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Harpist swaps Sir Elton John in New York for festival in native North Wales

HARPS 163 web 1

A harpist who performed alongside pop megastar Sir Elton John in New York on 10 consecutive nights can’t wait to play at a top music festival in North Wales.

As a member of classical harp quartet 4 Girls, 4 Harps, Angharad Wyn Jones , will be one of star attractions at the North Wales Music Festival at St Asaph Cathedral between September 24 and October 1.

Angharad, 26, usually has to travel farther than other members of the quartet so to have the opportunity to perform just down the road from her  home in Felinheli, near Bangor, home is a real treat.

She said: “To be honest, we do seem to play more across the border in England which is a real shame, so to perform at St Asaph Cathedral, which has amazing acoustics, is just wonderful, and I know I speak for the other girls too.

“The girls are coming up from London the day before our concert, which is on Wednesday, September 28th and are staying at the home of my parents, just down the road.

“My mum, Ilid Anne Jones, is a pianist and has a huge music room so we are having a rehearsal there the night before. We are so looking forward to the concert and performing in North Wales.”

Born in Caernarfon, Angharad began learning the harp at the tender age of seven and her hard work and dedication soon paid off as she won the Solo Harp competition at the National Eisteddfod of Wales as well as the Texaco Young Musician of North Wales 1999, a feat she repeated in 2000.

Angharad won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music, London with Skaila Kanga and graduated with a Bachelor of Music Degree with honours.

And it was while studying in London that she first met the other three members of 4 Girls 4 Harps, Eleanor Turner, Keziah Thomas and Harriet Adie.

Angharad said: “We were all studying harp at various London colleges and playing in hotels to help pay our way. That’s how we got to know each other really. I suppose we saw a gap in the market for a harp quartet and decided to fill it.

“In addition to our solo work we now perform as 4 Girls 4 Harps at classical music festivals as well as Radio and TV work. We have performed on Radio Two’s Friday Night is Music Night as well as TV appearances on S4C’s Noson Lawen and Wedi 7. And our CD, Fireworks and Fables, has been featured regularly on Classic FM and BBC Radio 3.

She added: “We like to play arrangements adapted for four harps and we have original pieces written by Harriet and Eleanor that we play. Basically, if you like, it’s like a band. One harpist plays bass; another will play rhythm, another all the fiddly bits while the fourth just basically keeps it all together. It does work honestly!

“We can show things in our repertoire that you can’t with a solo harp. The different sounds, textures and levels the composer was trying to get across to the audience, but in a new, very different way.”

The North Wales International Music Festival will bring to an end what has been a busy summer for 4 Girls 4 Harps and Angharad as a solo performer.

As well as performing as part of the harp quartet Angharad has played with a number of orchestras as well as privately teaching harp to her current crop of 15 North Wales pupils.

She said: “I am currently working with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra when they need a harpist and have several performances booked in October. The harp is not always required for orchestral pieces so as a harpist you are never tied to performing at every performance and are called in as and when required.

“That means I can enjoy more varied work whether at a simple wedding in North Wales or joining Sir Elton John on stage in New York.I was playing with the Royal Academy of Music Orchestra and we joined Sir Elton when he played the Radio City Hall in the Big Apple for 10 consecutive nights.

However, according to Angharad the best audience reception for any artist she has performed with was reserved for Welsh tenor Wyn Evans, better known as Gio Compario in the Go Compare TV ads.

She said: “That was earlier this summer at Castle Howarth in Yorkshire. Wyn is a fantastic performer and has a tremendous voice. Of course he made his name as the face and voice behind those, perhaps annoying, adverts on TV.

“When Wyn, who is a fantastic guy, walked on stage the whole place erupted. It really was a remarkable reception.”

But the chance to show Eleanor, Keziah and Harriet a little bit of her beloved North Wales is something Angharad is really looking forward to.

