St Augustine’s, Penarth by Gillian Clarke

 The church is like the prow
Of a smoky ship, moving
On the down channel currents
To the open sea. A stone

Figurehead, the flowing light
Streams from it. From everywhere
You can see Top Church, remote
As high church is from chapel.


Church high on the summit
Of the climbing town
Where I was a child, where rain
Runs always slantingly

On streets like tilted chutes
Of grey sliding on all sides
From the church, to sea and dock,
To shopping streets and home.

Bresting the cloud, its stone
Profile of an ancient priest
Preaches continuity
In the face of turning tides.

by Gillain Clarke
from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)

Information: St Augustine’s Church is a Grade I listed Gothic Revival nineteenth-century parish church in Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, Wales. Wales has, historically, had a strong chapel community in the valleys where small community cogregations, with their lay preachers, were far more common than larger organised churches.

Invitation by R. S. Thomas

And one voice says: Come
Back to the rain and manure
Of Siloh, to the small talk,
Of the wind,and the chapel's

Temptation; to the pale,
Sickly half-smile of
The daughter of the village
Grocer. The other says: Come

To the streets, where the pound
Sings and the doors open
To its music, with life
Like an express train running

To time. And I stay
Here, listening to them, blowing
On the small soul in my
Keeping with such breath as I have.

by R. S. Thomas
from H'm (1972)

Siloh is a hamlet in Llandovery, Carmarthenshire.

There by R.S. Thomas

They are those that life happens to.

They didn’t ask to be born

In those bleak farmsteads, but neither

Did they ask not. Life took the seed

And broadcast it upon the poor,

Rush-stricken soil, an experiment

In patience.

What is a man’s

Price? For promises of a break

In the clouds; for harvests that are not all

Wasted; for one animal born

Healthy, where seven have died,

He will kneel down and give thanks

In a chapel whose stones are wrenched

From the moorland.

I have watched them bent

For hours over their trade,

Speechless, and have held my tongue

From its question. It was not my part

To show them, like a meddler from the town,

their picture, nor the audiences

That look at them in pity or pride.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Pietà (1966)

Reservoirs by R.S. Thomas

There are places in Wales I don’t go:

Reservoirs that are the subconscious

Of a people, troubled far down

With gravestones, chapels, villages even;

The serenity of their expression

Revolts me, it is a pose

For strangers, a watercolour’s appeal

To the mass, instead of the poem’s

Harsher conditions. There are the hills,

Too; gardens gone under the scum

Of the forests; and the smashed faces

Of the farms with the stone trickle

Of their tears down the hills’ side.

 

Where can I go, then, from the smell

Of decay, from the putrefying of a dead

Nation? I have walked the shore

For an hour and seen the English

Scavenging among the remains

Of our culture, covering the sand

Like the tide and, with the roughness

Of the tide, elbowing our language

Into the grave that we have dug for it.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)


Ronald Stuart Thomas (29 March 1913 – 25 September 2000), published as R. S. Thomas, was a Welsh poet and Anglican priest who was noted for his nationalism, spirituality and deep dislike of the anglicisation of Wales. M. Wynn Thomas said: “He was the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn of Wales because he was such a troubler of the Welsh conscience.”

R. S. Thomas believed in what he called “the true Wales of my imagination”, a Welsh-speaking aboriginal community that was in tune with the natural world. He viewed western (specifically English) materialism and greed, represented in the poetry by his mythical “Machine”, as the destroyers of community. He could tolerate neither the English who bought up Wales, and in his view stripped it of its wild and essential nature, nor the Welsh whom he saw as all too eager to kowtow to English money and influence.

As Capel Celyn was flooded in 1965 it’s almost certain one of the resevoirs referred to in this poem is this lost community. Capel Celyn was a rural community to the north west of Bala in Gwynedd, north Wales, in the Afon Tryweryn valley. The village and other parts of the valley were flooded to create a reservoir, Llyn Celyn, in order to supply Liverpool and Wirral with water for industry. The village contained, among other things, a chapel, as the name suggests, capel being Welsh for chapel, while celyn is Welsh for holly.

The Ballad of a Bounder by Idris Davies

He addressed great congregations

And rolled his tongue with grease,

And his belly always flourished,

In times of war or peace.

 

He would talk of distant comrades

And brothers o’er the sea,

And snarl above his liquor

about neighbours two or three.

 

He knew a lot about public money –

More than he liked to say –

And sometimes sat with the paupers

To increase his Extra pay.

