We might have said somewhere else in this blog that 2012 will see na-mara play its most northerly, southerly, easterly and westerly gigs. This was to be our most westerly gig - a trip to Wales, to a town neither of us had had the pleasure of visiting before, Maesteg.
Derek Smith, of Welsh folk rock band Mabon, now fronted by his son Jamie, and his friend Peter had invited us to play some of our Spanish Civil War songs at a Welsh - Asturian weekend. The event was multi-dimensional in that it would cover music, dance and food. One nice idea was to have Asturian chefs cooking their regional food, but with Welsh ingredients. The linkages between the two areas are strong for at least three reasons – first, they are both coal mining areas, second, they are both Celtic areas, and third, the Welsh miners gave support to the Asturian miners in the Spanish Civil War.
We got up early on the Friday and set off in glorious weather. The intention was to arrive in Maesteg in time to see the unveiling of a plaque to three Welsh International Brigaders from the Maesteg area, by the local MP. This we managed to do in good time, the M4 being kind to us. We drove the brief climb up the valley to Maesteg itself, nestled in amongst the surrounding hills. Maesteg has clearly had a significant industrial past and is suffering severe depression currently. However, on a sunny day like this, one can appreciate that, if economic prosperity could be helped to return to the most deserving of areas, this would be a very fine place to be situated.
Various local people and dignitaries arrived at the Town Hall to peruse a truly excellent exhibition put together by the local library service, on the background to the Spanish Civil War and the role played in it by local heroes,. Local schoolchildren and parents arrived to sing three beautiful songs in Welsh. Rob and I played Only for Three Months and The Bite which were very well received. Then four young men from Asturias then played some Asturian folk tunes - more of which in a moment!
We stayed and chatted with the various attendees at the event and were then taken to our accommodation. We got ourselves settled and wandered off around the town to get a snack for, in the evening, we were going to perform at a music concert, with the Asturian lads.
We were given an excellent soundcheck at the Town Hall later that afternoon and then the Asturian band arrived. However, unlike the lunchtime session, they now arrived armed with their main instruments. We watched in complete admiration as they went through their sound check. Both Rob and I adore Asturian music and, of course, it turns out at least two of these guys were in one of the best Asturian bands around - the Gatos del Fornu! Wow, can those guys play - this was going to be an exceptional night.
The concert when it began, was supplemented with both Asturian cider and some excellent Asturian food. We played well and received some excellent feedback from the audience. (We even sold a CD to the local MP.) The Asturian band played really really well with squeezebox, gaita, flute, guitar and drums.
When the concert was over, we all repaired to a nearby club for a last drink. In the pounding rhythms of the bar, Derek was kind enough to give us some very welcome pointers about how to get ourselves better known both generally and locally in south Wales. Although under a lot of pressure through the day, Derek and Peter had maintained phenomenal good humour and had had us in fits for most of our stay. We very much hope we are invited back to south Wales. It would certainly be nice to meet up with Derek and Peter again at one of the numerous festivals they organise - though we guess probably not their Father Ted festival in Ireland.
We swapped CDs with the Gatos del Fornu and Derek kindly made us a present of a Mabon CD and DVD and – abracadabra - we had the 'in flight entertainment' sorted for our trip to Southampton the following day (and very good it was too). If you haven't heard both of these bands, you are really missing something - check them out.