A CELEBRATION of Welsh poet Idris Davies launches this year’s Penfro Book Festival on Friday, October 11 at Rhosygilwen, Rhoshill.

Helen Blackburn is the director and dramatist for this semi-staged performance ‘The Bells of Rhymney’ that tells the life of Idris Davies through the medium of his own poems, which are famous for reflecting the hardships of the mining communities of South Wales in the 1920s and ’30s, but also rejoice in the beauty of the countryside surrounding the mining towns. Many poems have been set to music.

Featured actors and soloists include: Dai Davies, Delyth Wyn Jones,Gwyn Morris, Jona Milone, Brychan Chandler Blackburn, Mark Chandler, and Ceri Davies, with the Blaenporth Male Voice Choir, conducted by Margaret Daniel.

Many of Idris Davies poems were written in the voices of characters of the Valleys from Dai the miner to the grocer who can’t extend credit any more to the wife of a striking miner. The actors will take on the roles of such characters, while the soloists and the Blaenporth Male Voice Choir will perform musical versions of some of the poems, as well as Welsh hymns and folk songs that Idris heard as a child. Some members of the choir will take on cameo acting roles.

It would be wrong to think of Idris Davies’ work as all doom and gloom. He had a lively sense of humour. When three Welsh boys find themselves in Hell, His Infernal Majesty promises that he will get them into Heaven if they will just sing Sospan Bach for him. (We can’t give a spoiler as to how that turns out.)

The evening begins at 6pm. with a “Miner’s Supper” of soup, bread and cheese, with performance at 7.30pm.

Tickets at £10 and £2 school age, both including supper, are available at penfro.bookfestival.org.uk or by ringing 01239 841387.

Born in Rhymney in 1905, Idris Davies was the son of a miner. His father was the chief winderman in the local colliery. Idris grew up in a Welsh-speaking home and began writing his first poems in Welsh although only nine of them have survived. The performance will be mostly in English but will feature the Welsh poems.

His most famous poem Bells of Rhymney, from which the performance takes its title, follows the pattern of the nursery rhyme “Oranges and Lemons,” using the names of Welsh towns instead of churches in Cockney London. It was made world famous by American folksinger Pete Seeger. The poem asks:

What will you give me?

Say the sad bells of Rhymney.

Is there hope for the future?

Cry the brown bells of Merthyr.

Who made the mine owner?

Say the black bells of Rhondda.

And who robbed the miner?

Cry the grim bells of Blaina.