Hear 'Tall Tales from Wales' at ARTworks

Special to Lowcountry CurrentDecember 12, 2012 

Epic stories of war and heroism are not limited to the Greeks. Many ancient cultures, including those of the British Isles, have rich traditions of oral and written storytelling.

Peter Godfrey, who goes by Peter Townes on stage, intends to keep this tradition going for the Welsh. He will perform in "Tall Tales from Wales" on Dec. 14 and 15 at ARTworks in Beaufort.

"They're good talkers, and they just have a huge, very long, very documented storytelling tradition," Lisa Rentz, transmedia specialist at ARTworks, said about the Welsh focus.

Combine the rich tradition of Welsh storytelling with the powerful force of Christmas tales, and the outcome can be outstanding, Rentz said.

Godfrey's performance will include a short history of Welsh storytelling, a chat about Welsh genealogy and a reading of Dylan Thomas's "A Child's Christmas in Wales."

A few facts to know before you go:

  • A little less than 10 percent of South Carolina's population is estimated to be of Welsh descent, according to the U.S. Census. However, Godfrey said he thinks that's a low estimate. Many famous Americans, including eight presidents, trace their roots to Wales.

  • "At least 10 percent, but I think it's a lot more than that," Godfrey said.

    Godfrey bases his belief on a roll call he does before his shows in which he asks the audience if they have Welsh surnames or maiden names.

  • Ann Romney, wife of the former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, is Welsh. People who attend Godfrey's performance will get to taste one of Romney's family recipes for Welsh cakes.

  • There were two classes of storytellers: bards and minstrels. Bards told stories word-for-word after they learned them as apprentices. They performed in royal courts. Minstrels made up stories as they performed and would most often perform for common people in pubs and squares.

  • Godfrey considers himself more of a minstrel than a bard.

    "Bards who would be at court, they would sing praises of the kings and the people who have been paying for them. They stuck to reciting the same things exactly, they did not deviate. They were not very creative," Godfrey said. "The minstrels, they made it up as they went along, so their stories would change and were fun."

  • The Welsh have a rich oral storytelling tradition.

  • "They didn't write anything down until very late," Godfrey said.

    For centuries before monks started writing the stories, bards, or professional poets, would train as apprentices for years, learning classical stories until they could retell thousands of stories. When the stories started to be written, the bards were offended, Godfrey said.

    "The bards thought this was like stealing their wares, if things were written down," he said. "If it was written down, anybody could read it."

  • According to legend, a Welsh man discovered America. In the folklore, a Welsh prince named Madoc sailed to America in 1170. He and his followers were believed to have intermarried with the Native Americans.

  • Dylan Thomas comes from a long line of bards. He is considered Wales' greatest poet. One of his most famous poems is 'Do not go gentle into that good night."

  • Godfrey described Thomas as "the master bard of all time. Although he does it in English, he has Welsh storytelling mastered. In one sentence he can floor you. He still floors me."

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