Geraint Griffiths

 

Eliffant

The Eliffant Story

 

| The Eliffant Story Part Two | 1979 | 1980 | M.O.M. | Gwin Y Gwan |

When the Welsh language super group Injaroc split in the autumn of 1977 Geraint was band-less for the first time in four years. A knock on the door by John Davies put this right. John was a member of CHWYS, a four-piece rock band with John on lead guitar, Clive Richards on bass and Colin Owen on drums. The vocalist, Sulwyn Rees had just quit the band so they were looking for a replacement. Chwys were based in Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, so Geraint, John, Clive and Colin got together in Johnston, just out side town for a bit of a jam. Chwys were in to heavy rock, in the style of Deep Purple and Lead Zeppelin, Geraint wasn’t! That night they messed around with all kinds of musical styles, even country!  It became obvious, at least to Geraint, that there was a huge hole where the keyboards should be. He was influenced by the likes of The Band, Orleans and Crosby, Stills and Nash, all of which used piano and especially Hammond organ in the line up. The resourceful John Davies said he knew just the man, although the man in question had never been in a band before, nor had the required gear. Still, on a cold evening in February ’78 Euros Lewis turned up with a Fender Rhodes piano at the Half Way, Nantgaredig, and joined the other four to form ELIFFANT.

From the beginning Eliffant did original material. Geraint wrote all the songs. This was the time of Punk and New Wave, Eliffant fell in to the later category. They sang about motorcycles, outer space, extra terrestrial visitors, love, loss, hope and Egypt! At this time they were still rehearsing at  Theatr Felin Fach, near Lampeter. Euros had managed to borrow, on permanent loan, a Mini Korg synth to add to the Rhodes. With the keyboards, two electric guitars, multi-vocals, and a very authoritative bass and drum foundation, the band was developing a big sound.

The first gig was at the Memorial Hall, Pontyberem on Friday the 19th of May 1978. The pop music reporter Hefin Wyn reviewed it in Y CYMRO. He wrote,  “Eliffant is a musical heavy rock band that can set dance halls aflame with skilful playing.” The second gig was in Talybont, north of Aberystwyth, on the next night. The third was a week later on Saturday the 27th of May at the Llanelwedd Agricultural Showground during the Urdd Eisteddfod week; they played the less than prestigious 6pm spot. Hefin Wyn, having turned up late, writes in Y Cymro, “I arrived to face herds (of people) hot footing it from the barn…..Eliffant had finished performing…..I heard them praised without exception.”  The first two gigs were organised by Tegid Dafis for the Welsh Language Society as money raising events; the Llanelwedd gig was organised by Geraint Davies on behalf of the Eisteddfod. Other gigs followed, Aberystwyth on June 16th, Porthmadog on July 1st, Llanybydder on July 29th, and twice at the Sophia Gardens in Cardiff during the National Eisteddfod week on Saturday August 5th and Friday August the 11th. The Friday gig was organised by Saffari, a P.A. hire and would-be record company. Saffari was run by ex-Injaroc member Endaf Emlyn, and ex-Budgie guitarist Myfyr Isaac. It was a very professional outfit, the P.A. and lighting rig impressed the band greatly; it was the best sound the band had produced of all of their gigs. Geraint comments, “It was a worthwhile performance. Endaf and Myfyr did the sound and it was brilliant, in spite of a huge natural echo in the hall”. Eliffant headlined and were supported by BRN and TRWYNAU CCH.

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The band was now gigging a lot. On many weekends they performed on both Friday and Saturday nights. They all maintained day jobs. Euros was a lecturer at Theatre Felin Fach, John worked for Barclays Bank, Colin was an electronics engineer for what was then the General Post Office, Clive was a librarian, and Geraint was a charge nurse in the operating theatres in Carmarthen. This was the golden era of the Welsh language music scene. There were venues all over Wales, and enough bands to put on a dance or a concert on most weekends. Eliffant played them all. September 3rd at Theatre Clwyd in Wrexham, the 29th at Trinity College in Carmarthen, the 30th at Drefach Felindre. October 6th at the Dixieland in Rhyl, the 7th in Swansea, the 14th in Felin Fach. November 17th in Bangor, the 22nd at the Halfway in Nantgaredig. December 1st at the Dixieland in Rhyl, the 22nd at the Tan Y Bont club in Caernarfon.

