Monday, 19 November 2018

Harpist’s life story not all roses

CLAIRE Jones’ life has indeed been a journey, much of it wonderful and memorable but with more than its fair share of pain too

CLAIRE Jones’ life has indeed been a journey, much of it wonderful and memorable but with more than its fair share of pain too.

Which explains why her latest show is called The Journey — the story of a young Welsh girl who fell in love with playing the harp and ended up travelling the world.

Along the way she has battled with ME (chronic fatigue syndrome), a fight she is on the way to winning.

Oh, and she became a Royal Harpist and played at Kate and William’s wedding. Claire has packed a lot into her 30 years, which she will share when she comes to  the Kenton Theatre on Wednesday, May 20, at 7.30pm.

“I do actually know Henley as I have been involved with the music side of Rupert House School after the old headmistress Niki Gan saw me perform and asked if I would go there and play the harp,” said Claire.

“I was delighted to do so as I want to share the harp with as many people as possible, especially schoolchildren, so some of the pupils from the school will actually get to perform with me on stage that night, which is wonderful.”

She has also appeared at a music festival in Henley but this will be her first time at the Kenton.

Her own musical journey began as a 10-year-old in Pembrokeshire initially playing piano and violin, before the harp came into her life.

“I auditioned for the Royal College of Music on violin but a year into my degree they allowed me to change to the harp,” she said. “As soon as I played a harp I was hooked. It became a passion.

“It is a very feminine instrument and the majority of harpists are female, although the number of men playing is growing. It is also a very Welsh instrument, which I am proud of.”

She now plays a spectacular harp covered in gold leaf and is the face of Clogau Gold of Wales.

Claire’s promising career got a huge lift in 2007 when she was one of the inaugural winners of The Prince of Wales’s Advanced Study Award and became his Royal Harpist until 2011.

She played at more than 180 events in the four years, many at Clarence House where audiences could be anything from an intimate 10 to 500.

“It was all fantastic. The Prince is a very caring and witty man and I really enjoyed working with him,” said Claire. “He is actually a very fine musician and he knows his stuff, although I don’t believe he can play the harp.”

Her royal connection led to her playing at the wedding reception for William and Kate at Buckingham Palace.

She said: “That was a wonderful occasion. I played between the wedding cake and the chocolate cake they had there.

“They were very charming and friendly and chose what they wanted me to play and it was all very romantic. It was such a massive boost to be in that it helped me internationally.”

But as her career soared she was pushing herself to her limits and fell victim to ME.

“It was a dreadful period,” she recalled. “I was doing so much but I now realise that I wasn’t listening to my body.

“The worst time was in the summer of 2013 for about three months. I was lucky in that I got tremendous support and now I am technically recovered in my body but I still need to take care.”

Claire used the upheaval to inspire The Journey. Appearing with her — apart from the Rupert House pupils — will be her husband, Chris Marshall, who performs with her as a percussionist and plays a key role in arranging music for the show, and dancer Holly Williams.

The music ranges from classical to folk and film scores but it is a chance to share a journey with a very talented musician as well as to see that golden harp.

Later this year she is heading to China and the US but despite her international standing Claire remains very much attached to Wales and her accent leaves you in no doubt where she was born.

“My life has been a tremendous journey and I now love sharing it with people through my music,” she added.

Jon Ryan

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