 

He could quote from Martin Tupper

and Wilhelmina Stitch,

And creep from chapel to bargain

With the likeliest local bitch.

 

He could swindle and squeal and snivel

And cheat and chant and pray,

and retreat like a famous general

When Truth would bar his way.

 

But God grew sick and tired

Of such a godly soul,

And sent down Death to gather

His body to a hole.

 

But before he died, the Bounder

Said: ‘My children, be at peace;

I know I am going to heaven,

So rub my tongue with grease.’

 

by Idris Davies


Fun facts: Martin Tupper was an English writer, and poet, and the author of Proverbial Philosophy. Wilhelmina Stitch was one of the pen names of Ruth Collie, an English born poet who started her writing career in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

‘The air is split into black branches’ by Velimir Khlebnikov

The air is split into black branches,

like old glass.

Pray to Our Lady of Autumn!

The windows of autumn’s chapel,

smashed by a hurtling bullet,

are wrinkling.

A tree was burning,

a bright spill in the golden air.

It bends; it bows down.

Autumn’s flint and steel angrily

struck the sparks of golden days.

A forest at prayer. All at once

golden smells fell to the ground.

Trees stretch out – rakes

gathering armfuls of the sun’s hay.

Autumn’s tree resonantly evokes

a sketch of Russia’s railroads.

The golden autumn wind

has scattered me everywhere.

 

by Велимир Хлебников (Velimir Khlebnikov)

a.k.a. Виктор Владимирович Хлебников

(Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov)

(1921)

translated by Robert Chandler

Red Balloon by Dannie Abse

It sailed across the startled town,

over chapels, over chimney-pots,

wind-blown above a block of flats

before it floated down.

 

Oddly, it landed where I stood,

and finding’s keeping, as you know.

I breathed on it, I polished it,

till it shone like living blood.

 

It was my shame, it was my joy,

it brought me notoriety.

From all of Wales the rude boy came,

it ceased to be a toy.

 

I heard the girls of Cardiff sigh

When my balloon, my red balloon,

soared higher like a happiness

towards the dark blue sky.

 

Nine months since, have I boasted of

my unique, my only precious;

but to no one dare I show it now

however long they swear their love.

 

‘It’s a Jew’s balloon,’ my best friend cried,

‘stained with our dear Lord’s blood.’

‘That I’m a Jew is true,’ I said,

said I, ‘that cannot be denied.’

 

‘What relevance?’ I asked, surprised,

‘what’s religion to do with this?’

‘Your red balloon’s a Jew’s balloon,

let’s get it circumcised.’

 

Then some boys laughed and some boys cursed,

some unsheathed their dirty knives:

some lunged, some clawed at my balloon,

but still it would not burst.

 

They bled my nose, they cut my eye,

half conscious in the street I heard,

‘Give up, give up your red balloon.’

I don’t know exactly why.

 

Father, bolt the door, turn the key,

lest those sad, brash boys return

to insult my faith and steal

my red balloon from me.

 

by Dannie Abse

from Poems, Golders Green (1962)


Fun facts: Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.

The Chapel by R. S. Thomas

A little aside from the main road,

becalmed in a last-century greyness,

there is the chapel, ugly, without the appeal

to the tourist to stop his car

and visit it. The traffic goes by,

and the river goes by, and quick shadows

of clouds, too, and the chapel settles

a little deeper into the grass.

 

But here once on an evening like this,

in the darkness that was about

his hearers, a preacher caught fire

and burned steadily before them

with a strange light, so that they saw

the spendour of the barren mountains

about them and sang their amens

fiercely, narrow but saved

in a way that men are not now.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit (1975)

The Lay Preacher Ponders by Idris Davies

‘Isn’t the violet a dear little flower? And the daisy, too.

What nice little thoughts arise from a daisy!

If I were a poet now – but no, not a poet,

For a poet is a wild and blasphemous man;

He talks about wine and women too much for me

And he makes mad songs about old pagans, look you.

Poets are dangerous men to have in chapel,

And it is bad enough in chapel as it is

with all the quarelling over the organ and the deacons;

The deacons are not too nice to saintly young men like me.

(Look at Jenkins John Jones, the old damn scoundrel!)

They know I can pray for hours and hours,

They know what a righteous young man I am,

They know how my Bible is always in my pocket

And Abraham and Jonah like brothers to me,

But they prefer the proper preacher with his collar turned around;

They say he is more cultured than I am,

And what is culture but palaver and swank?

I turn up my nose at culture.

I stand up for faith, and very simple faith,

And knowledge I hate because it is poison.

