Thursday, January 28, 2010

Taking Stock

Just read that legendary Magnum photographer Dennis Stock has recently died. He is best known for having taken a series of iconic photographs of James Dean in the 1950s. I’ve mentioned him before on this blog in connection with his 1962 working visit to Wales. I still don’t know much about his Welsh assignment other than that his brief appears to have been ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’. The above photograph is taken from that set.

*Photo: ©Dennis Stock/Magnum

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Welsh Exam

Ever wondered how to sex up learning Welsh? Me neither, but I think I've stumbled across the ideal solution: you just make the exam process more erotic. Over at the admirable Pin Up WOW! website, which specialises in tasteful erotica, they have come up with a saucy Welsh-language exam scenario. A rather prim-looking, bespectacled, lady stands before a blackboard with "Bore Da, Welsh Exam, Stage 1" chalked on it. She is there to ensure there is no cheating during the examination. Amazingly however, during proceedings, she gets it into her head to remove all of her clothing. Quite what the WJEC would make of that I'm not sure. The star of this ground-breaking item of erotica is glamour model Bryoni-Kate Williams who hails from Beddau, near Pontypridd. To see more pictures from the shoot or to get hold of the HD video entitled, Bore Da, visit the Pin Up WOW! website now.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In Chapters

If you enjoy interesting collaborations between literary types and musicians then In Chapters at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, is the event for you. The idea is to present new work based around a chosen theme - this month it's trains.

Hopping a ride - hobo-like - on this particular thematic express will be Gareth Bonello of the Gentle Good; cellist Lucy Burke; Random Deaths and Custard author Catrin Dafydd; Peter Finch who'll be presenting an actual sound poem; musician and artist Andy Fung; Robert Lewis author of The Last Llanelli Train and Swansea Terminal; producer Iwan Morgan; and Rhys Thomas whose debut novel The Suicide Club was a belter.

The Casey Joneses driving this new concept are writer John Williams and former Gorky's Zygotic Mynci Richard James. Tickets cost a fiver and the In Chapters express departs at 8pm precisely - so make sure you don't miss it.

*In Chapters will take place at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, on Thursday 21 January. 8pm - 9.15pm. For tickets or further information call the box office on: 029 2030 4400.

Dere Mewn

For no other reason than it's a gorgeous song, and that I've just stumbled across this clip lifted from Welsh-language TV music prog Bandit, here's Colorama performing Dere Mewn. It's taken, of course, from last year's excellent mini-LP Magic Lantern Show. And isn't Carwyn Ellis an absolute dead ringer for a young Dave Edmunds. Uncanny.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Cardiff Spectator

The Cardiff Spectator was a magazine that ran from 1960 to about 1977. It's a publication that fascinates me because it focuses on a stratum of south Wales society that otherwise, culturally, wasn't especially visible: the Welsh upper-middle classes.

This is all about posh people at play - a kind of Welsh Tatler. It reveals a totally different south Wales to the usual industrialised stereotypes that we have become used to. You’ll find no noble miners, steel workers, or sooty-faced street urchins, here. Instead society events are covered in depth: hunts in the Vale; fashion shows in Swansea; sherry evenings in Llantwit Major; charity balls at the City Hall, Cardiff.

When sport is featured it isn't football, rugby or boxing (far too proletarian!), but rather fox hunting, show jumping and lawn tennis. Luxury items are lavishly advertised: French perfumes, expensive cars, mink coats. There are profiles of Captains of Industry, wealthy merchants, and minor members of the landed gentry.

They also ran a regular feature on Welsh debutantes - daughters of the filthy rich who were about to enter into society or start a course at Oxbridge. Somehow these teenagers all managed to look and dress as if they were in their mid-forties: rigid hairdos, pearl necklaces. In places like Cowbridge it was like rock’n’roll had never happened.

The above advert (December 1961) is typical of the magazine. It is promoting The Princess Charm and Model School - reputedly Wales’s only fashion school - where young ladies could brush up on their deportment, fashion co-ordination, make-up and hairstyling. It was located in Swansea but might just as well have been in Surrey or Berkshire.

An essential element on the road to becoming posh, it would appear, was to thoroughly de-Welsh oneself. Students of a postcolonial persuasion could do a lot worse than flick through its pages for ammunition.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Agatha Christie and her Welsh Grandson

In 1951 a young Welsh boy named Mathew Prichard was taken by his grandmother to see his first play. It was a birthday treat. The drama was Black Coffee by Agatha Christie and it was being staged at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Cardiff. It came as no surprise to the boy that his gran knew every twist and turn of the plot – after all, she had written it 25 years previously. The cast were, apparently, rather nervous knowing that Agatha Christie was sitting on the balcony assessing their every move. But at the play’s conclusion she went backstage accompanied by her grandson and congratulated them on their performance.

In 1952 Christie’s most famous play The Mousetrap opened in London. It is still going strong today, of course. Amazingly Christie signed the lucrative global rights to The Mousetrap over to her Welsh grandson as a present on his 9th birthday. Prichard (now chairman of Agatha Christie Ltd) has used royalties earned from The Mousetrap to promote the arts in Wales. In 1995 he set up the Colwinston Charitable Trust to further this end. The Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Centre, and Chapter Arts, amongst others, have benefited from the trust’s financial support.

Incidentally, the Colwinston Charitable Trust is named after Colwinston in the Vale of Glamorgan. This is the village where Prichard lived as a boy and a place which Agatha Christie often visited. The picturesque village even inspired episodes in a couple of her books: The Hollow and Endless Night.

The Prince of Wales Theatre where Agatha Christie once watched her own play is now a Wetherspoon pub.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Punk Am Byth

Punk nostalgia's not really my thing so let us instead treat the Punk Forever exhibition in Bangor as cultural archaeology.

The exhibition is the brainchild of Gerrion Jones, from Merthyr, whose private collection of punk art and memorabilia forms the core of this show. Amongst the artefacts on display will be original works by Jamie Reid, Jimmy Cauty and Billy Childish. You'll also find vintage posters advertising the likes of The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Last year the exhibition debuted at Merthyr College and proved to be such a success that it earned an extended run. Hopefully the Bangor show will turn out to be just as popular. Until recently Wales has been quite slow to stage this kind of pop cultural event but Punk Forever and the recent Pop Peth music exhibition at St Fagans signal a healthy change of outlook.

Punk Forever runs from January 15 to February 20. For more details on the exhibition and its accompanying events call the Gwynedd Museum & Art Gallery: 01248 353368

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Clive was a trendy London-based fashion label that sprang up in the 1960s and lasted for about a decade. The designer behind the enterprise was Clive Evans from Cardiff. His road to haute couture success wasn't straightforward.

The previous six generations of his family had been doctors and, initially, he too embarked upon a medical career. Medicine turned out not to be his scene so he joined the navy instead. After leaving the sea he finally decided to pursue his passion for fashion.

He took some of his sketches to couturier Michael and landed a job. Later he became personal assistant to Owen of Lachasse. From there he went on to become an assistant designer to John Cavanagh. In 1963 he launched his first solo collection which was financially backed by a mysterious titled lady who wished to remain anonymous.

At first he specialised in designs which utilised wool. From Wales he took traditional honeycomb "bedspread" wool in Arctic white and fashioned it into chic suits. By 1970 he was experimenting with a wide variety of fabrics and designs such as this, ahem, dress and jacket in grey and white check gabardine and plain grey and white gabardine. And side-wrapped skirt.

Sadly, the label seems to have disappeared in the early '70s. But you can see more of Clive Evans's cool designs over at the excellent VADS website.

*The above image is copyright of the London College of Fashion/The Woolmark Company.