Monday, August 27, 2007

The Rhyl Alibi

In the bloody annals of True Crime the town of Rhyl is of considerable importance. Firstly, of course, it is the birthplace of murderess Ruth Ellis, the last woman to hang in Britain. (74 West Parade if you're ever in the area).

Secondly, the north Wales resort was a significant location in 'The A6 Murder' trial - one of the most celebrated murder cases in British criminal history.

It was in Rhyl that the accused, James Hanratty, claimed he was staying at the time Michael Gregsten was brutally slain in a layby on the A6 near Bedford in 1961. Gregsten's lover Valerie Storie was also shot (and raped) although she managed to survive the ordeal.

The so-called 'Rhyl alibi' formed an integral part of Hanratty's defence. At 19 Kinmel Street in the town stood a boarding house (Ingledene) and it was here that Hanratty said he lodged. His room, he recalled, was in an attic and had a green bath. The place was near the station and he could hear the sound of trains shunting.

The landlady of the boarding house one Grace Jones came forward to testify that Hanratty had stayed at Ingledene at the time of the murder. Unfortunately her inept performance in court where she dropped her register book, scattering pages everywhere, didn't help. The prosecution accused her of trying to gain cheap publicity for her guest house - an accusation that left the old woman in tears.

The reason Hanratty was in Rhyl he told the court was to meet an associate, a fence called Terry Evans, to whom he wanted to sell a gold watch stolen in Liverpool. But the Rhyl alibi didn't wash with the jury who found him guilty of murder. He was hanged at Bedford Prison on April 4, 1962.

In the years after his execution many witnesses came forwad to confirm that Hanratty had indeed been in Rhyl at the time of the murder but it was too late. One lady said that he'd asked about lodgings at her B&B; another that Hanratty had tried to sell him a gold watch. A campaign was started to prove Hanratty's innocence and to win him a posthumous pardon.

In 2002 with advancements in DNA testing his body was exhumed and samples taken. They were compared with DNA found on mucus on a handkerchief (used to wipe the gun); and on semen found on Valerie Storie's underwear. This would prove his innocence or guilt absolutely. The result? A perfect match - Hanratty was indeed the A6 murderer and there had been no miscarriage of justice after all.

You can still find the Edwardian property in Kinmel Street, Rhyl, where Hanratty may, or may not, have stayed. It still belongs to the family of the long deceased Grace Jones and it still contains the green bath.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

John Tripp to Charles Bukowski

I rather like this John Tripp poem which takes the form of a letter to Charles Bukowski, cult writer, and regular contributor to Welsh counterculture poetry mag second aeon. It appeared in a book entitled the inheritance file (1973) which collected Tripp's poems about other writers. As well as Bukowski there are poems concerning Proust, Celine, Scott Fitzgerald and many others.

letter to a poet

Dear Bukowski
I have read about your ball of woe
out there in sunny black
California. Those slim assassins
who knock you up for a lift
outdrunk and outsmoked
by your own wisdom, put to bed
sick, by you with a pillow and a blanket.

I have seen your scream to Dante
and it's all accurate,
the octaves of calamity are explored
up to the last whimper.
Over here we have granite proof
of waste in the military boneyards,
those cold blocks of stone in every hamlet.
(They still haven't had enough.)

The churches are full of coloured rags
and battle pennants. I want
to puke. The people listen to the new
high priests, vomiting from a box.
They are moving up to heaven on the long
instalment plan. I think it's too late
for Dante to come back and steer us
away from the pit with sweet reason.

What passes now as logic
has no reference to me, either. We are all
crouched for a thunderclap in the west.
Young poets whistle in the tunnel
to keep their spirits up, and the editors
wait patiently for a breeze of change.
In my own small land we are haggling
to a showdown with dignity.

Don't quit yet. Mend your shoelaces,
chase the last mice from under your bed,
take your old-time kerosene burner,
candles, 22 cans of Campbell's soup
and your 80-year-old uncle in Andernach
down to Mexico, or Morocco
or even Wales - some place smaller
then your big fist of land.

Take a drink, Charles, lay the pain
and cut the butting worm. Under the conditions
of your particular sun, the valorous heart
will continue to function
and demolish the unspeakable terror.
Your saints, poets, madmen and fools
attempt each day to clean up the game,
piecing together those shreds of honour.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

A E Harris - Ford Zodiac Advert

This is a gorgeous advert from 1960. A E Harris was a car dealing firm in south Wales. Here they are promoting the MK II Ford Zodiac.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

David Jones by John Uzzell Edwards

Don't know much about this portrait of David Jones other than it is by fellow Welsh artist John Uzzell Edwards.

Edwards and his wife Mary once memorably visited David Jones when he was an old man living in a single room at a residential hotel in Harrow, on the outskirts of London.

They entered his darkened abode via some steps and when their eyes became accustomed to the gloom they discerned hundreds of books piled from floor to ceiling. Papers were scattered over the table, on the draining board, across the bed.

They saw a crate of grapefruit; several boxes of processed cheese; eggs in every cup. On the walls were etchings and inscriptions.

The small grey-haired figure standing before them smoked a cigarette. He made them tea after removing the eggs from the cups. He showed them sketches; examples of calligraphy; and stones. He talked of fellow artists - intimated his preference for Gwen John's work over her brother's.

He was a hermit. One of the few occasions he'd ventured forth in his later years was to visit a Bonnard exhibition, an artist he had met many years before in Paris.

