I have to say over my career I have played in lots of unusual venues. Some I struggle to remember, others I try to forget. This week I’ve been to a couple of wonderful venues, one where I played a concert and to another where I hope I will get the chance to perform at some day in the future.
Mal and Daisy performing at St David’s Hall for Songs of Praise 2009
The first time I went to Acapela Studio in Pentrych I was operating in the role of Chauffeur. My daughter Daisy and I had recently performed ‘All Through the Night’ for a Songs of Praise special from St David’s Hall. At the time Catrin Finch who set up Acapela with her husband Hywel Wigley was the Royal Harpist and so when they needed someone to officially open the new venue and studio who better than her Royal Patron Prince Charles.
When I got a call from Hywel about the opening I checked my diary to see if I was free, and I was. It was only when he started talking about Daisy’s performance on Songs of Praise that I realised he wasn’t asking me to perform, he was inviting Daisy!!!
It was a terrific afternoon and Daisy sang beautifully. I was struck by the simplicity and beauty of the venue. In a previous life Acapela had been Horeb Calvinistic Methodist Chapel, but in 2008 it had been sympathetically converted into the venue it is now.
You Never Threw A Party For Me – Live Acapela, St Davids Day 2022
It was last October I got to play there on my own, a concert much postponed over the previous 2 years. As well as having a lovely sounding room with a great sound and lighting system, all built in, Acapela is now famous for its pizzas as well. They serve them from 6pm until the artiste goes on at 8pm and as part of the deal they feed the performers and crew.
That evening back in October can’t have been a complete disaster because the following week I was asked if I would headline the venue for a special St David’s Day concert. With it being St David’s Day and the fact that I’d been there fairly recently I decided to go to my back catalogue to pull out some songs I hadn’t played for a while with a strong Welsh flavour.
My ‘go to’ Welsh Album is ‘Land of My Children’. I recorded it in 1997. It is a collection of reimagined Welsh Hymns. The album was released to coincide with the Rugby World Cup, and it sold fairly well, although not everyone appreciated what I was trying to do.
I launched the album in ASDA Llansamlet with a special little stage set up somewhere near the frozen vegetables. As I sang I seemed I became invisible. I was amazed how people completely ignored me as they did their weekly shop, well all of them except one. As I stood there silently in between songs one lady walked up to me and said, ‘I just want you to know… I think its awful what you’ve done to those lovely Welsh Hymns!’. Everyone is a critic!!!
Aled Jones & Mal Pope – Here I Stand
Technology has since moved on so even though I was still performing on my own, I was able to use videos featuring duets with people like Aled Jones in Tuesday’s show at Acapela. Those new versions of the hymns seemed to get a better response this week than they did in ASDA all those years ago.
I finished the evening with the final song from the musical ‘Contender’ which I wrote about the Welsh boxer Tommy Farr. Tommy was one of Britain’s most well know sportsmen in the 1930’s and 40’s having taken Joe Louis the distance in a fight at Yankee Stadium. Tommy had also been a singer and was known to take the microphone at the end of a fight and lead the crowds in singing the Welsh National Anthem.
Now I realise that some might consider what I did in the show was purely a cynical ploy to get a guaranteed standing ovation to every show but to me it seemed like an open goal.
I had written a song called ‘Standing Alone’ using the chordal progression of the Anthem. You could play the same chords and sing either song. Of course at the end of the show ‘Standing Alone’ morphs into the Anthem and everyone automatically stands.
On Tuesday, before they had the chance to take their seats again I hit them with my IBIZA remix of ‘Bread of Heaven’. It might be a night they won’t want to remember but I’m pretty sure it’ll be one they never forget!!!
And so from one venue where I’ve recently played to a new venue I really hope to perform at one day.
The new Swansea Arena seemed to appear as if by magic. I had driven into Mumbles at the start of lockdown in 2020 and by the time I re-emerged nearly 2 years later…there is was!
This week I was honoured to host the opening ceremony. Since Christmas I had seen the Arenas sparkling LED lights as I drove past and last weekend I saw pictures from inside the venue from their test events, but nothing had really prepared me for the experience of being inside the building.
It actually started as I drove into the South Car Park. I think it could be said that some of our city centre car parks are showing their age a little. This car park sparkled. I then took the stairs to reach the foyer. It is enormous with golden tiered curtains hanging from the roof.
I was there nice and early, before the VIP guests arrived, to have a technical rehearsal testing the microphone etc. The person operating the system was one of the technical managers, a lad named Keith. Keith is a Swansea boy who has been able to bring his skills home and get a good job at the Arena. After the soundcheck he asked if I’d like a quick look at the Arena itself.
As I walked in I really did have a sense of awe. It is enormous, like some high domed Cathedral but somehow, and I’m not sure how they have done this, it still felt ‘warm’. As I stood on the stage and looked out at the seats stretching into the high distance I knew that this was one stage I really want to perform on one day.
Mal chatting to Dean Thomas for ITV Wales news from the Arena Stage
The first speech was given by the Leader of the City and County of Swansea, Rob Stewart. He said that Swansea had gained a reputation for being a city of artists impressions; so many drawing and animations of what might be never becoming reality. He understood some people were sceptical, that they called the new bridge a Golden Taco, that they expected to be disappointed, but he was proud of what our city had achieved especially during a Global Pandemic.
It’s always difficult in these moments to mention all of those who have worked so hard on a project. Rob did his best not to forget but for me, one politician singled out for praise deserves the thanks of our city.
I’ve known Councillor Robert Francis Davies for many years. He has always been encouraging, always pushed Swansea forward. In his time Swansea has had many major projects including the Liberty Stadium and now this city centre regeneration. Without his experience and dedication I doubt much of this would have happened.
And now the Arena is ready. The Taco bridge is open and soon you will be able to visit the foyer, the park and the cafes and restaurants at Copr Bay.
It’s enough to make even the most committed cynic into a believer again.
Below details of Mal Pope at the Gwyn Hall Neath 11th March 2022