I remember, sometime this summer, sitting out in my garden late at night thinking it was hard to believe the nights would ever be dark, cold and wet ever again. Well here we are in November and autumn has really hit us with a bang. I know the changing of the clocks always takes some getting used to, and we all say at one time or another, ‘Isn’t it dark early’ but somehow this year it seems a more extreme change.
Not only did the clocks go back it also coincided with torrential rain, gale force winds and a news cycle so horrific that it has made it difficult to watch the news, even if it was Huw Edwards presenting.
Which very nicely takes me back to last weekend….
I’ve written about the preparations for ‘A Concert to Celebrate and Commemorate the reign of HM Queen Elizabeth II’ a number of times over the past year. The truth is no matter how much you plan and make contingencies you never know if something of this scale and importance is going to work…until it’s over!!!
I knew we were working with good people; in fact I’d go so far as to say we were working with the very best. We really couldn’t have had a better person than Huw Tregelles Williams to curate the programme and then to be on hand during the day of the concert to make sure everyone had everything they needed. Huw had insisted on bringing Susan Croall, the long term Swansea Festival administrator, out of Festival retirement. Having that knowledge and experience proved invaluable on the lead up to the concert as well as on the big day itself.
What pleased me most was that we were drawing on talent from the area, who loved what the Festival meant to the region and wanted to ensure that out first concert back after Covid made an impact.
On Saturday morning I got to the Brangwyn Hall nice and early to make sure the ‘get in’ went according to plan and that if there were any problems, well I might just be an extra pair of hands.
The orchestra arrived in little groups and made their way to the stage. The Orchestra organiser, Dave Danford, remembers some of his first orchestral experiences were at the Festival. I could see that he knew the importance of the concert.
11am and Sir Karl Jenkins raises his baton.
Sir Karl Jenkins was there early too. He looked every inch the ‘maestro’ with his long grey hair, slightly tinted glasses and that wonderful moustache.Rehearsals were due to start at 11am and almost to the second Sir Karl raised his baton for Catrin Finch to play the opening notes of ‘Tros Y Garreg’. I stayed for another half an hour or so, but I knew we were in for a special evening.
By the time I returned to the Brangwyn Hall at 6.30 there was already a buzz in the foyer. As Festival Chair my job was to ‘meet and greet’ the VIP’s. It was so lovely to meet old friends; some I hadn’t seen for years. It really did feel like a big celebration.
The only hold up in the whole proceedings was the start of the concert. Because we had an almost sell out audience people were still queuing to pay for parking when the concert was due to start at 7.30pm. I sent a message backstage to Huw Tregelles asking if we could hold the start for 5 minutes. Huw was always precise. At 7.35pm, as I stood in the foyer corralling latecomers, I heard the orchestra strike up the national anthem.
At the end of the anthem along with half a dozen others I slipped into the hall and took my seat.
Afternoon rehearsals with Catrin Finch and the Swansea Philharmonic.
Many people had come for Sir Karl Jenkins, or maybe the Swansea Philharmonic or possibly Catrin Finch. All masters of their craft. But the first person to take the stage really did stride like a colossus towards the podium and I think I actually heard an audible gasp from the audience when they saw… Huw Edwards.
Huw has been a part of all of our lives for many years. We recognise his voice as much as his image. Having said that I think over the past month or so he has assumed an even greater presence in the national consciousness as he has taken us through the passing of the Queen.
It was only as he walked on stage that I realise just what a physical presence he has. He’s a big lad is our Huw. He’s looking in good shape which he attributes to his ‘Boxing’ training regime.
All of that is impressive, but, that wasn’t it. It was that voice. Gwen Watkins the widow of poet Vernon Watkins always used to say Dylan Thomas described it as a soft Welsh Cambridge accent and Huw has that in spades.
Huw uses his voice like a musical instrument and of course he plays more than one language. As he introduced an item or performer he slipped seamlessly between English and Cymraeg. But it wasn’t just the sound of the voice, it was what he said and how he said it.
I’ve often noticed that masters of their craft have more time. A singer like Frank Sinatra has more time between notes so that he can phrase a line unlike anyone else. Lionel Messi has more time on the ball to make magic. Huw Edwards has more…time.
Now we’ve all been to concerts where the presenter or MC has made it all about them, but it wasn’t like that. In fact as Huw paused for his next line you could feel the audience willing him on to find some new term or expression like a bard of bygone days extemporising in the halls of the king. Now you might think I’m going slightly over the top here, but honestly I’m not. Huw was magnificent.
Add to that music that people knew and loved with an orchestra and choir conducted beautifully by Jonathan Rogers and I’m not sure The Festival board could have hoped for anymore.
As I stood chatting with one of my fellow board members we did take a moment to breath out and smile. That moment of reflection was soon broken when one of the patrons stopped us and said, ‘so what have you got planned for next year then?’
Safe to say it was probably the bringing back down to earth that we needed. The Swansea Festival is back, and we have set the bar really high. Now we need to build on that next year.