They were also recording television and radio spots for HTV and the BBC. The first sound recording for a record was made at Stacey Road in Cardiff. This was Saffari’s first and only recording venture. It was engineered by the BBC’s Des Bennett, and produced by Richard Mainwaring, who went on to be a world-class producer, and worked with the likes of Van Morrison. At this particular session he had plenty of help from Endaf Emlyn and Myfyr Isaac and the never-shy-in-coming-forward members of the band! The songs were Nol Ar Y Stryd and W Capten, but they were never released.

The “sound” was all-important to the band. Rehearsal played a key part in this. With the exception of Colin who didn’t sing, they met around the piano at Geraint’s house in Carmarthen for vocal practice, and once a week they met for a full band practice. Initially this was at the theatre in Felin Fach, but it soon became obvious that a more central location was needed. This is when the band began its long association with the Crymych area in Pembrokeshire, and especially the CRYMYCH ARMS. They met at this pub for a few pints of Guinness before going on to rehearse in the village hall at Crosswell, or the school at Bryn Berian. These meetings were as much of a social event as anything, sometimes the Guinness would take precedence, and the band would remain at the Crymych Arms, and the equipment would remain in the cars! Speaking of equipment, this played a big part in the production of Eliffant’s sound. At about this time, in an inter view with Clive Jones for the magazine ASBRI, the band lists it’s instruments as follows:

 

Geraint: Gibson SG with a Di Marzio pickup. Fender Twin Reverb.
John: Fender Stratocaster.       Fender Twin Reverb.
Clive: Rickenbacker Stereo bass, Marshall 200w    4 x 15” cab      Marshall 100w 4 x 12” cab
Colin: Hayman drum kit. Zildjan and Paiste cymbals.
Euros: Fender Rhodes piano, Mini Korg synthesizer. H&H 100w combo.

 

Geraint would later add a Fender Telecaster Deluxe, John would change to a Gibson 335, and Clive would change to a Musicman bass through his Marshall 200w and the 4 x 12” cabinet. For the time this was an exceptionally well-appointed band, with a very professional line-up of kit. 

 Gigs at this time were paying about 150 to 200n a night. Good money in 1978! It was all ploughed back in to the band's evolving P.A. system. This initially was made up of:

 

An M&M 16-channel mixer.

A pair of JBL horns.

A pair of JBL 2 x 15” speaker cabs.

A pair of JBL 2 x 15” speakers in Martin bass bins.

Driven by an H&H 500watt stereo amplifier.

Shure SM58 and SM 57 microphones, and a Shure D12 bass drum mic.

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The massive Martin bins were bought from Saffari when they gave up the P.A. business. They also sold the band four large floor fold back wedges.

The P.A. eventually had 2000 watts of power going out, and 1000watts of power coming back through the fold back speaker wedges on stage. Colin welded a steel rack together to hold all the H&H amps. It weighed a ton! Like the Great Wall of China, it was probably visible from Space! This was the biggest and best P.A. in the Welsh language music scene. The band had three engineers that worked with them regularly, Tudor Ellis, Jeremy Gleave, and Emyr Bowen. Tudor went on to become a television sound engineer at HTV in Cardiff, eventually becoming a news cameraman. Jeremy went on to become a British Telecom engineer, and Emyr became a television sound engineer with Barcud, the Caernarfon based Television Company.

