Singer Clara Bloom will be indulging in her passion for vintage clothes and music when she takes to the stage in a festival marking North Wales’ role in World War Two.
She will be headlining at the Ballroom Blitz dance evening, part of the hugely popular Forties Festival in Colwyn Bay, alongside DJ Malcolm Murray and the Ukulele Party Band with Reflections.
The family-focused festival, on Saturday April 21 and Sunday April 22, celebrates the town’s strategic war-time role in keeping Britain fed, when the Ministry of Food set up its HQ there.
Ballroom Blitz, on Saturday April 21, at the Barn in Zip World Stadium in Eirias Park, will see performers and audiences alike dressed up in 1940s outfits, and for Clara it is a chance to show off dresses discovered in vintage shops or new styles influenced by the era, such as those in Kit N Heels in Rhos on Sea.
She studied at the London School of Musical Theatre before joining the prestigious Players’ Theatre in London, where the spirit of Victorian music hall was kept alive thanks to stars such as Leonard Sachs, Patricia Hayes, Hattie Jacques, Peter Ustinov, Clive Dunn and Ian Carmichael.
Clara said: “I’m delighted to have been asked to appear at the Ballroom Blitz, as I just love music from that time. In fact I like most things from the 1930s up to the 1950s. It was a golden era with performers such as Judy Garland, Doris Day, Vera Lynn and others who appeared in the old MGM musicals. It was a special time.
“It’s going to be an amazing evening aimed at getting people dancing with the music of Glenn Miller, Gracie Fields, Vera Lynn and the Andrews Sisters. It’s important to keep this music alive for future generations.
“And dressing up in outfits from the 40s era is also a great way to spend an evening and really adds to the atmosphere. I have quite a collection of period outfits – it’s amazing where you can pick them up. I particularly like Kit N Heels in Rhos as well, as the owners are dancers and run jive classes, so really understand what clothes and shoes work for performers.”
Originally from Scotland, Clara didn’t take up singing professionally until she was in her mid 20s, and landed in North Wales after honing her musical skills aboard cruise ships.
The 42-year-old said: “I worked on P&O ferries for quite some time, usually Hull to Rotterdam or Portsmouth to Spain – it was enjoyable work and we did six month contracts.
“It meant performing every night, seven days a week. I’d sing as part of a production show with an audience of perhaps 2,000 people and then perform in one of the onboard piano bars.”
She loves her new adopted North Wales home and says she was surprised at the strength of the artistic community she discovered when she first arrived.
She said: “I came for a gig as the singer in a resident hotel band and never left! I originally hail from Glasgow but the North Wales landscape is very similar in many ways to a lot of Scotland. I just found the people welcoming and am now settled living near Prestatyn.
“Mind you, my home is like a B&B with a constant stream of Scottish visitors and family dropping in for a few days stay! Everyone seems to like it. I enjoy living in North Wales as it means I can cut down on travel.
“I’m now performing more and more as a solo artist and I’m getting lots of work in North Wales and Chester which suits me. In the past I travelled all over the place and it does get tiring.”
She added: “I’ve always enjoyed singing but for many years I performed alongside ‘normal’ jobs. Then I did a post graduate one year course at the London School of Musical Theatre and performed at the Players’ Theatre in London.
“The Players’ Theatre originally opened in the 1930s in Covent Garden but moved to various locations around London and is now at Charing Cross. That was a wonderful experience and was, and still is, all about old time music hall.”
Clara is also happy that the Ballroom Blitz evening will also raise funds for North Wales charity Happy Faces. This year she is directing a summer season show for the charity, in Llandudno Town Hall.
She said: “We are running two variety shows, on Wednesdays and Thursdays each week, from May until October to raise funds for the charity, which provides funds for disadvantaged North Wales children.
“The shows are good old fashioned variety, which I think everyone enjoys.”
This year’s Forties Festival features full-sized replicas of a Spitfire and a Hurricane, with the town invaded by fans of the era, dressed in vintage style or military uniforms.
There will be re-enactments of battle skirmishes at Eirias Park on Sunday, April 22 plus displays of military vehicles, Llandudno’s tram and war-time weapons along with heritage tours. Colwyn Bay’s streets will host performances by Forties style performers plus local food producers, wartime ephemera and nostalgia items.
The festival, the seventh to be held, has been organised by the Bay of Colwyn Business Network and is backed by Bay of Colwyn Town Council, printers Powlsons plus Colwyn Business Improvement District (BID), which is aiming to revitalise the area.
BID project manager Anna Openshaw said: “Colwyn Bay played a huge role in Britain’s war effort and this popular festival will mark the town’s contribution.
“The Forties Festival is a real celebration and attracts visitors from across the UK who come along to enjoy the event and dress up 40s style. I’m confident this year’s event will be bigger and better than ever and is an event not to be missed.”
Colwyn BID is a not-for-profit social enterprise aiming to revitalise the business communities across the Bay of Colwyn and to attract more visitors, investment and shoppers to the area.
The Forties Festival be a trip down memory lane for many of the town’s visitors and residents, from when Colwyn Bay played a key role in keeping war-time Britain fed.
The town became home to the Ministry of Food’s HQ with its head, businessman Lord Woolton, setting up his office in Colwyn Bay Hotel on the Promenade.
More than 5,000 staff moved to the town, launching campaigns such as Dig For Victory and overseeing the supply of food on the Home Front through ration books.
In 1940 the Ministry’s civil servants were moved from Whitehall to North Wales to escape the German bombing raids and free up space in London for the War Office.
They requisitioned 38 hotels in the town, including the fashionable Metropole, and the Queen’s, along with large houses as offices or places to live for the staff.
At the Imperial officials monitored ships going into and out of Liverpool. The Ministry’s bread division was based at the Edelweiss Hotel, the bacon and ham division at the Mount Stewart Hotel and the cocoa and chocolate department at the Colwyn Bay Hotel.
The workers also took over Rydal School, which was evacuated to the Sychnant Pass in Conwy, and Penrhos College, with pupils moving to Chatsworth House, Derbyshire.
The last department – the Bakery Finance Division – left the town on 29 September 1956.
More about the Colwyn Bay Forties Festival at colwynbaybusiness.co.uk