She said: “We have played in North Wales before to be honest as we performed at the Beaumaris Festival earlier this summer which was great. But any chance to get the girls out of London and up to North Wales I’ll take!

“As a harpist we all have estate cars so we can get the instruments in. We all play Italian manufactured Salvi harps even if they are slightly different models costing around £20,000 each.

 “Personally, I specialise in jazz harp and in fact we are playing some jazz harp pieces at the North Wales International Music Festival.

“I’d certainly encourage anyone thinking of going along to get a ticket and come and see us perform. I really want to show the girls all about North Wales and how it appreciates good music.”

This year’s festival opens on September 24 and runs until October 1. The first concert features the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, who appeared in the very first festival and have returned many times since, and baritone Roderick Williams.

 Strings feature strongly in the week’s programme, with artists including Welsh triple harp virtuoso Robin Huw Bowen, classical guitarist Dimitris Dekavallas, the ensemble Blazin’ Fiddles and the Vida Guitar Quartet.

One of the main attractions this year will be the world premiere of a new work by the royal composer, Dr Paul Mealor, who shot to global fame thanks to the sensational Royal wedding anthem he wrote for Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Dr Mealor will the subject of an evening called Portrait of a Composer featuring Ensemble Cymru and the Aberdeen University Chamber Choir. Dr Mealor will also conduct a choral workshop for mixed choirs.

The audience can also look forward to 4 Girls 4 Harps who formed in London in 2000 to perform, record, create and commission new music.

They are now the world’s leading harp quartet and have been heard in hundreds of venues and festivals in the UK and across Europe.

Among other highlights is a recital by the virtuoso pianist, Llyr Wiliams, from Rhos, near Wrexham.

For more information about this year’s event which is being held between September 24 and October 1.and how to book tickets go to

Caption: From left, Eleanor Turner, Keziah Thomas, Harriet Adie and Angharad Wyn Jones..

Grass roots growth for GreenThumb as firm aims to be one in a million

GREEN THUMB, ST ASAPH BUSINESS PARK.  Pictured is  Ann Jones AM, Stephen Waring Founder and CEO of Green Thumb  and Chris Ruane MP.

The UK’s biggest lawn care company founded by a Flintshire businessman has been hailed as a “shining example” of how to be the best after reaching a major milestone in its history.

GreenThumb, based on St Asaph Business Park, in Denbighshire, is celebrating its 25th anniversary and is a classic tale of home-grown success.

The firm has defied the recession and continues to expand at a relentless pace, servicing a lawn every four seconds and treating over 31 million sq metres of grass every month.

As the biggest end-user of fertilizer in the UK, GreenThumb’s unique selling point is that they can treat your lawn cheaper than you can do it  yourself.

Today, there are 209 GreenThumb franchises from Inverness to the Isle of Wight and the annual turnover is more than £60 million

Stephen Waring, the founder and CEO of the company who lives in the Holywell area, is keen to stay true to the company’s roots and pay tribute to GreenThumb customers in North Wales.

According to Mr Waring, their support has been a vital part of the company’s continuing growth.

With that in mind he invited Vale of Clwyd MP Chris Ruane and the local AM, Ann Jones, to help celebrate the silver jubilee.

After a briefing about plans for future expansion, Mr Waring took them on a guided tour of the company HQ where the operation is masterminded.

Chris Ruane enthused: “I am very impressed with what GreenThumb has achieved. The company’s going upwards and onwards. I am very proud that they are in my constituency.

“It’s great to have such a success story here right in the centre of the Vale of Clwyd and I would encourage other companies to come to the area.”

Ann Jones was equally impressed with what she had seen and heard during the visit.

She added: “Here’s to another 25 years. I am sure they will continue to grow and I think the company’s ethos and Stephen’s commitment to bringing his staff through is fantastic.

“This is an indigenous, home grown success story and a shining example of how to be the best at what you do.”

