Being Human Festival in Merthyr Tydfil: Lost Musical Histories

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I really enjoyed my talk yesterday as one of seven other projects that have been chosen to highlight some of the fantastic work taking place in this year’s Being Human Festival. The festival, taking place between November 17th – 25th,  is the biggest Humanities based festival in the UK and it is great that the hidden histories of popular music will be part of this year’s festivities. I be be posting more info as the events get nearer, so this is just a taster of what we will be doing.

This intergenerational project focuses on the relationship between nostalgia, memory and the (re)construction of ‘alternative music histories’ that have being ‘lost’. Working with both the younger and older generation in the town, the project is interested in encouraging non-academic audiences to consider questions such as the relationships between memory and how popular music making has been reported historically; how memories of engagement with local, national and international popular music activity facilitates the negotiation of individual and shared identities; and how these memories can be creatively reconstructed to resonate with younger audiences today. The research builds on the previous research of academics such as Davis (1979), Boyn (2001) and Pickering and Keightley (2015), in addition to my own previous work for the European Social Fund (2011), the Beacons for Public Engagement (2008) and my forthcoming monograph on Sting (2017).

My project is divided into three sections, that I will briefly explain below. However, before that, here are a couple of images taken from yesterday’s event at Senate House.











Event 1: Dowlais Library

Research Questions: In what ways can musical sound, photographs and other memorabilia facilitate nostalgia and memory? What is the connection between personal memory of ‘local’ popular music activities when compared to that of other community members and more official documented ‘histories’?

This one-day oral history workshop, which will be delivered in conjunction with Merthyr Tydfil Libraries will seek to answer these questions. The workshop will take place on November 17th 2017 in The John Owen Suite at Dowlais Library, with the intention of facilitating older (60 plus) community members to remember, document and record their memories of musical happenings that took place in Merthyr Tydfil between 1955 – 1975. Although open to all, the event will be advertised principally to community groups in the town. The workshop will be facilitated by dedicated ‘memory boxes’, developed in conjunction with Merthyr Tydfil Libraries, with each box containing previously unseen photographs of music activity in the town between 1955 – 1975, in addition to ‘time bank’ recordings, local newspaper scans, vintage film footage and a list of questions to stimulate conversation.

The first half of the day will focus on looking at and listening to the memorabilia, after which in the afternoon participants will be assisted in scripting their own short individual stories for recording into mp3 format. These recordings, which need to be recorded before they are ‘lost’, will be used as the impetus for events 2 and 3.

Event 2: Various Schools in Merthyr Tydfil

Research Questions: How can lost local musical memories and memorabilia of the past be relevant to young people today? How can lost local musical histories impact our individual and shared identities?

Using the recorded footage documented during Event 1, alongside various photographs/scans , this session invites school pupils (aged 15-16) in the Merthyr Tydfil area to bring ‘lost’ musical histories and memories to life via constructing a series of short dramatic ‘reenactment’ performances. These sessions will be delivered by director Peter Morgan Barnes and myself and will take place in three local schools in the Merthyr Tydfil area, between November 20th – 24th.  The final performances will be showcased during Event 3. It is the intention that these symbolic narrations, instigated by a generation who can’t remember the original events, complement the literal ones generated during activity 1.

Event 3: Theatre Soar

Research Questions: What are the lost musical histories of popular music in Merthyr Tydfil? What are the impacts of these local histories on both the community who remember them and the younger generation?

This final three-hour public event will showcase the work developed during the week of the Being Human Festival, taking place in Theatre Soar on Saturday November 25th. After showcasing the recorded testimonies alongside the archive photographic footage that inspired them, the event will then feature a series of reenacted performances by school children. After a short break, this will be followed by a short discussion about the performances, in addition to a ‘question time’ inspired interview, where I interview around half a dozen musicians who were part of the Merthyr Tydfil music scene between 1955-1975.

The great thing about yesterday’s Being Human event aside from the knowledge and general friendliness of the people who organise it, is that it offers the opportunity to place the important history of popular music making in the valleys on display. These stories are completely lost at the moment, so I am pleased to be offered the chance to address the balance. By the way, the first picture in this post is Pink Floyd playing in Merthyr in the late 1960s!

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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2 Responses to Being Human Festival in Merthyr Tydfil: Lost Musical Histories

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi Paul, thanks for the post, this sounds really interesting. I lived in Merthyr for nearly 20 years until leaving to go to college. I’ve since moved back to Aberdare (rival valley!) and I’m just starting a project on local popular music making in the Valleys. I’m looking forward to the event at Soar but If you do by any chance need an extra pair of hands for any of the events, even if it’s to make the tea, I would love to be involved and happy to help out.


  2. Paul Carr says:

    Thanks for you kind words. Yes, I will let you know as things get closer. Thanks for getting in touch.


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