I am currently working on a new research project that looks at the memories of popular music making in Merthyr Tydfil between the years 1955 to around 1970. I am really fortunate to have a number of partners helping me with the project, but what I am looking for next are people who remember going to popular music concerts during this time. I am particularly interested of music making in the following buildings (Thanks to Old Merthyr – who kindly gave me permission to use these pictures)
The Miners Hall
The Palace Cinema
The Castle Cinema
The Kirkhouse Hall
The Theatre Royal
The Temperance Hall
If anyone has any memories of music making in these buildings, or knows anyone who does, I would really appreciate you getting in touch, or leaving your details in the comments box so I can get in touch with you.
Brief Snapshot of the Heritage to be Uncovered
Welsh popular music artists have long been internationally prevalent, through the likes of 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. Indeed as recent as 2016, Merthyr Tydfil based quartet Pretty Vicious can be seen to be continuing this tradition – having recently secured a major record deal with EMI, off the back of performing in the local town hall. However, bands such as Pretty Vicious are part of a rich tradition, which the project aims to make more visible.
For example, the early 1950s was a time of mass entertainment in Merthyr Tydfil, a mix of cinema, variety entertainment and live music of various types, featuring nationally known visiting artists such as Ted Heath and Eric Winstone, but also local bands and ensembles performing regularly in the town. All of these activities took place alongside the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll, and brands such as Esso Blue Paraffin, Old Holborn Tobacco, Richmond Pork Sausages, Park Drive Cigarettes Scott’s Oats, Oxo, Surf washing powder, and Clarkes shoes. Additionally, new technologies of the early 50s included Hoover vacuum cleaners and Philips and Rediffusion TVs, all of which provided a cultural backdrop to the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll.
During this time, the centre of Merthyr proudly housed a range of entertainment venues that were key to the propagation of popular music in the town. This included four cinemas, some of which had already been appropriated from theatres, and were to subsequently go through further transitions into bingo, snooker and live music venues. The four cinemas included The Palace Cinema, The Temperance Hall, The Castle Cinema and The Theatre Royal.
The Use of Cinemas as Music Venues During the Early 1950s
Examining local press coverage reveals a number of ‘celebrities’ visiting Merthyr in the early 1950s, all using the aforementioned cinemas as venues.
For example on Sunday Nov 23rd 1952, one of the most famous bandleaders from the 1930s, Geraldo and his Orchestra played at The Theatre Royal – featuring drummer Eric Delaney (both Ted Heath and guitarist Ivor Mairants played with this band at one point). Although not used specifically as a popular music venue, The Temperance Hall is also seen to feature ‘variety’ acts from the early 1950s – acts such as Mabel and Stanley Somers, the ‘Ventertainer’ Harry Benet, actor Archie Glen and The Rexanos. On 13th November 1950 Hughie Green’s Opportunity Knocks (then just a radio show) performed there, as did Alex Afrique, who is proudly associated as being “from the London Palladium”. This venue seems to be a place where early examples of post 1950s live entertainment took place in Merthyr, although it was infrequent, seeming to return to showing films in late 1951. This may indicate that the Town Hall Theatre in Pontypridd was winning light entertainment war?
St. Louis Band at the Kirkhouse
Despite this ‘tug and war’ battle with other venues outside of Merthyr, the widely acclaimed Ted Heath and his Orchestra played at The Castle Cinema on Sunday February 17th, 1952, followed by Eric Winstone playing there for the 2nd time in two years on Sunday April 13th 1952. This was obviously the start of the venue being used as a ‘temporary’ performance venue. For example Harry Roy and his band played there on April 27th 1952. Billed as a ‘Dixieland group’, this was another instance of a well known ‘pre rock ‘n’ roll artist frequenting the town.
Other Venues in Merthyr Featuring Local and National Music
In addition to the four cinemas, there were also a number of other venues that featured music, mainly by local musicians. The two most prominent bands during the early to mid 1950s were The Skymasters Dance Orchestra and The Pathfinders, both of who are seen to be performing regularly in the town, having residencies at The Miners Hall and New Drill Hall respectively. The Skymasters can be seen to be performing in The Miners Hall every Wednesday and Saturday night from the very early 1950s, featured in the Merthyr Express as ‘The New Merthyr Band Sensation’, led by Ken Rees, described as “Wales’ youngest bandleader”. Likewise, in an edition of the Merthyr Express in October 1950, Merthyr can be seen to feature The Pathfinders (with vocalists) at The New Drill Hall, billed as “Merthyr’s Premier Dance Orchestra”, costing 2 shilling to get in and billed as playing “every Saturday night”.
