Not content with running a successful electrical business and raising nearly £400,000 for local charities in 212 performances, Keith Davies, the Abergavenny Elvis, is raising and selling Bonsai, miniature trees and shrubs from a traditional Chinese art form, penjing.
Fresh back from a sellout performance in Bucharest, Romania for Ukranian refugees, Abergavenny’s own Elvis is enthusiastic about his latest venture.
“The business is new but my interest isn’t a new thing,” he stressed, “I have been growing bonsai for 45 years, it’s fascinating to develop, nurture and grow these small trees, so it seemed natural to make the space in my display area to turn my hobby into a business, and already the signs are encouraging.”
Keith’s Abergavenny Electrics headquarters are alongside the Old Workhouse in town, but more than half the shop space is taken up with his perfectly formed living works of art, sharing room with his Elvis memorabilia and a Harley Davidson motor-bike.
The Davies family had emigrated to Australia, where Keith spent his early life in Australia. At the age of eight when he started school, he developed his interest in all things Japanese.
“Australia is a continent very aware of its position in the Pacific and at middle school we had to study a neighbouring culture. The choice was Japanese, Indonesian or Fijian. I chose Japanese which opened my mind to that very different culture, introducing me to bonsai, then in complete contrast, karate, and I have retained my interest in both through the years.”
Keith was a teenager when he and his family returned to Wales, but he never lost his interest in all things Japan – particularly bonsai and karate. He achieved a black belt, 3rd Dan and fought for Wales in the discipline from 1986 – 92.
“I loved buying plants trying to create bonsai, but in the early days with no idea what I was doing,” confessed Keith. “I got books for Christmas, and I bought my first little tree at 13. When we returned to Wales, I brought my interest in Japan with me, so as well as karate, I was still developing my interest and learning about bonsai.”
A proud moment was winning a gold medal at the last Abergavenny Horticultural show seven years ago. He exhibited all over South Wales at horticultural shows and craft fairs, happy to talk to interested visitors about his passion.
“So far so good, since opening Abergaveny Bonsai, we have averaged about 25 trees a month, plus accessories, like pots and tools, and the courses I started are sold out till March. So there must be plenty of bonsai enthusiasts out there.”
Word about the new venture is certainly getting round. A major success came from two Netflix productions which hired trees to dress studio sets for a typical Japanese flavour. Watch out for the programmes with highly visible bonsai in the new year.
“Before I took the plunge and opened the new venture, you would have to go to Bristol or Gloucester to buy these lovely trees in miniature. As far as I am aware, Abergavenny is the only place you can buy bonsai in South Wales.”
The Elvis career all started on rugby trips as a teenager. “After a few beers I was happy to show my Welsh roots and sing. I sang Elvis, Roy Orbison even Shirley Bassey.
“Then a friend wanted to raise some money for a cancer sufferer. I had a costume made, he hired a hall, and we raised £500 from me singing to backing tapes.”
After that Elvis and his band, The Memphis Mafia caried on doing gigs in village halls, but as the word spread, the venues had to get bigger. In 2005 Elvis and the Mafia performed their first open air concert in front of 1,000 people and raised over £10,000. Just like Elvis, Keith arrived by helicopter and the band in two stretch limos.
What’s next for this human dynamo? Treading the boards as Elvis by night, electrics contractor, and bonsai gardener by day keeps him busy but for Keith, it’s seizing the chance and doing the things he loves. “These are my passions,” he said simply, “and I am just grateful that I can carry on doing them, being faithfull to my customers and taking them with me on the journey.”
Elvis is still very much in the building.
Tickets are still available for Keith’s Valentines Day show, Saturday February 11, at the Borough Theatre, Abergavenny.