John Cale
Fear Is A Man's Best Friend - John Cale

Biography John Cale

Ammanford at Grammar School

Attending Ammanford Grammar School

Cale composed his first piece while attending Ammanford Grammar School: Tocatta in the style of Khachaturian. He listens to the New Music programme on BBC radio, where they played contemporary composers like Arnold Schoenberg and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Cale at Grammar School

"It can't be that easy!"

His musical teacher, Mrs Roberts, tips off BBC Wales and he performs it for two impressed representatives. A second performance is taped.

"It was two and a half minutes in all, but those two and a half minutes changed my life. It was a great feeling. I thought, It can't be that easy! There has to be more to improvising than that. Creatively it liberated me; I started to take changes. From then on I knew what I wanted to do: I wanted to play music and improvise; I wanted to write music and conduct it."
Ammanford Grammar School Orchestra - Cale on the left in the upper row

Picking up the viola, the saddest of all instruments

Because it is the only instrument left, Cale starts playing the viola in the school orchestra. He joins the Welsh Youth Orchestra at the age of 13.

A tour takes him abroad for the very first time in 1957, to performances in Amsterdam, Nijmegen and Rotterdam in The Netherlands.

"A week after the end of the summer term I would go on tour with the Welsh Youth Orchestra. I looked forward to the thrill of getting away from home. They put us up in colleges in different parts of Wales, we'd rehearse a programme and then go on tour and perform in the area. Once we went to the Netherlands. There was a solidarity between the Dutch people and the people of Wales from the Second World War. We got a mayoral reception, everyone got blasted on the champagne at four o'clock in the afternoon."

Playing Jazz

Jazz was not popular at school. However, Cale did play piano with a group at the schooldance in 1959. The teachers had to admit that they were competent.

School archives thrown out

In June 2007 Ammanford's school records were thrown out by council workers. Cale wasn't pleased. He went on record in the South Wales Guardian:

"Every time I went back to the valley, I would stand at the railings and gawk, listening for the roar of classes changing. I'll be in the skip with the memorabilia now - travelling with it - not even knowing. Diolch yn fawr am bob peth."

» Enter the sixties


© 1999- Hans Werksman