ARE YOU READY FOR THIS? Wales Goes Pop! is a new three-day indoor all ages indiepop festival, and in a stunning turn of events, former GIITTV scribe Gordon aka Thomas has been called out of retirement for one last job. His mission: to report on the first two days, with the third day off to rest up and take some vitamins. It is entirely possible he will miss bands for entirely arbitrary reasons, and also simply to get drunk and eat tapas. In a further, equally breathless, turn of events, our plans to cover the last day go tits up. So whilst we apologise for the enforced truncation, what we don’t apologise for is the uncompromising nature of this professional report. Including why caramel flapjacks are Where It’s At.
“Do you watch porn?”
It’s 3pm and the cafe bar is almost full. As I snake through the crowd and perch at the back, Ellie James, aka Ellie Makes Music, is introducing her last song. Ellie is young and fearless, armed with just an acoustic guitar and some spectacles, and the song is called ‘Shaky Hands’. I’d call it well-crafted but inconsequential, but as apparently it’s on iTunes and Amazon, check it out yourself if you like your acoustica clear, honest and sincerely delivered. Also sweet and easily digested are Snickers bars, and as Ellie packs up I’m delighted to find that The Gate have a small but well-considered selection of reasonably priced chocolate. Come on gig venues, even if you’re not an arts centre in a church, this is what we consider essential.
More on snacks later.
Next up is smartly-attired local legend Spencer McGarry, who tickles the plastic ivories of his piano keyboard to produce a sprightly set of songs both old and new, covering topics such as dating someone the appropriate age for a change, and why we should fear the rise of intelligent robots (a subject surely under-addressed in popular song). Spencer is ably assisted by a lady backing vocalist, guitarist and on one song, an ancient Yamaha DD8 drum machine dug out of a cupboard. “Look!” says Spencer, holding up the battered box, “It’s from Tandy! That doesn’t even exist anymore!” There is a pause. “We’re going to do some Medium Funk”. Said device is inevitably inaudible but fails to detract from a fun, tuneful set, enthusiastically performed by a consummate pro.
Due to M4 traffic problems, acts are shuffled around and it’s off upstairs to catch Evans The Death.
The main hall is the church itself, complete with original pews, decked out with bunting and balloons plus Fortuna Pop! and Elefant record stalls. The downside however is that it wasn’t designed for amplified rock music, and this means the sound mix sometimes lacks clarity. EtD produced one of my favourite records of last year, all droll, witty lyrics and lean, distorted indie hooks, but the aforementioned mix does its best to blunt the edge of their sound. Katherine’s distinctive vocals happily remain able to soar above the soup, particularly when a broken bass means going acoustic-ish for ‘You’re Joking’, or as they introduce it, “some filler” (hardly). A wry, flanged guitar-&-vox reflection on the simple mundanities of being poor and bored, it drips with deadpan realism.
“Sorry this was all I could afford / Give me a shout if you get bored / We could go out… for a walk /When you get home, you’ll find a plate / Lovingly placed / In the microwave.”
Love indeed, in a cold, cold climate.
The band also play three new songs which hint at a rockier, looser direction for their follow-up, while relative oldies ‘Threads’, ‘Wet Blanket’ and a frantic ‘I’m So Unclean’ are direct, streamlined bursts of energy. On balance then, one-nil to bands vs acoustics.
After a word with Helen from the superb but recently-split Shrag, I head back to the cafe and watch twosome The Middle Ones do some well-meaning twee stuff and ‘harmonise’ by singing very, very loudly at the same time as each other. In the process, I accidentally miss a rescheduled Joanna Gruesome in the main hall and am annoyed. What could possibly cheer me up? Perhaps some pink-skirted femme-punk with slick guitar riffola and ass-kicking pop tunes? Why yes, it’s The Tuts! Having been stuck in hideous M4 traffic with nothing but a Jim Reeves cassette for company, the three girls from Hayes are happy to be here and infectious fun from the off. They even have their own sort-of band anthem in ‘Tut Tut Tut’, a riposte to the talentless lad-swagger tosspots usually filling the bill above them.
