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End of an era as Llangollen Eisteddfod stalwart steps down after 64 years

Eisteddfod Llangollen, Pictured is the New Chairman Gethin Davies.

The only two-time chairman of the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod has stepped, ending a 64-year association with the great event.

Gethin Davies began as a 12-year-old programme seller in 1951 and has also been an usher and the festival secretary as well as chairman from 1992 to 2003 and from 2013 to this year.

His wife, Eulanwy, has also served as Musical Director of the Eisteddfod which began back in 1947 and which will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2017.

Retired solicitor Gethin, 76, who overcame cancer last year, said: “My three-year term ends this year and I’m not seeking re-election and I’m moving out of the way after 45 years on the board.”

He was born in Porthcawl, in South Wales, and moved to Llangollen when his father became head of the secondary modern school in the town and he said: “I heard kids talking about selling programmes for a commission.

“I got tuppence for each one I sold at two shillings each and I ended up with 25 shillings – £1.25 in today’s money – but it was a special bumper edition of the programme because it was The Festival of Britain that year and in 1952 it went back to a smaller size for one shilling and the commission was just a penny and I didn’t make so much.”

He moved onto the job of usher, not so lucrative but with the attraction of being able to attend all the concerts and he recalls 1953 with the Obernkirchen girls singing The Happy Wanderer.

In later years he saw artists like the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin, the thunderous Bulgarian bass Boris Christov and an artist billed as ‘A Mexican Tenor’ who turned out to be a young Placido Domingo.

Gethin, who studied law at Aberystwyth, where he met Eulanwy, later became a founder partner in successful solicitors firm GHP Legal in Wrexham, major sponsors of the Eisteddfod.

Until 1992 when the Queen opened the new Royal International Pavilion, the event was held in a huge marquee but the Eisteddfod, set up originally as a means of promoting peace and harmony internationally also displayed a shrewd business sense.

Gethin said: “In 1958 they bought the fields where the event is held today for £12,000 which was a large sum but it’s turned out to be a very good piece of business.

“They leased part of it to the old Denbighshire County Council with the proviso it be available for the Eisteddfod and they later worked out a deal with Clwyd County Council thanks to the Chief Executive of the Council, Mervyn Phillips, which has also proved crucial.

“We raised £500,000 and the Council applied for and got £3 million of European money which paid for the Royal International Pavilion.

“The construction was running rather slowly but when the builders found out that the Queen was coming to open it they really got a move on.

“The week before the Fron Choir tested the acoustics and they were awful.

“The compere, Robin Jones, actually had a gun on stage and, after making a joke of it with the audience, he fired it to test the reverberation time and they put various baffles in and the sound quality has become excellent over the years.

“It’s a wonderful auditorium for competitions and concerts and it still retains that feeling that you’re virtually in a canvas marquee which is unique to the Eisteddfod.”

Gethin’s first term as Chairman began in 1992 and he was in post for Luicano Pavarotti’s return in 1995 and through to 2003 and then he stepped up again in 2013 but his involvement hasn’t been confined to the backrooms as one of the army of volunteers.

He has competed as well, first as a member of the renowned Fron Choir for 13 years, finishing second twice but winning many other events including the National Eisteddfod.

More recently he has sung with mixed choir Côr Rhuthun, also National winners but never first at Llangollen and he said: “It would be great to win here, I’d dearly love that. I’d swap all the other wins for one at Llangollen.

“The competition for the Choir of the World is the highlight of the week for me and I really enjoy it. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

“But the Eisteddfod remains unique, it’s the grand-daddy of them all, all those events like Glastonbury – and it’s down to the volunteers because our permanent staff is only small.

“It is that army who give their time and often hardly see anything of the event itself, they make it what it is and make it so special.”

In retirement Gethin plans to take a break from that behind the scenes labour but he will still be a fixture at the event – he can see the field from the picture window at his home on the hill above.”

