The Welsh Cameron Mackintosh

I expect anyone who sees me in or around town these days would think my life is one long round of tea, coffee or a small all day breakfast. To be honest they wouldn’t be far wrong but most of the meetings have a serious intent behind them. I don’t have an official office so I usually arrange to meet people in a café and, well, it would be wrong not to pay for the space by not buying a cake or cuppa.


Mal, Ian Parsons and Darren Cox  – Filming in Swansea Market

This week has been no exception, but I have been visiting various establishments accompanied by an expert.  Over the past few years I seem to spend a lot of time on the phone, or email or drinking coffee with Ian Parsons from Neath, the man I call Wales’ answer to Cameron Mackintosh.

Most of my professional connections stretch back into the mists of time and there’s a reason for that.  Working closely with people in music and theatre is a full time job.  You work for hours at a time usually in cramped rehearsal rooms. You eat, travel and sometimes share rooms with them so really, if you’re going to keep working together and not end up killing each other you need to like them as people too.

To prove my point, and with that in mind, let me tell you about some of the connections which have stood the test of time.  I went to school with Wal Coughlan my bass player and we’ve been in bands since we were teenagers. He tells the worst jokes in the world, but we know that and make allowances. Nigel Hopkins my keyboard player was introduced to us by Tony Kiley my drummer from Manselton in around 1977. He can talk for Wales and sometimes we impose a 15 minute time out, but we wouldn’t change him.

There are other people I have worked with over the years who are terrific at their jobs but somehow we haven’t quite clicked in the same way.  I’m sure if our paths crossed we would get the work done but…you get my drift.

Ian and some showbiz biz stars at the launch of his book ‘Swansea’s Grand’.

When someone asked me recently how I had met Ian Parsons it took me a few moments to remember how our paths had crossed for the first time. I finally traced it to a book he had written about the Grand Theatre back in 2010.  Ian was writing a history of our lovely theatre and was collecting memories from people who played there over the years.

I know what you’re thinking Ian must have been a theatre person who just happened to be writing a book. Well. It’s a little more complicated than that…

Again, when I said Ian was a café expert it wasn’t as a professional connoisseur who visited various establishments around the country writing reviews.  For many years Ian had actually run a café in Neath.  

Ian Parsons and his cafe in Neath.

How come he found himself writing a book about the Grand?  Ian just happened to love the Grand. He decided he wanted to write a book about it…and did!

If I’m right, and to be honest it’s quite hard trying to remember all the jobs Ian has had, he took on the café after a short lived career as an assistant in a Jewellery Store next to Swansea Market and possible selling cars somewhere in the Afan valley. 

He had no catering experience. The first thing he did was work out a small manageable menu.  He sourced the best bacon, well more like a gammon steak, he could find in Neath Market.  He spent a couple of days and countless dozens of eggs teaching himself to fry the perfect egg.

Years before Deliveroo he started delivering sandwiches to local businesses and the take away business thrived.  Ian realised that with so many loaves of bread he used for toast and fried bread he ended up with lots of unused crusts.  With a rugby theme in the café he created the ‘Grand Slam’, a multi layered breakfast sandwich toped and tailed with one of the usually discarded crusts. The trouble was that the ‘Grand Slam’ became so popular he had to change the small print to explain sometimes the crusts would be replaced by ordinary sliced bread due to lack of availability of crusts.

I think Ian must have met the comedian Mike Doyle during the time he was writing the book, probably over a cup of coffee. The great thing about Ian is he listens and learns and asks the obvious question which most entertainers completely miss, how do we make this pay?

Ian told me it came down to his time in the café.  He worked out how much each item in a breakfast or sandwich cost and he knew that he needed to sell the finished article for more than that to make a profit.  He’s not what we call a ‘bread head’ he just knows that if you want to live you have to make sure your work makes money.

Ian took those skills and applied it to putting together a tour for Mike.  He worked out all of the costs and where savings could be made and where profit margins increased.   Ian says that first tour taught him just about everything he knows about dealing with theatres and musicians and artistes.

Ian soon realised he was spending lots of money on graphic design and video production, so he bought himself a computer and some design software and some cameras and some editing software and taught himself how to design and make films.

I’m really not sure when Ian and I started to work together but it was probably for my last tour before Covid.  Ian had a great relationship with the theatres and took on all of the responsibility for contracts, printing and promotion.  We actually had the next tour all booked before the first had been completed but Covid came and put paid to that.  We eventually completed the final date of the second tour 2 years later than planned.

February 2023 – Waiting for the sunrise Bracelet Bay

The reason Ian and I have been out and about this week is we have been filming a new video.  As I said, Ian has taught himself how to film and edit video.  Last year I mentioned to him I was planning to film a video of my new single ‘Breathe’ just as the sun was rising over Mumbles.  ‘Do you want a hand’, asked Ian?  So early one February morning we set up Ian’s cameras and waited for the sunrise.

Last August we turned up at Sonic One Studios with a bag of cameras and a cast of, a few, to film a video for my 50th anniversary single ‘I don’t Know How to say Goodbye’.


Mal, Ian Steve & Frankie Balsamo – I Don’t Know How To say Goodbye

This week we’ve been all over city filming after dark.  We started outside Volcano Theatre on Swansea High Street.  Next we got Darren from Swansea Market to open up for us after all of the shoppers had left.  Then we took over the Grand Theatre to film me watching an old black and white movie.

Yesterday Ian celebrated a milestone birthday.  He’s had more jobs than a labour exchange and he’s just as enthusiastic as he was when we met over his book ‘Swansea’s Grand’.  He’s an inspiration to me and all of the other artistes he works with and hopefully his story will inspire you too.

Be open to learn, be generous with your time and talent and the world really does take notice.

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