In the first of a new regular feature focussing on scenes across the UK, GIITTV editor Bill looks at Cardiff.
Perhaps partly because of its size, Cardiff’s music scene ebbs and flows; in my teenage years in the 1990s it was considered a hotbed of the supposed ‘Cool Cymru’ revival and certainly back then the venues seemed crammed on a more regular basis, you could wander through town and into a plethora of nights on Womanby and Westgate Streets. Even stretching into the early noughties, the likes of Mclusky and Super Furry Animals were still lighting a fire under the venues of stages of venues like the Hippo Club, Clwb Ifor Bach (locally known as the Welsh Club) and the Toucan.
But with the recession and the closure of various venues like The Barfly, the Point and the lack of use of a wonderful medium sized venue like the Coal Exchange it seemed to herald a decline in independent promotions and therefore a much more inconsistent and fragmented feel to the local music scene. Given the relatively small pool of musicians locally it makes sense that many acts (The School, Islet, Winter Villains, Local Sports Team, Jemma Roper band et al) are made up of members drawn from various former members of long forgotten bands.
Despite this recycling and hint of nepotism, there is still a strong stream of talent from Wales’ capital city and a strong core of promoters, venues (Clwb, The Moon, Gwdihw, Dempseys, The Gate) and shops that keep the home fires smouldering. Every year the spotlight gets shone briefly on Cardiff with the annual SWN festival, the drawback of which seems to be that sometimes the city can be a little forgotten and inconsistent in the meantime. Nonetheless here’s my roundup of the bands, labels and record shops currently making a big noise in Carrrrdiffff, Wales’ first city.
WALES GOES POP
A few weeks ago Wales Goes Pop took place in the Gate and 10FT Tall in Cardiff, three days of music over the Easter bank holiday weekend. A refreshing indie pop fest that bore echoes of the early years of SWN when Liz Loose (for it is she behind the event) used to put on charming indie all dayers in Tommy’s Bar headlined by the likes of Emmy the Great.
Friday. The first night took place in the impressive surroundings of the Gate, a renovated church with artistic insides in the heart of Cathays which proved a suitably enjoyable venue, with a cafe that served as many flapjacks as it does alcoholic beverages. Up a windy staircase, the main hall (replete with pews and a clear central stage area) proved great for the kids who ran around and played with their balloons all day, plus a great record stall was manned by Fortuna Pop. With emerging Welsh tykes like Joanna Gruesome and ethereal North Walian twins Golden Fable showcasing their sounds among a smattering of out of town (and Wales) treats like ridiculously young noisy pop girrls The Tuts from Hayes and sharp as a tack female led indierockers from London Evans the Death. The night was headlined by comedienne Josie Long and returning 80s act The Primitives. Saturday and Sunday saw an eclectic mix of local indie pop darlings The School and hilarious Brighton twee-core duo The Bobby McGees. Wales Goes Pop makes a refreshing change for Cardiff that has recently been dominated by a few major promoters and hopefully if it continues will be a lovely addition to the Cardiff music calendar. Click here for a fuller review:
Laurence made me Cry
Laurence Made Me Cry is the umbrella under which artist and multi-instrumentalist Jo Whitby works. Originally from Bristol she’s been a Cardiff resident and active part of the local music and artistic scenes for some time now. I saw Jo play with just a guitar around the time of the release of her debut EP back in 2011, her affecting vocals and bittersweet songs really struck a chord , since the she’s been working on a fan funded debut album ‘The Diary of Me’ which came out recently. It is a real step up, a joyfully intricate yet personal and philisophical piece of work that jigsaw pieces together collaborations from diverse artists from around the world; yet is firmly rooted in the songs she wrote in her bedroom at home. Some have tagged Laurence Made Me Cry’s sound as ‘folktronica’ but I find this term a little ill-fitting because it doesn’t quite describe her sound: the bubbling synths, bleeps and beats that undulate under certain tracks accentuate her rootsy sound, but are anchored by Jo’s expressive playing and her achingly rich vocal tone, that resonates with the wisdom of experience at one one moment and the next with hopeful imagination and urge to escape.
