Hergest - Glanceri


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Beginnings 1971

Call 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.

The 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. 

The 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:

Hergest 1976

Geraint ‘So, who are your favourite bands?’

Derec ‘Oh, you wouldn’t know them, obscure stuff like the Lovin’ Spoonful and Buffalo Springfield’

Geraint (with a wide grin) ‘Well……’


By 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 perform.


Hergest - Elgan & Geraint

Planning and hanging about 1971-2

Somehow 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.

The 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).

In February 1972, Elgan, Geraint and Derec got together to record a demo tape for Sain 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.

By 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).

First recording 1973

The 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.

John 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.

Regular 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.

In 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, Cwrwgl Sam.


Hergest - Haverfordwest 1972


A change of direction 1974-5

The 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.

The 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.

During 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 on).

Hergest 1975


That 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.

By 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.


Success 1976-79

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.

Hergest - Cardigan Eisteddfod 1976

More 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.

Eventually, 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.

Hergest 1978

In 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.

How 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.

In 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.


And then...

But 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 (Free Admission). 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. The 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.

There 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!

Hergest - Dragon's Fire 2004

And 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?????????


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