ROWLAND JONES OPERATIC TENOR
Photo 1: Brass bandsman Rowland Jones before becoming a professional opera singer in 1946
The Amman valley has produced two outstanding operatic singers in the past fifty years or so baritone Delme Bryn Jones from Brynamman, who can be found elsewhere in the 'People' section of this web site, and tenor Rowland Jones from Gwaun Cae Gurwen. Both singers started work in the local mining industry before finding their true vocation on the operatic stages of the world. Rowland Jones, though, deviated initially from his true path by first coming a championship brass band player with one of the most famous brass bands of all time, the Black Dyke Mills Band. This article by Chris Helme traces his career and can be found on the brass band magazine site '4barsrest' on http://www.4barsrest.com/articles/art281.asp.
Enoch Rowland Jones was born in 1912 and lived in the village of Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen, a small community on the outskirts of Ammanford and little more that a bus ride from Swansea. He was born into a musical family and was the only son of Timothy and Anne Jones, who also had two daughters: Peggy who was seven years younger and died several years ago, and an older sister Nellie Bronwyn who still lives in Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen.
In 1924 he was introduced and encouraged to play a brass instrument by joining the Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen Silver Band by his uncle Dan Lloyd who was the conductor of the band. Like all his contemporaries he too went on to work at Steer Pit, the local mine, but his father felt that Rowland had a gift for music and found him alternative employment as an engine driver on the surface rather than going underground.
His new band were no slouches either because they had taken part in the National Brass Band Championships at the Crystal Palace the year before he was born in 1911 and although the band played off number three under the baton of T. J. Rees they were not amongst the prizes that day. They followed that visit with another crack at the Nationals the following year but even though playing off what might have been described as a better draw number ten they were still not amongst the prizes.
The next time the band appeared at the Crystal Palace was in 1925 when Rowland as one of their youngest members would have never have dreamt that he too would one day be a leading instrumentalist at the Crystal Palace, where he would be rubbing shoulders with some the biggest names in the brass band world. The band took part again in 1927 but on that visit the band played under the baton of Tal Morris. I believe the last time Rowland played in the championships with his village band was in 1931.
It was not long after that the talent scouts of Yorkshire were hearing about this rising star Euphonium player from the valleys. It was Arthur O. Pearce, the legendary conductor from the Black Dyke Mills Band, himself who took the day long train journey from his native Queensbury to listen to Rowland in his own backyard at the Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen bandroom. Arthur's thoughts on what he heard have obviously not been recorded but he was sufficiently impressed with what he heard because he invited Rowland to travel back up to Yorkshire to audition for the vacant principal Euphonium position following the departure of Percy Shaw.
Photo 2: Taken at Black Dyke Mills between 1934 & 1939 when he was employed as the company gasman as well as their Principal Euphonium player
On the 12th March 1934 after a successful audition he was invited to join the Black Dyke Mills Band which was in good time to appear at the Crystal Palace with his new band under the baton of William Halliwell performing John Ireland's test piece 'Comedy. They were awarded fourth prize behind the mighty Fodens Motor Works and Fred Mortimer, who took the coveted first place, which then saw Fodens complete their 1930's Crystal Palace treble. It was whilst he was with Black Dyke, as well as playing solo performances on the Euphonium, that he was also invited to sing solos with the band as well.
During his tenure with Black Dyke they were rarely out of the prizes at the 'Nationals' although they never actually took first place during the five years he was with them: 1934 4th; 1935 3rd (athough Fodens were not allowed to take part because of their hat trick of wins, Dyke could only manage a third prize behind Munn & Felton's); 1936 2nd and it was Fodens who bounced back to take the coveted first prize, led once again by Fred Mortimer; 1937 3rd again to Fodens who took the top spot; 1938 3rd and who do you think it was who once again took the top spot? it was of course Fodens, who had now won the National Championships six time out of the last seven years the double treble. That was the last time he performed with Black Dyke Mills following his resignation on 24th March 1939, having been persuaded to join Bickershaw Colliery Band under the baton of William Haydock.
It was later in the same year that he and two friends visited the Greyhound Inn on the East Lancs Road to order lunch for Christmas Day as the war had started and they could not get home for Christmas. Roseann was the receptionist who took their lunch order; it was this meeting which was the start of their great and long life together.
