Find out the naughty secret of the two brothers who wrote Pack Up Your Troubles in St Asaph

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A new twist on the famous First World War marching song, Pack up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag, will be performed in the place where it was written by two brothers.

The words were written by George Henry Powell while the music was composed by his older brother Felix Lloyd Powell, who was an organist at the cathedral in St Asaph where they lived.

Pictured is Artistic director Ann Atkinson with Brothers Jonathan and Robert Guy.
Pictured is Artistic director Ann Atkinson with Brothers Jonathan and Robert Guy.

And while George was a choir boy Felix was certainly no angel because he etched his name on the back of one of the cathedral’s stalls.

The song won first prize in a World War One competition for the best morale-building song and it’s claimed to be the most optimistic song ever written.

Now, the enduring favourite has provided the inspiration for the overall theme and an education project at this year’s North Wales International Music Festival which is held annually at the cathedral.

The festival, which runs from Saturday, September 15, to Sunday, September 30, is being supported by the Arts Council of Wales and Tŷ Cerdd.

Composer and professional clarinettist Jonathan Guy is writing a new musical piece, Smile, Smile, Smile, based on Pack up Your Troubles, which will be premiered by young musicians of all abilities during a festival workshop.

They will be performing it at the festival on Saturday, September 29, alongside the event’s resident orchestra, NEW Sinfonia, which Jonathan established with his brother, Robert, the conductor and artistic director.

The festival asked Jonathan to write a piece of new music to go along with the theme of this year’s festival, Reflections, reflecting upon the centenary of the end of the Great War.

He said: “The fact Felix Powell etched his name into the back of a choir stall at St Asaph Cathedral is amazing and there is a blue plaque commemorating the brothers in the High Street which is attached to the building where they were born.

“It will be an amazing concert and I can’t wait to hear my composition played in front of the cathedral audience, it will be something special especially as we will be giving young string and wind musicians, of all abilities, an opportunity to join in and play with an orchestra.”

Proud brother Robert added: “I’m thrilled Jonathan has been commissioned by the festival, with the support of The Thomas Howell’s Education Fund for North Wales, to write this piece based on Pack up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag which will have different parts for different abilities so everyone can take part.

“We will have young performers of all ages and abilities joining the workshop and learning the piece which is called Smile, Smile, Smile. It’s going to make it a truly memorable final concert.”

Artistic director Ann Atkinson believes Smile, Smile, Smile will be the perfect way to reflect. She said: “The theme this year is Reflections as we want to look back on the centenary of the end of the Great War, as well as reflecting on life and love.

“The story behind Pack up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag is intriguing and as George and Felix Powell were from St Asaph it’s the perfect way to commemorate their work.

“George, who sang in the cathedral choir, wrote the lyrics under the pseudonym George Asaf, a name he used to reflect his St Asaph birthplace. His brother, Felix, who played the organ in the cathedral aged 11, wrote the music.

“George, who was born in April 1880, was a pacifist and conscientious objector when conscription was introduced in 1916. He died after a long illness in December 1951.

“Felix who was a staff sergeant in the British Army was in the Peacehaven Home Guard in Sussex in World War Two. He committed suicide in 1942 using his own rifle to shoot himself through the heart. He was aged 63. Their history is incredibly sad.”

She added: “I’m delighted with the line-up for this year’s festival and the first concert will feature a world premiere.

“We have a concert called Hymn to the Fallen, a programme of remembrance to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armistice featuring the popular Voces8.
“International pianist Freddy Kempf will perform a concert of music by Chopin and will also perform Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, which was written in 1917 and is dedicated to friends that perished in the Great War.

“Our festival community choir will perform with Welsh National Opera and we have another world premiere, Materna Requiem, by composer Rebecca Dale.

“We also have a concert called Reflections of Love which will see classical guitarist Craig Ogden and jazz singer Jacqui Dankworth come together to perform a diverse mixture of songs by everyone from Paul Simon and James Taylor to Henry Mancini and Michel Legrand.

“Reflections is a concert featuring soprano Elin Manahan Thomas, pianist Jocelyn Freeman and Family Affair, and on the Saturday evening we will have the Smile, Smile, Smile concert with NEW Sinfonia and the workshop students as well as a performance of the Elgar cello concerto by celebrated cellist Raphael Wallfisch.

“The festival will close on the Sunday with a concert reflecting on the centenary of the end of the Great War and will include performances by, Trelawnyd and Bro Glyndŵr Male Voice Choirs, Côr Cytgan Clwyd and A5 Brass Quintet.

“The programme will include a selection of wartime songs and poetry along with works by Barber, Kamen and Karl Jenkins.”

Ann added: “It’s going to be a very special festival this year and there really will be something for everyone. I’d encourage anyone who likes classical and contemporary music to get their tickets as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.”

Tickets are available online, from Theatr Clwyd, Mold – 01352 701521 or Cathedral Frames, 28 High Street, St Asaph – 01745 582929.

To find out more about the North Wales International Music Festival please visit www.nwimf.com.