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Emyr ac Elwyn Story Ep 01 (1969-1976)

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The Emyr and Elwyn Story 1969 – 1976 The Four Oaks

The story begins in the late 1960s when Emyr and Elwyn recorded a catchy song entitled, "Cariad". Other successful songs followed with the brothers appearing regularly on the popular BBC Wales television series, "Disc a Dawn". This enabled the brothers to develop their live performances in clubs, hotels and halls across Wales. Their popularity was due to the element of comedy in the act. Over the three years since he began performing with his brother, Emyr had developed the ability to get close to his audience and to communicate with them individually and collectively. This is the talent that put Emyr and Elwyn at the forefront of the Welsh club scene in the early 1970s. The first time I worked with the brothers was when they came to entertain the audience in a Christmas concert at the Labour Club in Llandudno Junction on December 19, 1973.

1974

On May 24th, 1974 I met with the newly appointed Entertainment Manager of the Colwyn Bay Borough Council. Geoff was preparing a series of Welsh cabaret nights at The Four Oaks Restaurant in Eirias Park, Colwyn Bay. He was looking for artists to take part in the shows. The plan was to promote a series of ten shows every Monday night from 9 o'clock until midnight from July 1st until September 2nd. The aim was a “Cabaret” style where the performers worked close to the audience. He asked me if I knew of any local acts that might be suitable for such a show. I immediately thought of the brothers and suggested he go and see them perform at an upcoming event in Old Colwyn. He did and immediately booked them for the season as the anchors. It was the perfect environment for Emyr and Elwyn, especially since they had just invested in a radio microphone. Since there was no wire attached to the amplifier on stage, Emyr was free to wander all over the room and engage in some great improvisation.  

The evening kicked off with me on the organ and John Walters, the Drummer, playing an overture of Welsh tunes to set the theme of the evening. The posters also emphasized the show's Welsh accent:

"This is a Welsh Cabaret with our English guests in mind!"

Geoff Shaw was the Master of Ceremonies, his first task was to introduce the hosts of the evening, Emyr and Elwyn. I remember the brothers opened with a song and then going straight into the comedy. It was the first spot of three over the night. The opening spot gave Emyr the opportunity to establish the pace of the comedy as he got to know his audience. This is where the jokes were completely improvised and original. The structure of the evening was decided very early in the planning process. The average duration of an artist’s contribution was 35 to 40 minutes.

Inevitably, the timings were flexible and the evenings often ended well after midnight. Hosting three hours of entertainment in such an intimate venue required confidence and experience. After the opening night, the response of Colwyn Bay Council officials was favourable, 'The local press was also supportive. This is part of Alan Twelves' report in the "North Wales Weekly News".

Welsh Style Cabaret Hits the Right Note”

“Read, identify and involve... three steps you don’t have to tell Emyr, of the singing duo Emyr and Elwyn, anything about. At the opening of the 1974 Monday night Welsh-style cabarets at the Four Oaks Restaurant, Colwyn Bay this week he read the audience quickly - after a tentative start - identified what went and what didn’t, and in the last 25 minutes, with the clock swinging unheeded towards midnight, he got total involvement from the capacity audience!”

For the rest of the season, the nights went very well. The council were pleased and decided to continue to stage the cabarets once a month during the Autumn until Christmas! 1975 was an eventful year in the development of Emyr and Elwyn It was the year Emyr established himself as a comedian as well as a singer.

E&E Cyntedd Y Pedair Derwen 1975 .jpg (33 KB)

Emyr and Elwyn in the foyer of the Four Oaks Restaurant

1975

Over the summer of 1974, many people had been asking us to release an album. Following lengthy discussions over the winter, we decided to put a record together. Due to a lack of funds, we had to record all the songs in one day. The only solution was to recreate the performances that audiences had heard in the Four Oaks. So, after we had decided to use a studio in Manchester, on Sunday, 11 May 1975, we hurriedly recorded twelve songs and were back in Colwyn Bay by 10-00 p.m. 

The 1975 summer season was a busy one, we performed almost every night of the week. In June we played six nights at Tito's Nightclub at the Marine Hotel in Rhyl. We were the "warm-up" act for the star of the week, the Canadian singer, David Sebastian Bach. Unfortunately, he didn't attract a large audience, so the six nights were cut down to four. However, we enjoyed a relatively successful week entertaining the local audience who knew us well.

June was also the start of the summer season at the caravan sites in Abergele and Kinmel Bay. After a meeting to discuss finance with the owner, Don Morris, we succeeded in securing a regular Tuesday night at The Golden Gate Caravan Club in Towyn Abergele from May 27th until September 19th

E&E Llwyfan       Y Pedair Derwen.jpg (57 KB)

On stage at The Four Oaks

1976

On Sunday, January 4th, 1976, we were booked to perform at the White Lion Hotel in Cerrig y Drudion. The manager of the hotel at the time was the actor, writer and comedian, Ronnie Williams. In 1975, due to work pressure, Ronnie decided to end his partnership with Ryan Davies and come out of show business to run a pub. We received a warm welcome from Ronnie and the evening went well. At the end of the evening, we had a chat with him and the first thing he said was, "I was expecting to see two brothers singing in the Everly Brothers tradition, as you were on the BBC Wales Pop Show, “Disc a Dawn” in the 1960s. But you're not a duo any more, you’re a trio! Forget about Emyr and Elwyn, you’re an individual, Emyr, a "stand up" comedian and an occasional singer with two "stooges" who are also accompanists, Emyr Williams and his band". Although he saw the sense behind Ronnie's proposal, Emyr was not happy with the idea of ​​losing Elwyn's name from the act. "Well why don't you change your name", said Ronnie. Emyr was cautious, "Let’s think about it and meet again in February to make a decision.