They were married in Leigh, Lancashire in September 1941 and made their home at 11 Byron Grove in Leigh at a time when Rowland was working in the pay office at Bickershaw Colliery. This was a busy time for him as he was working during the day, then on night watch for the Home Guard and then entertaining the troops with the band during the evening and on top of all that he was taking singing lessons with local singing celebrity Tom Burke as well his ambition at that time was certainly to be an opera singer something that had been encouraged by Arthur O. Pearce at Black Dyke.
On the contest arena during Rowland's eight year tenure with Bickershaw the band fared well and thanks to Keith Hollinshead 1994 publication 'The Major and his Band' about the Abram/Bickershaw Colliery Band, the following results were recorded:
YEAR POSITION TEST PIECE
A Dowland Suite
Clive of India
Choice of Three
Pride of Race
Salute to Freedom
Photo 3: Bickershaw Colliery Band, 1946. E. Rowland Jones, front row, third from right
It was in 1946 when Eric Ball composed his first piece for the Belle Vue British Open Championships 'Salute for Freedom'. The piece could have been written for Bickershaw the opening called for a lyrical Euphonium performance and with no-one better, it could have been Rowland Jones's swan-song, leading the band to first place and then going on to join the Sadler's Wells Opera Company in 1947.
AN OPERA STAR IS BORN
It was whilst he was a member of the Bickershaw Colliery Band that he was first introduced to Tom Burke who had been a noted professional pre-war tenor singer and someone who was well known at Covent Garden he had initially heard Rowland sing at one of the Bickershaw's band concerts as a member of the audience.
It was he who suggested that Rowland should take up singing seriously. Having discovered him it was then Tom who went on to give this amateur tenor the professional tuition that was to give him a new career away from the world of brass bands.
His successful audition for a place at the Sadler's Wells Opera Company was held in July 1946 in Manchester having been accepted he was given his first professional singing role by Sadler's Wells in the September of that same year, making his debut as 'Turrido' in Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana.
In September 1947 he fulfilled a promise he made to Major Hart at Bickershaw that he would compete with the band at Belle Vue at the British Open for the last time. He is likely to have been one of the few, if not the only brass band soloist, to both stand up and play an instrumental solo and then perform a vocal solo on the same programme.
His debut as 'Turrido' in Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana was the catalyst to his future success from then on he was given most of the major tenor roles in the repertory. It has been said that he was at his best in Slavonic roles such as 'Jenik' in the Bartered Bride and 'Lensky' in Eugene Onegin. These successes saw him being cast for the part of 'Boris' in the first British performance of Janacek's Katya Kabanova in 1951. This had never been heard in England until this 1951 performance and was a major event in the history of opera in England.
Photo 4: From Act III Die Fledermaus. After the ball the whole company go onto prison where Alfred (Rowland Jones, right) is held in place of Eisenstein who, disguised as a lawyer, is trying to find out from Rosalinda and Alfred exactly what has taken place between them.
For Sadler's Wells he was their 'Alfred' in almost all their performances of Die Fledermaus a role he was performing when they moved to their new home at the Coliseum Theatre in London. He was with Sadler's Wells for the next twelve years for many of those years as a principal artist and then with the Welsh National Opera Company. It is said that his most famous role was that of 'Rodolfo' in Puccini's opera La Boheme.
In 1945 their first daughter Sybil Roishna was born in Leigh and shortly after moving to Middlesex their second Sally Reburn was born in 1952 in Ealing. It was during their time in Middlesex that Roseann bought a sweet shop in Southall to supplement the family income after the war years. From this home they moved to Ruislip where Rowland was working as a freelance singer with The Welsh National Opera Company, the English National Opera Company, the Covent Garden Opera Company and at such prestigious venues as the Dublin Grand.
He was also a prolific broadcaster for both the B.B.C and B.B.C Wales during this time he was also a singing tutor at the Guildhall School of Music where he taught many people who themselves were to become well known professional singers. His successful musical career also included singing at the 'Proms' in London.
On July 1st 1969 along with 15 other famous Welsh singers Rowland was invited to perform at the investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle in front of 4,000 guests who were inside the medieval walls with thousands more watching from the dry moat and millions more from around the world watching on television.
Rowland and Roseann decided to move back to Wales and during 1972 and 1973 had a house built in Llanrhaeader in Clwyd. This also gave him the opportunity of accepting a post as peripatetic teacher where he taught at Rhyl, Bangor, Chester and Cardiff Castle. In his home he also had a studio where he had a busy schedule teaching private students.
