‘Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do,’
As the song says ‘Regrets. I have a few…’ One of my biggest regrets about things I didn’t do dates back to the early 1990s. I should have recorded a programme with a lady who lived in Swansea named Sheila. She was a guest on my afternoon radio show and had come on to talk about her work in prisons. After the programme we shared a cup of tea. That’s when she told me how pleased she was to broadcast from Swansea and how far the BBC had come since the days when she had welcomed Lord Reith, the very first general manger of the newly formed British Broadcasting Company, into her house on behalf of her father.
Sheila MacDonald outside 10 Downing Street with her father Prime Minister Ramsey Macdonald and sister Ishbel
That line took a little while to sink in for me. In my mind I couldn’t quite work out what Lord Reith was doing in Swansea all those years ago. It was only when Sheila went on to explain, in a very matter of fact voice, that her father was Ramsey MacDonald, the first Labour Prime Minister. and that when her mother passed away she took on the role of hostess at No 10 Downing Street, that it all made sense. I asked Sheila if she would mind sharing her stories with me and a tape recorder, and graciously she agreed. It was only when I heard that Sheila had been taken ill and not long after that had passed away that I deeply regretted not taking advantage of her kind invitation. I really had no excuse. By that stage of my life I had overcome my shyness, I was used to speaking to people but the opportunity would never come again.
Patrick Hannan, Vincent Kane and Carwyn James
I suppose I had more excuses when I passed up an opportunity to chat to one of my heroes about ten years earlier. At that stage of my life I was a new radio researcher working at the BBC in Llandaff. I was finding my feet in a world occupied by established journalistic giants like Patrick Hannan and Vincent Kane or the legendary rugby coach turned broadcaster Carwyn James. Every day I would turn up for a work just a little frightened that I would say or do something stupid. Of course, I did pretty regularly but after a while either they accepted me or I just got my confidence to get involved.
It must have been in those early days of my radio career that I walked into the canteen and there in corner was Daniel Jones. To me seeing Daniel Jones was right up there with bumping into Ivor Allchurch outside a shop where he was delivering supplies or the time I saw Barry John in a bar in Cardiff. It also had the same effect on me I was struck dumb. Half of me wanted to go up to him and say Mr Jones, I’m from Swansea, I would love to hear about the days of the ‘Kardomah Boys’ where you sat and drank coffee with poets Dylan Thomas and Vernon Watkins and artists Alfred Janes and Mervyn Levy. But my fear got the better of me and in the end I sat and ate my egg and chips on a table very near so that I could keep on looking at him without him thinking I was a stalker.
A portrait of Daniel Jones by another of the Kardomah Boys Alfred Janes.
One of the things I wanted to achieve this year as the new Chair of the Swansea International festival was to start marking our local heroes and heroines. The concert featuring the newly commissioned Festival work by Sir Karl Jenkins had been years in the planning, so I take no credit for that. (By the way, that concert is nearly sold out. It includes a multi media performance of the Armed Man, so if you were thinking of coming you had better get in there quickly.) When Lyndon Jones, the Artistic Director for the festival suggested we organise an event to celebrate the words and music of Daniel Jones I couldn’t have been happier.
In case you didn’t know, let me tell you, Daniel Jones was remarkable. By the age of 9 he had already written a number of piano sonatas. It was at Bishop Gore that he met the equally curly haired Dylan Thomas and having been a founding member of the Kardomah Boys he finally left Swansea to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. There he was taught by Sir Henry Wood before winning the Mendelssohn Scholarship to study across pre-war Europe. When war broke out he put those linguistic skills to good use at Bletchley Park, the home of the Allied codebreakers during World War 2. Here he met up with another of the Kardomah Boys Vernon Watkins. During his time at Bletchley he decoded and translated messages in Russian. Romanian and Japanese and I have it on good authority he also spoke Swahili! When they handed out talents Daniel Jones was certainly at the front of the queue.
Many years ago Daniel Jones was commissioned by the Swansea Festival so his connection is not new but this year we have put together a whole day of performances collectively titled ‘Celebrating Daniel Jones’. From 11am on Sunday 23rd September at The Hyst on Swansea High Street there will be a whole selection of theatre and music inspired by, or written by, Daniel Jones. Featuring performances local artistes Adrian Metcalfe and the Lighthouse Theatre company together with Robert Marshall and the Awelan Ensemble this will be a true celebration.. At 5pm we move a little further down Swansea High Street to the Unitarian Church. There the Jubilee String Quartet will perform a whole series of Daniel Jones’ String Quartets. You can either buy a ticket for the day at the Hyst or the evening at the Unitarian Church or a special discounted ticket for the whole day.
Adrian Metcalfe, Rob Marshall and The Jubilee Quartet
For the next month my life will be the Swansea International festival. This year’s Festival is a 70th Anniversary Celebration. To have Sir Karl Jenkins and Daniel Jones in the same is a delight for and a statement of intent for the festival. This region has produced world class art for generations. Our job is to celebrate our past heroes and inspire a new generation to realise that they too can be great. This is an opportunity to share in same amazing events in our city this autumn. Make sure you don’t end up missing out and regretting it in years to come.