By the end of 1978 Eliffant could look back over a first year that had brought them considerable success. They had made a name for themselves as an exciting live band, with a tight professional sound, that liked to play LOUD! They were gathering a following, and had won the respect of their fellow musicians in the Welsh scene. The band members prided themselves in being Welsh country boys from West Wales, who had set out to make the best music they could, with no compromise. They were still semi-professional of course, which can be the same as semi-amateur, but their approach was anything but amateur, and their commitment unquestionable. Yes, they felt good, so off they went on the 9th of December to the Harbourmaster Restaurant on the quayside at Aberaeron. This was to be the first of many legendary Christmas parties that Eliffant had in darkest Cardiganshire. But this was the first, and possibly the best. They had things to celebrate, but also things to discuss. It was time to plan the making of an album.

 

The new year of 1979 started with the band in the television studio. On Tuesday the 9th of January they were at the BBC studios in Cardiff to record an insert for the music show ‘Twndish’. This programme had been running for some time, and it was a prestigious show to play. The programme was transmitted the following Sunday. Also on the show that day was Geraint Watkins and the Dominators, and The Nicotinos. So the show can’t have been exclusively Welsh language in it’s content, at least Geraint Watkins wasn’t known for his Welsh work, I’m not sure about The Nicotinos. The presenter was Iestyn Garlick, Pete Edwards   directed it. He went on to direct the early ‘Eastenders’. The producer was the legendary Ruth Price. Saturday the 20th saw them play the village hall in Llangadog, in the shadow of the Black Mountains. This gig is still remembered by many in Carmarthen, as a bus was arranged to take people from the town to Llangadog. At the time, Welsh language gigs were supported by Welsh and English speakers alike. A good night out is a good night out, no matter what the language, as long as the music is good! On Saturday the 27th of January the place to be was Tal y Bont, near Aberystwyth. It was the last performance of Hergest, the electro-acoustic band that had played the stages of Wales since 1971. Geraint had recorded with them on their L.P. Glanceri, and intended playing guitar in the final show. Snowfall that evening put an end to his plans and he never made it. Such is the way of it on country roads.

On the night of Thursday the 15th of February the roads of north and west Wales were again thick with snow. It was a determined Eliffant that crawled its way along the west coast from Carmarthen, the long way round, via Borth, Y Bermo, and Harlech, avoiding the four foot drifts, and rolling in to Llandwrog in Caernarfonshire at midnight. The next morning they would start recording their first album at the Sain studio in Gwernafalau, located in a converted cowshed, good enough! The plan was to record the stage set in a way that made it possible to reproduce it faithfully on stage, avoiding any over production. In fact, the only effects used during the recording process were reverb, and overdrive on the Fender twins of course. It was produced by Geraint's old friend Hefin Elis, the in-house producer, and the band. It was engineered by Bryn Jones. All the songs were already written except for Seren I Seren, which was written in the studio. The track list was as follows:

 

M.O.M.

Nol ar y Stryd.

Breuddwyd.

Lisa Ln.

Nl I Gairo.

Seren I Seren.

Serena.

W Capten.

Ble ‘Rwyt Ti?

Teulu Mawr y Byd.

M.O.M.

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All the songs were written by Geraint except for Serena, which was written, by Geraint and his friend and ex-Injaroc partner Endaf Emlyn. The album was recorded over six days, on February 16, 17, 18, and March 23, 24, 25. Its title, M.O.M. an acronym for ‘mas o ma’, is a common saying in Carmarthenshire, Cardiganshire and North Pembrokeshire meaning “Let’s Get Out of Here!” or “Let’s Split!”, literally it means ‘outside here’, very suitable for songs about outer space.

