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Cwmbran guitarist told he would never play again after a mountain bike accident wins music award

four band members on stage with their instruments
Calan were crowned Best Live Act at the 2023 Welsh Folk Awards (Photo: Richard P Walton)

A Cwmbran guitarist who was told by doctors he would never play again after shattering his left arm in a mountain bike accident has just won a coveted live music award.

Indie-folk band Calan were crowned Best Live Act at the 2023 Welsh Folk Awards in the Wales Milliennium Centre on Thursday 20 April. Guitarist Sam Humphreys shattered his left arm last June in a mountain biking accident above the Blaen Bran Community Woodland in Upper Cwmbran.

Sam was born in Nefyn (on the Llyn Peninsula) and went to Cardiff University in 2012. After graduating he stayed in south Wales and moved to Cwmbran six years ago. He has always been a self-employed musician so the accident threatened his livelihood.

He said: “I’d have taken a broken leg before a broken arm. I knew it was bad the moment I crashed, but when doctors confirmed how bad it was – how terminal for my playing it could be – I was devastated. I thought of how much work I had coming up. All those gigs. What was I going to do?”

Sam Humphreys with his broken arm in a sling
Sam Humphreys with his broken arm in a sling

The 33-year-old recalled the day in June 2022 and said: “I just lost control and went over the handlebars and rolled down the mountain. The mobility had gone and I tried to kid myself it was a sprain. At the hospital, I told the nurse I was a guitarist. The doctor said ‘you won’t have the mobility. I’m not sure you’ll be able to do it again’. It was horrible. I had loads of work on, festivals and gigs, and had one in London that day.

“I was thinking that not playing the guitar is not an option.” He lost the full range of motion in his arm but focused on how he could rehabilitate himself following six weeks in the plaster cast.

“During that time I had a false sense of security. I  got the cast off and I couldn’t move my wrist.  I thought ‘oh god, the doctors are right’. My whole world came crashing down. It’s all I’ve ever known. I was devastated.”

He found a YouTube channel with an American woman doing arm and wrist stretches and he started work. For his first physio appointment, he took his guitar to show the physiotherapist what he needed to be able to do. Following months of hard work he was able to start playing again.

By the autumn, he was performing again as Calan stormed through their Autumn Thunder UK tour, cementing the reputation that has now led to the band’s Welsh Folk Awards triumph.

“Miracles can happen,” says Calan’s singer Bethan Rhiannon. “And this is the proof.  Every gig now feels miraculous.”

This Best Live Act award is an accolade long in the making. With six albums and hundreds of thousands of miles of relentless gigging, Calan have built a loyal following across Britain, Europe and North America.

That following is about to expand rapidly with a resurgence in Welsh-language arts output. Netflix is currently screening its first Welsh-with-subtitles drama Dal Y Mellt.

Watch Calan perform Jêl Caerdydd’ live on S4C

four musicians stood with their award
Calan at the Welsh Folk Awards in the Wales Millennium Centre. Sam holds the award (Photo: Bethan Rhiannon)

Besides Sam and Bethan, Calan are Patrick Rimes (fiddle, Welsh bagpipes) and Shelley Musker-Turner (harp). A fifth member, fiddle player Angharad Jenkins is currently on maternity leave. They met at a folk music course in Sweden.

The band members have variety of extra-curricular skills and successes. Bethan Rhiannon tried her hand at comedy and has appeared on Romesh Ranganathan’s Ranganation. Shelley Musker-Turner has a second career as a hugely-skilled leather worker, running her own horse-armour company. Her CV includes work on films and TV such as Game Of Thrones, Maleficent and Wonder Woman 1984.

They have written for and performed with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, they performed with Welsh opera god Sir Bryn Terfel in a Christmas Concert for New York’s Metropolitan Opera and soon they will be recording with Sir Bryn for Deutsche Grammophon.

Calan’s manager Huw Williams, said: “As always,” he says, “You hope for the right band, in the right place at the right time. And it’s never been more right for Calan.”

 See Calan play

 Calan play Bristol Folk Festival at Trinity on 30April 2023:  TICKETS

 Follow Calan

 Follow Calan;  Official Website  Facebook  Twitter  Instagram  Spotify

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Cwmbran guitarist told he would never play again after a mountain bike accident wins music award