Be a fountain…not a drain.

I had a call this week from someone I admire who just wanted to share a story that he hoped would encourage me.  It didn’t cost him anything except some time and a phone call.  It didn’t radically change my situation or add anything to my bank balance.  What it did do is make me feel good about myself, my work and put a bit of a spring in my step on a day that had its own worries and sorrows. More about that phone call later.

What it made me think about was the people I have known who have been encouragers…and those who haven’t.

The Discourager.

I could say that looking back what happened didn’t really affect me; I could say that what happened spurred me on to prove somebody wrong.  What I know for sure is that after over 40 years I can still remember what happened and it still hurts.

In 1978 I had been given a conditional offer to go to University.  What that meant was I needed to get an ‘A’ Grade in at least 2 of my ‘A’ Levels.  One of my ‘A’ levels was in Computer Science. In 1978 Dynevor Comprehensive School didn’t have a computer, in fact I think it’s safe to say no school did.

So for 2 days a week I would walk up the hill to the ‘Tech’ which had a computer the size of a small family home in Brynhyfryd. In those days you had to plan your programme on paper and then get each line of code punched onto a set of cards.  The technicians would feed the cards into the beast and, if you had done everything correctly, you might get your results the following day.

I actually loved the whole experience.  It felt like I was at the cutting edge of a brave new world where machines would make everything better and quicker.  It also came with the added bonus of being able to use the ‘Tech’ cafeteria and not wear school uniform on my ‘Tech’ days.  I was basically a grown up.

Having been given the conditional offer of a University place if I could get the right result I decided that it might be a good idea to have a chat with one of my lecturers.  I wanted to know if I needed to work harder in certain areas or maybe get some extra tuition in my weaker parts of the syllabus. 

I can still remember his name and his suit and his side burns.  I asked if I could have a chat after one of the lessons and explained the situation. He looked at me and didn’t say a word.  He just laughed…then he stopped laughing…then he laughed again.

I don’t remember anything else about the encounter.  Maybe he thought he was being realistic about my prospects and that he didn’t need to sugar coat his opinion of my work.  What it did do was make me feel small and stupid.  More about that later too.

Mal with Mr Peter ‘Bongo’ Williams

The Encourager 1.

Last Saturday I travelled to the Royal Welsh Showground to perform a concert with my band ‘The Jacks’ to celebrate the centenary of the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon.  It was one of the hottest days of the year. The event was actually being held indoors in one of the main exhibition spaces.  It was good to be out of the direct sunlight but inside wasn’t that much cooler.

Mal Pope & The Jacks – Builth Wells Sept 2023

I arrived early and met lots of people I hadn’t seen for a long time.  Then I saw him…Mr Peter ‘Bongo’ Williams.  50 years ago he was the young trendy guitar playing teacher everyone in school thought was the coolest person on the planet.  Basically he was Brynhyfryd Junior School’s version of Jack Black in School of Rock. 

50 years later and he hasn’t changed a bit.  First I got a big hug and then everyone standing next to me got the full story.  How I had stolen my brothers’ Spanish guitar when I was 7 years old (metaphorically of course).  How I had joined his weekly ‘School Band’ Sessions on a Friday lunchtime and played guitar with him on songs like Ralph McTell’s ‘Streets of London’.  How I had started writing songs when I was 9 and played in all of his school assemblies and concerts.

1973 Rocket Records Press Release written by Penny Valentine.

He then went on to tell everyone what a soccer player I had been and then…and then I had to ask him to stop because even I was getting embarrassed!!!

From the moment I arrived at school with my guitar Mr Williams was nothing but encouragement personified.  But it wasn’t just me he encouraged.  He encouraged Michael Edwards to play drums, or in fact bongos as we didn’t have a school drum kit at the time.  He encouraged Christine Williams and Bev Thomas to sing. 

After we all left Brynhyfryd Junior School he took another generation of kids into the band…and then another.  I’m told that he was still working as a supply teacher well into his 70’s and always taught guitar wherever he went. I’ve invited him to perform at my concert at the Swansea Grand Theatre on the 3rd October.  This time he might need a little encouragement himself, but I hope he says yes.

Mal with Mike Read

The Encourager 2.

Now back to where we started with that phone call.  A number of years ago legendary Radio and TV presenter Mike Read realised that there was a whole generation of musicians who couldn’t find a home anymore on radio or TV.  These were master crafts men and women who had enjoyed great success when they were young but now, when they were making some of the best music of their lives, they couldn’t get their music heard.

Mike started the ‘Heritage Charts’ with a view to give these artistes a platform and its been an amazing success.  The Radio Chart Show is now broadcast weekly across the world and is carried in over 250 newspapers.  The TV show is also broadcast weekly on the Talking Pictures Channel as well as being syndicated across the USA.  This week he launches Heritage Radio.

I first came across the chart when one of my Christmas songs went Top 20 and since then I’ve gone on to have 2 No. 1 Records.  I’ve spoken to many of the musicians who have also featured in the chart and on the Radio and TV shows and they all agree that what Mike has done has given them a whole new lease of life and belief in their music.

This week I got a call early one morning from Mike Read.  He had just come off air having presented his breakfast show.  The night before he had been at a gathering of songwriters at the Royal College of Surgeons in Greenwich.  As the night went on Mike was conflicted.  He had an early radio show to present but didn’t want to leave as the singing got into full swing.  It was then a really well know singer and song writer offered to take Mike back to his hotel in the West End.

On the journey the ‘star’ told Mike how much he enjoyed watching the Heritage Chart Show and how in particular he liked that recent number one ‘Breathe’ by some Welsh guy.  Mike did 2 things.  Firstly he called me to let me know.  As he said everyone, no matter how successful they are, needs to hear words of encouragement.  Secondly he introduced us over email saying he hoped something good could come of it. It was just the sort of thing I needed to hear that morning.

You always have a choice to be an encourager or discourager…who are you going to be?

Oh, and by the way, I did get the ‘A’ grade I needed in Computer Science to get the University place I’d been offered, and it was no laughing matter.



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