FIRST PERSON: Patrick Jones, Blackwood playwright and poet
6:10pm Wednesday 21st May 2014 in News
Patrick Jones, 49, of Blackwood is a playwright and poet. He tells Carys Thomas about growing up in the valleys with his rockstar brother.
“I WAS born in Tredegar and lived in Blackwood for most of my life.
It was a very simple, working class childhood. My dad, Allen, was a builder and my mam, Irene, stayed at home, which was the hardest job really looking after me and my brother Nick (Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers).
We never had a foreign holiday, I didn’t have a phone until I was 18-years-old.
It was a very basic childhood, we were always happy out playing football and cricket.
My dad was from around here but my mam was evacuated from London when she was about five-years-old.
She considers herself more Welsh than Cockney.
She came to stay in Bargoed in the Second World War with a family, she never went home after it was over – her mother came down to live here.
She met my dad when she was 17 or 18-years-old at the dance.
It’s quite a jump from London to the Valleys, it was very brave of my grandmother, I suppose it happened to a lot at that time.
I detested school, I was bullied a lot, it gave me a lot of rage when I left and started me off writing.
I never really stood up for myself at school, I used to blush quite a lot.
I think I carried a lot of scars from that.
It started in primary school and escalated.
When I was 16-years-old and went to Crosskeys College, I felt liberated there.
I was terrible at school, I only remember one poem that ever touched me at school which was Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth.
I had a bit of a stutter so I hated reading aloud.
When I went to college I did history, law and politics, quite factual subjects but I just started doodling around, when your first love finishes with you and all that.
I started writing poetry and getting into political issues. I started listening to bands such as The Clash which made me a bit more socially aware.
Then I went to university in Swansea in 1983 to study sociology and American studies and that’s when I started writing and becoming a more engaged with the world.
I had a year in America in Tennessee, which was great.
When I came back I saved money and went back to America, this time to Chicago.
I was 22-years-old and I got married, which was a bit of a disaster, that didn’t work out. I wrote over there trying to write the great American poem.
I thought I was a bit of a Jack Kerouac travelling around; it was a great experience doing odd jobs at factories and spending time writing.
In my head I was a writer but I wasn’t really, I didn’t have much published at that time.
I was in America for probably three and a half to four years, I came back to Wales in 1992.
I fell back in love with the Valleys, the history and the heritage.
I came back from America with two suitcases, I remember I had £20 and that was it. Luckily I could go back to my parents’ house and acclimatise.
I was teaching adult literacy night classes, it was great, I loved that.
It was a fantastic experience at Blackwood Community College.
My first play was performed in 1999 and from then on I was able feel that I had become a writer, the identity became a lot more plausible. It legitimised my dream.
The play was ‘Everything Must Go’ which was performed at the Sherman Theatre and then toured Britain in 2000.
It was about a new Welsh hero set in a working class community of the Valleys, during the time of Cool Cymru, when we had lots of successful bands.
I would say that was my most successful play, it used a lot of the Manic Street Preachers music and Catatonia, the Welsh music scene in those days as part of the play.
Nick is the bassist in the Manic Street Preachers, we all went to school together at Oakdale Comprehensive, of course I was four years older than Nick.
I directed a few of their earlier music videos such as Indian Summer in 1995 which was about post miners’ strike in the Valleys.
I don’t really see myself as a film maker, I’m bit too chaotic for that.
We always laugh about this, when we were younger I had guitar lessons, Clive, my guitar teacher used to came to the house and Nick would always hide, he would never sit in on the guitar lessons.
I loved my music but I was never very good, he’s never had a lesson but took to it.
I lived in Germany for a while on an RAF base, I was doing youth work which was a great experience for a year in Bruggen.
I’ve done a variety of jobs, when I lived in Herne Bay not far from Brighton, I was part of the community service volunteers.
I remember receiving £15 a week and was working with young offenders and people with mental health problems.
It was a great experience, I was about 24 years-old, mentoring them and trying to get them away from that life. I was bit of a struggle as many of them were of similar age.
I’ve done a lot of work with writing in the community, I’ve been to prisons working with young offenders and going into nursing homes in the last few years.
It’s great, I love all that work, you can share poetry, ideas and get some great feedback.
A play that I’m working on at the moment for the National Theatre of Wales is about a choir mainly associated with people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia, it is a real choir which I came across in Merthyr.
I thought that was a beautiful story at the end of their life with them all coming together to sing, it really moved me.
It definitely feeds my own writing and you find stories which are so beautiful, tragic and real.
I try to write things which people can relate to, to feel challenged and provoked and ultimately moved by it.
The play is called ‘Before I Leave’, my auntie and uncle died within four weeks of each other last year and my uncle had Alzheimer’s disease, by the end he couldn’t speak.
It’s important to write about tragedy but with uplifting little tiny moment as life goes on in some way.
I had books of poetry published. I’d rather be called controversial than boring.
I’m just a normal bloke really.
Perhaps some of the subjects that I do talk about can be seen as controversial.
The book of poetry ‘Darkness Is Where the Stars’ was my discussion on the treatment of women in religion.
Christian Voice were against it and Waterstones cancelled the book signing, they backed down, it’s terrible for free speech.
I did go through quite an obsession with religion after that, as it was being ringfenced and you couldn’t say anything about it.
Home is where the writing happens.
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