Farewell and hwyl fawr to a National icon

He made the headlines, not only in Wales but all over the United Kingdom and beyond.

He was one of the most well-known and much-loved icons of Wales and his face was recognised by all wherever he went.

His appearances at the Millennium Stadium, (later to become the Principality Stadium) were legendary and caused England Rugby Manager Eddie Jones to name him as one of Welsh team’s added threats. His performances on the field were first class.

He was on first name terms with Royalty, politicians, celebrities and the average man and woman on the street. Children loved him and everyone wanted to have their photograph taken with him.

He was a true figurehead and represented his “Team” with great pride and was the first person you saw leading his Comrades out on public engagements.

He did have a tendency to smell at times and would give you a fair bashing (if he was feeling grumpy) and even though he was only with us for just seven and a half years, he will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved him.

Rest in Peace Lance Corporal, your duty is done!

Lance Corporal Shenkin III (Regimental Mascot of the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Welsh)

 

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Are brass bands guilty of wanting something for nothing?

I’m not sure whether I’m going to regret “sticking my head above the parapet” here or not, but here goes.

Once again, the British brass band movement is mobilised into social media action, with the announcement of the 2018 Regional test-pieces.

For months, there has been speculation, rumours and whispers regarding the choices of the works that all bands will have to tackle at their respective Area Contests, for the right to represent their Region in the National Finals in Cheltenham and the Royal Albert Hall next year. The waiting is finally over and the decisions of the “wise men” on the Music Panel representing Kapitol Promotions have been announced.

Now let battle commence!

There will now follow some fairly intense moaning, along the lines of “that piece is rubbish”, “that’s way too hard”, “this piece doesn’t have a trombone solo” etc. If we listened to some of the so-called “experts” on Facebook, we’d be having the Derek Bourgeois “Concerto Grosso” for 2nd Section and Philip Wilby’s “Paganini Variations” in the 3rd! You can’t please everyone that’s for sure, but what irks me more than anything – now it’s time for my whinge! – are the complaints about the cost of purchasing the chosen pieces of music.

Paganini Variations by Philip Wilby

In a brass band, there are usually 28 players if all positions are covered and often more. Given that some of the test-pieces chosen are new works and that all bands will need to purchase their respective piece, we are looking at an average cost of say £75.00 – maybe more, maybe less. This works out at less than £3.00 per player (or less than a pint of beer or glass of wine, depending on where you drink), for a piece of music that will probably go out on the stands either this month or at the latest next month, and potentially get used, on and off, week in week out for the next 4-5 months.

Many will respond, and rightly so, that there are numerous printing mistakes found in a lot of these pieces, however this can’t be applied to all new publications and the banding community are quick to forget about the indiscriminate amount of photocopying that goes on during the rest of the year, robbing the publishers and composers/arrangers of any income they are rightly entitled to receive!

Whilst I freely admit that brass bands are genuinely struggling, both with membership and financial issues, the “something for nothing” culture is killing the movement. Players will moan about venues, entry fees, admission prices, adjudicators and anything else that you can think of, but compared to other hobbies and pastimes, we invest very little, other than time and effort. Most players enjoy the benefits of a free instrument (worth usually in excess of £2,000), a uniform, tuition, rehearsal facilities and much, much more. Compare this to something like golf – would you have a free set of clubs, a round of golf and coaching all for nothing? Unlikely and their membership/subscription rates and green fees are eye-watering in comparison!

Granted many band players pay monthly contributions and do fund-raising activities throughout the year, but that has always been the case and that will be a necessary part of their organisation’s survival, but we (as a movement) are on a very slippery slope if we think that £3.00-4.00 per person is an excessive amount to invest in our primary hobby.

To clarify and give the blog some perspective, I have been involved in brass banding since the age of 7 and have done my share at all levels, paying weekly contributions, missing out on paid work to go to rehearsals and contests, done my hours tidying up the bandroom, cleaning toilets and sorting out the library as well as playing Christmas Carols on a freezing cold December night. No, I don’t want a medal or a pat on the back, but just that you realise I’ve been there and done it and not preaching from an ivory tower, about something I have no experience of.

Do you agree or am I missing the point? Send me your thoughts in the comments section below.

Nationals Trophy Pic

The National Championship Trophy, which will be the spoils for the victor at the Royal Albert Hall in October.

 

A strange coincidence or perhaps something more?

It’s curious how certain occasions can throw up the most amazing coincidences, without anyone trying or even most people realising what has taken place. Some call it serendipity and others would say that a “higher-being” was working their “magic”, but whatever your thoughts, I hope you find this little anecdote an interesting read.

As many of my regular blog readers will know, I’m a member of the Regimental Band of The Royal Welsh and for part of our Annual Camp this year, we were honoured to be invited to attend the 100th Anniversary Commemoration Service of the Battle of Passchendaele, held  at the Welsh Memorial in the small village of Langemarck in Belgium.

The Welsh Memorial at Pilckem Ridge, Langemarck in Belgium

The guests of honour included His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones, Belgian and Flanders politicians, high-profile Military representatives, plus members of the Armed Forces, Comrades and Veterans Associations and over a thousand members of the public, who had made the journey, many to honour fallen relatives.

Running in parallel with this Commemoration was the unveiling of a memorial stone to the Welsh language poet Private Ellis Humphrey Evans, better known as Hedd Wyn. He served with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and was killed in action on the 31st of July 1917 at the Battle of Pilckem Ridge. Prior to leaving home for action on the Front, Hedd Wyn had submitted a poem (under the pseudonym of “Fleur de Lis”) to the Chair Competition at the National Eisteddfod held that year in Birkenhead.

Royal Welsh Fusiliers Cap Badge 

When it was announced at the Chairing Ceremony that Hedd Wyn was the winning poet, but that he was not present to be acknowledged and honoured due to being killed in action, the Chair (ironically designed by a Belgian!) was draped in black cloth and was dubbed as “Cadair Ddu Penbedw” or “The Black Chair of Birkenhead”.

Despite his absence, the winning Bard was accorded the full honours and adulation that the winner is normally given, with tributes offered in verse, song and dance.

Now to the coincidence of my visit with the Band. The winning Bard is honoured with a rendition of the song “Rhyfelgyrch Capten Morgan”  or “Captain Morgan’s March” (sometimes known as “Men of Glamorgan”), sung by a member of The Gorsedd or Assembly of Druids. It just so happened, that the March (“The Welshman”) that the Regimental Band played, to lead the procession to the Monument that day, contained an excerpt of that very same tune!

As a young lad, I “cut my musical teeth” competing in numerous eisteddfodau all over Wales and whilst attending, heard this song performed on many, many occasions. Marching past the Hedd Wyn Memorial playing this tune, the connection and meaning was quite powerful to say the least!

Shan Cothi sings “Rhyfelgyrch Capten Morgan” at the National Eisteddfod Chairing Ceremony.

Hedd Wyn never got to hear that musical tribute in his honour back in 1917, but 100 years later, in a small village in Belgium, he was afforded that recognition and one hopes that he would have approved that we, as his own compatriots were the ones to deliver it!

The Memorial Stone at Pilckem Ridge