and part time compere.
For the next 3 years I returned every May. Every time I would take my tape recorder and make a documentary about the journey. The letters ‘BBC’ are recognised across the world and opened many doors. Its hard to believe now but on my first solo trip to Memphis I was asked to join the Pilot of the Jumbo jet in the cockpit as we flew down the East coast of the USA. He noticed a plane some miles to our West. I asked what it was. With that he cancelled the autopilot system, took the controls and flew a little closer so that he could get a better look.
On my first trip to Tupelo I had been introduced to so many people who had grown with Elvis. I thought a documentary about the King himself would be fascinating given the access I had to people who knew him really well.
Pat had lined up interviews with old school friends, his old Pastor, even his Auntie Annie. Looking back now at the photographs we took and listening to the voices tell their stories, once again I remember how lucky I have been. As someone told me you have the privilege of meeting people every day most people only hear on the radio.
Miss Becky had been in school with Elvis and remembered a shy boy. She talked about the time Elvis came to Tupelo after his first record had become a hit and how they had eaten ice cream together.
Miss Annie Presley had lived next door to Vernon, Gladys and Elvis. She told me that his mother had never got over losing Elvis’ twin brother at birth and that she had spoilt her precious baby. Even as a little boy his leg used to shake when he sang.
The Reverend Frank Smith had been the pastor of the little church where the Presley’s worshipped every Sunday before they left for a better life in Memphis. It was Frank who taught Elvis how to play guitar and also the song ‘Old Shep’ which Elvis sang at a talent show…coming second.
I also took the chance to spend a few days in Memphis to book end the documentary. My guide in Memphis was Tad. He owned a Pink Cadillac and organised cultural safaris. When he found out I was from Wales the first thing he asked me was did I know Owen Money.
Tad took me to all sorts of hidden Memphis landmarks including Wild Bill’s Juke Joint. When we got there, Bill hadn’t arrived. I asked the bar tender why he was called Wild Bill. He told me that Bill liked his music wild and he liked his women wild. Knowing that Bill was in his eighties I asked if he was still wild. With a glint in his eye the bar tender told me, well he didn’t do so much music anymore!!!
If you would like to celebrate the Elvis Festival you can listen to my special documentary called ‘The Kings of Memphis – Part 1 ELVIS PRESLEY’ here
or watch the TV documentary ‘Heaven’s Sound
All that’s left for me to say is…thank you, thank you very much!
What happened next...
In 1990 Mal set up his own record company MPH Records
The first release was ‘Love Will Find A Way’.
The one off show led to a late night Music Series ‘The Mal Pope Show’ with the same band performing the role of houseband and guests such as Paul Young, Mica Paris, John Cale, Justin Haywood, Cliff Richard and the Bee Gees joining for jam sessions.
The Mal Pope Show Christmas Special featuring Dave Edmunds, Bonnie Tyler, Howard Jones, Micky Gee, Terry Williams and The Jacks
The show went on to win numerous awards at the BAFTA Cymru Wales annual television awards.
A musical ‘Copper Kingdom’, commissioned to celebrate Swansea hosting the 1995 Year of Literature and Writing Festival led to an album of the same name being released with the single ‘Cover Me’ going to being playlisted on BBC Radio Two.
When Lasse Olssen, a Swedish tour promoter heard the album he knew he had found the perfect support artist for a tour he was planning of Europe featuring Art Garfunkel For 3 months during 1997 Mal criss-crossed Europe building up a loyal fan base, writing and performing new songs almost daily and making invaluable contacts.
Over the past few years Mal has continued to release albums on a regular basis and toured with the likes of Belinda Carlisle.
He has written a number of musicals including ‘Amazing Grace’.
Other projects include another musical ‘Contender’ based on the life of Boxer Tommy Farr.
And of course Cappuccino Girls