 Side one is a collection of rock numbers with diverse topics, all up-tempo dance tracks. Side two is the outer space, “concept-album” side. Interest in space travel and extraterrestrials was intense at the time, especially in West Wales. Books like ‘The Dyfed Enigma’ by R.J Pugh and F.W.Holiday, published in 1979, spoke of sightings throughout the area. Indeed, even the ‘Carmarthen Journal’ gave credence to the phenomenon. It reported a sighting by a local woman of an U.F.O. in the village of Idole, near Carmarthen town. This inspired Geraint to write ‘Capten Idole’ released on the Injaroc album Halen Y Ddaear. It’s a song about a space traveller from a distant and dying planet, on finding planet Earth, and in particular West Wales, contacts his home planet to tell them what he’s found: “A small country, good land, a home between sea and mountain.” M.O.M. takes up the story and develops it, giving us a little more background to the old Capten. Wyn ap Gwilym of O’r Niwl did the artwork for the LP. Appropriately it shows an astronaut on a space walk. The album was well received, and Caryl Parry Jones, reviewing it in the Welsh weekly paper Y Faner, described it as “a masterpiece”! Denver Morgan in the magazine Sgrech urges the reader to “dance to side one and listen to side two”. He describes the album as “exciting”, “tight”, and “professional”. Hefin Wyn in Y Cymro is just as enthusiastic describing it as a “particularly special record”.

The next few months saw the band promoting the album at their gigs. In Pontyberem on Friday February 23rd, Bangor on Friday March 9th, and in Llangadog the following night. On Saturday June 1st the band played Maesteg during Eisteddfod week. On the same bill that night was Geraint Jarman a’r Cynghaneddwyr. Jarman headlined. There was always friendly rivalry between Welsh bands at the time, especially between Eliffant and Jarman. The scene was growing, and Eliffant and Jarman seemed to be competing for the same audience. The Welsh audience were tribal even in their support of bands; if you supported Eliffant then you couldn’t support Jarman, and vice versa. Maesteg was the first and the last time for them to be on the same bill! On Thursday June 21st Eliffant played the Great Hall at Aberystwyth University, it was a high point for the band. Nic Parry reported the gig for Sgrech. “The floor was full to overflowing when the band exploded in to Nl Ar Y Stryd, Lisa Ln and Nl I Gairo…..W Capten (and) Teulu Mawr Y Byd are fast becoming anthems, with the crowd singing enthusiastically in the choruses….Eliffant have already proven themselves on vinyl, and tonight in Aberystwyth, they have proven themselves on stage”!

On Friday June 9th they played Felin Fach, on Tuesday August 7th they played the Majestic in Caernarfon, and on Thursday August 9th they played the Eisteddfod field. Both the last gigs were during the National Eisteddfod at Caernarfon.There were six more gigs in ’79, Saturday August 25th in Pontyberem, Friday September 21st in Llangefni, Friday October 5th in Tan Y Bont, Caernarfon, Wednesday October 24th in Blaendyffryn, Friday November 9th in The Great Hall, Aberystwyth and finally Trinity College, Carmarthen on Wednesday November 14th. They were still meeting almost weekly to rehearse, usually on Wednesday nights in Crymych. It should be noted that a single was released at this time, including Seren I Seren and Lisa Ln. It was taken from the LP and released by MACYM, the Anglesey entertainment organisation.  The record found its way on to jukeboxes in pubs and cafes throughout Wales, and was instrumental in popularising the band. The high point of the year came when Eliffant was nominated Best Rock Band 1979 by the readers of Sgrech magazine.

 

 

Nineteen eighty started well for Eliffant. On Saturday January 19th they were up in Caernarfon to collect the Sgrech prize for the best rock band of 1979.   The results of the readers poll was as follows:

Best Rock Band: Eliffant.

Best Folk Group: Plethyn.

Best Male Vocalist: Tecwyn Ifan.

Best Female Vocalist: Rhiannon Tomos.

Most Promising Group: Chwarter I Un.

Best Instrumentalist: Tich Gwilym.

The Sgrech Special Award: Geraint Jarman ar Cynganeddwyr.

 

 

 A quote from the Sgrech report of the evening reads: “There’s little that’s un-said about Eliffant by now. The deserving winners of the main award at the Sgrech Award Ceremony, and possibly our most musical group!” 

The year continued with gigs around the circuit, and television work:

Wednesday January 13 at the 123 Studios in Bute Street, Cardiff.