Think of this devilish thing they call science,

It is Satan’s new trick to poison men’s minds.

When I shall be local councillor and a famous man –

I  look forward to the day when I shall be mayor –

I will put my foot down on clever palaver,

And show what a righteous young man I am.

And they ought to know I am that already,

For I give all my spare cash to the chapel

And all my spare time to God.’

 

by Idris Davies

Acapela Studio, Pentyrch, Cardiff: Concert Reviews

Over the past few months I have gone to Acapela studios to see some musical talent but kept putting off posting the reviews. Therefore what you read below was the reaction at the time immediately after the event. So this could be considered as an overview of the venue via the 3 short reviews of concerts I went to there.

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  • Shan Cothi featuring the Nidum Ensemble & Guests 26/02/2015
  • Catrin Finch’s Launch of her Album ‘Waves’ 19/03/2015
  • Frank Hennessy – Welsh Folk Singer   17/04/2015

Acapela-Church-pentyrch

The performances were all held at Pentyrch’s Acapela Studios: a converted Welsh chapel which she bought with her husband Hywel Wigley in 2005. They renovated it into a recording studio and music venue due to the acoustics it offered.

http://www.acapela.co.uk/

Capel Horeb, Heol Y Pentre, Pentyrch, Cardiff CF15 9QD

balcony acapela

It’s an excellent venue acoustically and there are many interesting, eclectic, acts performing there throughout the year and it deserves all the support it can get as the ticket prices are very reasonable, if not cheap, in comparison with many other local venues considering the extremely high quality of acts it attracts.

My only real criticism is that if they are going to have a bar they need to invest in a fridge or some cooling device as having room temperature drinks, charged at the premium price you expect from larger venues, seems unfair to the patrons supporting it. Parking in the area may be awkward the first time you attend an event so make sure to arrive a bit early in case you have to park a bit further away than desired due to the location being in a residential area.

[Edit: 02/02/2018: I have been back to see a few more events since these reviews and they had a restructure of the bar area shortly afterwards so it has all the facilities you would expect of a performance venue including a proper bar area, toilets and it has, on most occassions, been well heated and there is padded seating as long as you are amongst the first to enter the chapel room for a performance as seating is not assigned by ticket.]

[Edit: 20/02/2018: Further to the above I attended a concert by Vonda Shepard and apparently now they’ve changed the bar area into a food service area. There are a number of tables in the studio/chapel part. People were eating before and during the concert which I found odd. At the start of the second half the people sat in front of me sat were eating pizza out of pizza delivery boxes sat upstairs. I suppose that’s what Acapela has had to do to survive but it does bring into question the number of seats lost by bringing the tables in and if they’ve decided to deprioritise the recording studio aspects and such. It’s a shame as it makes it all a bit ‘dinner theatre’ but that’s how things are going now I suppose so they can’t be blamed if that’s what keeps them afloat. Vonda was excellent anyway and its a very intimate venue.]


Shan Cothi featuring the Nidum Ensemble & Guests
26/02/2015

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A fun, light hearted, evening and great atmosphere with a good audience turn out.

Performing were: Shan Cothi (Classical singer and host of Bore Cothi on Radio Cymru), Wynne Evans (The Go Compare Tenor), Rebecca Evans (Opera Diva – Not Wynne’s wife though the joke about it), Catrin Finch (Official Harpist to the Prince of Wales from 2000 to 2004) and the 4 person string quartet of the (12 person strong) Nidum Ensemble.

Wynne mocked Shan, Rebecca and Catrin in a song he made up. Mostly the evening was a preview of Shan’s new album, a composition from Katrin’s new album and, amongst other pieces, 4 compositions by Ennio Morricone.

‘Big Dai’ Watkins, a lyricist, sat in front of me and kept turning around telling me ‘this is a good one’ and had one of those distinctly Welsh senses of humour saying at the start of the second half ‘How you liking the concert so far? Been to worse…’ It was nice to meet people like that there due to the really informal, friendly, atmosphere.

When singing they would be stood up on the pulpit while the musicians were on the floor beneath it. Along with the string quartet were a piano and harp (maybe also another cello I wasn’t sure from where I was sat on the evening).

The crowd was a wide mix of age ranges though seemed to be composed of many familiar with the musical arts scene in Wales. There was a boisterous energy amongst the audience and it really contributed to what were already energetic performances.

