Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

My Personal Memory

In Memory

Keith Morris , Aberystwyth , October-19-19
In Memory by Keith Morris Keith Morris and I met around two hundred times. The centre of Aberystwyth is tight-packed and it was the place for two-thirds of our meetings, always unintended. He would be heading for an assignment, camera always around his neck, moving at speed.

Late in 2018 I sighted the so-familiar profile turning out of Cambrian Street and coming my way. “This must be a first”, I called out, “It's Keith Morris- without a camera!” He was, he said, this time just popping out for a bottle of milk.

Keith rarely stopped to linger. But, if walking in the same direction, we would share a couple of minutes on the latest item of news, a piece of theatre recently come to Aberystwyth. On occasion a snippet of Aberystwyth's history might come out. He pointed out what was once the site of Green's Foundry, recalling its demolition, and its lesser piece of architectural replacement. As the Barn Centre he had been in there along with Brith Gof, Colourscape, Cwmni Cyfri Tri, Cliff McLucas and fifty others. A conversation at that time long ago with Keith had alerted Wales' premier art detective, Peter Lord, to pursue a unique set of portraits in the Methodist Theological College.

Our conversations were only occasionally personal and I never saw him in a leisure setting. By definition, at an arts event or at a lecture in the Drwm he was at work. On the best days of the year- the weekends of spring and summer- he was off to weddings. Our relationship was unearnest, amiable and joky but essentially professional, although the two of us were unpaid. He provided the platform and I delivered the content.

I was in the house no more than a few times. Occasionally publishers of theatre and performance books would locate this theatre site and send him their titles in hope of review. I woould call to pick them up. My reviews of one particular publisher's books judged them to be muddied with jargon and badly written. That happened twice; unsurprisingly the flow of their bulky books ceased. Keith, when we next bumped into one another, was enormously entertained at the reviews he had hosted.

I talked with him once about photography. The first Dinefwr Literary Festival was location for another unanticipated meeting. I was there to file a report that included Georgia Ruth and Euros Childs. On a July day, with a sun high in a sky without a cloud, it was the worst of lights for photography. We talked over the alarming number of young people doing photography for A Level and beyond. Keith had, he said, been active at a time when the number of photographers was hugely fewer.

I mentioned I had seen a photograph with his credit featured in one of the weekend broadsheets. He was unsurprised. He had laid many down in the vast digital picture libraries, most likely running into the thousands. Some were perennially popular with picture editors, and he told me the sum they reliably earned each year. It was surprising, certainly beating, by a good way, any royalties a novelist or playwright might earn from a back catalogue.

At that time in Dinefwr I had a significant birthday ahead and was planning my own purchase of a serious camera. The money in my view was vast and I asked his opinion on a couple of digital SLR models. This was a professional. “Can't help you, there”, he said in all truth, “I've never bought one that cheap.”

Our emails were few and crisp, a sentence, four or five words often on his part, sufficient to convey the gist of what was needed. I received two complaints in twelve years. He was the first recipient and sent them straight on for rectification. Each Christmas I would send a short email of appreciation for his providing the platform.

The first adjective that Elin Jones used was “omnipresent”. Mike Parker used the word “ubiquitous” in his book “The Greasy Poll.” The Hay Festival has a tendency to programme Wales-related events early in the day. At eight-fifteen in the morning, the Maes at Hay is a ghostly place. On a chilly day for late May I headed to the media tent, walked in and uttered “I don't believe it.” Not a soul was to be seen, not a journalist or PR staff member, just one person, the photographer from Aberystwyth. Elin Jones was once a young councillor in Aberystwyth: “I realised Keith was not just present at civic events. He was there at every event in our town.”

When National Theatre Wales arrived in Aber in its inaugural year Keith was there a few days later on television's “Pethe” to deliver a wry, bemused judgement. Youtube retains the shortest of snippets of another TV appearance. Keith is in characteristic form on the arrival of the first series of “Y Gwyll.” A longer film can be seen, Keith at a TED event from last year. His subject is the starling flock whom he pictured in hundreds of images. His words are all at once poetic, learned, meditative,and humble in the face of a natural wonder that beguiled him.

My own first response last week was written on social media and ran: “I had dabbled in travel reportage, had had a play staged and was at a not-good time of life when I met Keith. A week or so on I diffidently offered him a review of a play I had seen.

“Without the platform he had created- he did the coding all himself- I would never have discovered the form of writing that is my best. Now I am author of a book and it is true to say that without Keith that book, and the ones to follow, would never have come into being. It is anchored in Aberystwyth as a cultural and intellectual fulcrum. When I told him, in passing on Chalybeate Street, his response was that inimitable chuckle.”

I have walked Great Darkgate Street, Portland Street, Chalybeate Street more days than not in the last week. Each time I have pondered that the loping figure with a crescent moon of a smile will no longer come into view. I shall miss him, greatly.

Keith on the starlings of Aberystwyth pier can be seen at:

https://www.ted.com/talks/keith_morris_the_starlings_of_aberystwyth

Keith can be seen briefly on “Pethe” with Gary Slaymaker and Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LOrASasmeo

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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