Steffan Rhys Hughes – National Eisteddfod Llanelli
This was the 12th National Eisteddfod I have competed in and although it was not my first visit to Llanelli, it was my first attending this festival in this area. The Eisteddfod appeals to me not only because of the competing but because you meet so many old friends and peers who compete and you have an annual boost of immersion in Welsh culture and language, and of course many opportunities for socialising!
After arriving, we soon realised that the park and ride system was not going to work for us given the timings of the preliminaries and the need to rush to and from the field where the Eisteddfod was held. We decided to take a chance and park on the street as near to the field as possible – not as easy as it sounds with hundreds of others with the same idea but it worked without a parking fine in sight! Our hotel was ‘The Three Rivers’, some 10 miles away in Ferryside, and the views from the hotel across the estuary towards Llansteffan Castle and down towards Laugharne were beautiful.
There were five preliminaries for me on the Tuesday from 8.30am onwards and one stage performance. The top three (occasionally four) in each competition get to perform on stage in the large Pink Pavilion, televised on S4C and in front of an audience. There were between ten and thirty competitors – the best in Wales – in the various preliminaries I took part in throughout the week. There really are no passengers in the competition, particularly by the time you reach post-school age where most competitors are from Music Collages and Conservatoires, so if you want to do well you really do have to prepare, practice and focus. I was pleased to be placed first in the Cerdd Dant under 21 competition – a traditional Welsh art of vocal improvisation – the soloist sings a counter-melody over a melody played by the Harp.
The Eisteddfod field was set out in 3 large circles and one smaller one with masses of stands, exhibitions and activities – well worth a visit! However, usually I never get the chance to see many areas of it as, when I am not competing, I like to support my friends by going to their preliminaries and watching other competitions in the Pavilion to see how my opinions compare with the judges’ decisions.
On the Wednesday I had three preliminaries, the first starting at 9.00am and 2 stage performances – Recitation from the Scripture which I was pleased to be placed first in, and Cerdd Dant Duet under 21 with Sion Eilir a student at Aberystwyth University. We were placed first – a relief, after very little rehearsal time!
Thursday was one preliminary for me – recitation to music, and two appearances on stage – Folk song under 21 and recitation under 25 and I was relieved to gain another two first places – some prize money to help in year three at Cardiff!
I had been planning to go with friends to ‘Maes B’ on Thursday night – the young people’s village at the Eisteddfod where live gigs are held with some of the best young bands in Wales performing. However as I was on stage on the Friday morning I made the decision to give it a miss and go back to our hotel to rehearse and get a good sleep.
The following morning, I returned to perform on stage with recitation to music and came second. It was the first time I had competed in this competition and I had composed and recorded the accompaniment myself.
I moved from the hotel on the Friday to the Eisteddfod Caravan field close to the Maes to share a caravan with friends and went to Maes B that night. I had finished my individual competitions by then, but still and one ensemble to compete with in the morning, so I tried to take it easy…
The Cerdd Dant quartet was my final competition, and I was joined again by Sion Eilir along with Ceri Haf Roberts – who won the girls solo under 19 (coming toCardiff University to study law in September) and Mared Williams who won the song from a musical under 19 and is also the lead singer of the band ‘Trwbz’ who performed in Maes B on the Friday night.
On Saturday night it was off to Maes B again for the final gig of the week. It was nice to enjoy the evening without worrying about performing the following day, and I had a chance to catch up with old friends as well as making a few new ones.
Sunday we packed up the caravan and awning and all the camping equipment and made our way in stormy weather back to North Wales, slightly sad to see another National Eisteddfod over!