A few weeks passed, and then on February 7th, we enjoyed a dinner at the White Lion with Ronnie and his then-wife, Einir. Emyr had discussed the name change with Elwyn. They were both in agreement, that it made sense. But what about the name? Like many Welsh-speaking children who grew up in the 1950s, one of Emyr's heroes was the detective, Gari Tryfan. The hero of a radio series written by the Llanrwst author Idwal Jones. "Say no more, Gari! It’s a Welsh name, it’s easy to pronounce, it’s perfect!” said Ronnie, "Gari Williams and his Company, Elwyn on bass guitar and Dilwyn on the piano".

But it wasn't just a simple matter of changing the name of the act on the posters. "Emyr and Elwyn" were drawing audiences to concerts and club events, so we had to add "Formally known as Emyr and Elwyn", to the posters. Locally, the change was slower, we still worked as Emyr and Elwyn during the summer at the Four Oaks.

We also needed to launch Gari Williams and his Company to the general public, so we wrote a press release and arranged interviews with the media. The most successful was one for BBC Radio Wales with Alan Barham on "Good Morning Wales". I remember after the interview, Vincent Kane noticed how strange it was for a duo with two names, to change to a trio with only one name!

Over the summer there were many more developments including a phone call from the producer of the talent show, "New Faces", Albert Stevenson. Mr. Stevenson was auditioning artists for the show at the British Legion Club in Llay, near Wrexham on June 2nd, and invited us to come to the event.  The night went very well and Mr. Stevenson came to our dressing room after the show to congratulate Gari and to offer him a spot on "New Faces". He also offered us the opportunity to join Harry Secombe's tour of Australia. "I'll be in touch next week to discuss your appearance on the show". Three or four weeks passed by without a word from Mr. Stevenson, so Emyr phoned his office at ATV:

“Hello, could I speak to Albert Stevenson please”

 “Hold on, I’ll connect you”,

“Albert Stevenson’s Office”,

“Could I speak to Mr Stevenson please

“Hold on”,

“Albert Stevenson”,

“Oh hello Mr Stevenson, it’s Gari Williams here”,

“Gari who”?

That was the end of our relationship with Albert Stevenson. Regardless, there was more than one talent show on television at the time and we also auditioned for Hughie Green and “Opportunity Knocks”, in 1977. More about that experience to follow in the next episode.

During the summer of 1976, we were still very busy at the Four Oaks for two nights every week. This season, for the first time, we also organized a series of Sunday evening concerts at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Colwyn Bay (Now known as Theatr Colwyn)

Every Sunday night for 12 weeks over the summer we presented, "Wales in Song". The format was simple, an overture of Welsh melodies on the organ, myself as host introducing our first guests, a local male voice choir such as Maelgwn, ​​Colwyn or Llanddulas. The second guest was a well-known local singer such as Carol Roberts or Ann Coates. 

On a number of Sunday nights, special guests were added such as Ritchie Thomas or the tenor, Bob Roberts from the Gwalia Singers. After a break of 15 minutes, Act 2 was in the hands of the brothers. The shows went down well with an audience of 100 on the first Sunday progressing to 250 by the end of June. The capacity of the theatre was only 300, so we felt that the venture had been a success.

Over the summer, we kept in touch with Ronnie Williams and one particular morning, we received a phone call from him to say that he had got a job with the Welsh Theatre Company as a Marketing Officer and he had also been commissioned by the company's Director, Wilbert Lloyd-Roberts, to write a pantomime. But the most important offer for the three of us was the offer of a leading role in the panto for Emyr and places for Elwyn and me in the band as bass guitarist and organist. The panto was to start at Theatr Gwynedd on December 20th and stay for two weeks in Bangor, then on tour around Wales calling at Pontyberem, Cardiff, Mold, Aberystwyth, Harlech, Fishguard, Maesteg, Bala and Pwllheli.

This was an incredible opportunity for the three of us, but there were obstacles. The first was our daytime occupations. Elwyn had a record shop, Emyr sold electronic equipment in the north Wales markets and I ran an aerial installation business. We knew that the loss of income would be very difficult for us. Elwyn was the most reluctant because he’d spent years developing what had become a successful business. However, he agreed to appoint a manager for the period of the tour. Emyr and I made similar arrangements and confirmed our commitment to Ronnie.

On November 23rd, 1976, we travelled to Bangor to begin rehearsals, The panto was titled, "Madoc", and the story was based on the legend that Prince Madoc ap Owain Gwynedd had sailed across the Atlantic and discovered America in 1170. Bryn Williams was the main character, Madoc, Bryn was an old friend of Ronnie’s from, “Ryan and Ronnie”, on BBC Wales. Other parts were played by Falmai Jones as Madoc's wife, Harriet and Iona Banks as the Wicked Witch. Ronnie himself played the part of the ship’s Doctor. Emyr’s role was that of a Native American, “Red-Indian”. The rest of the cast was part of the Welsh Theatre Company’s Cymru repertory company of young actors. The policy of Wilbert Lloyd-Roberts, the Director of the Company, was to employ a group of actors who had just graduated from the Welsh College of Music and Drama to write and perform experimental dramas and to take part in the company's mainstream productions. Today, all of them are very familiar names to Welsh audiences: Cefin Roberts, Myrddin "Mei" Jones, Wyn Bowen Harris, Sian Morgan, Mari Gwilym and Valmai Jones. For Elwyn and I, members of the band, it was time for us to meet the Musical Director, Cenfyn Evans. As well as playing the piano, Cenfyn also played the Trumpet, so that was to be the band's lead instrument.

Further pantomime details and the development of "Gari Williams",

in Part 2 of the Emyr and Elwyn Story

Read part two here...