Today will be the first time ‘Mal Pope & The Jacks’ have performed together since, well to be honest, we can’t quite remember. We’ve done the odd event in different combinations but the last time the original ‘Mal Pope & The Jacks’ played a gig together, that’s Ryan, Wal, Tim and Nige none of us can remember. There are 2 explanations, one is that it was a very long time ago and the other is we are now so old our memories are not what they used to be.
Today we head for the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells for the Swansea & Brecon Centenary Celebration Concert and up until a week or so ago I wasn’t quite sure what the line-up was going to be.
The days of 3 gigs a week
The trouble is, as I have always said when people ask can they book the band for a special event, its actually easier to do 100 gigs rather than a one off. The reason is if you perform 3-4 gigs a week you don’t have time to be a part of many other projects, the gigging band is your main project and your bread and butter. Once that stops everyone moves to other projects and trying to get everyone’s diaries to coincide is pretty impossible. We have got a wide selection of good friends who are great players who can fill in but there is something about ‘getting the band back together’ that is hard to replace.
Andy ‘Wal Coughlan’ and I started playing in a band together when we were about 16 I think. We used to rehearse in the drummer, Tony Kiley’s, house in Cecil Street, Manselton. Somewhere along the line they suggested we get a great keyboard player involved from Fforestfach named Nigel Hopkins. I could bash out some chords on an electric piano ‘Nigey Nige’ had a synthesiser and he could play anything.
University put the band on hold for long stretches and eventually Wal and Tony moved to London. Tony joined the Blow Monkeys and Wal joined the Gary Numan band. It wasn’t until the early 1990’s when we first got the band back together for ‘The Mal Pope Show’ TV series for HTV. We had been joined by a young guitarist, Tim Hamill, from Llanelli who I’d started to work with in the studio. By series 2 NIgey Nige joined the band on multiple keyboards but we lost Tony to an autumn tour in Dina Carrol’s band. It made sense, Tony had a family and needed a well paying regular gig and he still lived in London.
Things changed when Wal moved back to Wales and I lost my TV and Radio work. We all needed to find a way to make a living. So was born ‘Mal Pope & The Jacks’.
We found Ryan Aston in a community centre in Bridgend! We were on the hunt for a drummer and Ryan was playing in a local band on a mixed bill. There were some good players but when Wal said, ‘that kid is really good’, I felt we might be onto something. We got him in for a ‘bit of a knock’ which went well and after a few days we called and offered him the gig. It was years later that Ryan confessed to being a little miffed that it took a few days to get he call but I think he’s forgiven us now.
And so we went to work. We were gigging 3 times a week in every pub and club up and down every valley and to be honest we got really good. We had to learn fast how to take control of an audience, how to get them on their feet and not give them a moment to sit down. We started with a tentative mixed set including the odd ballad but by the time we peaked we started on Gas mark 10 and then turned the heat up until an hour or so later.
Looking back we were having a lot of fun and personally I was on a learning curve that I would never have experienced without those gigs but it’s a hard way of life. You pack the van; you unpack the van. You set up the PA and the Gear, you tear it down. You then repack the van before driving an hour or so in the early hours and unpack the van again. Ask any regularly gigging musician and I guarantee everyone will have a ‘scare story’ about falling asleep at the wheel on the way home from a gig. Most woke up on the hard shoulder…some didn’t wake up at all.
Over a three year period we had gone from playing the Cymer Pioneer Club Porth in the Rhondda to celebrity parties for Joan Collins, Linda Lusardi and finally a celebrity packed birthday party for Radio 1’s Simon Mayo.
Gary Lineker auditions for Mal Pope & The Jacks.
The Simon Mayo gig was a lot of fun but without being blasé we were used to playing to a dance floor filled with famous faces. We packed down the gear as normal, headed for the M4 and probably slept through much of the next day.
Team Photo at the Simon Mayo Party.
The following day I headed for North Wales. The wheel had turned in my broadcasting world and I was back in HTV Wales presenting their weekly Arts Show ‘Prime Time’. I was walking around the streets of Llandudno working on my links when I got a call from home. Something strange was happening to my office telephone. It was ringing nonstop! I had turned on the answerphone before leaving in case I missed any important calls but by the time I returned home that evening the computer showed that we had had over 1000 calls all asking one question…’How do we book the band of the century’.
It took a little while to get to the bottom of it all but essentially on his Monday morning Radio1 breakfast show Simon Mayo had told people about the party and said how good ‘Mal Pope & the Jacks’ had been. He described us as ‘The Band of The Century’ and then proceeded to give out my home telephone number. Now playing celebrity parties has many advantages. You get paid well, you usually get very well treated and looked after including often being accommodated in a very nice hotel. On the down side you have to play other people’s songs as the last thing anyone wants to hear is… ‘And this is a song from my new album’.
I had a chat with the boys, and we decided that we had loved the ride, but we didn’t want to see it through to the obvious next destination. As time went by all of the band found new gigs and have gone to play some amazing concerts.
When I got the invitation to play today at the Royal Welsh showground I had no idea the band would be available. I had made sure they had our the 3rd October Golden Jubilee Concert at the Swansea Grand Theatre in bold in their diaries but getting them to commit to 2 concerts seemed over ambitious. Whether it was a miracle or just a major coincidence but one by one band members who were expecting to be out of the country found they were available, and they signed up to get the band back together.
When we started doing the clubs we always said we wouldn’t rehearse as such. We would call out a tune we liked and then a key and we would play it as best we could remember. Of course after 6 months of 3 gigs a week the set became ‘set in stone’. In this week’s rehearsal it felt like putting on a perfectly fitting shoe. Words I haven’t sung for 15 years just appeared in my brain. My fingers found some long forgotten muscle memory to take them to the right play on the guitar or piano and each song followed as it had done so easily so many years ago.
If you are coming to Builth Wells today please come and say hello and if not… you can always see us on 3rd October at the Swansea Grand Theatre.