Karl Jenkins, educated at Gowerton Grammar School, Cardiff University and the Royal Academy of Music, London, is one of the most successful, prolific and performed composers in the world today with 17 gold or platinum disc awards. The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace alone has been performed nearly 400 times in recent years.
His style and integrity has transcended musical boundaries encompassing jazz-rock with Soft Machine, the global ‘crossover’ phenomenon Adiemus, soundtracks for Levis and British Airways, works for Kiri Te Kanawa, Bryn Terfel, HRH The Prince of Wales, the London Symphony Orchestra and In These Stones Horizons Sing to open the Welsh Millennium centre, while stopping off along the way to score a Kiefer Sutherland movie, be a castaway on Desert Island Discs and be featured on the South Bank Show. For the last few years he has been the highest placed living composer in Classic FM’s ‘Hall of Fame”.
I was at Cardiff between 1963-1966, one year behind Neil Kinnock, and his future wife Glenys, who became president of the Student's Union, and some years later leader of the Labour Party.
Having been raised with a thorough 'classical' upbringing by my musical father, I pursued the very academic course for which I’m eternally grateful, studying many musical disciplines that proved invaluable in later life, such as harmony, counterpoint, fugue, and analysis. Joe Morgan was Professor then while the eminent late Welsh composer, and future Professor of Music at Cardiff, Alun Hoddinott, taught me orchestration and some composition. Joe Morgan had an uncanny and unnerving knack of being able to read one’s Palestrina counterpoint exercises, upside down, from the other side of his desk! We also had two lecturers, not related, by the name of Bruce [Ian & ‘Bobby’] and another in Dai Collier.
I pursued the very academic course for which I’m eternally grateful, studying many musical disciplines that proved invaluable in later life, such as harmony, counterpoint, fugue, and analysis.
Tuesday was chamber concert evening at the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre and all undergraduates were expected to attend with Professor Joe Morgan casting his eagle eye around the auditorium to see if one was present or not, and he could always remember! The university had a very fine resident ensemble, the Alfredo Wang String Quartet that often played at these events. Violinist Alfredo Wang used to wander around in a cloak. Rumour had it that he used leave his hand out of the bath as a precaution against softening the calluses. The music department was in the main building [top floor] in Cathays Park with rehearsal rooms in Corbett Road where the current department now resides. Orchestra rehearsals were in Park Place, which I believe later, became the union. I’d played the oboe at school, then in the National Youth Orchestra of Wales and so into the University Orchestra. As part of my course I was also able to have oboe lessons with Philip Jones of the BBC Welsh Orchestra as it was then called. These took place in his flat in Cathedral Road.
However, what had turned my musical life around more than anything else really, while at the same time broadening my musical horizons and, in part, shaping my future compositional style, was discovering jazz in my teenage years. I met some musicians when at Cardiff, Tony Earnshaw, Bob Jones, Jeff Cook, Dave Greenslade, Ieuan Thomas, who were into that genre of music so for the first time I could play with other people instead of "wood-shedding" on my own in Penclawdd, the village on the Gower coast where I was raised. A particularly good friend, who sadly died a couple of years ago, was pianist Roger Parker who took the same course as me. Our Cardiff University Jazz Quintet entered the “UK Inter-University Jazz Competition”.
We won the semi-finals at the University of Sussex and then, the finals at Queen Mary's College, London. Trumpeter Ian Carr was one of the judges and a few years later we formed a band together, Nucleus. We also used to escape down to Bute Street and the Ghana club, run by bass player Johnny Silva where they had jam sessions often followed by a curry in Caroline Street. Bute St. was ‘hardcore’ then, in the heart of Tiger Bay, not the relatively genteel place it seems to be today. In addition, we sometimes journeyed to London to hear some jazz at Ronnie Scott’s, (John Humphries from the BBC Today Programme once came along) a venue at which I later frequently played.
We also ran a very active jazz club at the students union in Dumfries Place and often had great guest players down from London. Bernie Thorpe usually accompanied them on piano. He had a day job as a lecturer in mathematics at the University and coincidentally had played with the aforementioned Ian Carr in Newcastle from where they both came. The union had a porter by the name of George Lambert. He was a
character and stickler for doing things by the book. On one occasion a
very eminent vibraphone [an instrument which needs electrical power]
player was in full improvisational flight when George literally pulled
the plug on him since time was up at 10:30 PM!
Great times and great memories.
Dr. Karl Jenkins OBE
B.Mus., F.R.A.M., A.R.A.M., L.R.A.M., F.R.W.C.M.D. F.T.C.C.