It’s been a strange but wonderful week. After 2 years of rarely leaving home last weekend I was back on the road with a van full of gear, excited beyond belief that finally I was back on the road. I have had a couple of concerts since July, but this somehow felt different, 2 concerts in a couple of days. It felt like I was on tour.
Of course, it wasn’t without it’s hiccups along the way. Because it wasn’t possible to get Elton John and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra to every concert I had come up with a cunning plan to have them at the concerts on video. With the aid of a colleague and a special piece of software I was able to sync up some backing tracks to some prepared videos and sing and play along with them. I had worried if it might ruin the ‘one man show’ idea but in Porthcawl and Blackwood it seemed to be just about on the right side of karaoke.
So when my colleague rang at the beginning of the week telling me he had tested positive for COVID, after my initial commiserations with him, I suddenly realised that I would be on my own at the concerts in Ammanford and Acapela near Cardiff… and I probably wouldn’t have access to his gear either as that would also be in quarantine!
Teaching myself how to sequence videos and audio in 3 days!
It’s amazing what you can teach yourself, when you have to, using tutorials on YouTube. By Thursday evening I had been working on my presentation for almost 3 days continuously and I had become an expert in audio visual productions.
Arrived in Ammanford nice and early
It was lovely driving up to Ammanford. I’ve played at the Miners Theatre a number of times. In fact, we had a residency there with the Cappuccino Girls musical. There must have been buildings like the Miners Theatre in just about every town and village across Wales, as miners clubbed together to build institutes and chapels.
Ammanford and the videos are working…phew!
Some have survived but aren’t exactly where you think they might be. I’m always reminded of the Oakdale Workmen’s Institute. ‘Mal Pope & the Jacks’ had been booked to play a gig there years ago. I remember going online and seeing pictures of the building and being incredibly impressed, but I had missed one essential element. The band set out from Swansea and of course headed for Oakdale thinking it would be pretty easy to find such an impressive building when we reached the village. It was only when we got to Oakdale and started asking the locals where it was that we found out it had been moved brick by brick to St Ffagans Museum!!!
Horeb Calvinistic Methodist Chapel…Now Acapela
On Sunday I headed east to Pentyrch, just north of Cardiff to a wonderful venue called Acapela. Like the Miners in Ammanford Acapela is a repurposed building. It had been Horeb Calvinistic Methodist Chapel back in the day but some years ago Hywel Wigley saw the old chapel, fell in love with it, and turned it into a music studio and venue.
All set up in Acapela
As soon as I walked in I knew it was run by people who cared and who knew what they were doing. All of the equipment, like lights sound and projection were built in. It took 10 minutes to sound check and make sure my audio presentation on Friday wasn’t a complete fluke.
Having set up I retired to the green room with my menu. Acapela have had to be nimble on their feet to prosper. One of their most brilliant moves wasn’t the mixing desk or the microphones…it was the pizza oven.
HIP HOP HOT Pizza…one day all gigs will be like this.
All of the pizzas had musical names. ‘Classical’ was Pepperoni and mozzarella, ‘Country and Western’ Pizza had spinach goats cheese and caramelised onions. I went for the ‘HIP HOP HOT’ which had spicy chilli beef and extra chilli flakes. I had to be really disciplined and not eat all of the pizza just in case it came back to haunt me mid performance.
During my show I play a number of songs from ‘Amazing Grace’, my musical about the 1904 Welsh Revival. There are so many fascinating facts still online. At the time many of the newspapers would give a running count of the number of souls saved in every town and village. When you read it aloud it does sound like the football results on a Saturday afternoon. Calvinistic Methodists 35…Welsh Baptists 28!
I had in mind to check out if the Revival at touched Pentyrch, but it was only when I saw the sign HOREB above the chapel that I thought I would google Welsh Revival, Horeb and Pentyrch.
Cardiff Times 11th February 1905 – A remarkable meeting at Pentrych
The musical Amazing Grace is the story of Evan Roberts, a 26 year old ex miner who tells his family and friends that he has been visited by the Almighty every night for 3 months and spoken to him, face to face, as a man speaks to another man. Not only that, he had been personally commissioned to lead a worldwide religious revival… from Loughor.
As you can imagine people were worried for his sanity but 117 years ago this Sunday (31st October 1904) Evan spoke at a little gathering in the school room at Moriah Chapel in Loughor and a worldwide revival fire was lit that night.
While thousands of people were pleased to embrace the revival, Evan faced massive criticism from an unexpected quarter. At the end of January 1905 The Rev Peter Price, Dowlais, sent a letter to the Western Mail condemning the practises surrounding the Evan Roberts Revival, calling into question why the revival only seemed to arrive after midnight, why he travelled with a group of teenage girls, whilst admitting, that as many ladies would tell you, ‘he does have a lovely face’.
By February exhausted and disheartened by the backlash from some of the ‘Established Church’, Evan had the first of a number of breakdowns.
On the 11th February, just a couple of weeks after that first letter and following days of controversy in the national and local papers Evan Roberts was due to speak at Horeb in Pentyrch, but he didn’t make it. There was a revival meeting that night led by Annie Davies, the 16 year old soprano named by the papers as ‘The Nightingale of the Revival’. Annie had become a close confidante of Evan Roberts over the previous few months. Evan sent a telegram of apology, which was read out by Annie, but even without him being present there followed a revival service that rocked the chapel that night with hymn singing, prayers, tears and laughter.
As I sang my songs last Sunday, including ‘Warm Wind’, the final song from ‘Amazing Grace’, I had a very strange, but warm feeling about being there. 18 months after the revival started Evan Roberts rarely spoke again in public and it is said he questioned just how ‘successful’ his revival had been.
Using my newly acquired Audio-visual skills I pressed the button to play the video of ‘Warm Wind’. I recorded it in 2019 to celebrate Swansea’s 50th anniversary of becoming a city. I had drawn together local choirs like the Morriston Orpheus, The DVLA ladies Choir, The Harry Secombe Theatre Choir and the Singleton singers…but I had also had contributions from a choir in Atlanta, and Singapore, and Mizoram in India, all places that had been touched by the 1904 Revival.
And somehow it seemed right!