Parc & Dare Band
This is the text of an article which appeared in the Radio Times magazine in August 1976
THE VALLEYS can never have been very promising; steep thin-soiled hillsides in grey rain inhabited by balding sheep. Then, last century, an egg-laying monster dragged itself along the narrow valley bottoms leaving behind it, on all the flat surfaces it could find, an endless trail of identical terrace houses. Apart from the grey chapels- Noddfa, Libanus, Bethlehem, Salem, Bethania- there is not a building of more than two stories and there is so little decoration anywhere that the wrought iron balcony of the Glandwr Hotel in Ystrad looks like a blasphemy but the windows on either side of that extravagance are blocked with corrugated iron as though it has been visited by a judgement. Why then does the place exude at once such a special power? It is surely because the monster, having laid its gently undulating string of terrace eggs, went at once to live elsewhere. There are no middle class houses at all. It is a worker community left to itself to sink or swim, to build its own churches, hospitals, institutes with its own scarce money and to find, triumphantly, its own amusements. Anyone who wants to confirm his faith in the survival qualities of the human race should go to the Rhondda. The place was hit by a manmade disaster a hundred years ago but it is not a disaster story because of the people who lived and worked there. Even today, when so much has changed, there is a sense of locality and community that hits the visitor like a warm breeze. In Treorchy for example, at the head of the valley, now a town of not much more than 15,000 inhabitants, there is an internationally famous male voice choir, the best football team in that part of Wales and the Parc and Dare Brass Band, 12 times Welsh champions and with a chance at the forthcoming national championships at the Royal Albert Hall of being judged the best in Britain and therefore in the World. They meet three evenings a week among the vaulting horses in the local school. Twenty-five of them, varying in age from portly 12 year olds to paternal 45s who keep a fatherly eye and ear on their next door neighbour. `Pum pum,mouths one to his fellow euphonium player exhorting him to greater definition before he places his own lips to an instrument that looks like a complicated piece of a boiler. The whole thing is voluntary of course indeed they pay 25p a week to belong to the band, which is self-supporting-but any group of people can get together for their own amusement. What is different about this group is how good they are.
Out of those unpromisingly hard-looking instruments they get a velvety, precise sound that is the result of practice, not only with each other but by themselves at home. You watch a frowning schoolboy cornet-player and wait for a wrong note but you do not hear one. The atmosphere is professional, intense concentration followed by relaxed chatting between pieces, and the centre of energy is the musical director Ieuan Morgan, smiling, rebuking, dark hair flopping, insisting on the musical quality of the piece, rapping his music stand with his baton to say quietly to his assembly of fitters, tool-makers, machinists, railwaymen, most of whom he has known all his life: `That crescendo-just a little bit vulgar. Again please . And: `Just a little bit overblown. Dont make it too brazen. All his directions are towards delicacy, refinement; they are understood at once. The soprano cornet after an intricate and moving solo in a piece by Robert Farnon shakes his head and mutters at his knees in self-dissatisfaction. Only once is Ieuan Morgan sharp, he clearly seldom has need to be. After what sounds like a brilliant piece of euphonium playing he says ` We dont want that sort of noise here, and everybody laughs. He explains to me afterwards that he only talks that way to his son. He has two in the band. Thomas Eveson has three and there is another pair of brothers. It is a family affair. The band, formed in 1894 from the two local collieries was called a silver band and was Temperance- the money from drinking-fines went to pay for the instruments. These are still silver-coloured but are called brass, which is one change, and after rehearsal the band now adjourns to the pub, which is another. There a darts match is going on, as in-tensely concentrated as the rehearsal had been. `Quiet please band, a darts player calls out, as though the band has a corporate identity in the community, which indeed it has. The darts match completed the band courteously attempts to fill me to the brim with beer. Courteously, because I know they have quietly arranged to drive me home should that be necessary, a long and difficult drive late at night. Pondering the hugger-mugger nature of those terrace- houses I ask Thomas Eveson whether there is any difficulty about practising. He and his three sons, two euphoniums, a cornet and a trombone, must make the ornaments rattle a street away. He did lay off for a while because his next-door neighbours wife begged him to start up again, because her husband missed the music. Everyone round the pub table is local, many related or at school together, except for one ex-Royal Marine bandsman who comes over from Bridgend, clearly overjoyed to play the cornet with the Parc and Dare. Such closeness might be parochial, inward-looking but instead it is expansive, friendly and with the relaxed loyalty of those who share a place of work as did the original bandsman from the Parc colliery and the Dare. But none of these is now a collier. Those black dramatic wheels on the skyline are now still. The pits where closed in 1964 but it seems to have made no difference to local solidarity and pride. As an old mine-leader once said: `We dont want to keep the mines open because we like going down the pit. Wed rather work in a chocolate factory if we could only get one in the Rhondda. It must have seemed like the end of everything in 1964, but Ieaun Morgan says firmly that its the best thing that ever happened. In the morning the self-castigating soprano cornet, Malcolm Pickin, takes me on a tour of the valleys and it is clear what Ieaun Morgan means. It must have been a disgraceful place. Spoil was dumped anywhere by the owners, right up to the doors of the little houses; some of the later houses were even built on top of earlier spoil heaps so that their tiny gardens are dour and hopeless and the houses themselves must be in danger of being washed away by the rain. But now where the head of the Parc Colliery was, and the Dare, are two smooth plateaux, and the spoil heaps have had seed blasted into them so that now they have a fuzz of green which makes them not easy to distinguish from the smooth natural hills. But dreadful the soil must be: the few planted trees look startled to find themselves where they are on the thin spidery green, wan with isolation. Even the terrace houses have changed. Built of pennant-sandstone, dark brown, the four windows that face the street in an endless line are surrounded by smoother bricks and these are picked out in blue or green or pink and the result is pretty, even exotic. Malcolm Pickin marvels at this sudden efflorescence of colour. Even five or six years ago the windows and doors were stained a uniform brown. He thinks it must have something to do with difference in wages. When the pits were open everyone earned the same; now the money coming into the houses varies greatly so each family tries to make their house a little different. But there seems no sign of the fierce community loyalty cracking. His two small sons are in the back of the car and I ask them if they want to join the Band, half-expecting them to be bored at the idea. They nod at once, their faces shining; clearly it is an honour and a socially acceptable ambition among their friends. Soprano cornet, like their father? They nod again, even more eagerly. The two boys father takes it for granted. Of course, he says simply, his eyes on the wet road.