Maxwell "Max" Boyce MBE (born 27 September 1943) is a Welsh comedian, singer and entertainer. He rose to fame during the mid-1970s with an act that combined musical comedy with his passion for rugby union and his origins in the mining communities of South Wales. Having sold more than two million albums in a career spanning four decades, and playing to full houses all around the world, Boyce is one of the most successful and enduring entertainers in Welsh history.
Max Boyce was born in Glynneath. He has always lived there, but his family were originally from Ynyshir in the Rhondda Valley. A month preceding Boyce's birth, his father died in an explosion in the coal pit where he was working. At the age of fifteen, Boyce left school, went to live with his grandfather, and followed his father's footsteps by working in a colliery "for nearly eight years". In his early twenties, he managed to find work in the Metal Box factory, Melin, Neath as an electrician's apprentice instead, but his earlier mining experiences were to influence his music considerably in later years.
Boyce first learned to play the guitar as a young man, but he showed no particular flair for the instrument, nor an actual desire to become a performer. In his own words: "[I had] no desire at all to be anything. I had a love of poetry, and eventually started writing songs without any ambition to build a career. It just happened. I started writing songs about local things and it evolved." Nevertheless, in time he became competent enough to perform at local eisteddfodau, one of the earliest known recordings of his work being "O Na Le", a folk tune in Welsh that Boyce played at the Dyffryn Lliw eisteddfod in 1967.
In the early 1970s Boyce undertook a mining engineering degree at the Glamorgan School of Mines in Trefforest (now the University of South Wales), during which he began to pen tunes about life in the mining communities of South Wales. He started out performing in local sports clubs and folk clubs around 1970, where his original set began to take on a humorous element, interspersed by anecdotes of Welsh community life and of the national sport, rugby union."Max Boyce biography". Retrieved 27 June 2007. Boyce, Max (23 November 1973). Introduction to "Duw It's Hard" - Live at Treorchy album (Speech). Treorchy, Wales. Boyce, Max (1980). I Was There!. Arrow Books Limited. p. 11. ISBN 0-09-924410-1. Croeso Cambrian - Eisteddfod Dyffryn Lliw (Back cover of the LP). Various. Wales: Cambrian Records. 1973. SCLP 672. Tarleton, Alice. "University of Glamorgan". The Independent (London). Retrieved 27 June 2007.
The first recording of Boyce's songs was made at the Valley Folk Club in Pontardawe in 1971 by Cambrian Records, which subsequently released an LP called Max Boyce in Session. This album included several tracks that were to later become his signature tunes, including "Hymns and Arias", "Duw it's Hard" and "Slow - Men at Work". The record sleeve of this album includes the following prediction:
In the same year, he also recorded Caneuon Amrywiol ("Miscellaneous Songs"), a collection of Welsh folk songs under the same label. Nevertheless, Boyce remained virtually unknown beyond the music clubs of the South Wales valleys for the time being, where he continued to perform.
This all changed towards the end of 1973. Boyce had competed, unsuccessfully, on the television talent show Opportunity Knocks, shortly before record label EMI heard his first album, Max Boyce in Session, and came to see him in concert. EMI offered Boyce a two-album contract, and arrangements were made to make a live recording of his upcoming concert at Treorchy Rugby Club. This performance, which took place on 23 November 1973, was given in front of an audience who received their tickets free of charge, after these failed to sell for fifty pence. Nevertheless, Boyce's performance was warmly received by the crowd, as can be heard in the final recording. The resulting album, Live at Treorchy, brought Boyce into the public eye, and it soon went gold.
His next album, We All Had Doctors' Papers, was another live album, recorded this time at Pontarddulais Rugby Club. This was released in late 1975 and, unexpectedly, it reached the #1 position on the UK Albums Chart for the week ending 15 November. This recording has the distinction of being the only comedy album to ever top the UK Albums Chart. Boyce released several albums over the next few years, receiving further gold discs for The Incredible Plan in 1976, and I Know 'Cos I Was There in 1978.
This early pinnacle in Boyce's career coincided with the dominance of the Welsh rugby team in the Five Nations Championship during the 1970s. His songs and poems were real-time reflections on this unfolding history, often invoking the names of Welsh rugby greats such as Barry John, Gareth Edwards and Dai Morris. Songs such as "Hymns and Arias" soon became popular with rugby crowds, a fact which has played a significant part in his ongoing popularity.
His rise to fame was confirmed by an appearance on the long-running biographical series This Is Your Life on 22 February 1978. He had gone to watch Glynneath RFC play against Hawick Trades RFC, and was surprised by the host of This Is Your Life, Eamonn Andrews, at the end of the match whilst being interviewed.(1971) Max Boyce in Session [LP album]. Wales: Cambrian Records (MCT 207) "Max - A biography (part one)". Archived from the original on 13 May 2007. Retrieved 27 June 2007. "Number 1 Albums - 1970s". Retrieved 27 June 2007. "Max - A biography (part two)". Archived from the original on 18 May 2007. Retrieved 27 June 2007. Cite error: The named reference BBCbio was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ""This Is Your Life" Max Boyce (1978)". Retrieved 27 June 2007. "Max - a biography (part four)". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 27 June 2007.
