It Was 20 Years Ago Today…

I remember it so well.  It was a beautiful day and I was excited to be heading to my recording studio down on the Mumbles front.

I had recorded my previous album at home in a corner of my attic, the same room my two sons also called their bedroom.  With the boys getting older and bigger and with me accumulating more and more gear I realised it was time…I needed to leave home.

I had fairly recently taken a room at the back of the Red Café project in Mumbles. It wasn’t Abbey Road, but it was mine. It was also a walk away from the hustle and bustle of my family life.  With the daily panic and stress of getting everyone up, dressed, breakfasted and out in time for school, that walk along the prom always brought a calmness to the start of my working day.

Andy ‘Wal’ Coughlan-Wherever we are in the world we always chat on 11th September

The other reason I was really excited was that this was bass guitar day. After weeks of working on my own, on this day I would have another musician with me.  It wasn’t a big room but that was ok as the bass player and I had been friends for years. Andy ‘Wal’ Coughlan and I had started playing in bands together when we were kids. 

By Sept 2001, Wal’s list of credits on his CV were pretty impressive. He had been Gary Numan’s Bass player and also picked up sessions playing on film scores like ‘A Fish Called Wanda’. Recently, after years living in the smoke (London) he had moved back to Wales to build his own recording studio. 

We had a lot of songs to record that Tuesday and even though I knew we would spend a lot of the time telling jokes and stories I also knew he was good. He knew how my songs should sound so I was confident we would get everything done.

The Ring - Mal Pope

The Ring – The album we were workign on in 2001

As always the day started with a nice cup of tea.  I think I’d brought biscuits as well. We started recording and I think we would both have said it was going pretty smoothly.

The Red Café was a community project.  It had a café at the front of the building with offices and rooms above where kids could chill out or get creative.  They also had a team of volunteers who were based at the Café who would give up a year of their lives usually in between school and further education.  The previous few weeks had been mayhem with all sorts of out of school activities being run out of the Café but as most of the kids had now gone back to school at the start of a new term the last few days had been refreshingly quiet.

Although my room looked out at some buildings at the back of the café you could still tell the weather was wonderful. By lunchtime Wal and I were thinking we should really take a break, maybe get a sandwich from Verdi’s or chips from Dick Bartons.

Occasionally, one of the Red Café team might knock on the door asking if I wanted a cuppa but usually I was left to my own devices.  The only time they had bothered me on more than one occasion was the day when I had told them I shouldn’t be disturbed because I was expecting Aled Jones to record some vocals for a performance on ‘Songs of Praise’.

Then came the knock on the door…

I mean, Wal’s CV was impressive, and he has bags of star quality, but he was no Aled Jones.  Ok I thought, maybe they wanted to offer us a cup of tea or…they were a friendly bunch and it was a café after all.

‘Quick’ they said, ‘comedown and watch the TV news, there’s been an accident in New York with a plane going into the Twin Towers’. For the next hour we stared in disbelief as the tragedy unfolded in front of our eyes.

The news coverage was a confused affair as they bounced from correspondent to experts in the studio.  ‘Luckily’ for the BBC one of their regular reporters, Stephen Evans, had been in the Twin Towers that morning. Being a professional the first thing he thought about was to start filing reports.

Watching the pictures, the unfolding story had a strange, film like quality to it. Suddenly for me this story became personal.  I had known Stephen for years.  We had worked together at Broadcasting House in Llandaff.  His brother Paul was my producer at the BBC in Swansea.

Stephen Evans reporting live just before begin told to leave by the newsagent

Stephen’s first reports were from a telephone in a newsagent shop just across from the South Tower.  When the second plane hit the South Tower, the newsagent said he had to leave as he was going to lock up. Stephen argued with him and even offered him his credit card to allow him to stay and carry on using his phone.  The newsagent refused and brought the shutters down.  Instead of leaving the area Stephen went in search of another phone.

It wasn’t long before Stephen started filing reports again.  He had hired a room in a hotel that looked towards the North Tower.  His reports told the story of Fire Trucks arriving and it seemed that the emergency services were starting to get a grip on the situation. Stephen was broadcasting live when the South Tower collapsed, and his line went dead. I feared the worst.

Wal and I decided that we couldn’t watch any more.    We left the Red Café and headed towards Verdi’s.  Twenty years ago, people did have mobile phones but this was years before Facebook and Twitter so the news didn’t spread as fast as it would these days. As we walked we saw people enjoying the September sunshine completely unaware of disaster in New York.  I remember us saying to each other that the world had now changed forever, and it was only a matter of time before they all knew.

After sharing a coffee, Wal and I decided we should call it a day and go home to be with family. Since then, every 11th September Wal and I either chat or text to remind ourselves of that momentous day.

Some years later I met up with Stephen Evans in New York.  You could tell that 911 still played heavily on his mind.  I think he struggled to come to terms with his priority being to report on the story as the world collapsed around him. He didn’t even see all of the mayhem of 911.  After being told to leave the hotel he managed to find a freelance cameraman and started filming his first reactions.  He is facing the camera and away from Ground Zero. In that film you can still see online, as he tells his story, behind him the North Tower falls. As he told me, that was the moment his fear turned to terror.

Stephen carried on working for the BBC for a number of years but eventually he left to become a journalist for the Glen Innes Examiner, the local newspaper for a town in New South Wales, Australia with a population of 9600!

3 thoughts on “It Was 20 Years Ago Today…”

  1. Yes its indelibly burnt into our memory as well but at the time we were weathering the storm of our own closer to home, family tragedy. On Saturday 8th at just after 4pm Paul-Andre (P-A) playing centre for Keynsham RFC tackled an opposing Maidenhead player low & slightly off balance. The impact damaged his spinal cord at C1/C2 which almost instantly paralysed him losing sensation then rapidly the capacity to breathe for himself! We were trimming the Brambly Apple tree in the back garden when the call from the club physio to say P-A had been injured & was being transferred to Stoke Mandeville Hospital our hearts sank as we knew instantly it was likely to be a serious problem! We had just relived the scenario from two years previously about the same time when three players tackled OP-A from different directions which shattered his left tibia & fibula into ten pieces! We rapidly packed in a haze of disbelief and agonising anticipation of what we might find. The rest is to much for this thread suffice to say that when those tragic 9/11 TV pictures were shown it was too much to comprehend as we watched & waited helpless & gripped in perental grief whiuch I believe is a unique deep heartfelt wound. Six months of nightmare in Salibury Hospital follopwed before we eventually lost our much loved son. Primarily due to selfish, incompetence, ignorance & poor/wrong care despite our protestations. 9/11 and the magnitude & detail only started to unravel for us some twelve months later when we were starting the long road to managing our own tragedy. So Yes ity was the day/time when the world changed for so many & especially those left behind to pick up the pieces. Keep safe care for one another & share the love. Please see the outcome which enabled us to cope & deal with the tragedy http://www.trustpa.org – Trust PA Spinal Repair Charity (in memory of P-A)

  2. Very poignant reading this. Like Kennedy’s assassination everyone remembers what they were doing when they heard the news!
    I was in Spain watching it unfold in disbelief through a large shop front. I had to ask a passerby in broken French as I didn’t speak any Spanish! .
    Coincidentally, I knew Stephen well from the same year at school. My aunt also lived in Glen Innes til she passed away in recent years. My Aussie family is still there. Small world!

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