This summer I packed my bags once again and set off to drive from Suffolk to Llangollen in North Wales. Every year since 1947 local people have invited musicians from all over the world to participate in a festival intended to promote international understanding and friendship using the language of music and the arts.
Whenever I tell people that I am going to the Eisteddfod they invariable ask me if I have packed my Druid’s robes! I have to explain that they are confusing the National Eisteddfod, where the dressing-up occurs, with the Llangollen International Eisteddfod. Admittedly there is a lot of dressing-up in Llangollen but it’s in the national costumes of the many participants.
This year 22 countries were represented and some seven thousand people lined the streets of this picturesque Welsh town to cheer on the many participants. By the way, ‘Eisteddfod’ is the Welsh for ‘a gathering’ and that is exactly what it is; a gathering of people who engage in friendly competition and in the process form new friendships, many of which last a lifetime.
Many names, who are now stars in their own right, have started their musical career in Llangollen and each year exceptionally talented young people perform in the great tent before an audience of up to 5,000 people; quite an ordeal for anyone, let alone a young competitor perhaps travelling abroad for the first time.
One regular attender at the festival is Wynne Evans, the very accomplished tenor. Wynne has an infectious sense of humour and many readers may have caught a glimpse of this as it is he who appears as the moustachioed operatic tenor in a well know series of TV advertisements promoting insurance!
He has many strings to his bow and in his capacity as a radio presenter he spends the whole week at the festival broadcasting. Thereby hangs a tale.
A few moments ago I mentioned the annual procession through the streets of the town. It is customary for the President to be driven at the head of the procession in an antique car accompanied by the Mayor and Mayoress for that particular year. A couple of years ago the car due to take me on this annual pilgrimage broke down and its substitute was a far smaller vehicle, not much larger than the old model T Ford. The Mayor and his wife just about managed to squeeze into the back seat and I edged myself next to the driver.
Off we set with the brass band playing and the crowds cheering on the competitors. It was a lovely sunny day and although the small sun roof was open, the poor mayoral party were sweltering in the back seat. I decided to stand on my seat and wave to everyone through the sunroof. Alas, tragedy struck. I was wearing a light summer suit when suddenly I felt my braces slip and my trousers began to descend right in front of the Mayoress seated directly behind me. I did my best to hang on to them and wave at the same time; not an easy task I can assure you.
When this procession was over I had to leap from the car and rush up to the field where Wynne was waiting to do a live broadcast interview with me. I arrived somewhat breathless and found him waiting, microphone in hand. Immediately I began to relate the story of my embarrassment to him and his infectious laughter could be heard right across the field.
“By the way Wynne,” I said, when we had stopped laughing. “When are we on air?”
“We are on air now,” he exclaimed.
And so we were! Apparently the station was swamped with listeners phoning in to say what a good laugh they had had at my misfortune.
This year, one of the stars of the show was Bryn Terfel, who never forgets his roots and will always be ready to return to his native Wales even though he is in such demand across the world. For those who prefer a different kind of music then Jools Holland and his group came to give the final popular concert and what a great night that was! Jools was born in South East London where I
have lived for many years and we were both patrons for the organ fund for our local church.
Next year will be a big year as we celebrate our 70th birthday. I hope you might come and join us.