Television and other side projects
As Boyce's popularity became established throughout Wales and the United Kingdom, he became involved in many side projects, including three books, several television series and televised concerts, and three multi-part television specials produced by Opix Films.
Boyce's spoken and sung poetry was first collected in Max Boyce: His Songs and Poems in 1976, with an introduction by Barry John. The comic illustrations that accompany the poems were drawn by his friend Gren Jones of the South Wales Echo (who had also illustrated the cover of We All Had Doctors' Papers). This publication was followed up with a similar collection, I Was There!, in 1980.
In 1982, Boyce went to the United States to be filmed participating at a training camp held by the Dallas Cowboys in California. The resulting four-part series, Max Boyce Meets The Dallas Cowboys was screened by Channel 4 in November that year. He returned to America in early 1984 to try his hand at being a cowboy in the rodeos of the Midwestern United States. The result of his bull riding and rodeo clown antics was Boyce Goes West, which also became a four-part series that went to air in June 1984. In the following year, Boyce took part in the World Elephant Polo Championships near Kathmandu, Nepal, with an all-star team sponsored by the jewellers and watch-makers Cartier. Not surprisingly, his team, consisting of Ringo Starr, Barbara Bach, Billy Connolly and Cartier chairman Alain Perrin, only managed to score a single goal during the tournament. To the North of Katmandu was released in 1986. These made-for-television adventures in America and Nepal, as well as many other anecdotes of his worldwide touring throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, became the focus of an autobiography, Max Boyce in the Mad Pursuit of Applause, which was first published in 1987.
In 1990, Boyce entered the world of theatre by taking on the title role of "Jack" in Jack and the Beanstalk alongside Ian Botham. Debuting in the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford, the show went on to play in other centres including Cardiff, Norwich and Edinburgh."World Elephant Polo Association Championship 1985". Retrieved 27 June 2007. "To the North of Katmandu (1986)". Retrieved 27 June 2007. Cite error: The named reference Max4 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
Max Boyce has enjoyed a resurgence in his career since the late 1990s. At Christmas time in 1998, BBC Wales screened An Evening With Max Boyce, which broke Welsh viewing records. In the following year, he performed at the opening ceremonies of the 1999 Rugby World Cup in the Millennium Stadium, and of the Welsh Assembly. Not long after, Boyce was included on the 2000 New Year Honours list, and received an MBE from Prince Charles in a ceremony at Cardiff Castle on 15 March that year. According to Boyce, "He (the Prince) said he was surprised it took them so long" to accord him this honour.
Boyce's greatest musical success in recent years was his 2003 tour of Australia, coinciding with the Rugby World Cup which was being hosted there at the time. He held concerts in Adelaide and Melbourne, but the highlight was his sold-out performance at the Sydney Opera House, which was later released on DVD as Max Boyce: Down Under.
Boyce continues to make headlines in the British press. On 29 May 2006 Max Boyce headlined at a concert in Pontypridd to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Welsh national anthem, Hen Wlad fy Nhadau. In August 2006, Boyce hit out against the stereotypical use of the word "boyo" in the media, following its resurgence in reference to Welsh Big Brother contestant Glyn Wise. His renewed popularity is reflected in the success of a Max Boyce tribute band, "Boycezone", who have raised tens of thousands of pounds for charity, by including some of Boyce's best-known songs in their repertoire.
Boyce returned to Treorchy in early 2011 to perform a show at the Parc and Dare Theatre, shown on St David's Day on BBC1 Wales. He was joined onstage by guests including Boyd Clack, and the audience featured such Welsh icons as Gareth Edwards.
His 70th birthday was celebrated with an hour-long programme shown on BBC One Wales on 25 September 2013, recorded in front of an audience of a celebrity audience.
Harry Secombe is one of the most famous of comedians from Wales. His reputation however rests with his singing and Neddy Seagoonery. Sir Geraint Evans possessed considerable talent for comedy and made us laugh in the roles of Falstaff and Leporello, but his career depended every move on his voice. Until Max Boyce, I can think of no-one who has become famous outside Wales for his Welshness.
— Jack Waterman, The Listener, 1979Cite error: The named reference BBCbio was invoked but never defined (see the help page). "Prince Charles Honours Wales's Elite". BBC News. 15 March 2000. Retrieved 27 June 2007. "Concert marks anthem anniversary". BBC News. 9 May 2006. Retrieved 27 June 2007. Clark, Rhodri. "'Boyo is demeaning' says Max Boyce". Retrieved 27 June 2007. "Max Boyce's Big Birthday". BBC. Retrieved 27 September 2013. "Max - a biography (part five)". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 27 June 2007.
Boyce has a wife and children, who live away from the public eye in his hometown of Glynneath, in South Wales. Max continues to play an active role within this community, having been in recent years the president of Glynneath RFC and the Club President of Glynneath Golf Club, where the "Max Boyce Classic" is held every two or three years.
In 2014 Boyce was diagnosed with heart problems and underwent a quadruple heart bypass."Hall of Fame - Max Boyce". Retrieved 27 June 2007. "Glynneath RFC". Retrieved 27 June 2007. "Max Boyce M.B.E. Club President". Retrieved 27 June 2007. "Max Boyce recovering after a quadruple heart bypass". BBC News. 22 June 2014. Retrieved 22 June 2014.