Monday July 27th, 2015


New owner of Chinese restaurant in Wrexham says it’s the real deal

JasonSheehan-3 ceidiog

The manager of a Wrexham restaurant who tantalised the taste-buds of Hollyoaks stars saw so much potential in the business he decided to buy it for himself.

Now Jason Sheehan, 33, is looking to develop The Real China, the popular Chinese buffet-style eatery at the Eagles Meadow shopping centre, and is hoping to take on more staff.

Jason believes the restaurant, which offers a mouth-watering selection of Asian delicacies and traditional Chinese dishes, will become one of North Wales’ top oriental restaurants.

In the past the father-of-two has rubbed shoulders with the likes of Sarah George, and Twinnie-Lee Moore, who play the McQueen sisters in the hit Channel 4 show.

The ex Maelor School pupil previously ran the Fiesta Havana cocktail restaurant in Chester, a favourite haunt of the Hollyoaks duo.

Jason said: “I took over as manager of The Real China towards the end of last year and could see straight away how much potential there is in terms of what the restaurant can offer in what is a prime Eagles Meadow location.

“I have a lot of experience having run the Robin Hood Hotel in Helsby and Fiesta Havana in Chester as well as Alexander’s Jazz Bar. It’s going to be hard work and it’s only early days but I have no doubt that I have made the right decision.”

Jason’s career in catering began when he studies business and catering at Yale College (now Coleg Cambria), earning himself a clutch of NVQs.

A black belt second dan in Shotokan karate, he is also a champion fighter, and has won the mixed martial arts (MMA) North Wales Open Championships.

His sights are now firmly set on expanding the business at Real China by offering a service to corporate customers.

He said: “I have kept on our excellent Chinese chefs and employ around 10 other workers on a full or part-time basis. I’m hoping I can take on more staff and be able to offer job opportunities to more Wrexham people in the near future.

“My idea is to offer an outside catering option where we will attend business or corporate functions and possibly even Asian-themed weddings. I just think there is so much we can do and I can only seeing us getting busier.

“I intend to adopt a new dimension to the menu so we offer something very different but I believe the buffet-style food we serve as our main staple is incredibly popular and is the right way to go so we are going to retain that.”

He added: “It’s certainly exciting times and I’m absolutely certain I have done the right thing.

“The two previous owners had other business interests and spent very little time here so as I was doing just about everything anyway so I thought the best way was buy the business and work for myself. I’m glad I did.”

Eagles Meadow Shopping Centre manager Kevin Critchley said: “I am delighted Jason had the confidence in the business and could see its potential.

“The Real China Restaurant has been a popular addition to what we offer at Eagles Meadow and I know it is always busy whether at lunch time or in the evening.

“I’m sure the restaurant will thrive with Jason at the helm and will continue to attract new customers.

“I wish him all the best in his new venture and I’m sure Wrexham people will be delighted to see the business taken over by someone who hails from the town.”

Friday July 24th, 2015


Wrexham: The Prince of Welsh Cakes – and crumpets at the Village Bakery

ROYAL VISIT TO VILLAGE BAKERY WREXHAM. Pictured is The prince of Wales and the Dutchess of Cornwall flipping Welsh cakes watched by Rob Glover production Manager.

The Prince of Wales became The Prince of Welsh Cakes during a visit to an award-winning bakery in Wrexham, when he also revealed his love of crumpets.

His Royal Highness, accompanied by The Duchess of Cornwall, officially opened the new £4m Baking Academy and Innovation Centre built by the Village Bakery at their site on the Wrexham Industrial Estate.

ROYAL VISIT TO VILLAGE BAKERY WREXHAM.  The Prince of Wales and the Dutchess of Cornwall pictured during the unveiling

The family firm, which celebrated its 80th anniversary last year, now employs around 400 people and was named Wales’s fastest growing company in 2013 and the fastest growing manufacturer last year.

On arrival, Their Royal Highnesses were greeted by company chairman, Alan Jones, and The Duchess of Cornwall was presented with a bouquet of seasonal flowers by his grand-daughter Amelia, aged eight.