Moving forward to 1965, it is clear that the musical landscape has changed in Merthyr. With the ‘What’s On’ advert in the Merthyr Express now taking up the back page of the paper, the first popular music event of the new year is at The Palace Cinema, featuring Peter Lovis & The Spirals on Friday Jan 1st , with a 3/- entrance fee, followed on the Saturday by a ‘Big Dance’ , costing 4/6 admission. It is also noticeable that Bingo has now emerged, every Tuesday at The Palace Cinema. By 1965, Bingo appeared to be an emerging trend, with a ‘bingo club’ also starting at Kirkhouse Hall, Georgetown, every Saturday and Sunday. Bingo at the Palace Cinema progressed to every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from June 4, replacing one of the music nights, possibly because there was not enough new music to keep public interest?
Interestingly, The Temperance Hall, Theatre Royal and the ABC (formally the Castle Cinema) are still showing films, making the Palace Cinema the main popular music venue in 1965. At this time however, it is important to point out that dancing appears to be more important than the name of some of the popular music groups. For example both the Friday and Saturday nights advertised in the January 8th edition of the Merthyr Express advertised the event as featuring ‘‘top pop groups’ followed by ‘two top groups’, with no band names mentioned. At the Capital in Cardiff, a venue recently frequented by The Beatles, Chuck Berry is headlining on Thursday January 14th, with the Graham Bond Organisation and The Moody Blues supporting. The Hollies are also seen playing in the Market Hall in Brecon on May 26th 1965.
Significantly, by 1965, neither the Miners Hall or the New Drill Hall are now being used as popular music venues, although a performance of Rigoletto took place at the Miners Hall on Thursday Oct 28th 1965.
As mentioned The Palace Cinema had emerged as the primary popular music venue by 1965, so as an indicative snapshot, here are some of the groups that played there. Does anyone remember any of them?
- Jan 15th,Newport based The Interns with Rikki Allen, advertised as ‘straight from ITV’s ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’
- Sat 16th, Mike Kaye and the Kontrasts. Both of these bands come under the general advertising headline of Dancing and Bingo
- The Sultans
- The Crossfires
- Charles Kingsley and the Combos
- Tawney Reed Welsh born vocalist.
- The Flower Pot Men
- The Terrific ‘Robots
- The Vandals Victims
- The Road Runners
- King Beez (Feat Carl Parlmer
- The Fabulous Sultans
- The Sensational Kondors,
- Gaye Combo
- The Next of Kin
- Shades of Rhythm
- The Fabulous Zenders
- The Charles Kingsley Combo
- The sensational Shades of Rhythm had a particularly big add at the venue on Saturday Oct 9th, as did Parlophone Recording Starts The Wild Ones (From America and The Sons of Adam (From America.
Regarding popular music activities in other venues and locals, on Saturday June 11th 1965, a ‘Big Night Out’ is advertised at the Catholic Hall in Georgetown. Introduced by ‘tv compare’ Wyn Jones, Merthyr Tydfil’s own The Bystanders perform there, proudly announced as ‘Columbia recording artists’ and supported by The Wild Ones and The Four Sevens, from Maesteg. Promoted by W.O & BFCA. 5- to get in. The June 4th 1965 edition of the Merthyr Express also advertised a ‘Dis-Ko-Tek at the Go-Go bar in Aberdare. This play on words, seeming to combine ‘discs’ and ‘technology’ is mentioned again in the August 27th edition of the paper, this time spelt as ‘Disc0Theque’ when advertising an event at the Kirkhouse, Georgetown, in Merthyr. By September 10th 1965, this appears to become an headline event at the venue, with a membership fee of 2/6 per year. On Monday and Wednesday – first 100 people get in for 1-. As this venue started as a bingo club at the start of the year, this is a good development for live music. Bands who played there in 1965 included The Boston Tea Party and The Cheating Hearts, who played there on Wednesday October 13th 1965. Other valley based venues who advertised popular music at this time included The Express Ballroom in Abercynon, who advertised Laurance & the Arabians and Tawney Reed and the Flower Pot on Saturday March 13th 1965 and Monday March 15th respectively. The Go-Go Bar in Aberdare also occasionally featured popular music, with The Swinging Blue Jeans performing there on Wednesday April 14th 1965.
The Cheating Hearts
The idea of the project is to develop a digital archive of peoples memories, that will be linked directly to the the buildings via ibeacons technology. Although I am happy to record interviews, I am also interested in anyone who is prepared to do their own digital stories – we will provide training for this. In short, the more interest I have in this, the more chance I have of getting funding to make it happen. So can I encourage anyone to leave a comment, like the Facebook page, etc etc.
For more popular music related pictures, or anything else relating to the history of Merthyr Tydfil, please visit the Old Merthyr website.