Tuesday January 29th at HTV in Pontcana, Cardiff.

Saturday March 1st at the Trawsfynydd power station social club.

Friday March 7th at Blaendyffryn.

Saturday April 5th at Tan y Bont, Caernarfon.

Friday April 25th at Plas Coch, Anglesey.

Tuesday April 29th at the HTV studios in Pontcana.

Friday May 9th at Llandysul.

 During the spring of nineteen eighty the band had already started thinking about a second album. The first had been well received and, by the standards of the day, had sold well. Well enough for Sain to consider another LP. Sain had by now moved out of the converted cowshed at Gwernafalau farm and had relocated in a purpose built recording complex a few miles down the road. The new studio was designed as a state of the art studio and office facility, which was to be the new Sain Record Company headquarters. The songs were already written, and the plan was to record in the summer. Hefin Elis and Eliffant would produce, but the band wanted to use an engineer from outside of the Welsh music scene. Phil Ault, a Liverpudlian with experience of working with up and coming English bands was booked. On the night of Thursday June 19th, Eliffant and their growing ‘entourage’ booked in to the Tan Dinas Hotel near the beach at Dinas Dinlle. With them were the current roadies, Tudor Ellis, Jeremy Gleave and Bernard ‘Bun’ Davies. Over the next four days, the 20th, 21st, 23rd and 24th of June, the backing tracks for Gwin y Gwan were recorded.Phil Ault and the band worked well together, and by the end of the weekend Eliffant headed back to the South with cassette copies of the rough mixes to consider over dubs, lead breaks and vocals.

There were still gigs to play, on Friday June 27th at Tal y Bont, Aberystwyth, and Saturday July 26th at Corwen. The band had also started to hire out the PA to other bands, especially Edward H. Dafis, and sometimes Eliffant would do a support spot just for the fun of playing! On Thursday July 31st it was time to head back to the studio and complete the album. This was done over the weekend of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of August. As a little diversion, the band played a gig at Tan y Bont, Caernarfon on the Saturday night, just to show Phil Ault what they could do out side the constraints of the studio. Sustenance during all the recording sessions came from the bands favourite tipple, Guinness. Photographs taken at the time invariably show an open can of the black stuff somewhere in the frame. It could be said that the band was fans of ‘Uncle Arthur’, all except Colin who was a committed Mormon at the time. One of the songs on the album is ‘Gwin y Gwan’, which is what the Welsh call Guinness. In fact, old adverts for the brew were specifically produced for the Welsh market, and the term Gwin y Gwan was used as promotion. It was decided to contact Guinness in Dublin and ask for permission to use a copy of the circular bottle label on the album sleeve.Sadly Guinness declined. Not to be out done, the band, in conjunction with the graphic artist Charli Britton, designed the eventual sleeve to ‘echo’ the six pack that they were so familiar with. Without infringing any copyright, Eliffant had succeeded in producing art work that still stands today as a classic, but I would say that wouldn’t I?

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The album was released to coincide with the National Eisteddfod at the beginning of August. Again it was a semi concept album, and three of the ten tracks were set in the last century, this was a folk-rock band after all, although at the time this was not recognised. The tracks were:

 

 

GWIN Y GWAN

 

Gwin y Gwan.

Gole Gwyn.

Merthyr.

Can y Mynydd Du.

Ffair Caerdydd.

Y Falen Fawr.

Llosgi'r Pontydd.

Ffwl Ebrill.

Waun Uchaf.

