Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus

Or, Happy St David’s Day, if you prefer.

(Pause whilst I wait for my Welsh speaking friends to correct me.)

I try to post something by a Welsh act every year on this day, whenever I remember, which isn’t every year, and which probably makes me the worst living Honorary Welshman, a title bestowed upon me I think with no irony (the Honorary Welshman bit, not the worst living bit) by friends partly because I lived in Wales for so long, but partly also because of my love for today’s artist.

More often than not, my annual selection will be by the Welsh act who I think has been most important to me throughout my life: not the Manic Street Preachers, nor The Alarm; not Super Furry Animals or Shakin’ Stevens; not Shirley Bassey and certainly not the Stereophonics.

No, I speak of none other than all-round entertainer Max Boyce.

Believe it or not, in the 1970s, Max was a huge star, and not just in Wales. His trajectory was similar to Billy Connolly and Jasper Carrott, who started off playing the folk clubs, their acts slowly changing until the songs had all but disappeared and been replaced with jokes. Max, however, worked his way up playing the Welsh rugby club circuit, the only other difference being that he never stopped doing his songs.

He’s sold more than two million albums in a career spanning four decades, which is pretty impressive for what on the face of it appears to be a bit of niche act, But although his act largely comprised of songs, stories and jokes about Rugby Union, these were not all sold to his Welsh fans.

No, for my father was responsible for the purchase of two of them: 1974’s Live at Treorchy and 1975’s We All Had Doctor’s Papers – the latter of which, according to Wiki, remains the only comedy album to have topped the UK Albums Chart. Suck on that, The Barron Knights.

Boyce’s schtick is wonderfully simplistic: lots of rugby jokes, often anti-English (which is fair enough), a few poems and lots of songs, mostly about rugby, often anti-English (still, fair enough) with boisterous sing-a-long choruses – it’s no coincidence that many of his records were recorded live in rugby clubs, with a receptive audience who didn’t need asking twice to join in.

Of course, recorded in the 1970s, some of the songs are very much “of their time”: I doubt, for example, that he still performs (and he is still performing) Asso Asso Yogoshi which features on the Live at Treochy album, and tells of the time the Japanese Rugby Team toured Wales, and has a very 70s chorus of “Asso Asso Yogoshi, Me Welsh speaking Japanee”. Ouch.

I can’t claim that I understood all of the jokes back then, and I probably only understand marginally more now, all these years later. And some of those which I do, I think if you’re not Welsh then you have to understand Welsh culture and often dead-pan humour. Never is this more obvious than in my favourite song by him, which still makes me laugh to this day, mostly for his delivery of two jokes within.

  • He’s only delivered the first line of the song – I met her in the Con Club – which is met with such regales of laughter, he pauses to ask: “Been there have you?”
  • Actual lyrics from the song: She told me ‘You can walk me home’/ I said: ‘I’ve got a van!’

They don’t look as funny written down as I find them, but I think having lived in Wales for as long as I did, and having loved and embraced the culture as much as I did, is the key to me loving that song and those jokes as much as I do (and Hel will confirm how many times I played it on a Friday night when we shared a flat).

But I’ve posted that before, so it’s not the focus of today’s post. No, that honour, such as it is, rests with the next song on the same record, a much more beautiful and poignant song, which tells the tale of a young lad charged with painting a scene from the valleys by his school teacher, but finding that none of the colours quite capture it as he wants to:

Max Boyce – Rhondda Grey

You could listen to that and find it rather bleak, but I prefer to look at it as describing the unique beauty of the Welsh mining communities, which I think is what was intended.


I could have asked him, for I had the pleasure of meeting Max once. I worked for a time in Boots the Chemist on Cardiff’s Queen Street, and we would often have celebrities who were performing in one of the city’s many venues pop in to buy something they needed.

Generally, when I’m in the presence of someone famous, I don’t bother them. They probably get hassled enough without me adding to it, is my way of seeing it. And this was magnified when I saw them in Boots, because as they’re visiting a chemist store, chances are they may be looking to purchase something that they would rather not be recognised whilst buying. But there were occasions where I simply had to say something.

Sometimes it was fine: spotting comedy legend June Whitfield at the Max Factor counter I simply had to go and say hello (and she was just as lovely as you would expect) and we had quite the loveliest chat.

Sometimes it was a little awkward: chatting to Glenys Kinnock was all fine until her credit card got rejected at the tills and I had to go and do a credit check on her (which, I should stress, she passed).

Sometimes it was very awkward: having been to their gig the previous night, I was delighted to see The Beautiful South’s Jacqui Abbott at our tills one day, and went over to say hello and to tell her how much I had enjoyed her performance, only to find she was in the middle of purchasing some feminine hygiene products – just tampons, nothing unpleasant or weird – and although courteous, I really don’t think she appreciated the attention.

