it co-incidence, fate, serendipity, Hergest wasn’t formed in the
usual way of bands: they weren’t school friends or fellow
students, no-one responded to a small ad: they just happened to be
in the same place at the same time – at summer camp at
Glan-llyn, near Bala, North Wales – in summer 1971.
original four were Elgan Ffylip from Aberystwyth, Geraint Davies
from Swansea, Derec Brown from Carmarthen and Delwyn (Sion) Davies
from Aberdare. Elgan and Geraint had met before and played a few
songs together, Delwyn had attracted attention following his
performance at a pop song competition at the Urdd Eisteddfod in
Swansea that year, Geraint had just recorded an EP with his group,
Gwenwyn (Poison), and Derec’s band, Galwad y Mynydd (Mountain
Call) was also making waves.
four soon realised that they had a musical connection as they
talked about music and started playing together – their own
songs and material by Welsh-language artists like Dafydd Iwan and
Meic Stevens and American bands like Crosby, Stills, Nash &
Young, their mutual heroes. As an illustration, Geraint recalls
his first conversation with Derec as something like:
‘So, who are your favourite bands?’
‘Oh, you wouldn’t know them, obscure stuff like the Lovin’
Spoonful and Buffalo Springfield’
(with a wide grin) ‘Well……’
the end of the week, there was a general feeling that they should
form a band, which raised a number of problems. While Geraint was
due to start University at Aberystwyth and Elgan had a job there,
Derec and Delwyn both had a year left at school, far from there.
In a pre-internet and mobile phone age, keeping in touch would be
enough of an obstacle, let alone getting together to rehearse and
and hanging about 1971-2
it all came together – over the next year, amid a flurry of
letter-writing, everybody kept busy. Wren Records released
Geraint’s first EP with Gwenwyn and a second followed with Delwyn,
Derec and Galwad y Mynydd joining the sessions. Galwad also reorded
two EPs at the Wren studio, with Geraint and Delwyn assisting, while
Elgan, Geraint and guitarist Russ Morris started performing in the
Aberystwyth area under the name Hergest. At school in Rhydfelen,
Pontypridd, Delwyn had formed his own band, Madog. And if anyone had
a gig close enough for one or more of the others to turn up, they
would. And apparently, some academic work also took place in
Aberystwyth, Carmarthen and Aberdare.
name Hergest came from The Red Book of Hergest, the famous
collection of medieval Welsh manuscripts (Hergest is a village on
the Wales-England border) – it was Elgan’s idea, probably from
his work as librarian at the university in Aberystwyth. It was also
an attempt to avoid the old cliché of naming every group with a
‘The’ as prefix (though that didn’t stop them from being often
referred to as The Hergest).
February 1972, Elgan, Geraint and Derec got together to record a
demo tape for
Records, the label of choice for new
Welsh-language bands. They’d already shown interest in Delwyn as a
solo act and they offered Hergest a deal for a debut EP (EPs were
the common format for Welsh-language acts at the time rather than
singles or LPs). At the National Eisteddfod in August, Hergest
started its performing career properly as a four-piece, appearing at
a number of venues before travelling across Wales later that summer
as part of the Welsh Language Society’s awareness-building tour.
October 1972, the band was developing a following, there was a
recording offer on the table and Delwyn had joined Elgan and Geraint
in Aberystwyth (Derec had another year at school, but Carmarthen
wasn’t that far away).
early Hergest sound was acoustic, four voices and four guitars
(with Delwyn moving to piano occasionally – if there was one
available, and in tune). But for recording purposes, they needed
more instrumentation – bass and drums in particular. Delwyn was
keen to use drummer Charlie Britton from his group Madog, and he
also knew of a bass player, John Griffiths from Pontrhydyfen.
Following discussions with Sain, who had been using professional
session players, the company relented and four songs, one each by
the four members, were recorded at the famed Rockfield Studio.
Griffiths was also in the process of joining a new rock band
called Edward H Dafis with Hefin Elis and Dewi Pws Morris,
veterans of several Welsh-language bands. They also needed a
drummer, and the John/Charlie partnership became the backbone of
that pioneering band and the No. 1 rhythm section on
Welsh-language recordings. But, for the record, they first teamed
up on that first Hergest recording.
appearances on television and stage followed the release of the EP
(mainly on variety bills – rock gigs had yet to take off in the
Welsh-language scene) – one of the highlights of summer 1973
being the Tafodau Tan (Tongues of Fire) concert that was
recorded for album release.
October 1973, Geraint and Delwyn moved to ‘Glanceri’, a flat
in Borth, near Aberystwyth, that would become Hergest’s home for
the next few years. Meanwhile, Derec moved to college in Bangor,
North Wales – a significant distance from Aberystwyth –
underlining a developing gap between the Aberystwyth trio and the
other guy. By year’s end, Derec had left to form a new band,
change of direction 1974-5
others decided to continue as a trio, before a possible
replacement was proposed - Arfon Wyn, who had just left his own
group, Yr Atgyfodiad (The Resurrection), a Christian rock band.
