Here’s Johnny

I don’t think any of us were terribly disappointed to see the back of 2020. All the plans we made this time last year were soon torn up as the Coronavirus Pandemic went from being something that was happening in China, then Italy and then Spain to something that stopped all of us in our tracks.

There are lots of memories etched on my mind.  The eerily empty streets during that first lockdown, the birds singing liked I had never heard them before. Another unusual thing I will remember about 2020 is the weather.  It was as if Mother Nature took pity on us all, turned off the rain and let the sun shine and shine and shine. 

For week after week the glorious weather helped as we worried about toilet rolls and milk and whether we could get flour to make our own bread.  Then there were the hot tubs.  If you thought getting hold of hand sanitiser was a problem it soon became clear that it had nothing on ordering that most essential garden accoutrement.  Instead of travelling to Ibiza and Benidorm people spent their evenings drinking fizzy wine whilst the other bubbles soothed their minds and bodies.

Of course, the pandemic led to times of despair and heartache.  For some it meant being separated from loved ones and families, for others of us it was the ultimate tragedy of losing someone you loved and not being able to hold those left behind.  As the months passed we all worried for our collective mental health and I came to value that unexpected telephone call or email ‘just checking in’ much more than I thought I ever would.

Lockdown kept us apart.  Thursday evenings brought us all together.  We clapped, cheered, banged pots and pans as we tried to show our appreciation of the NHS and other key workers.  It was right to end it when we did but I missed it and I also miss that collective responsibility we had before the lockdown started to breakdown.

I actually entered last year with a plan.  A new album, a trip to Prague to record an orchestra and a tour that would take me around the country until Christmas. It soon became clear that every time we rearranged the tour dates for later in the year, our optimism about getting back to normal was misplaced.  I still have the theatres booked but who knows when we will get the chance to play again.

One of my big plans for 2020 was to broadcast online.  For the last few years, I had been experimenting from a TV studio we had built at the Hyst in Swansea High Street.  Having got all that experience I thought it would be unique if I started doing concerts from my shed or back bedroom. 

How wrong was I?  By May it seemed everyone and his dog was live streaming and podcasting. By the time I had set up all my gear it looked like I was way behind the curve, so I decided to keep my powder dry.

It is amazing how we have all adapted new technology to allow us to work from home.  Offices and studios sprang up all over the country as people tried to avoid unnecessary travel.  Being fairly self-sufficient I was asked to present some radio shows as the schedules were decimated by the lack of sport.  At first I was expecting to go into the BBC Studios in Swansea but as soon as the University decided to mothball the building it soon became clear that I would have to set myself up at home. 

With ‘working from home’ being the new normal I wonder if we will ever go back to the daily commute.  Collectively the whole country has saved millions of wasted hours by only having to walk to the spare bedroom or kitchen office rather than having to catch trains and buses into the old traditional office.

One of the reasons many of us felt so helpless was no matter what we did it appeared the light at the end of the tunnel had been switched off.  With the magnificent work of scientists from all around the world there now seems to be a glimmer somewhere in the distance again.

So, it’s time to makes plans. Looking back a year I had planned to make some podcasts and now I have some free time on my hands that’s what I hope to do.  In one of the ‘Late Night’ shows I presented I suggested that we might ask Johnny Tudor to become a regular guest. 

Johnny is one of what is now a rare breed, he is an all-round entertainer. He can sing, dance, tell a joke, act, compere a show and write a book, a play or a film. He started off in a concert party led by his father that toured Welsh Clubs in the 1960’s.  Having learnt his craft, he soon found himself winning Opportunity Knocks and performing with Dorothy Squires at the London Palladium.

All of these are career highlights and are very impressive when you hear about the venues and theatres but what I knew was that all those years on the road and aboard ships touring the world meant he had a treasure store of stories.  Some were about household names like Roger Moore and Lonnie Donegan, others were about the old seasoned pros who went from summer season to pantomime to night clubs in a yearly circuit that has now almost completely stopped.

So, this week we launch a new podcast The Mal & Johnny Show. (www.themalandjohnnyshow.com) Of course, we can’t be together because of lockdown but using whatever bits of string, tin cans and telephones we can find we will get together and record these stories for posterity. 

Then there was the football podcast I used to do with Esme Allchurch (esmeonfootball.com).  I wonder if Esme still has her iPad? There are plenty of things to talk about this season when it comes to the Swans and I bet she hasn’t missed a game online.

These are days for us to start being creative again and whilst I’m sure it will be a steep learning curve I can’t wait to start the year on a positive note.