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

Biography John Cale

Cale as a schoolboy

Childhood in Wales

John Davies Cale is born March 9th 1942 in Garnant in the Amman Valley, Carmarthenshire, Wales.

Cale's father William Arthur George Cale was a miner in the Gelly Geidrum coal mine in the Alman Valley. His mother Margaret Davies was a school teacher, until she married Arthur at the age of 36. John was their only child.

They move in with his maternal grandmother after he is born. She does not allow English to be spoken in her house, which means he can't communicate with his father - who doesn't speak Welsh - until the age of 7 when he learns English at the primary school in Garnant where his mother had been a teacher.

Cale's parents

At the same age he was signed up by his mother for classical piano lessons. She played the instrument herself and hoped that John would like it. He took to it like a duck to water:

"The course required me to take four examinations per year and after a while I started to do well. I realized that playing music gave me a stronger sense of who I was."
The house where John Cale was born in Garnant: 237 Cwmaman Road, Garnant, Carmarthenshire - photo: Gary Fox (August 2009)

He starts playing the organ - a Rushworth and Draper instrument - in the local church at the age of twelve. The organist is impressed with his aptitude, but is even more interested in trying to jerk off young Cale, a sentiment that is shared by his music teacher. He did not like growing up in highly religious environment:

"Growing up in Wales was a pretty Draconian experience with religion."

Still, he is sure that being Welsh is special. His love for the people, the language, and the landscape runs deep:

"I spent my first eighteen years in a rural mining village near the banks of the Amman River in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons. This was a strange, remote, some said mystical land. It was rich in the Arthurian legends, and had retained its identity through centuries. It was one of the few parts of Britain that neither the Romans nor the Normans conquered. Our part of Wales was cut off from the body of the country by natural defensive barriers of rivers and mountains. When the Romans came, we waited for them out in the hills. When the English came, we withdrew deeper into the caves. During the reign of Henry IV, Owen Glendower became a lifelong scourge from the stronghold of the mountains. Through these wars one can chart the growth of the Welsh nation. Our language, our literature and our music gave us a cherished sense of nationhood."

As a child, he suffered from severe bronchial issues. A prescription for opiates, which help him sleep, sets the tone for a dependency on drugs during his adulthood.

© 1999- Hans Werksman