Both Elgan and Delwyn had also become born-again Christians and
given Arfon’s talents as guitarist (electric and acoustic),
vocalist and songwriter, he seemed a logical choice, and Geraint
agreed with the others that he would be an asset to Hergest.
band’s second EP was, however, recorded as a trio, again at
Rockfield, although both Arfon and Derec contributed to a track
each, with John and Charlie returning as rhythm section. The
record, entitled Aros Pryd (Stop-Gap) featured one song
each by the three principals and ‘Blodeuwedd’, a pastiche of
early 60s pop, written by all three.
the summer, the three also joined an ensemble featuring Heather
Jones, Clef Harpwood, the groups Edward H Dafis, Ac Eraill and
Sidan, and guitarist Geraint Griffiths to rehearse and perform Nia
Ben Aur, the first Welsh-language rock opera. There were two
performances, one – with horrendous technical problems – at
the National Eisteddfod in August and again thirty years later at
Bryn Terfel’s Faenol festival, with the original cast (almost
entirely) re-united. (read
same week in 1974, Arfon officially joined Hergest, but although he
helped to move the group in new and interesting directions, the
personal chemistry was lacking, particularly between him and
Geraint. Arfon and Delwyn recorded as Cyfeillion Crist (Friends
of Christ) and talked of starting a new band. First though,
Hergest went back into the studio – this time at Sain’s
brand-new 8 track facility, Gwernafalau, housed in a farm outhouse
near Caernarfon. – to record their first album. The studio had
only just opened and there were a number of teething problems, but
the band – with John, Charlie and the guitarist from Nia Ben Aur,
Geraint Griffiths - succeeded in
putting together an interesting collection of songs.
the time of Glanceri’s release, Arfon Wyn had left and Hergest had
reverted to a trio and, with John Griffiths on bass, recorded two
songs for a compilation, Lleisiau (Voices) . But by the end
of 1975, the original foursome was reunited when Derec rejoined the
band’s style changed again, this time with more harmonies and
the addition of electric piano and mandolin for live work – and
the pieces all came together to form the unique Hergest sound.
During the long hot summer of 1976, Hergest recorded arguably
their finest album, Ffrindiau Bore Oes (Lifelong Friends),
and a few months later, Delwyn Sion recorded his first solo album
with the help of the usual suspects – Geraint Griffiths, John,
Charlie, Elgan, Geraint and Derec.
changes followed. In December Elgan decided to retire from
performing and in early 1977 the search for a permanent rhythm
section began. Charlie and John were obvious choices since Edward
H Dafis had recently split up, but a new band, Injaroc, was formed
from the remnants, with both musicians a crucial part.
Rhys Dyrfal Ifans (bass and vocals) and Gareth Thomas (drums and
vocals) were poached from the group-with-two-names Josgin (folk
acoustic) and Madog (rock – no relation to Delwyn’s old school
band). With the limitations of the PA systems of the time making
it difficult to amplify acoustic instruments above drums and bass,
and the growth of dance gigs replacing concerts, Hergest turned to
electric instruments, fundamentally changing their live sound.
the studio, it was business as usual. During the summer of ’77
the album Hirddydd Haf (Long Summer’s Day) was recorded
and in August, the band played its first stadium gig – at the
Racecourse football ground in Wrexham, and got a superb response,
probably the best live gig of the band’s career.
do you top that? Over the winter months, things started to unravel
– individuals wanting to do other things, the fear of repeating
themselves, everybody living in different towns, day jobs,
families – the usual creative tensions. The five agreed to knock
it on the head after one last effort – the album Amser Cau (Closing
Time), again recorded at Gwernafalau. Shortly after its
release – as if the title didn’t give them away – it was
announced that Hergest would play their last gig in January 1979.
the middle of one of the snowiest months ever in Wales, the
journey ended with a celebration of every period of the band’s
history – with Elgan, Arfon, Charlie and John joining Geraint,
Delwyn, Derec, Rhys and Gareth on stage.
the story doesn’t end there. Everyone went on to start new bands
but kept in close personal and musical contact. Rhys and Gareth
joined the disco group Bando and enjoyed great success in the early
80s. Delwyn formed the rock band Omega before going solo. Geraint
was a member for a few months before forming Y Newyddion (The
News) and later
joining the folk group
Mynediad am Ddim
Rhys would join him there by the mid-80s. Derec was also part of Y
Newyddion, before going solo and forming the rock/rockabilly Derec
Brown a’r Racaracwyr.
other former members also enjoyed further success, Arfon with his
bands Pererin and Y Moniars, and Elgan as a prolific and popular
author of books for children and adults.
have been a number of reunions over the years, notably in the early
90s, when a number of 70s bands were recruited for a concert at
Corwen pavilion, filmed for television by HTV. The line-up that
night was the original four, John, Charlie and their ex-producer,
Hefin Elis. Soon after, a best-of CD was released and the band
arranged a short promotional tour (Geraint, Delwyn, Derec, Elgan,
John and drummer Graham Land). The latter ‘electric’ band also
reunited once – in 1996 – with posters proclaiming that this was
‘the last chance to see’ – again!
in 2004 – the same year as the long-delayed second performance of
Nia Ben Aur – the band (Geraint, Delwyn, Derec, Elgan, John,
Charlie, Geraint Cynan on keyboards and Ian Lawrence on guitar,
steel and mandolin) accepted an invitation to perform at the
Dragon’s Fire concert at Bryn Terfel’s prestigious Faenol
festival. Once again, Hergest got to play their music on stage –
to a response as enthusiastic as ever. For the last time?????????