Friday, October 19, 2012

Shannon (Marty Wilde) -- "Abergavenny" (1969)

A chase in the hills up to Abergavenny
I've got to get there and fast
If you can't go
Then I promise to show you a photograph

A British friend of mine sent me this photograph a couple of weeks ago:

"Y Fenni" is the Welsh name for Abergavenny, which is a town of some 14,000 souls in southeastern Wales, just a few miles from the English border.  My friend, who lives about three hours north of Abergavenny, took this picture from her car when she was passing the local train station.

Do any of you remember the jaunty little British pop single "Abergavenny," which was a minor hit in the U.S. in 1969?  It peaked at #47 on the Billboard pop charts, but I vividly remember hearing it on the radio in my hometown (Joplin, Missouri) -- so I assume it got a fair amount of airplay despite the fact that it never cracked the top 40.

"Abergavenny" was sung by the veteran British pop star, Marty Wilde, but the song was released in the U.S. under the name "Shannon," a pseudonym for Wilde.  I have no idea why Mr. Wilde wouldn't want the record released under his real name in America -- perhaps there was some legal nastiness afoot.  (There usually is.)

Marty Wilde with Julie Andrews
Wilde's first single (a cover of the Jimmie Rodgers hit, "Honeycomb") was released in 1957, and he had several top ten hits over the next several years.  It looks like his career went straight downhill after the Beatles and other "British Invasion" groups took over the pop charts.  His only significant post-1962 hit was "Abergavenny."

He wrote and produced a number of 1980s hits for his daughter Kim Wilde, including "Kids in America."  (See the next 2 or 3 lines for more about that great record.)

Abergavenny got its start as a town in early Norman times -- that was over 1000 years ago.  Because it is located so close to the Wales-England border, it was often embroiled in the battles between the two countries in the 12th and 13th centuries.  King Edward I of England invaded Wales and defeated the Welsh army at the Battle of Orewin Bridge in late 1282.

This plaque marks where Llywelyn, the leader of the Welsh forces, was killed that day:

Wales has been subject to English rule ever since (except for brief periods of rebellion, the last of which ended in 1415), but the formal annexation of Wales to England was not legally perfected until 1543.

About 10% of Abergavenny residents speak Welsh, which looks devilishly difficult in print.  For example, one of the local schools is called Ysgol Gymraeg y Fenni.  The local Welsh-language society is named Cymdelthas Cymreigyddion y Fenni.

Abergavenny Castle dates from 1090
You can tell that Welshmen settled the area to the west of Philadelphia (now known as the "Main Line") from the town names: Bala Cynwyd, Gladwyne, and Bryn Mawr, just to name a few.

"Abergavenny" is a cheery little flibbertigibbet of a record.  (That's a Middle English word, not a Welsh one.)  It has the feel of a 1930s-era English music-hall song.  It reminds me a little of "Penny Lane," but is wholly unironic.

Here's a brief video of Kim Wilde watching a taped performance of "Abergavenny" by her father:

Here's "Abergavenny":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

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