Bob Williams has been a well-known part of Pontardawe since the late seventies. Born on Gower and brought up in Manselton, I wonder how he came across Pontardawe in the first place:-
“I came to Pontardawe at first because of the Festival. I was one of the people running the Port Talbot folk club and obviously there was a crossover. I came up here to play a couple of times, then the Festival started and my wife at the time and I became involved; that was back in 1978. I never really have stopped as I am still Life President of the Pontardawe Festival.“
MOVING TO PONTARDAWE
What in Pontardawe made you stay?
Music. The whole story is that when we were living in Swansea, my first child was two years old and we had a second on the way. Our neighbour next door but one walked out of her front door and was knocked down, killed. My wife said to me that she would like to move and I agreed. Then it was a question of where?
I was becoming increasingly involved with the Festival and spending extraordinary amounts of time in Pontardawe and so we thought that we may as well move here. We bought a house on Church Street and brought up the children here, we separated but I’m still here, happily married. We always said that some people brought a tent to Pontardawe, others a camper van but we bought a house.
THE GWACHEL, LADIES TOILETS & STAGE.
The Festival owned the Gwachel for some time. Were you involved in it?
“I was, I was the licensee and company secretary at the time. Wednesday was the landlord’s night off and I worked a shift behind the bar then. We had a fine time; the place had been derelict for about two years prior and we opened it again. We bought it as an investment, it wasn’t that we had spare cash as we were greatly supported by the brewery, but we made a go of it.”
“The room which is currently the music room was a lounge. What is now the stage was the ladies’ toilet. We changed that because we were obviously going to put music on. We employed Peter and Carol and then later they bought it from us.”
“I have never played a proper gig there though. I have played on the stage after Ted Purcell’s funeral as he wanted music at his wake. I came down with an acoustic bass guitar not sure who I was going to be playing with and there were 4 or five of us, the bloke in the middle was a guy called Spencer Davis. So I have played on stage with Spencer Davis in the Gwachel.”
Over the years, what local musicians have impressed you most?
“That is difficult to say, there have been some fine ones. It is the sort of things where you do not really want to give a name. There have been some fine musicians, especially in the folk industry. In the rock genre there are some outstanding ones too. Taff Williams up the road, still playing and still teaching at 74 or 75; a brilliant musician as with lots of others.”
Any stand-out gigs with the festival?
“We had some fine bands. I never actually saw many as I was working it. It is strange that I cannot remember names, it was a lot of years ago and a lot of people would come in the early days when they were less known. I would often look through a newspaper and see a name we recognised from the festival years before. The Battlefield Band was always tremendous.”
“There is one lovely story from the festival, I don’t know whether the band ever had a name but they were a bunch of Arabs and they had an oud player that I think came to live in Alltwen. It was just after the Israeli Arab War and we had a team of Israeli children, a girls’ dance team and we were all a little on edge. On the last day, they danced and guess who played? It was fantastic but that’s music, that is what it’s about.”
What was it like being Mayor? Something which you have done twice.
“A huge honour. I cannot explain that. I got into party politics quite late on and when they offered me the chance to be mayor, I was obviously exceptionally flattered. I never thought that I would get that. It was a huge honour and an experience you must live to understand.
Some people disagree with having a mayor but I happen to think that it is a good thing. The chain which you wear represents the community, you must keep that in your head. There are arrogant mayors who think that its them that is important, but it’s the people that you represent that are. Before Pontardawe was a Town there was a chairperson which is fine but now that we are officially a town, we have a mayor.”
What moment stands in your mind as mayor?
“Sadly, the memory I have most is the mining disaster. I still remember the empty feeling. Unfortunately, it is the biggest memory that I have. There were happy times as well obviously, but that is the memory which stays with me the most.
One of my proudest moments under the circumstances is that I was quoted in the Senedd after a speech I made at the time on the Cross. I was quoted word for word in the Assembly. I went to all the funerals. I remember that I met someone at one of the funerals who was the mayor of Bath and Somerset. He was there because the miner had worked in Bath at some stage. It was touching.”
When did you become involved with Plaid?
“It was 1999 and a conversation in the Gwachel. I had always been on the nationalist side, in the past I had been a member of the Liberal party but I disagreed with the Liberal Democrat amalgamation. So, at the time I was not doing anything with party politics. I have always been on the left and what happened was that everyone went right and I stayed where I was and so Plaid became comfortable. There was an election coming up and I wasn’t impressed with the candidates and someone said ‘why don’t you and I stand?’ and I thought about it for at least 30 seconds and said OK, and of course we won.”
What Plaid has achieved in election results locally since then has been impressive. Do you feel you were a part of that?
“Well I suppose we started it. I wasn’t on the Town Council at first, I went straight onto the Borough, but when I lost my seat I was elected onto the Town council. If my memory serves me well then there were only 4 Plaid Cymru on it at the time. I retired a few years ago and I have been standing watching but I think they have done a very good job. The first Plaid Cymru meeting which I chaired had 4 people in it. It has been good and I’m still involved but not actively, they get an email or phone call from time to time.”
And now you are still very involved in Pontardawe through Ponty voice, how did that come about?
“It is fun. It is quite odd to see at times. People have a go at me, but I don’t get upset. I was a member, one of the Admin team could not handle the hassle, he was taking it to heart which is fair enough. He dropped out and so someone had to do it and so I said I would do it for a while, that was 3 years ago.
It is time consuming, I had a telephone call from someone who isn’t on Ponty Voice because he’d been told something which was on it which was detrimental to the community and so before I came here to see you, I had to deal with that. It had already been taken down but if it had not then I would not be here now as that would have to be dealt with first.”
You are now Town Crier, how did that come about and what does it involve?
“Shouting. At the moment I’m obviously not doing a lot but I did Christmas, the parade etc… About three years ago John O. Jones came up with the idea and asked me to do it. I had retired from everything at the time and thought ‘why not?’. It has been a little bit of fun.”
What is your Favourite thing about Pontardawe?
“The people. I live in Alltwen now but the people here are fantastic. You get some rough diamonds up here.“
Without wishing to diss Manselton or anywhere else but what is different about people in Pontardawe?
It is the community. You feel it. I left Manselton when I was 18 but you knew your friends there and your neighbours either side but that was it, but it wasn’t a village. I know Ponty isn’t officially, but it is.
If you could change one thing about Pontardawe?
“Bring the Festival back! Obviously!”
I would like to thank Bob for meeting up with me to discuss his time in Pontardawe. I thoroughly enjoyed our chat and look forward to meeting other ‘Ponty People’.