I’m having a big party in October and you’re all invited. I’ve booked the venue and the entertainment. I’m not sure if there will be cake, jelly and blancmange but I’m sure there will be a bottle or two of bubbly.
Mal Pope & The Jacks at the Swansea Grand Theatre
If I’m honest I’m not usually one for marking birthdays and anniversaries. I think it’s because it’s on such occasions that the optimist and pessimist in me really do battle. The optimist says, let’s celebrate the passing of the years and be grateful for everything we’ve been through whilst looking forward to everything the future holds. The pessimist in me says, well, that’s one less time we’ll be able to do this!!!
50 years ago it would have been impossible for me to know 1973 would change the direction of my life forever. At the time my life was a typical schoolboy mixture of football, school and playing my songs to anyone who would listen.
The change started with me sending a tape of my songs to John Peel on Radio 1 and going to London to record a session for his late night Top Gear show. Then came the call from Elton John to ask my parents if they would allow me to sign for his new Rocket Record Company. After that life became a bit of a blur with regular trips to London for recording sessions and Celebrity parties.
We decided to hold this celebratory party on the anniversary of the date I actually signed my first Record Deal with Rocket Records, the 3rd October. Although that is one of the most important dates in my life, 1973 had so many other significant moments that keep triggering memories.
In reality my Golden Jubilee starts around now. It must have been around March or April that I would have got over the disappointment of failing at my Opportunity Knocks audition. It must have been 50 years ago that I finally took the advice of Mike Nicholson, my big brother’s friend, who for months had been urging me to send a tape of my songs to John Peel.
I have various memories about how and where John Peel actually got to hear my tape and over the years they have got a little bit hazy. This week I went through a pile of old cassettes that my mother had kept safe, together with all of the newspaper cuttings she had collected over the years.
I managed to find an old cassette machine that hadn’t been used in well over a decade. I crossed my fingers, pressed the button and hoped for the best. To my great surprise everything worked.
One of the first cassettes I found was an old Philips C-90 cassette which had my brother Gareth’s writing on it.
‘Maldwyn’s 1st Recording from Top Gear John Peel (July 17th, 1973).’
It was like time travelling. It brought back such a strong memory of the whole family gathered around a medium wave radio in Brynhyfryd waiting for the show to start.
Fair play to Gareth he got all of the links and introductions into my songs on the show. Quite a task as there were about six songs on the show spread over the 2 hours between 10pm and midnight. Listening back I was reminded how sardonic and funny John Peel was in his links. He talked about having called me before the show to chat about the session and that I had tried to help him pronounce my name properly, something most of the people in the London Music business never got right.
He was amusing but never patronising. He would say things like, this was a song that Maldwyn wrote when he was 9 and then go on to tell his audience what sort of songs he was writing at a similar age. He told his fans he had threatened to ‘box my ears’ because I had suggested that there might be a better football team than his beloved Liverpool (spoiler alert Swansea).
For those who don’t know or remember John Peel at the time he was the great champion of new music at Radio 1. That meant every day sacksful of tapes of aspiring musicians and bands would arrive at his office.
On the show he explained that on one such evening listening session at home, his wife, known as the PIG, came in with a tape and told him it was from a 12 year old Welsh Singer Songwriter. He said he was filled with horror but listened anyway. On the show he went on to stress that being a 13 year old songwriter wasn’t a gimmick. He thought the songs were good and were on his show on merit.
After that cassette I found one from a second John Peel session I had recorded about 6 months later. I remember that session really well. It was probably recorded at the legendary Maida Vale studios. After the session we all went to the bar. As we walked in I immediately recognised sports reporters David Coleman and Sam Leitch having a quiet end of evening drink. I’m not sure whether they took exception to the long haired musical types I was with or whether it was because I was a kid, but I could tell by the way they looked at us they didn’t quite approve. I have to admit that after that I could never watch ‘Sportsnight with Coleman’ in the same way again.
On that second Radio 1 session John Peel noticed 2 things. The first was that one of the new piano songs I performed was probably a little too influenced by my new boss Elton John. He was concerned that I might lose my own style. He also said that when he spoke to me on the phone prior to the broadcast my voice was definitely lower than it had been the previous summer. How perceptive on both counts.
In fact it reminded me that back in 1973/74 I had recorded a whole album of songs which had to be shelved because by the time it was due for release my voice had well and truly broken. I wonder where these tapes are now.
To book tickets click on the picture above or go to https://www.swanseagrand.co.uk/MalPope50th
So back to 3rd October 2023. I don’t want you to think this Party in October will be all looking back. I am still very much recording and making new music. Even this week I’ve been working on new material for an album due for release this autumn as well as filming some unplugged versions of some songs from the Butterfly album.
Mal Pope & the Jacks – Live at the Swansea Grand Theatre
What I do know is that I will be joined by some great musicians and friends as well as some surprise guests. Its been a while since I performed with my band of brothers, The Jacks, at the Swansea Grand Theatre and we are all tremendously excited to be back there. I really hope you can join us and remember to bring some party poppers with you. We are planning on having a real celebratory bash.