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The holiday season has come around again and there has been a number of requests for me to re-post the version of Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas In Wales” that Arthur Bull and myself recorded on Christmas Eve somewhere in the late eighties for CIUT-FM  Radio in Toronto. The story and the music are the same as previously posted.

Mumbles • Winter 2005: The journey toward Swansea in the south of Wales took several unexpected turns, a spirit force calling, as this is where my family history, as far back as I can discover, began. Both my grandfather and great grandfather were master mariners who sailed the tall ships out of this port, and in the summers, as a young lad, I was shipped off to two aunts — Polly and Queenie — who ran a seaside B&B. My only real memory other than my aunts is the Mumbles Railway, the world’s first fare paying passenger rail service, which unfortunately ended on January 5th 1960. It ran along the promenade from downtown Swansea to Mumbles Head.

As we often have no idea which course to take on these trips, we let unusual or familiar names of towns and villages dictate the route. One such destination is Wiseman’s Bridge, the name reminding us of the good doctor here on Hornby. The topography has changed, the rock strewn mountainous passes are replaced by winding country lanes with high hedgerows archwaying from each side, shaded tunnels bursting out into sunshine and revealing lush green farmland. The tower of a Norman church or around this bend the remains of a massive castle in the pub laden village of Laugharne. The spirit hollers – Stop! Time to take a walk around the castle’s base to stretch our legs. The sign read “Dylan Thomas’ Boat House”. Here we would spend a pleasant hour soaking up the atmosphere in the home of Wales’ greatest writer, peering through the window of his work-shed where he wrote some of his masterpieces, and become inspired to continue on to Mumbles where he spent a great deal of his time.

antelope - mumbles

Known, as he was, to be a serious drinker, it seemed only natural to see if we could find the three most celebrated of his haunts. The most famous, the Mermaid Hotel where he could illegally drink on Sundays, has been gutted by fire and is now a block of flats. All that remains of the original is the second floor ornate wrought iron balustrade. The second, the Marine Hotel, where he and his cronies had a quick drink before the theatre, is now a restaurant called the Village Inn, where Essjay and I enjoyed a delicious supper of locally caught fish. The third, the Antelope located at 628 Mumbles Road, much to our delight, still exists. The somewhat shabby exterior with dirty yellow walls and its peeling faded salmon pink wooden window and door frames, a television dish protruding from the roof, sported a prominent sign reading; LEASE FOR SALE – ASTLEYS COMMERCIAL, which inspired us to invest immediately in the UK National Lottery which produces winnings in excess of £1,000,000. Our future as Welsh publicans possibly in place. The customers were a mixture of locals, mostly young, and seemed unconcerned that it had been one of Dylan Thomas’s favourite haunts; although one older bohemian chap offered to show us the chair that the author often sat in more than a half-a-century past.

There were no rooms available at the Antelope so we stayed a couple of doors down at the 4-star Carlton Hotel so that we could frequent this historic bar several times. The morning that we left, crossing the road to our car with a Belisha beacon lighting the way of the Zebra crossing, there was a feeling of sadness that the next time we came, yet one more slice of history would have disappeared, have become another glittered-up tourist seaside attraction.

smith & bull


A Child’s Christmas in Wales: by Dylan Thomas (48:18 minutes)

Bill Smith: Voice, percussion and soprano saxophone
Arthur Bull: Guitar

Recorded by D.B. Hawkes Christmas Eve (late 1980s) for CIUT-FM radio. 89.5

On The Radio: Me and Arthur are trudging along Bloor Street this snowy Christmas Eve somewhere in the latter half of the eighties, me with my soprano saxophone and a bunch of little noise makers and Arthur with his 3/4 size Gibson ES-142 guitar in a backpack and lugging his ’58 Fender Deluxe amplifier that’s about the size of a carry-on suitcase, hoping that Long & McQuades music shop will still be open, that they will have in stock a book of popular Christmas carols. Sure enough all the shops along the street between Bathhurst and Spadina are brightly lit, welcoming the last minute shoppers. The music book, which I still have, has everything we need, chock-full of seasonal super hits. Across the street is the College Copy Shop. Me and Arthur settle in, photocopy the text of the Dylan Thomas masterpiece, dismantle the sheet music book, selecting the most familiar Christmas tunes – The Night Before Christmas, Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer, Good King Wenceslas, Silent Night, Winter Wonderland, We Three Kings – and with a glue stick and blank sheets of paper assembled a performance, mixing music notation and words together to be spiral-bound by the bored sleepy night shift counterman.

With preparations in place, we ambled just around the corner to the Sticky Wicket on Spadina, the closest pub, to relax and discuss the upcoming radio broadcast. A couple pints of real ale and we have the whole thing covered. The sheet music is for guitar, a C pitched instrument and my soprano is in Bb, and although I can read music I cannot successfully transpose the music. Adding one more possible hindrance. No problem says Arthur, we’ll just wing it.

For the creative musical happenings being performed in Toronto in the late eighties CIUT Radio was a late-night paradise. At midnight, after the regular programming concluded, dee-jay D.B. Hawkes invited his musician friends to play live on the air. Fortunately every performance was recorded and the recording of that evening posted below became something of a legend, replayed every Christmas Eve. On this very night, Paul Haines driving north to his home in Smooth Rock Falls is tuned in to CIUT and imagines as he travels through the night, the snow whirling about him, that he is hearing Albert Ayler playing Christmas songs on the radio. The station is fading as he moves outside of its limited broadcasting range, so he pulls over and parks by the side of the road until the story is ended.

Dylan Thomas

The Collected Stories
New Directions Paperback
ISBN 10: 0811209989 / 0-8112-0998-9
This gathering of all Dylan Thomas’s stories, ranging chronologically from the dark, almost surrealistic tales of Thomas’s youth to such gloriously rumbustious celebrations of life as A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Adventures in the Skin Trade, charts the progress of “The Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive” toward his mastery of the comic idiom.

CIUT Radio: http://www.ciut.fm/
Paul Haines: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Haines_(poet)
Albert Ayler: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Ayler

The Antelope – William E. (Bill) Smith
Arthur & Bill – Barry Thomson

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