It’s GRAND to be back performing

In the old days, the idea behind writing this blog was essentially to save me writing a diary.  Every week I would sit down and look back at the last week and try to pick out highlights and hopefully some of them might be of interest to a casual reader.

The Tour that was postponed numerous time in 2020

A year ago, lockdown meant that like everyone else my world became smaller day by day.  That has meant that over the months I have had to look inward for things to write about.  It’s been less a collection of diary events and more an examination of my soul…but not this week.   This week I’ve done some things and even with the restrictions in place its felt incredibly liberating.

It started with a dilemma.  On Friday I had been booked to record a number of songs for future presentations of the BBC TV show ‘Songs of Praise’, but, at the end of last week I was sent an invitation to have my COVID 19 vaccination on Wednesday.  Its hard not to be aware that some people have experienced some limited side effects to the vaccine.  My mind went into overdrive.  What if on the day I finally get to perform again for the first time in over a year my side effect to the vaccine was losing my voice!

I rang the Covid centre in Port Talbot and explained my dilemma.  The very nice lady understood my problem.  She said that I would most probably be fine but there might a window of side effect lasting a couple of days.  I was expected to be put to the back of the queue when she said, shall we try to fit you in today.  Within minutes I was dressed and ready to jab. I mean I was dressed when I was on the phone, but I thought if I’m going out for a vaccine I’m taking off my joggers and wearing proper trousers.

The Vaccination Centre in Gorseinon was run like a military operation.  I showed my passport and they ticked my name off the list.  The nurse apologised that the injection had turned me into a ‘little bleeder’.  I told her not to worry, that certainly wasn’t the first time I’m been called that.  Of course, I milked the situation when I got home asking for tea and biscuits and spending most of the afternoon recuperating on the sofa whilst watching a recording of Match of the Day…but I felt absolutely nothing, no side effect, not even really any pain in my arm.  Great job the NHS!

The next day I was out again.  This time to mark the anniversary of Theatre shutdown.  A year ago, I had everything mapped out for the following 18 months.  Album recorded in Prague; Solo theatre tour in the spring followed by a Theatrical tour in the autumn.

As they say, how do you make God laugh?  Tell him your plans. 

As I stood outside the Grand Theatre I thought of all those who had not worked for 12 months.  The actors and performers but also the technicians and front of house staff.  The printers of the programmes and the programme designers.  I shared my worry that some might never get their confidence back to perform again.  Some audience members might never feel comfortable entering a crowded space again.

Having said that, I think deep down, once we get the all clear, we will want to celebrate the arts that we had taken for granted for too long and have a bit of a party while we are at it.

On Thursday I was back at the Grand and this time, after lots of COVID precautions, I was allowed inside the building.  Race Council Cymru are now based at the Grand’s new Cultural Hub in the Art’s Wing. Earlier in the year I was asked to contribute my memories to a new project ‘The Grand Memory, Past Present, Future’. The idea was to collect your memories of the theatre and then to take a photograph at the Grand to go with an exhibition. 

My first time inside a theatre in over a year

In February I spent an hour chatting to Kasia, the project organiser, over Zoom.  On Thursday it was photo shoot time.  This was my first time inside the theatre in over 18 months.  The excitement of being in the main auditorium was tempered by the fact that the Safety Curtain covered the stage as the backstage area is currently a COVID test centre. Sadness apart, it felt good to be inside a real theatre again.

Aled Jones and Mal Pope – Here I Stand – Songs of Praise

On Friday I went going back to my roots.  I have appeared on Songs of Praise a number of times over the years but always somewhere far away from home.  Quite a few of the performances unsurprisingly have been in cathedrals.  I’ve sung with Aled Jones in St David’s, as well as visits to Winchester and Lincoln Cathedrals too. 