Also present were Amelia’s father, Christien, projects director at the bakery, and his brother Robin, the company’s managing director. The family was joined by a host of local dignitaries.

First port of call for Their Royal Highnesses was the test bakery, where they saw a display of assorted freshly baked breads and met members of the team.

Their Royal Highnesses then went on a guided tour of the bakery next door, where amongst other things, they saw the Welsh Cakes production line in action.

The traditional delicacies made by the family bakers are sold across the UK, and as far afield as Hong Kong and Singapore.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were invited to flip the Welsh Cakes, which they both did with aplomb.

ROYAL VISIT TO VILLAGE BAKERY WREXHAM. ROYAL VISIT TO VILLAGE BAKERY WREXHAM. Pictured is The prince of Wales and the Dutchess of Cornwall flipping Welsh cakes watched by Rob Glover production Manager and Christien Jones .

Before unveiling a bi-lingual plaque to mark the official opening, His Royal Highness said: “What a huge delight it has been to come and visit here. I have always wanted to know, ladies and gentlemen, how crumpets were made. I have a slight predilection for crumpets, but I have to wait for nearly 67 years to find out.

“One thing I never knew is that you have chimneys in the crumpet, presumably to fill with butter. So the next time I have a crumpet I shall think of the Jones family.

“I also wanted to say how marvellous it is that you take such trouble to have so many apprentices here, and to train people for this incredibly high quality operation.

“The fact that you sell now in so many different parts of the world is a huge tribute, I think, to this remarkable Welsh company and all its devoted, as I can see, dedicated workforce.

“Nothing gives us greater pleasure than to congratulate you, if I may say so, on this achievement and hope that for many more generations there will be lots more Jones to ensure that crumpets are produced properly.”

Earlier the Prince was briefed about the family’s plans to transform a nearby woodland into a nature reserve.

Company chairman Alan Jones also discussed the new building’s eco credentials, including a spectacular four storey high, living wall of evergreen plants. Other green features include rainwater harvesting, high levels of insulation and building panels made of recycled material.

Mr Jones said: “This is a fantastic day in the history of the Village Bakery, we’re deeply honoured the Prince and the Duchess of Cornwall took time out of their hectic schedule to visit us.

“I’m very proud of what we have achieved so far. When we first started we only had a small bakery employing five people and now we employ over 400.

“When you look back at the success of the company it’s down to the care we’ve taken in training people.

“We’ve been growing our own talent, and that’s giving us a firm foundation for success in the future and this is what the Baking Academy and Innovation Centre are all about.

“The facilities we have at the Baking Academy are state of the art and the test bakery is as good as a normal craft bakery.”

According to managing director Robin Jones, it had been a “wonderful day”.

He said: “I think it’s great how much Their Royal Highnesses interacted with members of staff and showed a genuine interest.

“At the end of the day, our staff are the ones who have got us to where we are today and it was great to share the day with the Royal Family, and friends and colleagues.

“Their Royal Highnesses saw a lot while they were here. They saw the full operation from crumpets to making bread rolls, to the Welsh Cakes.

“The Prince did a great job at flipping Welsh Cakes, so much so that he can now also claim to be the Prince of Welsh Cakes.

“The Welsh Cakes are a signature product for us as a company and they’re made to a traditional all-butter recipe, and we’re one of the very few bakers in the country to do that.

“The Welsh Cakes have provided a foundation of our growth with our major customers who share our ethos of quality and sustainability.”

Among those who met the prince was Liz Taylor, the head of trading for ambient food and drink at M&S.

She said: “I was delighted and honoured to be invited to the official opening of the Village Bakery’s new Baking Academy and Innovation Centre.

“Their commitment to quality and sustainability are underlined by this major investment, which will provide a fantastic foundation for future success and underlines why Village Bakery are such an important supplier partner to us within our bakery department.”

Thursday July 16th, 2015