Music Making in Merthyr Tydfil: Memories of Place and Space

Since starting my Sting book last year, I have become really interested in the relationship of music and memory. Although my Sting book is specifically focused on one musician’s complex love hate relationship with his hometown of Newcastle, something which I have found has assisted my own Akenside syndrome ‘issues’ with the area – my next project is going to be based on Merthyr Tydfil – where I know live. Alongside some colleagues at the University of South Wales, we are currently putting together a bid to the Arts Humanities Research Council related to archiving musical memory in the area. 

Welsh popular music has long been internationally prevalent through artists like Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey during the 1960s, rock bands such as Man, Budgie and Badfinger during the 1970s, The Alarm and The Manic Street Preachers emerging during the mid and late 1980s, and Super Furry Animals and Catatonia during the Brit Pop influenced Cool Cymru period of the 1990s. As recent as 2015, Merthyr Tydfil based quartet Pretty Vicious can be seen to be continuing this tradition – having recently secured a major record deal with EMI. It is apparent however that specific histories and memories of many of the early days of these artists are in the process of being long forgotten.
For example, Man, a well-known progressive rock band of the 1970s evolved out of The Bystanders and The Rebels, both of whom played extensively in local venues in Merthyr in the early 1960s. Although eventually moving to London and working with the likes of producer Joe Meek prior to forming Man, it is apparent that their activities around Merthyr in the early 1960s are still remembered. As controversial to a local web site outlined
“I remember seeing Hermans Hermits at the Castle Cinema backed by the Bystanders”
“The Castle Cinema. I saw Herman’s Hermits there, Pink Floyd, Peter Frampton, Small Faces, Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers”.
“[…] the great folk club in the back room of the Brunswick” which featured Max Boyce.
“I travelled with another band to Ebbw Vale and in a rundown Miners’ Hall was competing in a four band challenge. There was hardly anyone in the audience but one of the other bands was called Tommy Scott and the Senators. Playing to a nearly empty hall, on stage, Tom [Jones] was still just outrageously raunchy. They won; he was just so different, and we were just a bit miffed. Later that year Tom’s life changed forever”.
Other long forgotten Merthyr based artists include The Saints, The Spirals, the Phil Gay Combo ,The Dyneatones (who are remembered as The Palace Cinema resident band), The Trembling Knees, The Crescendos, The Desperados, the Peter Lovis Group, Little alter and the Four Squares, and the Cheating Hearts (featuring Lynn Mittell – who later changed his name to Owen Money and progressed to form The Bystanders). In addition to the fragmented memory outlined above regarding Tommy Scott and the Senators (featuring Tom Jones) playing in Ebbw Vale, they are also remembered as playing in Merthyr, at both the  Palace Dance Hall the Heolgerrig Club.
It is these type of memories the project will attempt to unearth, focusing on the impact of place and space on musical memory, and how technology can capture all of this.
Interestingly, a local photographer recently uncovered a number of boxes With many photos related to 1960s Wales – many of which are based in Merthyr and some of which are music related. Are there similar finds to this related more specifically to music?
Prior to the project starting officially,  am interested in any memories anyone may have – including photos, recordings, ticket scans etc. So – please get in touch.

 

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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