In Good Company at the Wales Millennium Centre

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‘An Evening with Mal Pope’ at The Wales Millennium Centre.

It’s been some time since I put a show together.  Over the past few years I’ve popped in and done a couple of songs here, a story there, hosted an event somewhere else, but I haven’t had the responsibility of a whole evening for a while. The added pressure this time around is that I have now support act and no band.  There is literally nowhere to hide on stage.

The first thing I need to do was to get my guitars serviced.  Guitars are like any other machine, every so often you need to give them the once over.  This was impressed upon me at the BBC Radio Wales 40th Anniversary concert last autumn.  I only had to do a couple of songs, so I practiced a bit in front of the mirror, well you’ve got to look the part.  I headed to the Grand with my guitar which had worked perfectly the last time I’d used it in anger, about 12 months earlier. There is nothing more embarrassing than standing on the stage with a room full of technicians and radio producers trying to work out why my beautiful guitar will not produce any sound.

While I was at it, I got my other guitar restrung, re electrified and re fretted, in for a penny in for £400! Over the past few weeks I’ve been building up my tolerance to pain.  When you first start to play the guitar, you will find that the tips of your fingers really hurt.  As Bryan Adams said, ‘played it til my fingers bled’. I have found there are 2 ways around this.  The first is to suck it up, play lots and let the callouses develop.  The second is to coat the tips of your fingers in nail varnish and hope it stays on until the end of the gig.

As I am a consummate professional (no laughing!) this time I decided to put together a training programme to toughen up my fingers trying to play everyday starting at 30 minutes, building up to a couple of hours on Thursday.  That was difficult because having the guitars serviced meant they have been a joy to play.  In the end I had to put a timer on playing to make sure I didn’t cause damage that would stop rehearsing the following day.

‘Amy’  performed at The Wales Millennium Centre

Then there’s the piano. Although often referred to as the Les Dawson of rock music I always seen myself more like Eric Morecambe…all the right notes, not necessarily in the right order. In the past few years I have become a manager, a producer, someone who books other people to do jobs.  I really haven’t played the piano for some time.  As I started to relearn my own songs, I must admit I felt a tinge of sadness.  As a kid I would spend hours playing the piano, not because it was my job, but because it was my favourite thing to do in the world. It is strange how we take on a job doing something that we love but along the way forget that we love it not the job!

What I decided to do with my programme for the evening was to chronicle my 47 years as a professional musician.  I know at this stage when people mention that many years, they always go on to say they were a child bride but, in my case, I was a child professional musician. I was 12 years old when I sent a tape to John Peel.  So, I went through all of the memorabilia I could find in the attic and put them into a case which I will take on tour.

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The first thing I realised that I must have been a determined sort of kid.  When I usually tell my story, I start with sending a tape of my songs to John Peel at radio one.  The thing is John Peel and Radio One were a last resort.  By that stage I had already had an audition for Opportunity Knocks and at HTV Wales with their resident musical director. They didn’t go well.  On the 19th April 1972 I would have been 11 years old.  I had a very nice letter from Eric Wetherall, Music Director HTV Wales suggesting I go for guitar lessons (He was probably right.).  I also remember going to an audition for ‘Opportunity Knocks’ in a hotel in Cardiff and probably not getting through the entire song before being thanked and sent home. I’ll take the letters with me.

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Then there’s my invitation to Elton John’s Christmas Party.  As soon as I saw it, I was instantly transported back to the Hammersmith Odeon Christmas 1974 and then to a secret location where I met Ringo Starr and The Monkees and got them all to sign my autograph book.  There’s a Christmas card address to Blodwyn Pig, crossed out with Maldwyn Pope on instead, because Elton had trouble remembering my name.

There is a bottle of whiskey signed by Neil Kinnock from 1987, a reel of tape from Abbey Road, a ‘t shirt’ from an Art Garfunkel tour and a kids doll that almost brings me to tears and lots of photographs with Catherine Zeta Jones, Merrill Osmond and Max Boyce.  Every picture tells a story on in my case it prompts a song.

The other thing I’ve found is that with days to go to the first gig I started suffering from LSD…Lead Singer’s Disease. Its bizarre I’ve had a clean bill of health for weeks not, not a sniffle and then all of a sudden on Monday I started with a slight sore throat and yesterday I had to grab a box of Kleenex.

Of course, all of this is could be a very emotional experience for me. I could feel like a drowning man seeing his life pass before their eyes.  The result could be that my voice could crack.  It might be down to LSD, it might be I’ll be overcome by emotion.  More than likely it’ll be done to the fact that I can’t remember the word and I’m desperately trying to remember them whilst spontaneously trying to think of new words that rhyme.

Ah well the first gig was at The Wales Millennium Centre so no pressure!!!

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