James Dean Bradfield on the venue that gave him an education
Manic Street Preachers' singer plays gala night at the Newbridge Memo as the miner's institute hall reopens
“Libraries gave us power,” booms James Dean Bradfield over delicately plucked acoustic guitar, his impassioned voice reverberating around the vaulted Art Deco auditorium of Newbridge Memorial Hall. The capacity crowd, mostly silver-haired couples and smartly dressed ex-miners, sing along politely. Others just smile proudly at the local boyo made good.
It’s a gala night of big voices and home-grown talents here in Newbridge, a former mining town in the South Wales Valleys. That means Broadway showtunes, creaky mother-in-law jokes and a headline set by Wynne Evans, the operatic tenor who found fame in the Go Compare advert. Classic Rock is here to celebrate the Hall’s newly re-opened theatre and cinema space, a sumptuously refurbished 1920s pleasure palace painted in scarlet and cream, following a decade-long fundraising campaign and refit totalling over £5 million. Warm tributes are paid to the venue’s chairman Howard Stone, stuck at home after suffering a heart attack on the very day of the concert.
It may seem an incongruous way for the Manic Street Preachers singer to spend his 46th birthday, playing two solo songs midway down the bill of a traditional variety show. But Bradfield, who grew up in nearby Blackwood, has a history with the Memorial Hall, having worked behind the bar for three years in the late 1980s. He is now an honorary patron of the venue. Re-opened late last year, the Grade II listed building known locally as the Memo also has a refitted library and reading rooms downstairs, which lends extra resonance to the opening line of Bradfield’s rousing welfare-state anthem A Design For Life.
Built as a bricks-and-mortar memorial to the 75 local servicemen who died in World War I, the Memo was financed by individual donations from miners at the nearby Celynen Colliery. It opened in 1924, with a grand theatre on the upper level and a large bar with sprung dance-floor below. In the 1970s and 1980s, it served as a rock venue with bands like Dire Straits, Iron Maiden, Whitesnake and the Stranglers all passing through.