The Feintest Pen

It’s 3 days to go until my 50th Anniversary Golden Jubilee Concert at the Grand Theatre.  This has been meticulously planned for the last 9 months.  Everything has been geared to mark, 3rd October, the special day that I signed to Elton John’s Rocket Records…. except I’m not sure if we’ve got the right date!!!

I could be forgiven as this all happened a very long time ago but the more and more I research things I think I might have got things wrong. Well, not exactly wrong, it’s just that I might have the wrong day for the wrong event.

This all goes back to my father’s diary.  At the time in 1973 my mum and dad urgently tried to persuade me to keep a daily record of events.  Their experience told them that

‘The feintest ink is more powerful than the strongest memory.’

In my defence I tried.  My ‘Business Diary 1973’ starts with the best intentions marking the special events from receiving a letter from the BBC on Saturday 26th May. Other entries follow where I have recorded events including my first BBC broadcast in July and the day when Rocket Records came to Swansea to record demos of all of the songs I had written. 

Looking at the diary I’m pretty sure I only started it to keep my parents quiet. Each entry appears to use the same pen and then everything strangely stops in August. Strange because all the big stuff happens in September and October 1973. I have found another small notebook which I suspect my mother gave me to record everything.  On the front it says, ‘Telephone Mum Every Night’ but inside there are no details just some scribbled lyrics for long forgotten songs.

Once again I have turned to my Father’s diary of 1973. As I read it there seems to be a lot of confusion at the end of September. It had been some weeks since Steve Brown from Rocket Records had been down to Swansea and I was starting life in a new school, Dynevor Comprehensive. 

As you can imagine my head was full of ‘Hollywood’ style dreams whilst still trying to live the normal life of a Swansea schoolboy who dreamed of being a pop star and professional footballer.

Mid-September I had gotten into the Swansea Schoolboys Under 15 side a year early.  I was still also playing for the school side.  22nd September entry tells a story of my dad standing next to Mel Charles at the side of the pitch at Maesteg Park.  The game resulted in a 2 all draw with Cefn Hengoed and I was taken off with suspected concussion after being struck on the head by a ball.

With lack of any concrete action three quarters of the way through the month my dad notes

‘Maldwyn is very disappointed’

Two days later the call came through that Rocket Records wanted me in London the following week. My parents and Rocket both wrote to Mr Norris the headmaster asking for time off. The entry for Friday 28th September states

‘Mr Norris wished him all the best. Letter sent to excuse him from football tomorrow’.

This is where the confusion really starts.  I always thought I had signed my Record deal on 3rd October, hence the date of this week’s concert, but on Monday 1st October the entry reads,

‘Securicor letter for Maldwyn – £200 cheque…cut lawn after school’.

Three things immediately struck me.  Firstly they wouldn’t have sent the cheque if I hadn’t already signed the recording contract, secondly, my dad seemed more interested in his garden than my showbiz career and thirdly, why didn’t I buy a house with the cash!!!

Living the dream in London 1973 (Courtesy Mike Ross)

I’ve just looked on line and that would have been a little ambitious.  £200 in 1973 was worth about £3000 in today’s money.  You couldn’t retire or buy a Ferrari but that was quite a lot of money for a 13 year old who’s only vice was that he drank pop.

It was Tuesday 2nd October that together with my big brother David I caught the 8.43 to Paddington.  That was a very special day and I still remember being greeted by all of the Rocket Record Company staff at the station.  Then came the trip in a White Rolls Royce to a fancy restaurant where I ordered the only thing I recognised on the menu Steak (well done) and chips. On that day my dad wrote,

‘Maldwyn rang from Cumberland Hotel in London…mum anxious about tomorrow’s papers’.

It seems that not only did my parents worry about what was happening to me in London, they were also worried that people might read about it in the local papers. I mean, what would the neighbours say?

So I think the safest thing I can say about Tuesday’s Golden Jubilee concert is that it marks the 50th Anniversary of me starting to record as a recording artist, signed to a proper record company. On that day my dad wrote’

‘Maldwyn rang later. He seems to be enjoying himself. He confesses to being tired’.

As I read my dad’s diary I get the occasional insight into his life and thoughts.  That night he watched

‘A Good film on China. Always fascinated by that Land. Years ago, I wanted to go there as a missionary’.

Looking back it makes me incredibly grateful to my parents for all of the support they gave me to fulfil my dreams even when their own were put aside for the sake of their family.

This all goes to show that if we don’t write things down at the time your memory can play tricks on you. We all remember things differently.

This was really highlighted in some recent conversations I had with my 1973 producer David Costa. 50 years on I was trying to work out who had played on those original sessions.  Two star names came to mind B J Cole, Pedal Steel, who played on Elton’s ‘Tiny Dancer’ and the other piano player to the stars Nicky Hopkins.

David immediately confirmed B J Cole as Cole was his friend on the Marquee gig circuit, but David was very unsure about Nicky Hopkins.  He didn’t know him personally and felt he had no connection to have booked him for a session. I was convinced even ‘remembering’ a conversation with David Costa telling me in whispered tones Nicky played for the Rolling Stones. 

I started digging.  The first connection I found was the drummer Terry Stannard, who we both agreed played on the sessions.  He also played in a band with Nicky. In my mind it was Terry who got him in.  I was having trouble playing the piano on my own songs and Terry knew Nicky was back from touring and gave him a call.

That still didn’t completely convince David.  I decided I would listen through to the Rocket tapes to see if I could gleam any more information.  Then I found it.  Terry is chatting to the piano player about a tricky introduction to a song and he calls him Nicky…

Anyway, we will be celebrating 50 years of something this Tuesday at the Swansea Grand Theatre.  There is so much to celebrate with so many friends and colleagues and if the date is a day or two out then I hope you won’t be too disappointed with me.

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