Sometimes the prelude is awkward, but I just about managed to reign it back in, and such was the case with the time I met Max.

I’ve written about this before, but I’ve never gone on to tell of the conversation after the awkward bit.

I spotted him in the queue at one of the tills and hovered nearby until he got served. The lady who did the till stuff, Jayne, probably in her mid-30s, looked up at him:

“It’s you, isn’t it?” she said, smiling.

“Erm…yes…” Max Boyce said, modestly.

“It’s Max, isn’t it?” she said

“Yes, yes I am” said Max Boyce, modestly.

“Max….Bygraves!!” she exclaimed

“Max fucking Bygraves?!?!? Am I fuck!!” said Max Boyce, angrily. “He’s in his fucking 80s!”

I swooped. “Max, Max, hello. You can probably tell from my voice I’m not from round here.” He eyed me suspiciously. “But my father had some of your records which I listened to a lot when I was a kid, and I’m a big fan. I just wanted to thank you because knowing your records really helped me to fit in and be accepted in Wales, so I’m really really grateful to you, even if I am more of Harry’s Got a Horse type.”

And it was this reference which made him realise, I think, that I wasn’t bull-shitting him.

He smiled, looked me in the eye, and shook my hand and said: “Well, I’m very glad you’re here and we’ve made you welcome then, son”.

Sometimes, meeting your idols pans out just nicely.

More soon.

The Scottish Trip

The Six Nations recommences today, and now that Wales v England has happened, things get a lot easier for me.

See, as an Englishman who lived in Wales for twenty years, my allegiances are always torn when it comes to matches between the two; although it’s almost ten years now since I lived there, I still love the land of valleys and song, and I want them to win every time they play, but I can’t quite stretch that to include when they play England.

For the first few years that I lived in South Wales, I was always terrified of being identified as an Englishman when the two teams faced each other. I really need not have worried, at least not when it came to the rugby crowd; the only time I got any hassle for being English was whilst either watching England play football in a bar (and specifically, the 1996 Euro Semi Final against Germany), or immediately after a Wales v Holland football match when I just happened to be in the vicinity of the stadium. But I can look to one event which made me realise that I wasn’t going to get the living crap beaten out of me by a Welsh rugby fan for having the wrong accent.

In the mid-1990s, I was making excellent use of my degree by working as the manager of a video shop in Cardiff, about five minutes walk away from Cardiff Arms Park; I would invariably work on a Saturday, including match days, and we would watch the crowds flowing past the shop window on the way to and from the stadium.

On one occasion, I was there with Matt, a student who worked the occasional weekend. After the game, the crowds slowly began to drift by, and you could tell who had won by their demeanour and drunkenness. This Saturday, England had won, so I decided to keep a low profile.

One of our regular customers came in, obviously under orders from his other half to pick up a film on his way home to watch that evening. He was a giant of man, mulletted, wearing the Welsh shirt with pride and not a few suspicions stains. He was also quite ridiculously pissed, swaying as he stood trying to focus on the new releases.

Finally he made his selection, wobbled up to the counter at which point Matt piped up: “Been to the game, have we mate?”

The bloke looked at him. “Yerrrr…”

“Perhaps you’d like to discuss the result with this Englishman here?” Matt suggested, gesturing towards me and stepping sharply out of the way.

The drunk guy stared at me, a puzzled look on his face, and I felt my blood turn cold. There was no doubt that even though he was drunk and there was a counter in between us, if he took against me I’d had it.

Instead, he held his hand out. A trap, I thought. If I shake that, he’ll pull me over the counter and cave my head in. His hand remained outstretched and unshaken for what seemed an age. In the end, I could ignore it no longer, and I offered my hand in return.

“Fair play,” he said as we shook hands, “your boys outplayed us.”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Matt look so disappointed.

Years later, when I had stumbled into the line of work I’m in now, many of the blokes in the office would travel to see some of the away games, specifically the ones against Ireland or Scotland. They would often ask me to join them, but I always declined. By this time I had adopted a policy of feigning indifference to the whole sport; I found that meant I was spared the ribbing that English colleagues got whenever Wales were triumphant.

They would return regaling me of stories drunkenness and singing, not entirely unlike this, which, since many of them will be travelling up to Scotland this weekend, deserves an airing:


Max Boyce – The Scottish Trip

Have a great weekend, whatever the score, boys.

More soon.

The Election Section #4

Ok, so time for some impartiality. Every song so far has been anti-Tory, so let’s see what we can find that is a) pro-Con (which seems a contradiction in terms, but never mind), and b) a decent tune.




I’ve drawn a blank on that one. I wonder if we should read anything into that……?

Let’s skip along.

The Lib Dems. Ah yes, we have a song which perfectly describes the public perception of them:


Lush – Hypocrite

Okay, I may as well be honest. All of the rest of the posts will be anti-Tory, so we may as well squeeze the rest of the parties in now.