Jones died in 1974. John Uzzell Edwards is still alive today. I have no idea who owns this portrait or where it hangs.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Slade in Pain

In the summer of 1978 Slade played a gig at the Stoneleigh Club in Porthcawl. With punk in the ascendancy Slade's popularity was firmly on the wane. Nevertheless 700 punters turned out to watch them and sing along to such hits as: Cum on Feel the Noize; Mama Weer all Crazee Now; and the perennially annoying Merry Xmas Everybody.

As the gig reached its climax lead singer Noddy Holder invited members of the crowd onto the stage. The glam rockers liked to involve the audience in their riotous finales. Unfortunately the venue's security people took umbrage at their actions.

Four burly bouncers made their way onto the stage and waded into the punters. Noddy Holder singled out one heavy and accused him of picking on people half his size. The bouncer promised to sort him out after the gig.

And he did. When the performance finished the angry bouncer sought out Holder backstage and punched him in the face. The singer fell backwards onto the floor covered in blood, his nose shattered. He was taken to Bridgend Hospital for treatment.

Twelve months after the assault Holder continued to suffer nasal troubles and had to have his nose re-broken to cure the problem. As for the 29-year-old bouncer from Pyle, he was jailed for three months. It emerged after his trial that he'd already served time for malicious wounding and was a former police cadet.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Lucifer Over Wales

In the 1980s Wales faced twin evils - one was Margaret Thatcher, the other was Satanism.

The moral panic over Satanism began in 1981 after a teenage suicide in the Llynfi Valley. Plastered all over the unfortunate boy's bedroom walls were black magic signs. Local churchman Rev Graham Jones talked of occult rituals taking place in a Maesteg house. Cats and dogs he said were ritually sacrificed in nearby forests. Maesteg was dubbed: a cesspit of evil.

In 1984, in the early hours of a winter's morning, a group of hooded figures was seen carrying an inverted cross through the village of Aberfan. The Rev Steve Morgan complained of an upsurge of witchcraft and Satanism in the area. Covens were operating, he reckoned, in Aberfan, Merthyr Vale, Abercanaid, Pentrebach and Troedyrhiw.

Other places strongly associated with witchcraft and Satanism were Lampeter, Abergavenny, and Caerphilly mountain. Caerphilly mountain apparently is on a leyline between the Malvern Hills and Llantwit Major.

Unemployed Welsh youths, it seemed, were turning to witchcraft in droves as an alternative to Christianity. According to the Rev Steve Morgan things started out innocently enough with astrology, ouija boards and seances but with drugs and alcohol used as enticements the kids often ended up developing severe mental health problems.

It wasn't just youths either who were getting into the occult. Recruitment parties held outdoors, often incorporating nudity and sex, attracted many Welsh adults from all classes. Actual indoctrination involved a renunciation of the Christian church; the burning of bibles; a denial of the resurrection; a denial of baptism; and an oath of allegiance to the devil. The ceremony would culminate in either sex or animal bloodletting.

In 1988 it was Cardiff and Barry's turn to be linked with Satanism. One Satanist who lived in a Cardiff suburb claimed to have been initiated by "King of the Witches" himself Alex Sanders. (Sanders, from Manchester, had strong links with Wales having regularly visited his Welsh grandmother as a child).

It's difficult to tell retrospectively whether the eighties marked a genuine upturn of interest in Satanism in Wales. With traditional community values being torn asunder by Maggie Thatcher and her cronies Satanism might well have been an unlikely by-product of her right-wing regime. On the other hand there's nothing like a juicy devil-worshipping story for making good newspaper copy.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Led Zep in a Spin

It all went a bit pear-shaped when Led Zeppelin did a benefit gig in Cardiff back in 1969.

The Progressive Blues Night (also featuring Welsh band Kimla Taz) at the Top Rank was in aid of the Biafran Relief Organisation. Unfortunately only 450 people turned up to watch and the charity event actually lost money to the tune of £100.

However those who did go were treated to a technically brilliant performance. Opening number Communication Breakdown demonstrated why Led Zep's debut album was riding so high in both the US and UK charts. Robert Plant's vocal virtuosity and Jimmy Page's nimble fingers whipped up the faithful into a tumult.

The show continued in the same pompous rock-god vein until How Many More Times. This 15 minute epic was meant to be the evening's highpoint showcasing Page's incredible guitar skills. However an engineer accidentally activated the revolving stage causing jack plugs to be wrenched from their sockets whilst others were snapped off completely.

The gig ended at that precise moment. For several seconds afterwards though arguably the greatest rock band in history stood on a revolving stage in Cardiff mutely playing to a bemused and constantly shifting crowd. Wish I had been there to witness it - must have been absolutely hilarious.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Coney Beach

Another advert - this one from 1969.

I like the way it attempts to make Porthcawl (near Bridgend) appear more glamorous by association. Firstly the name Coney Beach links it to the cool Americana of Coney Island in New York. (The same trick was used futher down the coast at Aberavon where the strip of sand was known as Miami Beach).

And secondly it rather brazenly declares itself to be "The Welsh Riviera" - thus connecting it to the fashionable beach life of the Côte d'Azur. Anything it seems rather than admit to being part of a modest Welsh seaside resort.

This shameless self-aggrandisement is somewhat undermined by its list of attractions, amongst which is the Model Village: "which can hold a fascinating interest for children and adults alike". Right.

Coney Beach is still going strong today. Nowadays though along with the faded charm of the Pleasure Park you'll find facilities for trendier activities like surfing and other watersports. Don't despair though fans of Welsh kitsch! It is also provides the backdrop for The Porthcawl Elvis Presley Festival.