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About Novello & Son

Before the World War I, Clara Novello Davies was undoubtedly Cardiff’s most celebrated daughter. She was the doyenne of choral singing in Wales and had a world wide reputation as a choir mistress and singing coach.  And this at a time when choral singing had a pre-eminent place in the performing arts. As she was never shy to point out – perhaps not always fairly – her friend and rival, Adelina  Patti always took second billing to her.


In her day it wouldn’t have struck anyone as remarkable that Margaret Lindsay Williams  wanted to paint the flamboyant portrait of her or that it should hang in the National Museum of Wales.  At the height of her career, she had studios in Bristol, London, Paris and New York. She mixed with the great and the good, lived grandly, was gloriously self-aggrandizing, but always remained unashamedly loyal to her Welshness, to her humble Cardiff origins and in particular to the chapel where she’d learnt her music, her values and her indefatigability. 


And now Wales seems to have forgotten her. 


That would have been unimaginable in 1893 when she returned victorious from the Chicago World Fair’s International Festival of Choral Singing , and ten thousand people crammed into Cardiff station to welcome her and her choir.  Throughout her life, Wales continued to celebrate and laud her achievements.  So why don’t we still remember her?


Of course after the Great War, the reverence for choral singing waned as musical tastes changed … and at the forefront of that change was the pretty boy who sometimes accompanied Clara’s choir so charmingly on piano. Her son, Ivor.


The movies, the musicals, the gramophone records, the newspapers new-found obsession with celebrity transformed the charming Ivor into the worldwide Novello phenomenon … and did so just at the moment that choral singing (and hence his mother} became passé.


How does Clara take this wholly unanticipated change? Of course she was delighted and proud to bask in her son’s success. And, of course, she was miffed - there was only room for one musical star from Cardiff in Clara’s firmament.


She was as entranced by Ivor’s music as his legion of female fans, but at the same time, good chapel girl that she was, she clung to the belief that music should serve a Higher Purpose than provide a toe-tapping night out in the West End. So, like the rest of the world,  she sung along with Ivor’s songs, but - like all pushy mothers - always felt her boy was capable of so much more. And like every devoted son, Ivor wanted to do his own thing, without ever wanting to jeopardise his mum’s approval.


It might have been easier if, in her old age, Clara could have resigned herself to being the old dear in the corner wittering on about the old days. But there’d never be a corner grand enough to hold a lady with an ego as big as the Ritz. A lady who insisted in every moment of her son’s celebrity and who, until her dying day, entertained increasingly harebrained schemes to revive her pre-war career. They all proved expensive - and, of course, it was long-suffering Ivor who had to pick up the tab. The financial strain he could easily handle - he was an astute business man - but the emotional strain must have been acute. It’s the sort of strain that puts love to the test. Clara and Ivor were living proof that love always triumphs. It’s the sort of thing Ivor might have written a song about ... a song of which Clara would have doubtless said it could have done better.


Novello & Son, tries to see the story of their relationship as Clara would have seen it. And, inevitably, in Clara’s telling the story, she will be without fault. But, the audience doesn’t have to be that astute to realise that her version of the truth might not be the whole truth. She wasn’t the greatest of mothers nor the best of wives. Perhaps she knew it. But she will not to admitting it on stage in Novello & Son.


Instead, she will sing Ivor’s songs and his praises and give just enough away to see what a struggle it is trying to be the best mam you can be ... and still be the person you were meant to be.

Arnold Evans



The show features Rosamund Shelley and her pianist Gavin Roberts

Novello & Son has had several successful performances in London (The Jermyn Street Theatre, The Rosemary Branch, The London Welsh Centre, The Marylebone Festival and Crazy Coqs), in Cardiff (the Wales Millennium Centre), Newbridge, Blackwood and Llanelli and at music festivals - and is currently touring

Video Clip from Novello & Son - click to play


Radio Interviews about Novello & Son with

Jo Good (BBC Radio London)

Stifyn Parri (Stifyn's Stuff on Radio Cardiff) 

Keith Milward (Milward's Musicals  on Radio Tircoed)

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