They’re young, hungry, DIY, and – in a further knockback to any dumb ‘all ‘tude, no tunes’ suggestions – can really, really fucking play. In between swigs of lager and keeping her hair in place, singer/guitarist Nadia wrings sweet sounds from her chunky Gibson SG, whilst the front row decide buzzsaw Libertines-y swagger-pop calls for a kids vs adults balloon fight. A Clash cover gets thrown in too. Cool. Afterwards, an innocent discussion with the band descends into them quizzing me on my porn viewing habits, before nosediving into a level of filth entirely unrepeatable on this bastion of moral fortitude, the Internet.
Filth. Tunes. Balloons. Knockout stuff, as no-one says anymore.
Back at the cafe, The Yearning appear to be The Pipettes via The Puppini Sisters (is it 2006?), and I head off for sustenance and conversation with GIITTV’s editor-in-chief Bill, who – while off-duty – recommends the caramel flapjacks at The Gate as ‘an important part of our cultural heritage’ (ok, he didn’t say that, but I sensed it somehow). We miss most of The Wave Pictures‘ main hall set to discuss further cake philosophy, stealing in for their last two songs to hear some unnecessary palefaced guitar noodling and someone exclusively playing cowbell. I always think this is like music lessons at primary school, when the most useless child gets sized up and handed the triangle. Not that I’m bitter. Anyway, I feel no guilt at missing most of this, which is better on record if still hardly essential to human life.
Stand-up comedian Josie Long arrives, and apologises cheerfully for “not being music” in case anyone was confused by the somewhat maverick line-up choice of one non-musician amongst many bands. Pleasingly she validates said decision entirely, witty and unpretentious to the point of being thankful for “just getting out of the house”, and even shows us her thermals. Hey, it’s a festival, go nuts.
Evans The Death are just in front of me, laughing with dark recognition when enforced government work trials get a topical mention, while Josie sums up online ‘Things to do before you’re 30’ lists with the image of masses of weeping 29 year-olds stumbling bewilderedly through marathons, threesomes and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. She finishes with a little song about Jedward and exits to much applause, ending a performance impossible to describe without using the word ‘bubbly’, a term sadly long since hijacked by frizzy divorcees in their desperate personal ads.
The Primitives are up next on the bill. Remember them? Well you’ll have to, as I fucked off home.
“Enough emotions…. let’s have a dance”
No-one wants school at 2.15 on a Saturday… unless of course it’s The School! Yes, I went there! Wearing their badge and standing in the front row, it’s fair to say I’m a fan of the girl group -influenced eight-piece’s classic pop, previously described elsewhere as ‘seductive, timeless stuff’, which pretty much sums it up. Playing a selection from both albums to date and a splash of new material, they are swoonsome and smile-inducing as ever. On vocals and electric piano, festival co-organiser Liz is in fine voice through ‘Stop That Boy’, while early single ‘All I Wanna Do’ (once bigged up by Molly Ringwald) is still beautiful as ever in its simplicity, and feels like a little hug. Awww.
The School are sporting recent new recruits on guitar and behind the kit, and while they perform solidly, the drummer (whose name I don’t catch) still seems to be bedding in, looking rather like he’s been pinched from a Pearl Jam tribute band. And is he drumming barefoot? It’s indie, Jim, but not as we know it. Meanwhile, Fran’s flourishes of trumpet, plus violin/tambourine/harmonies from Kay and Steph mean there’s always something colouring songs like the 60’s pop of ‘Shoulder’, making them shimmy and shimmer. Plus we all ‘awww’ (again) at the tiny little lad in the front row wearing big blue ear defenders and holding his balloon. Rockin’!