Ms O’r Coed

 

 

Gwin Y Gwan

 

 

 

 

The album had a mixed reception. There was some criticism that it sounded too much like Eliffant! The band’s philosophy had always been to produce their stage sound on record, and they felt it was important to faithfully reproduce the record in live performances, so the aim was not to over produce the songs. Critics only reflect their personal opinions, which are based on personal taste, so reviews were often contradictory. The tracks that received the most praise were:

Gwin y Gwan:                        “This track would make a superb single.” (Carmarthen Times)

                                            “A striking song with an especially memorable chorus.” (Sgrech)

Ffair Caerdydd:                    “Very successful…lyrics that are beautifully innocent.” (Y Cymro)

Llosgi’r Pontydd:                   “ It’s the intense and mythological atmosphere that impressed me.” (Sgrech)

Ffwl Ebrill:                            “The best track on the album…an effective presentation.” (Y Faner)

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Eliffant

Eliffant with Phil Ault on extreme left during the recording of GWIN Y GWAN.

 

On listening to Gwin y Gwan now, I’m struck by the power of Eliffant’s sound. This album had hardly any effects processing, and like M.O.M. before it, had only reverb and a little Eventide chorusing added to the vocals. It still has that kick to it that belongs to the seventies, real instruments, played through valve amplifiers. I also think that the writing was on the wall. The band depended on Geraint for its material, and this naturally was limiting. Eliffant was essentially a rock band, but Geraint’s roots were eclectic. His main musical interests were folk, country rock, pop and funk! His songs tended to be just as diverse. In the subject matter maybe, but not their treatment.  Most of the critics complained about the lack of diversity, which therefore is ironic.True to the Celtic way, Eliffant was allowed its glory days, but they had to come to an end, which would happen slowly.

The gigs for the rest of the year were as follows:

Monday August 4th at the Twrw Tanllyd gig for the Eisteddfod.

Tuesday August 5th at the Glen in Llanelli.

Saturday September 20th at Tan y Bont, Caernarfon.

Friday November 7th at Dixie Land, Rhyl.

Saturday November 8th again at Tan y Bont, Caernarfon.

Saturday November 22nd in Corwen.

Friday November 28th in Pls Cch, Anglesey.

 The band got together on Saturday December 20th for the Eliffant Christmas Party; this was to be the last one for the band’s original line-up.

Rehearsals became more difficult to arrange, not all the members were able to commit themselves due to various other interests. Colin in particular found it hard to give up an evening a week due to work and family responsibilities. He and Clive travelled together to the practices, but even so, it became more and more difficult for him to get to Crymych of an evening. Colin had a huge basement in his house in Broad Haven, so it was agreed that rehearsals would take place there. These were arranged for the weekend so as not to interfere with evening activities during the week. Eliffant played only eight gigs in nineteen eighty one, they were:

 Friday February 20th at the Top Rank, Cardiff.

Saturday February 28th at Trinity College, Carmarthen.

Friday March 20th at The Pier, Aberystwyth.

Friday April 10th at Pls Cch, Anglesey.

Monday April 20th at Blaendyffryn.

Saturday June 13th at Tan y Bont, Caernarfon.

Friday July 3rd at Pls Cch, Anglesey.

Thursday August 6th at Twrw Tanllyd, at the Eisteddfod.

 On Monday August 17th the band played a whole gig set for the cameras at the HTV Studios in Pontcanna, Cardiff. The programme was one of a series, Roc Ser. It was directed by Endaf Emlyn, and was a great success. The hour-long programme was televised twice over the next year, and showed that Eliffant was at its best on stage playing live. There was little else in 1981 for the band to celebrate. Eliffant was beginning to run out of steam, some members were losing the enthusiasm, and gigs were almost becoming a chore. The road to North Wales, where most of the gigs seem to be, was getting longer and harder. Rehearsals were getting fewer, and even the ones that were arranged were often cancelled. The final straw came when, in spite of rehearsing in Collin’s home, he still managed to turn up late! Eliffant was allowed to peter out quietly. There was no final bust up, no ultimatums, no tantrums, it was decided simply to let it die. The boys were still good friends, and this was as important to them as anything. Eliffant was as much a social group as a band, and they all went their separate ways still friends. There was no Christmas Party that year, but it would not be long before one would be arranged, and it would not be long before another Eliffant would be heard “making a noise” in the depths of Cardiganshire. 

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Click here for The Eliffant Story Part Two

 

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