Hymns & Arias is a gloriously composed book, studded with photographs and beautiful illustrations

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Max Boyce – Hymns and Airs

Jon gower

In Jan Morris ” The Matter of Wales ‘she talks about the country’s poets and poetry and how their presence’ still surprises foreigners, and not just in Welsh-speaking hearts, where poets of all kinds. are supposed to abound in a more conventional way.

Max Boyce, a beloved comedian in clubs in the English-speaking and industrialized South, appeared at a Royal Command variety show in London in 1981, and when he ended his hilariously bubbling act with a song of compassionate lyricism on the sadness of the mining valleys, the public seemed to react with bewildered, even offended, dismay.

The song could have been one of the many songs written by Max Boyce, but it could well be ‘Duw It’s Hard’, a portrait of a town, in this case Ebbw Vale, where the mine is closed and the ‘pithead baths are a supermarket now. The choir performs:

Because it’s hard
Duw it’s hard
It’s harder than they’ll ever know …

Max Boyce knows all about hard grafting, having spent a decade carving coal underground since he was sixteen. His father died in an explosion in a pit called Onllwyn No 3 a month before Max was born, and his mother received a pittance in compensation to care for her young son. But even as an artist, Max has long had a reputation for working hard, playing in clubs, racking up TV appearances as he has already commanded an audience of 20 million people.

His debut album “Live in Treorchy” sold half a million copies. Gold, Silver and No.1 records followed as did the Glynneath Carnival floats. He wriggled and wriggled and wriggled. All the while, he was tweaking his songs after performing them, chiseling new meanings or nuances into deceptively simple lines.


His most famous song “Hymns and Arias”, written half a century ago, has long replaced most other hymns and tunes in the Welsh municipal songbook and is now as synonymous with rugby as a pair of poles. In particular, it signals those 80 minutes in the rugby calendar where the Welsh fan is truly on hot coals, teetering on the edge of a seat in Twickenham for another adrenaline-charged encounter with England.

Boyce has a knack for easy rhyme, much on display in this book, such as in his account of when Neath and Aberavon lost 43-4 to the All Blacks, a score that looks pretty respectable after last weekend when the Wales were heartily beaten by New Zealand. In the song, he recalls how:

They didn’t let the score long

We contributed for a crown

Neath blamed Aberavon,

And Aberavon, Neath.

He is particularly good at the act of magpie of taking the melody from another song and appropriating it for his own use. In “He chose a good time to penalize the wheel”, he replaces “You chose a good time to leave me, Lucille” brings a ready smile. And there’s the painfully funny “Guess It’s One Of The Days: Saddest Country Song Ever” that sees a family’s woes in the West go from bad to worse. Ma dies of fever, there’s a terrible fire that burns the house down, dad turns to gambling, then bank robbery and goes to jail, a song that manages to bring a smile to the heart of all misery.

Some of the songs are bright and eloquent slices of social history in South Wales, such as the tale of the Miners’ Fortnight or the charcoal picking, where people scoured the slag heaps in search of shining ‘stones’. leftover coal.

Much like the game of rugby, the book is one of two halves, one made up of songs and the other of stories. These are a mix of auspicious anecdotes – you might be tempted to say that Max is okay with his anecdote – and this section is full of supposedly true stories that tell us about his friend Cardi Berwyn, evoke memories of childhood and us. take them for a few tours. celebrity golf.

Max trying his hand at QB for the Dallas Cowboys. Parthian photo books

There are memories of staging ‘Under Milk Wood’ or playing elephant polo with Ghurkas and he even manages to make a trip to open the Leekes hypermarket near Cross Hands in the legend, so that he arrives by helicopter with unexpected guests on board. Of course, Max also connects very funny stories of rugby trips, from that of the Welsh fan who falls into a vat of Guinness in Dublin, who dies a very slow death from encounters with snails in Paris. There are also some vivid memories of his time in the United States, following the Dallas Cowboys – the subject of one of his TV shows – and becoming a clown in the rough world of rodeo.

One thing that shines through the book is the exuberant personality and genuine warmth of Max Boyce. He might have traded stereotypes, but they were, at least our stereotypes, recognizably based on the man holding the debenture seat in the gun park or that wonderful character downstairs at the club. The book is gloriously put together, sprinkled with photographs, beautiful illustrations, and perfectly appropriate cartoons from Gren, who seems to share Max’s humor in excess. And there is a story, about Berwyn at the garage sale, selling Owain Glyndŵr’s skull to a gullible punter, that will have me laughing on the other side of Christmas, when this book will surely have been appreciated by a legion of Boyce fans, as long as you can get a beautiful coffee table book in a stocking.

Max Boyce’s new book of poems, songs and stories is published by Parthian Books.

He will be signing copies on November 26 at Carmarthen Waterstones at 3 p.m. and at Rhosygilwen Arts Center Cardigan at 7:30 p.m.

On December 3, Max will be at Swansea Waterstones at 2 p.m. and December 4 at Storyville Pontypridd at 10 a.m. and Griffin Books Penarth on Saturday at 1 p.m. and December 5 at Bookish Crickhowell at 1 p.m.

You can buy a copy of the book here….

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