The plush offices on St Asaph Business Park are in contrast to the humble beginnings of the company back in 1986 – the story is the stuff of which business legends are made.

The budding entrepreneur was just 20 when he invested £64 in 1,000 leaflets, put a bucket of fertiliser in the back of his Sierra estate car and knocked on doors in Penrhyn Bay offering to feed and weed lawns.

The son of a sales and marketing director, the young Stephen Waring first ventured into business while still at school.

At the age of just 16, he realised the potential of the loft insulation business, given the availability of local authority grants.

But his Eureka moment came during a visit to America for a family wedding in the Mid-West state of Ohio in 1985.

The lawn care industry over there was already big business with 23 per cent of Americans hiring specialist treatment services.

There was nothing like it available in the UK and he returned home with high hopes of exploiting a massive untapped market.

Mr Waring vividly recalls the excitement of signing up his first GreenThumb customer on April 1, 1986.

He said: “The very first door I knocked on, the lady said that it was just what she needed…that was almost prophetic.”

“It was an encouraging start because in a short period of time I ended up with 70 customers on the same housing estate.”

“It was proof that people really did want my service although there were some challenges at the time because I had to sell the concept before I could sell the service.”

A key element in the GreenThumb success story was a decision to go down the franchising route.

Mr Waring said: “I’m fairly sure that had I decided to set up a 209  branches myself it would have been a logistical and managerial nightmare – and an incredible financial burden.

“I am very proud of what we have achieved. This isn’t about one person this is about everybody here having a sense of ownership in GreenThumb.

“I’m also acutely aware and proud that our success has come from the support we’ve had from our customers, and we’ve got tens of thousands of them in North Wales.

“Our 25th anniversary is an important milestone for GreenThumb and an opportunity for me to say a particular thank to our customers in North Wales for their continued support.”

GreenThumb currently look after  around three per cent of the UK’s lawns and Mr Waring is confident they have only scratched the surface in terms of future growth.

“We think it could possibly be 10 times that number. In the short term, we’re looking forward to signing up our half millionth customer and we see a million customers as our next milestone.”

Caption: Pictured are Ann Jones AM, Stephen Waring Founder and CEO of Green Thumb  and Chris Ruane MP.

Canny holidaymakers from Wrexham wear luggage in their pockets

The new Debenhams manager at Eagles Meadow, Wrexham Rob Mannix

Budget flight passengers escaping the North Wales weather are picking the pockets of airlines thanks to a loophole in the baggage rules.

Rather than pay expensive charges for stowing cases in the hold of the plane, canny holidaymakers from Wrexham are using their free hand luggage allowance and “wearing” the rest of their baggage.

According to the Debenhams store at the town’s Eagles Meadow shopping centre, they have seen sales rise of coats and jackets with multiple pockets by as much as 135 per cent over the holiday period.

After cramming what would be excess baggage into pockets, customers could gain a whopping ten pounds to their original body weight; saving themselves from the extortionate fees.

Debenhams is putting the new trend down to reports from the shop floor that customers prefer to pack heavier items such as books, cameras and electronic net books, into large pocketed garments, rather than pay fees up to £40 return, charged by some low-cost airlines for cases stowed in the hold.

As a result sales of Debenhams J by Jasper Conran jacket with seven pockets have gone up by 135% and the Maine New England parka jacket which has six pockets has also seen sales leap by 29%.

Rob Mannix, Manager of the Debenhams store at Eagles Meadow, said: “Our sales assistants have even reported some customers coming in with specific items like net-books and paperbacks, to check if they will fit in the pockets before they buy the coat or jacket.

“With the right jacket and trouser combo you can gain up to 11 handy pockets to tuck away holiday essentials; but beware when reaching into pockets so those extra undies aren’t spotted on the floor of Terminal 5.”

Passengers can pay dearly for going over the luggage weight limits, for instance BMI charges £7 per kg, Thomson up to £15 per kg and Ryanair £20 per kg, for excess baggage.