Throughout his career he travelled extensively and was heard singing regularly in many different countries including Germany, Brussels, Turkey and each year he would perform at the Battle of Britain commemoration in Jersey as the guest artiste.
[His appearences with Ammanford Choral Society were as follows: 4/2/57 and 5/2/57 (Welfare Hall), Elgar's King Olaf, conductor Hywel Gwyn Evans. Again on 30/1/67 (Welfare Hall) in Verdi's Requiem, conductor Hywel Gwyn Evans. On 8/4/67 in a miscellaneous programme at the Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, conductor George Thompson. August 1970 in Bruckner's Mass in F Minor at the Eisteddfod Pavilion, Ammanford, with the Liverpool Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Sir Charles Groves].
One of his last performances in Amman Valley was in the oratorio 'Elijah' performed by the Brynaman Old Age Pensioners in 1976. After a lifetime in music this former miner died on August 28th 1978, aged 66. He is survived by his wife Roseann and daughters Sybil and Sally.
It was the people of his adopted home in Llanrhaeader who helped to establish the Rowland Jones Award which is presented annually at the National Eisteddfod, an event where he was in regular demand as a judge for the brass and singing sections.
Speaking to Geoff Whitham, the doyen of the brass band world about Rowland, Geoff's immediate comment was that as a person he was what you would describe today as a real character and a gentleman he was a man who was only too pleased to help someone.
During his early days at time at Black Dyke he stayed with Principal Trombone player Hayden Robinson and his family until he found his own accommodation. Whilst at Black Dyke he too was given a job at the company just as every other player was in those days he was employed as the company gasman, the man who visited all the mill houses owned by John Foster's occupied by many of the employees of the company to read their gas meters.
Even today he is still remembered in Queensbury the family of a former tenant of John Foster's recalled when he used to call at their grandmother's home an elderly lady who was blind Rowland would make his regular call to read the meter and then their grandmother would always make him a cup of tea he would always reciprocate the kind gesture by singing one of her favourite songs before he left. As a youngster Geoff was introduced to him by Arthur O. Pearce's son Harold as a fellow Euphonium player. Back in those days young Geoff was a singer in the village church and Rowland would come along help out by singing the tenor parts.
One of Geoff's most lasting memories of Rowland was back in the days when he was the Musical Director at Hammonds Sauce Works Band. At one particular concert he contacted and persuaded Rowland to come along and be the guest soloist being the gentleman he readily agreed for his old friend but only on one condition that he would play as long as Geoff played as well. What a night that must have been, when two of the finest Euphonium players of their respective generations stood together on the same stage and played Drigo's 'Serenade'.
Whilst there are many old bandroom tales about these old time players and whilst some may be true, others are perhaps more wishful thinking with a hint of exaggeration. Here is at least one true story about Rowland Jones, or is purported to be.
After almost twenty years of not playing a Euphonium he had the opportunity whilst visiting the band from his childhood days of picking one up for the first in more years than he cared to remember. When asked if he had played recently he informed the gathered audience of old friends '... No, not for many years ...' He was then invited to try out a Euphonium from the bandroom upstairs on his own and in the privacy of the rehearsal room, he did. Apparently what Rowland did not know at the time was that all his friends could hear every note he played. It is said that even after so long, he could play that well known Euphonium solo 'Grandfathers Clock' at speed and with clarity of sound for a moment you felt whilst listening, that he had never been away.
It has been said by his old friend from the Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen Silver Band days, Glynn Newlands who was one of Rowland's life long friends, that he always kept his mouth piece in his pocket for good luck. It was during his years at Black Dyke and later with Bickershaw Colliery Band that he was dubbed the 'Prince of the Euphonium'. Sadly from my own research to date I have not found any recordings where he was a featured Euphonium soloist I would be pleased to hear from any readers who can remember hearing Rowland Jones play or have any special memories of him.
The only recording of Rowland performing as a soloist I have found was in 1963 when he recorded an 'LP' under the Saga label No: XID 5171 '... Rowland Jones sings the World's Best Loved Songs ...' with the Serenade Orchestra.
In the course of researching this story I have been able to make contact with Rowland's family and I am grateful for the help and assistance they have given to ensure this account of his life is accurate but in particularly for the help given by his wife Roseann who also sends her regards to all those that remember Rowland from the old days at both Black Dyke and the former Bickershaw Colliery Band.
[This article can be found on the web site http://www.4barsrest.com, which is well worth a read for anyone interested in brass bands,]
Date this page last updated: October 1, 2010