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CALENNIG, Wales' farthest-travelled musicians, are - alas - no more.


All those years of travelling, jetsetting, driving though endless nights, researching and inspirational writing, weaving magic across Wales, England and the whole wide world, came to an end in 2001 when Mick Tems suffered a devastating stroke. Doctors and friends feared he would never walk or play the much-loved melodeon again - but in the space of nearly six years, Mick is back!


Mick and Pat in Jacobstad, Finland - they were touring with the 1997 shanty crew. Photo: Haken Streng 

Mick and Olly in session in The Corner House, Schull, West Cork, Ireland - Mick is playing his Tabwrdd

Mick was a founder member of Swansea Jack, who at the time consisted of Mike James and John Howes. John left, and Peter Davies was recruited. After some memorable tours in Brittany (including the Brest Festival) and an album named The Seven Wonders (the stunning traditional Welsh song collected by Mick), Swansea Jack and Mick and Pat Smith (who had just joined the group) came to a parting of the ways, and Mick and Pat formed Calennig.


Calennig - a South Wales Christmas custom involving an apple or orange, decorated with ribbons and cloves - was Mick's vision. Ably assisted by Pat, Mick thought up the name, carefully researched the tradition and composed many beautiful and stirring pieces - A Tale Of Two 

Rivers, When The Coal Comes From The Rhondda and The Day We Stopped The Train are just three examples. They toured the world, clocking up 19 times touring America, three times touring New Zealand and countless times playing in Europe in their years together (including Brest Maritime Festival, Douarnenez Festival and Ouessant Festival in Brittany) during which they recorded eight albums and CDs.  


Mick formed The Calennig Big Band, whose jazzy, infectious riffs promised a whole new concept in Welsh twmpath dance - and being a journalist, he ended up writing for the whole band until the stroke shattered his life (the Calennig Band - and Pat - plundered Mick's hard work on their website, but didn't mention the melodeon player whose ideas led to the band forming in the first place!) The Calennig Big Band toured Brittany, Belgium, Italy and France, and the musicians included Mick Tems, Pat Smith, Derek Smith (on guitar), Peter Davies (oboe, bombarde, Scots chamber pipes, English pipes, crumhorn), Iolo Jones (fiddle) and Mike Kennedy (bass).


Mick's six years of recovery has been slow and long, but it has been remarkable. He and his partner Olly Price have joined as musicians the Welsh dance teams Dawnswyr Glanllwyd (from Cwmbran) and Gwerinwyr Gwent (from Bassaleg, just outside Newport). Mick and Olly have been four times to Ireland, where Dawnswyr Glanllwyd performed in front of thousands at the Kenmare Fleadh. They have also been to Belgium (for the Wilrijk, Antwerp festival), the Fylde Festival in Lancashire, the Banbury Beasts Festival,  and twice to Heidenheim, Germany. Mick and Olly have appeared as a duo at the Crediton Festival, Devon, and at the Captain Cook Shanty Festival in Whitby, North Yorkshire in 2006. 


Mick has reinvented himself as a one-armed percussionist - and he says it's the Tabwrdd he's got to thank for giving him a new lease of life. In his post-stroke days, Mick was desperate to play something - and he brought a Tabwrdd from Marcus Music, an instrument makers and repairers in Tredegar House, Newport, Wales, who had fashioned it to a very old manuscript researched by Ceri Rees Matthews and Cass Meurig (of fernhill fame.) The Tabwrdd, an ancient drum, comes from North Wales. It's smaller and less sophisticated than its Irish cousin, the bodhran, but larger than the English tabor. The Tabwrdd is a rarity - Marcus Music were just about to show one at the prestigious Lowender Peran festival in Cornwall, but sold it to Mick instead. 


Dawnswyr Glanllwyd and Gwerinwyr Gwent are suitably enhanced by having the Tabwrdd as an percussion instrument, which makes them the only teams in Wales to preserve the ancient, scintillating, hypnotic sound of the Welsh drum. It's the equivalent of the visionary Breton composer Roland Becker, incorporating the Breton drum in dance movements - ancient instruments combined to make a dazzling whole.


And there IS some good news: After the stroke, Mick never touched the melodeon for nearly six years - until now. But he picked up one of his two treasured Eric Martins, and played a few notes on it - a small step, but a giant leap!


Mick would like to thank events organisers for their understanding and patience. He and Olly have formed a twmpath (Welsh dance) band, DR PRICE'S FIRE BAND. With Olly, he does workshops-cum-concerts, based entirely on his own research, and they have already successfully completed a circuit of festivals for 2006, including Crediton, Whitby, Banbury and the Stan Hugill 100th Birthday celebrations in Liverpool. The workshops are: 


TRADE WINDS: The fascinating story of the South Wales sailors and the long-lost sea songs, ballads and shanties they sang - and their chance meeting with James Madison Carpenter, a American collector from the Deep South who was recording in Britain at the time and who collected thousands of songs, ballads and ceremonial plays. 


THE MAGIC OF THE MARI: Riveting recordings and interesting interviews made by Mick, who reveals the mysterious Mari Lwyd, the Welsh horse's skull, and Mari Parties from Gwent, Glamorgan, Carmarthen and Pembroke. Eric Gibbs (Llangennith), Marjorie Bowden (Mumbles), George Tucker (Horton) and other absorbing South Wales colourful characters are on record.


Pat, meanwhile, calls with The Calennig Band and has formed a duo with Ned Clamp.

Meanwhile, you can read about Calennig's long list of albums, CDs and compilations - especially:

Live in Wanaka (Gin & Raspberry GRCD 026)

A Gower Garland  (Wild Goose WGS 299)

Songs and Tunes from South Wales (GVRCD 214)

You Can Take a White Horse Anywhere (GVRCD 224)


Last updated 08 March 2010

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