Having met up with friends and sunk the day’s first drink, it’s time for Big Wave, straight outta Torquay. Their guitarist has a beard that begs the question ‘why is he not captaining a small fishing vessel?’, which contrasts somewhat with the (largely inaudible) keyboardist’s shiny spray-on leggings. It’s an aesthetic mash-up that’s stayed with me mentally more than their set has, as – partially due to the sound – Big Wave simply fail to connect. Nevertheless, a decent indiepop band and worth checking out on record.
We decide that someone must be sacrificed on the altar of tapas, so miss The Holiday Crowd, their monochrome 80’s indie thing having to wait for another day. After some generous portions are downed, it’s time for Scotland’s Kid Canaveral, who are tight, well-rehearsed and have a drummer who can really do that whole superfast hi-hat thing which sounds great down yer indie disco.
“Enough emotions,” says singer David, after a slowie, “let’s have a dance”. Why not indeed, as they propel their way through a set of exuberant heart-on-sleeve power-pop like ‘Good Morning’, which palls only occasionally as the spectre of The Magic Numbers starts to lurk overhead. Luckily, this is is soon dispersed in a shower of feedback as they end their set by simply making a good old fashioned racket. The best live band of the weekend so far, and with a brand new album out, they might just be one lucky break away from bothering us all on the wireless.
Due to the ‘no drums allowed’ rule in the cafe, Threatmantics are playing as a three-piece and picking from the folkier end of their repertoire. Dynamically excellent and with Heddwyn Davies’ beautifully measured delivery and distinctive viola playing, they sit apart from most of the bands on the weekend’s bill. It’s a shame then that, due to a friend desperately in need of some cool fresh air (the cafe is packed), we only catch three songs. As they gig regularly, I hope to catch a full set soon and recommend that you do too. Yes, you. No arguing, and take that out of your mouth while you’re at it.
We miss Onions, because they’re called Onions, for fuck’s sake; sometimes you have to take a stand on these things. A short while later in the cafe, stepping in at last minute for The Proctors are two-piece Totem Terrors. Cardiff-based TT are something like Young Marble Giants if they’d swapped a bit of their minimalist nuclear twilight thing for some offbeat weirdo humour. A drum machine forms an integral part of their sound, the flat synthetic thud a deadpan sonic component of the Wire-esque curveballs they try to form with an increasing hit rate as their set goes on. I can still hear the repetitive bassy throb of ‘142083 (Trains)’ in my head anyway, and you have to love a lyric like ‘I keep my sin / In a biscuit tin’, delivered whilst trying hard not to laugh. An album is imminent.
Indie-punk geeks Let’s Wrestle are playing one below the headliners upstairs, a tasty slot that sadly they can’t do justice, their set completely and utterly washing over us. As the indistinct sound isn’t helping, I decide to go right up front and hear it at full volume. Still nothing. I wander back disconsolately, we all shrug, and decide that leaving the room to drink beer is the way forward. Sorry LW, we did try but you might as well have sent a video, like a lazy acceptant at an awards show. It might even have been more fun.
And speaking of fun, we return refreshed for the lovely lovely LOVELY Allo Darlin’.
Stuff describing their sound, they play ‘Silver Dollars’, ‘Kiss Your Lips’, ‘The Polaroid Song’, ‘Europe’… all songs that feel like the moments of happiness in life when it softens and brightens, letting light in through the cracks. It’s a bit like being pleasantly drunk, which by now, I probably am. You can feel people in the room surrendering to it en masse, bopping balloons around, dancing, letting go. I grin at Fran from The School and dance too, with friends, strangers, old gig acquaintances (hi to Verity and friend), and just for myself, and you know what? It feels fucking great.
A band to love, and if you’re lucky, to be in love to. A special end to a fine weekend.
All pictures by the excellent Peter Dareth Evans. Website: Pete Takes Pictures http://petetakespictures.com/
Lots of more of the above pics, plus other videos, pics and comments up at: Wales Goes Pop Facebook