The story of the Welsh expats and the most famous Wales flag in America
If you’re a Welsh performer appearing in Chicago, there is every chance that Dave Parry will seek you out.
Thankfully, that’s not as ominous as it may first sound – as Dave is chairman of America’s biggest expat Welsh group, the Chicago Tafia Welsh Society and he’s after your signature.
Once the Welshman meets you it’s certain he will ask you to sign his star-studded flag.
The ‘Tafia Flag of Fame’, as it’s named, has been signed by the great and the good in the Welsh entertainment industry for more than a decade.
Such names as Tom Jones, Bryn Terfel, Stereophonics, Manic Street Preachers, Cerys Matthews, Super Furry Animals, Marina Diamandis, The Joy Formidable, Jem, Goldie Lookin’ Chain, Jon Langford, Funeral for a Friend, Fflur Dafydd, Eddie Izzard and many more have signed the flag.
It’s now so full of signatures that there’s hardly room for any more, and as a result may soon be auctioned off to raise money for charity.
“It’s not actually the first flag,” says Dave, who is originally from Aberystwyth and moved to Chicago in 1998, forming the society the following year in 1999. “We started to collect signatures for the original flag back in 2002, and we auctioned it off in 2007.”
The flag raised hundreds of pounds for Welsh children’s hospice Tŷ Hafan and now the latest Ddraig Goch looks set to outdo the original.
“Well both flags were being signed by Welsh performers while in the Chicago area, starting in 2006-2007, so the second flag has now been doing the rounds at venues in and around the city for at least 14 years,” says Dave.
During that time, the society chairman has accrued many stories of his encounters with Welsh stars.
However, the most eventful is the tale of getting Cerys Matthews to play for the Chicago Tafia Society.
“It started off as something of a bet in early 2006 with someone who shall remain nameless,” laughs the Welshman. “It went something along the lines of ‘if you can get Cerys Matthews to play in Chicago, I’ll pay for the whole thing’.
“Cut to late 2006, and I’m doing an interview with Cerys for the Welsh-American newspaper Ninnau, and chatted back and forth quite a bit about raising kids in the US and all the other shared experiences that we had living over here.”
Limo with welsh flags
“I chance asked if she fancied playing at our St. David’s Day party in Chicago, and was amazed when she answered yes. The next day once my hangover had passed I confirmed that it was legit, and got a rough price for flights, hotels etc. I then called the chap I made a bet with, who promptly called me ‘a bastard’ but said ‘a deal is a deal’ and agreed he’d pay for the whole shebang.
“We hired out the upper level of Fado’s pub in Chicago,” adds Dave. “One of the Tafia guys – a limo driver called ‘Uncle Bri’ from Llanbradach decorated his limo with Welsh flags presidential style and picked up Cerys and a couple of other musicians and drove her to the pub. We had over 100 of the Tafia gang out for the night, and Cerys played a fantastic set.
“All in all, it was one of the best Tafia nights out we ever had.”
Dave, however, has had many more highlights with his Welsh flag.
“Seeing a young Marina on her first US tour at a packed Lincoln Hall in Chicago in 2010 was epic,” he recalls. “We’ve met up with her a couple of times over the years. She always has a huge smile and is always really nice.
“Jem was another classic. I’d also done an interview with her for Ninnau a few months prior to her May 2006 gig in Chicago at Park West, so we met up after the show. Lacking a solid surface to sign the flag, she had me bend over and signed it on my back. She was a really good laugh. I hope she gets back on tour one day.
“Another cracking night out was with the GLC at the Abbey Pub in 2005,” he adds. “We had a brilliant time chatting and smoking with them after the show.”
One of the most dramatic encounters however was with operatic superstar, Bryn Terfel.
“Bryn was performing at Ravinia in Highland Park, Illinois,” remembers Dave. “It was an epic night, Ravinia is an outdoor venue, however a massive lightning storm rolled through that night, so only the indoor area was useable. We had lawn tickets so we were pretty much the only people outside, Bryn’s voice booming over the speakers while thunder and lightning crashed around us was damn impressive.”
Sadly, the only person who has signed the flag who Dave hasn’t met, is undoubtedly the biggest name – Tom Jones.
“Tom was also performing at Ravinia and he was the only one we didn’t actually meet. We just met up with staff who took the flag and my camera backstage to get a picture of him signing the flag.”
The Chicago Tafia Welsh Society is one of the most active expat societies in the States and is also known for its annual St David’s Day celebrations, when it works with local authorities to light up several of the city’s landmark buildings in Welsh flag colours of red, white and green
For the future, the Chicago Tafia chairman has a big decision to make. It could be time to auction off his prized possession and start a new flag.
“It’s getting pretty full,” says Dave. “There’s not a lot of space left for signatures, so it might be time to start a new flag for the 2020s.”
Find out more about the Chicago Tafia Welsh Society via their Facebook page.