Type of Entertainment
Comedian / Speaker - After Dinner Speaker
Corporate Events, Private Parties, Conferences, Company Parties, Award Ceremonies, Celebratory Events, Launch Events
Wales’ favourite comedian, Max Boyce is also a singer and rugby aficionado!
When Max Boyce crossed the Rhigos Mountains from his home in Glynneath on November 23rd 1973 to record an album ‘Live at Treorchy Rugby Club’ little did he know it would change his life. He had already recorded some of his earlier songs at the Valley Folk Club in Pontardawe and when EMI heard the album and subsequently saw Max perform live in concert, he was invited to sign a contract to record two live albums of his songs and stories. The musicians for that evening were hastily gathered together that afternoon. Without almost any rehearsal the songs and stories were recorded.
The audience, apart from a few close friends, were give the tickets after they failed to sell for 50p each. Max at the time was virtually unknown. He had however deliberately chosen to perform to an audience that was unfamiliar with his work to ensure the reaction was spontaneous and real. Armed with songs such as ‘The Outside Half Factory’, ‘Rhondda Grey’ and ‘Morgan Moon’ he could hardly fail.
The reaction of the audience that night was integral to the evening’s success. They were as important as the songs. The peoples reaction was genuine and all embracing. No one who was there will ever forget the heady mix of laughter and song.
Following the success of the first album EMI were naturally eager to record a follow up. However not even they were prepared for the fact that the album. ‘We All Had Doctors Papers’ would reach No.1 in the album charts. A feat which earned Max a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the only comedy album to achieve that coveted position.
It was about this time that the BBC offered Max his first TV series. This stayed with the trusted formula of live performance filming him at theatre all over Great Britain which further enhanced his popularity and brought his talents to a much wider audience. The success of these programmes was reflected in the ratings. Filling the no.1 spot it became the most watched programme in the country returning astonishing viewing figures.
In the mid 70’s the publishing company – Weidenfeld and Nicholson of London – published Max’s first book suitably titled ‘I Was There!’. A collection of his songs, poems and stories. It was illustrated by his old friend ‘Gren’, the cartoonist for the South Wales Echo.
There is inevitably a serious side to anyone who deals in humour and comedy. Max is no exception. In fact, many people would argue that Max’s serious songs are amongst his finest work. This has been recognised by the National Folk Museum of Wales who have collected some of his songs, recognising them as “songs of the people” – the essence of the contemporary folk song. They are songs of the working man much in the same vein as Ewan McColls ‘Shoals of Herring’; and Pete Seagers ‘Songs of the Dust Bowl’.
His coal mining and industrial ballads serve as a reminder of a particular time and place and are deserving of permanence. His Miners Strike songs like ‘Did You Understand’ and ‘A Winter Too Late’ bear testimony to his experience of working underground for ten years after leaving school. It was with this insight and understanding that he was able to write the evocative ‘Rhondda Grey’ and heartfelt ‘Duw! It’s Hard’. They would capture the bittersweet love/hate relationship of a people who spent their working lives … “emptying the hills to warm the world”.
In 1973 Max received his first Gold Disc for ‘Live at Treorchy’ which went on to sell well over half a million copies worldwide. His subsequent albums ‘We All Had Doctors Papers’, ‘The Incredible Pan’ and ‘I Was There’ also achieved gold status.
In 1978 Max appeared on one of the more palatable “This is Your Life” programmes on Thames Television. He had gone along as usual to watch his local team Glynneath RFC play their traditional eve of the Wales vs Scotland Rugby International fixture against old friends from Hawick Trades RFC from the borders of Scotland. A fixture that had lasted over 30 years and meant a great deal to both towns. However, at the end of the game, when Max thought he was about to be interviewed on HTV on the affinity between the two clubs and countries, up stepped Eamonn Andrews with the famous Big Red Book and those immortal words.. “Max Boyce.. This Is Your Life”.
Max also filmed 3 “adventure specials”. His first was ‘Max Boyce meets the Dallas Cowboys’ – when he played quarter back for the famous American grid iron team.
It was with the same total commitment he hurled himself into the world of the Rodeo Cowboy ,where he again won real genuine admiration. In making these films he has never been short of nerve. He undertook some hair rising stunts and tested himself to the limit with painful and often hilarious results. Some of his rodeo experiences he captured in songs that accompanied the film “Max Boyce Goes West”.
The third of Max’s outdoor special’s found our intrepid hero in Nepal for the World Elephant Polo Championships. He was joined by a host of sport, film and stage stars and was duly warned for dangerous play! The film was shown on BBC television in 1998.
In 1990 Max was persuaded to enter the magical world of pantomime in the title role of ‘Jack’ in “Jack and the Beanstalk”. The show at the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford featured his long time friend Ian Botham and was a huge success going to play in other prestigious venues around the country, including Cardiff, Norwich and Edinburgh.
In 1995 Max undertook his first tour of South Africa to coincide with the World Cup. He played to packed out audiences who fell in love with his unique brand of humour and storytelling.
Max has never been afraid to take his songs and stories to strange and wonderful lands! This has supplied him with wonderful anecdotal stories. And so when he was offered a 10 concert tour of the Falkland and Ascension Islands he readily accepted. With a full entourage of technicians and musicians, dancers and brilliant support in Jenny Howe and Dave Lee, they left RAF Brize Norton for Las Malvinas.
He performed in the great hangars of RAT Mt Pleasant and even more remarkably in the radar Station on the snowbound summits of Mt Alice, Mt Kent and the Byron Heights.
The welcome was overwhelming and genuine and an experience Max will never forget, visiting places like Goose Green and Bluff Cove where so many of his compatriots fell during the Falklands War. His ability to work in almost impossible conditions such as was found in the steel containers that served as “Concert Halls” in that bleak land, warmed him to everyone.
They appreciated him coming perhaps more than any audience he had encountered and he and the rest of the party gave them their all in return.
Max once wrote (perhaps to impress a London literary agent) that his influences had been Dylan Thomas and Al Read. His real influence however was the community in which he grew up. The mining valleys of South Wales, these tight knit communities with their inherent warmth and humour, their sadness and their passion.
It was here ‘where they emptied the hills to warm the world’, he would find his seams of humour and his veins of inspired fantasy. His ability is like Idris Davies, the Rhymney Valley poet before him, to capture the moment of a time and place. It is remarkable that no-one before or since has tapped these seams in quite the same way.
Jack Waterman wrote in ‘The Listener’ in 1979:- “Harry Secombe is one of the most famous comedians from Wales. His reputation however rests with his singing and the Goons. Sir Geraint Evans possessed considerable talent for comedy and made us laugh in the roles of Falstaff and Leporello, but his career depended more on his voice. Until Max Boyce I can think of no one who has become famous outside Wales for his Welshness.”.
Welsh comedians there have been like Maudie Edwards and Gladys Morgan but as a boy from the valleys who is able to make people laugh in some of the greatest concert halls in the world Max Boyce is happily and uproariously unique. There are not may people who have filled the Royal Albert Hall, the London Palladium, and broken box office records all over Great Britain. He makes Welsh audiences laugh even more of course but only his birthright can grant the right to that particular laughter.
Part of his success is that he has never laughed at his people but always with them. His humour is never spiteful or hurtful, even when taunting the English, the lances are not barbed, there is no bitterness. No-one however has really explained his success and perhaps shouldn’t try.
On the eve of the new Millennium Max was awarded the MBE and made an Honorary Fellow of the Welsh College of Music and Drama.
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