SNP? Here you go:


The Proclaimers – Letter From America

You don’t need me to tell you what its about…

Plaid Cymru? Have this:


The Alarm – A New South Wales

I genuinely love that record. I think it’s the male voice choir. You can’t argue (well you can if you like, but you’re wrong and lalalala I’m not listening) but there’s something about a Welsh Male Voice Choir (note the capitals) which means I love this (and for that matter this) more even than I love this. (And I love this quite a lot indeed too). I Can’t Explain.

Mike Peters from The Alarm (usually said in the same breathy tones as JimKerrfromSimpleMinds) has long since been a vocal activist in Welsh politicism and for me, this record is bang on the money – for the time it was written, back in the 80s. Since then, South Wales – and Cardiff in particular – has been regenerated beyond belief. Folks tend to be a lil sniffy about visiting Wales, but I would urge you to do so: it’s one of the most fantastic, beautiful places I ever visited, let alone lived in. Cardiff, wonderful as it is, is just the hub. A mere stone’s throw away are such beauty spots as the Brecon Beacons and The Gower and …ohhh…so much more…..

Ahem. I appear to have come over all Rhod Gilbert in those “Come to Wales” adverts.

Ah, feck it.

As someone who lived in Wales for 20 years and loved (almost) every minute of it, I can maybe do better than that. I’m going to get all adopted-Welsh on your butt. There is no finer sound for getting you all tingly and setting your hairs on end than hearing the crowd at the Millenium Stadium (or Cardiff Arms Park, back in the day) than this: Wembley 1999

The crowd don’t seem particularly engaged, do they? Trust me, by the end they were singing, alright.

Those two old looking geezers in the line up (not dressed in uniform) are Tom Jones, who’ll you’ll recognise and need no introduction to, and Max Boyce, who you might not recognise and will need an introduction to. Reader: Max. Max: Reader.

Max Boyce was, frankly, massive in the late 70s and early 80s, coming up as he did from the folk circuit in the same way that Billy Connolly and Jasper Carrott did around the same time. Billy and Jasper are touted as the fore-fathers of alternative comedy, doing observational stuff which didn’t involve mother-in-laws, wives being really fat, or black people called Chalky.

The very odd thing is that Max seems to have been air-brushed out of the accepted populist history of comedy around this time, and I can’t help but wonder if Max hadn’t been Welsh whether he’d have got such a rough deal in the annals (double n, innuendo seekers move along) of history.

I think it’s about time that was put right.

Even though his act was predominantly about Welsh Rugby – or rather, about Welsh men and their rugby (and affectionately, cheekily, anti-English in a way that only a rugby fan could get away with), Max still managed to find favour with many outside of Wales. The even odder thing is that the fact he was popular outside of Wales never seemed to be appreciated or understood by those inside Wales. When I lived in Cardiff, my friends were often gobsmacked that I knew the words to Hymns and Arias and Sospan Fach (not 100% accurately I’ll admit, but still, I had a go…)

I have to concede, I had a leg-up here. On Saturday afternoons when I was a kid, we’d have to drive over and visit the grand parents. I believe I’ve mentioned this before, so I won’t bore you with it again. Suffice to say, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash were the staple diet of the car’s cassette player, but Max Boyce got a fair look in too. My dad owned copies of “Live at Treorchy” and “We All Had Doctor’s Papers” and they would be played as much as anything else. (My great grandmother, deposited in the car on one such occasion, announced “I have no idea what he is saying, but I’m sure it’s quite rude!”. And yes, she did sound like Lady Bracknell) My dad even burned copies of both these albums for a former flat mate of mine, so desperate was he to prove his non-existent Welsh links.

I met Max once. I was working in Boots the Chemist on Queen Street in Cardiff and I spotted him and hovered around the tills when he got served. He went to one of the prettier, younger ladies who did the till stuff, then looked up at him:

“It’s you, isn’t it?” she said

“Erm…yes…” Max Boyce said, modestly.

“It’s Max, isn’t it?” she said

“Yes, yes I am” said Max Boyce, modestly.

“Max….Bygraves!!” she exclaimed

“Am I fuck!!” said Max Boyce, angrily. “He’s in his fucking 80s!” said Max Boyce not very happily.

So anyway, from those two albums, I give you these:




But, in an effort to drag this back to something vaguely political, Max wasn’t just about the funnies. Listen to Rhonnda Grey which, to these Anglicised ears, is sadder and more poignant than “A New South Wales”, and paints a picture of the Merthyr, Pontypridd and Caerphilly area I remember from when I first moved there oh so many years ago. Sad and beautiful, see?

Ok so moving on, who’s next?

The Green Party. This seems appropriate:


Swedish House Mafia feat. John Martin – Save The World

UKIP. Oh, just fuck off, will you? I’m not even going to grace you with a song. We all know what you are.

More utterly biased stuff soon.