The 2018 Lower Machen Festival Launch was a sell-out several weeks before the night itself – so Rudry Parish Hall was full to the brim on Holy Saturday, March 31st! And what a feast awaited the lucky ticket holders – not only a night of great music but an opening reception featuring a variety of delicious specially-prepared canap├ęs washed down by glasses of carefully chilled Prosecco….

This concert was a special and unique event in several senses. It was both the wrap-up of the 2017 Festival and the kick-off of 2018. And it faced both directions in other ways too: concluding the first 50 years of the Festival’s distinguished history and opening the next half-century of our artistic journey together.

As the audience enjoyed the initial canapes and drinks the air turned musical with some spirited madrigal singing from the Lower Machen Festival Chorale. This hand-picked group of singers under their director James Davies was formed in December last year to bring some Festival Christmas Cheer into Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr Hospital and the Parklands Care Home in Bedwas. They now provided a wide range of entertaining and moving songs to set the scene for the main part of the evening.

After Julia Mirfin extended a warm welcome to the audience – and in particular to the founding director Colwyn Sillman and his wife Diane, together with our lifelong supporter Mary Adams of Machen House – she led the applause for our two star performers: soprano Elin Manahan Thomas and harpist Catrin Finch. Their collaboration was particularly felicitous in that Elin was the 2017 Festival’s Patron and Catrin is to be the 2018 Festival’s Artist-in-Focus. Having worked together once last year in a multi-performer project in the West Country this was their first joint-recital and so we were privileged to witness two international stars combining on home-ground.

We were given a broad range of music in two sessions and we spanned the centuries and the countries from Machaut in the 14th to the present Master of the Queen’s Music Judith Weir. Both artists had an immediate and natural rapport between themselves and with the appreciative audience. They also gave us a solo item each and then left the hall for an interval during which the Festival Chorale went on to supplement with song the splendid liquid provisions of the Parish Hall Bar as expertly manned by Hall Chairman Robin to whom – as well as Kate and Jeanette – we extend our grateful thanks for all their help, suppport and warm welcome.

It was another Festival First in visiting Rudry Parish Hall – and what a treasure it is – beautifully designed and equipped with a stunning picture window in front of which Elin and Catrin performed. Before they returned for the second half, a collection of generous raffle prizes were enthusiastically pulled, won and accepted. Then Lower Machen Festival’s new Artistic Director Geraint Lewis outlined the programme for the 2018 Festival to be held between June 19th and 24th. This will be mostly, as usual, in the historic and acoustically perfect Church of St. Michael and All Angels’ but also including a return visit to Rudry Village Hall on the Saturday evening June 23rd for a session by Hot Club Gallois.

With a second half full of delight and variety it seemed over all too soon – but there was one final surprise and one in which everybody present could join in! Catrin and Elin joined forces with the Chorale and gave us the Hippopotamus Song by Flanders and Swan as suitably arranged for our forces by Chorale baritone Peter Fletcher. Alongside his colleagues James, Sue Welch and Mick Miller we were also thrilled to have with us a resident of Rudry – Only Men Aloud star-bass Steve Hamnett – a local celebrity who led us with gusto into the chorus of “Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud!”

And so all dispersed happily into the Easter Eve air with a song in their heart. Our grateful thanks to Elin and Catrin – two glorious artists in their prime – to James and the Chorale – and to all hard-working members of the Committee who made this evening such a success and for giving the 2018 Lower Machen Festival the best of all possible launches. See you again in June……..