The Elvis Fes­ti­val brings more than 30,000 peo­ple into Porth­cawl for one week­end a year. Abby Bolter looks at how it all started in 2004 and how it’s changed the town...

Glamorgan Gazette - - Your Views -

FOR decades Min­ers’ Fort­night was the an­chor which held Porth­cawl’s suc­cess as a sea­side town firm.

Thou­sands of fam­i­lies would de­camp from the Val­leys to the car­a­van sites of Sandy Bay, now de­mol­ished, and Trecco Bay for their an­nual two weeks of fresh air and fun ev­ery sum­mer.

Min­ers would find them­selves sit­ting next to their mates or “butties” from the pits on the beach, which led to Sandy Bay be­com­ing known as “Hiya Butt Bay”.

Then the pits closed and rea­son­able pack­age deals lured the masses to the Mediter­ranean, and Porth­cawl, along with other sea­side towns, lost its lus­tre. At­tempts have been made at re­gen­er­a­tion in the decades since and while one large and much-hoped-for trans­for­ma­tional scheme has yet to get off the ground, some projects are start­ing to come off.

The town now has a ma­rina in­stead of a har­bour. The Grade II dock­side Jen­nings Build­ing, which stood derelict for years, has been leased to de­vel­op­ers and, with Welsh Gov­ern­ment and coun­cil help, has en­joyed a £2.5m trans­for­ma­tion into a home for mod­ern eater­ies and live/work units.

A com­mu­nity in­ter­est com­pany with back­ing from the Euro­pean Re­gional De­vel­op­ment fund via the Welsh Gov­ern­ment is also poised to build the multi-mil­lion-pound Porth­cawl Mar­itime Cen­tre on the seafront.

But all vic­to­ries in the long-run­ning fight to pull the town up have been very hard fought. All that is, ex­cept one.

Back in the early 2000s au­thor, show and film pro­ducer Peter Phillips – who hailed from Wales but lived in Amer­ica – at­tended an Elvis event at the Mall of Amer­ica in Min­nesota. Its pop­u­lar­ity took him by sur­prise and stuck with him.

When he came back to Wales he met up with Jan Ad­kins – who was then the man­ager of Porth­cawl’s iconic Grand Pavil­ion – and suc­cess­fully pitched the idea of an Elvis trib­ute artist award show to her, which was to be called The Elvies.

The first event was pen­cilled in for a week­end in the au­tumn of 2004 at a time when Peter said the Grand Pavil­ion’s fu­ture was un­cer­tain and it needed a boost.

“I would like to say I had a great vi­sion, but it wasn’t,” he ad­mits.

His col­lab­o­ra­tor at the time, Porth­cawl res­i­dent Steve Mait­land-Thomas – now a town coun­cil­lor – said it was meant to be a one-night award show. But, by both luck and de­sign, its ap­peal was widened.

De­spite not be­ing an Elvis fan him­self – he ad­mits his first re­sponse to Peter’s idea was “don’t be so stupid” – Steve did start to see po­ten­tial.

He said by past­ing the same mes­sage re­peat­edly on thou­sands of Elvis web­sites, their fledg­ling idea caught the eye of Charles Stone, who had once been Elvis’ tour man­ager and was now look­ing after the man dubbed the ul­ti­mate Elvis trib­ute artist (ETA) – Amer­i­can Kraig Parker.

Charles and Kraig flew in for the 2004 fes­ti­val, but Steve said they had trou­ble gen­er­at­ing in­ter­est at first.

“We went into the Hi Tide on the Fri­day and the man­ager Dave Jones pointed at Kraig and said ‘Can he sing as good as he looks?’,” Steve re­calls.

“So we turned the mi­cro­phone on and he per­formed a cap­pella.”

Steve said Dave was so im­pressed he wanted to can­cel that night’s show and re­place it with Kraig but it was too short no­tice. Dave then sched­uled him to per­form on the Satur­day but Kraig was left venue­less for that night.

Steve said the Texan, who has played Las Vegas, ended up in the Cabin Bar next door to the Coney Beach Fun Fair.

“We started off with about 20 peo­ple in there and by the end there were peo­ple run­ning down the street to see him,” said Steve, who added his moth­erin-law later had a shock when he had to give his house keys to another Elvis ETA, Rockin’ Dave Ri­ley, so he could get changed ahead of his show.

Peter agrees the Hi Tide, which now hosts about 500 Elvis shows over the festi- val week­end, was among the first venues to “take it and run with it”. But oth­ers were still un­sure.

Thank­fully, the doubters didn’t in­clude the Mayor of Porth­cawl at the time, Phil Rixon. A well-known lo­cal char­ac­ter and busi­ness­man, he rang Peter and asked how he could help.

“I said you and the lady mayor can come and re­new your wed­ding vows on the seafront in a re­cre­ation of the scene from (Elvis film) Blue Hawaii,” said Peter.

“He said he’d do that and they did and it was a huge pub­lic­ity stunt which res­onated and ap­peared in all the Amer­i­can news­pa­pers. This was be­fore things ‘went vi­ral’, but it res­onated.”

Phil and Ch­eryl, who first mar­ried at Brid­gend Reg­is­ter Of­fice in 1974, re­newed their vows in Hawai­ian shirts, sur­rounded by fake palm trees in front of 2,500 peo­ple in a cer­e­mony led by Kraig.

The coup was one of the crown­ing glo­ries of that first cel­e­bra­tion of the King in Porth­cawl and from then on there was no turn­ing back.

Peter said the show has ba­si­cally stayed the same “just got big­ger” over the years. How­ever, he ad­mits it did sur­vive a sticky time thanks to the timely in­ter­ven­tion of none other than First Min­is­ter and Brid­gend AM Car­wyn Jones.

“Year four and the fes­ti­val sort of needed a leg up,” said Peter, now 59 and di­vid­ing his time be­tween Ireland and Spain.

“It needed in­vest­ment to take it up another gear and Car­wyn se­cured £15,000

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