Interior wise: Floor boards are bare. I can see where the plaster has shrunk away from the skirting rail. The pews are still all there and more seating upstairs in the balcony area similar to the church in St Fagan. A very cosy atmosphere where it seemed everyone knew each other. There is a very modern looking bar in the vestry which seemed out of keeping with the retained aesthetic of the chapel room itself. Drinks sat in their bottles on the bar. No ice in the drinks. I hate room temperature drinks especially if you charge the going ‘musical performance venue’ rate for them.


Catrin Finch’s Launch of her ‘Waves’ Album
19/03/2015

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There was a composer on before Catrin who I think wasn’t very experienced in giving performances as he tripped up when performing his own compositions a few times unfortunately. Sadly I forgot his name but it was hopefully a positive experience for him and did contribute to setting the tone for Catrin later on.

There was a good turnout. There were some cushions available for those who needed them as the chapel pews could get uncomfortable after a while. There is a small step that has some warning tape on it but plenty still stumbled on it due to the space the raised platform took up. There were 4 reserved pews on the left side in front of me but I don’t know if VIPs actually attended as they seemed to remove the reserved signs a few minutes before the start so people who had been milling around looking for seats could actually sit down. It is quite cold when you first arrive but after a while, due to the body heat of the assembled audience and lighting, it will be very warm. They film and photograph all the performances but I don’t know where they use the recordings. The drinks at the bar are expensive and served at room temperature as they seem to have no chiller or ice box on the premises…

After an intermission Catrin took to the stage with a string quartet (plus a double bassist who had to be sat on ground level behind the raised stage) with a hipster DJ sound engineer wearing a fedora with full ginger beard up on the pulpit using an Apple mac.

She played a number of songs from her new album Waves (about to be released), a song in dedication to the events of Capel Celyn (a community was forced from their homes so their valley could be flooded in order to provide water for Liverpool in England http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capel_Celyn) and the song she composed for Water Aid. At one point in the middle of the concert she stopped and said she was now going to play Debussey’s Clair De Lune as it was her favourite. It seemed out of keeping with the other more experimental music.

It was enjoyable but also quite austere as Catrin herself appears to be during performances – however that seems to be the established tone for many classical concerts as the performers need to focus and traditionally they have always been far more formal than other events which sadly may deter some from attending due to the stigma it is for the elite of society. The songs are very atmospheric but not immediately memorable to my ear. It may be a case I just need to hear them a few more times to be more familiar with them as, unlike much of popular music, it is not rely upon a clear ‘hook’ to maintain your memory of them later as an earworm. I will revisit the music in future as there was definitely something there in the composition that makes me want to hear them again. It’s a good venue for bands, etc, but the bar area needs to be sorted out if they want to host more events in future. As the chapel is in a residential area you need to turn up quite early to find anywhere to park nearby.

The crowd was composed of the sort you would expect at a classical concert so there was a good, respectful, tone all round and I enjoyed the concert thoroughly.


Frank Hennessy – Welsh Folk Singer
17/04/2015

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Frank Hennessy – Guitar. a Welsh folk singer and BBC Wales radio presenter.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Hennessy

Accompanied by:
Iolo Jones- Violinist
Dave Burns – Mandolin

He does a mix of Celtic folk music and a few of his own compositions which are Cardiff-centric including ‘Cardiff born, Cardiff bred’. By his own admission you will enjoy it more if you are drunk and he encouraged everyone to get as drunk as they could during the interval as they would enjoy it more then. However he was saying this to the Pentyrch crowd and freely admitted they were not his usual crowd. Catrin Finch was there with one of her young daughters who fell asleep in her mother’s arms during the second half having played with one of the folding cushions for a while. It reminded me of when I was little and had to keep myself physically stimulated during live performances that ran for, what seems an eternity to a young child, about an hour per part of the performance.

It was good if you were drunk and had a boisterous crowd. It’s good if you like classical ballad of troubadours. There was a bit too much telling of bad jokes and ‘where I got this song from’ between songs for me but that is part of the experience as the whole style of folk singer performances. It wasn’t my kind of thing ultimately but then I had an ear ache which may have detracted from the experience at no fault to the performers.

It was a clearly much older crowd than the other events thoguh still very enthusiastic to sing, clap or stamp along when asked. I would say if you know who Max Boyce is and like his stuff then you will like Frank Hennessy too.


As an extra you will see Wynne Evans and Frank Hennessy during this video singing Calon Lan.

… my ear ache is clearing up not that it matters. It is one of the few things where I fully agree with young children’s overt reaction to it unlike getting a bump or scraping a knee it really is debilitating when it is at its harshest point.