In memoriam: Ken Jenkins who passed November 2020 aged 91.
The scene here needs to be set. The backdrop critical, so come with me…
When & where:
It’s the tail of the ’90s and younger self was bringing a new friend on a cultural immersion tour of Swansea. Said friend – Allister – enjoyed a night on the town and we were to imbibe in a Swansea pub crawl from The Robin Hood, to The Tredegar Arms to who knows where. Pints and pints. A kebab shop would doubtless be in the mix.
The Tredegar Arms, Sandfields, Swansea:
Essentially a couple of terraced houses knocked into one: the Sandfields, by the beach, a few streets away from the Vetch Field and HMP Swansea. Think full Phoenix Nights and dubbed with fab-lass Swansea accents. Or for a darker edge, check out the sublime local ’90s movie: Twin Town. These tremendous pieces of celluloid are much more biopic, much more love letter than many viewers realise…
By the time we arrived at The Tredegar’ karaoke night had long set sail. (To be fair, we were several sheets to the wind too. So let’s not worry about details and go with what I remember okay?) A snug affair – a repurposed front room! – with the regular-Friday night crowd. Packed in ladies in spangly blouses, poodle perms. Pints of bitter being handed chain-style from the crowded bar over to the busy tables. The “stage” itself had a bar-stool, a tinsel curtain backdrop and some coloured lights.
Pubs and nights like this pretty much don’t exist in the English home counties. Industrial Britain developed these jovial, raucous, unglamorous, hard drinking, hard partying establishments. From Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Swansea, Belfast, Glasgow… They share a vibe and are absolutely bloody brilliant.
[Full Swansea MC/DJ] “Next up: Ken Jenkins. C’mon Ken…”
White hair coiffured, shirt unbuttoned one-too-many, slacks crisp and slip-ons just so, Ken took his cue and sauntered up to the stage. His practiced air as if we were witnessing his residency at a bar on the Strip in ‘Vegas. Elvis, Sir Tom Jones, Ken… In today’s language, Ken bossed it.
As he took to the stool the music filled the room on cue.
We held our pints and our breath.
“To all the girls I’ve loved before…”
A mellifluous tenor, white teeth, microphone held like an expensive cigar. But none of that describes the perfect pause between the lyric “loved” and “before”. In time with the syncopation and accents of the music. Yet, more importantly, accompanied by a theatrical knowing wink to the “girls” in the front row.
Listen here: Engelbert Humpadink made a good fist of it, but didn’t have the chops to clip the word “loved” with such chutzpah as Ken.
Of course, the “girls” went wild… Bawling “we love ew Kehhhhnnn!”
Our posse included Mum & Dad, Gilly, myself, Allister and very probably Sue, Ken’s wife. (His third.) We cheered his arrival on stage, listened and when he was done clapped our heartfelt applause.
At that point my friend Allister all but collapsed. Alarmed, we assisted him, but the cause of his doubling over was laughter. The rest of us – locals – hadn’t noticed the cause. What on earth was it? Well, moments before a rotund minicab-wallah had forced his way into the bar and – with a South Walean, matter-of-fact attention getting bellow – in a pause between tunes issued forth the following information:
“TAXI FOR JONES.”
Us Welsh didn’t bat an eyelid, whereas Al’ expected the whole pub to sup-up and cram into the waiting car. After all, isn’t every Welshman a Jones? To be fair, a few minutes later the raucous, frisky, Jones party – all ladies – were trying to bodily kidnap Al’ from the kerbside as he helped collect their half-finished glasses.
Just another night in the Sandfields I guess… but it etched Ken into my memory forever.