One trip to Newcastle really sticks in the mind.  At that time Air Wales flew daily to Newcastle airport.  I was booked on the early morning flight from Cardiff.  Roadworks on the M4 meant I got there too late to check-in and I can still feel the pain watching the plane take off as I headed for the car park.  It was an 8 hour drive for a 30 minute performance and interview with the Olympic Gold medal winner Jonathan Edwards.  There followed an 8 hour drive home too.  How do you make sure you never miss a flight? Miss one once!

Love Will Find A Way – 1990 CD artwork featuring New Siloh

There were so many thoughts going through my head as I drove to New Siloh Landore for my recording session.  New Siloh had loomed large in my growing up, figuratively and literally.  I was born in house overlooking Brynhyfryd Square.  From that bedroom window New Siloh was the dominating structure.

Great Grandfather Conducting, Grandmother Organist New Siloh 1920

As well as being a religious focal point for the community it was also a cultural centre.  I had grown up with stories from my grandmother Myfanwy of how they had performed Handel’s Messiah and Mendelssohn’s Elijah with a full orchestra at New Siloh.  My grandmother would be the organist, my auntie Ceridwen would be first violin and my Great Grandfather David Hopkins would be the conductor.

New Siloh was also one of the first places I performed in public.  I had been chosen by Mrs Webster to sing the ‘Oh Come Emmanuel’ solo on the front row of the balcony in the Brynhyfryd Junior School carol service.  My parents were teachers so couldn’t be there that afternoon, but Myfanwy was there, and I can still see her face beaming at me from the pews.

The pews have now gone as New Siloh has undergone quite a change.  There was a worry that like so many other great churches New Siloh might become flats or be bulldozed to make way for a supermarket.  Thankfully, the Liberty Church took over the building a number of years ago and it is now full of life again.

The songs I had chosen to sing represented my musical life past and present.  It seemed obvious to me to sing Calon Lan as the Chapel lies almost equidistant between where the lyrics were written by Daniel James in Treboeth and the music was written by John Hughes at Philadelphia Chapel on the Neath Road.

‘A Child’s Prayer’ was a song I had written as a 16 year old when I lived in Brynhyfryd.  It had originally been produced by Elton John.  Some years ago I revisited the song and added a verse from the point of view of an older man.  Finally, the song ‘Catch You’ tells the story of what it means to be a grandfather and likening my feelings towards my grandchild to the way the Almighty might feel about us.

All in all, it’s been a good week.  I expect next week to return to normal and back into my bubble, but it was a glimpse of the future as well as my past… and I liked it.

6 thoughts on “It’s GRAND to be back performing”

  1. Mal I’m reading this just b4 7am.
    Its powerful and indicative.
    It would wonderful to see and hear you perform.
    I had intended to come see you last April until some bahn put paid to that.
    I will have to find out dates and venues and accommodation. And I’ve been jabbed so I’ve no excuses.
    Looking forward to this.
    Thanks Mal.

  2. It was absolutely wonderful to see you again Mal. I for one was so blessed not only with your songs but by spending time with you as a man who obviously loved being back in your ‘home’ singing about the God you love.

    You are welcome anytime at Siloh chapel -cameras or no cameras. Home is home. Thank you for being a blessing to me yesterday and being the humble and sincere man you are.

    Blessings and many thanks, Pastor Mark (Liberty Church)

  3. I enjoyed reading this article. Lovely to hear that Songs of Praise has been recorded in Swansea. Do you know when it is likely to be broadcast? Glad to see you have had the opportunity to perform again after this awful year.

  4. Lovely to read about your week, Mal.
    Hoping that you will have many more like it soon.

  5. I enjoyed reading this Mal..we have been ‘challenged’ and can only do our best going forward.
    Keep writing.
    You are loved xx

  6. This is a very uplifting article Mal,but having read your fascinating autobiography recently,it is obvious that you have always shown great resilience,when the chips are down.
    The amazing vaccine programme is making us all feel more positive about the future,spring has sprung,the bumble bees and butterflies are with us once more,and robins are nesting in the garden!
    Really hopeful that we will see you perform in Acapela at last,in October.
    Jane xx

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