The collaborations are so exceptional here that they never sound out of place but merely a part of the ingredients; Jo has skillfully assembled a cast of musicians and artists both local and international that merely add to the sonic palette that is painted, adding even more depth and colour to the final work.That she has managed to sew this together into a wonderfully cohesive package with artwork, visual accompaniment and audio/visual contributions without audible joins is testament to her craft as an artist. These include Salwa Azar who adds haunting vocals and lyrics to the glitchy dream states of ‘Paper Chains’. You find yourself carried away on a journey through an evening out with an electronic crescendo by Alone and back, and Ash Cooke (Pulco) who adds guitar, paddling synths,and almost comedy taffy train conductors voice(“and Carrrrdiff central) to the charming travelogue pop of ‘Between Destinations’, punctuated by Jo’s chiming electro-uke and sings wide eye’d about the ‘magical’ possibilities ahead. Paul Foster a.k.aDementio13 embellishes the utterly gorgeously ethereal ‘Intelligent Mr Toad’ wrestling with the themes of self expression and emotions, it peaks on the startling moment when the mist clears and the synths and heart beats subside and Jo’s ghostly swoops slow motion across the scene ‘in this room all the mirrors/I am alone’, before gradually building back to an affecting peak, this startling piece somehow manages to modestly yet affectionately echo the affecting latter work of Kate Bush.
‘The Cunning Folk’ is a pirouetting tumbling showcase of Jo’s burgeoning artistry, wonderfully considered with brittle lyrical narratives this is startlingly intimate, generous in spirit and empathetic, her vocal tone offering a kind arm on the shoulder ‘go on towards the light make sure your shining bright/Because I worry that they’ll take it all away from you’ her tone curling to a faintly higher plain as if to add a full stop, simply wondrous! Laurence Made Me Cry’s ‘The Diary of Me’ is endlessly imaginative, self exploratory, and full of heart: but don’t let the title fool you it’s not just a straightforward document to her life and work but a relisation of her musicianship and song writing skills. It’s the blending of different contributions onto one long playing canvas. Because when you stand back and see the bigger picture you’ll be touched by it, this album is outstandingly wonderful and rightly takes its place one of the best albums of this year so far from any Cardiff artist!
Winter Villains are a coming together of five talents who have previously been seen at work on other local acts (Little Arrow, The Evening Chorus, The School, Ivan Moult etc), born maybe out of the relative tightness of the local scene, or forged through friendship and necessity but who cares how it happened? Because Winter Villains work rustles with hard won experience, throbbing heart and a promise of what’s to come. Their song writing is earnest and to the point, shorn of many of the modern studio gadgetry there’s an honesty, and a purity at work here.
Winter Villains’ compositions are formed of skeletal organic arrangements and given life by hushed multiple-part vocals provided by Josef Prygodzicz, Ivan Moult, Callum Duggan, Faye Gibson and William Hughes (of Little Arrow who also have a second album ‘Wild Wishes’ out worthy of investigation on the local Bubblewrap label) are at once compelling and warming each background takes on the form of the undulating landscapes. From ‘Thorns’ an exhibition in subtlety and release: that’s tinkling pianos, delicate string arrangements and holding-hand vocal harmonies that clamber up hills and admire the view. To their standout so far ‘House of Knives’ that gently see-saws from twinkling keyboard line to almost ominous rhythms, sewn with plaintive, haunting male/female refrains that hang and shiver through the air like your breath in abandoned buildings in the middle of nowhere. Winter Villains are set to release their debut album February on the Barely Regal label (also home to Samoans, Kutosis and Among Brothers) on April 22nd, produced by Charlie Francis. Sample the evocative ‘On The Air’ below:
Trwbador are a boy/girl duo from Carmarthenshire in South Wales featuring the talents of half Welsh, half Dutch singer and producer Angharad Van Rijswijk alongside the guitar playing and hip hop style productions of Owain Gwilym, they play alot locally so for the purposes of this piece we’ll claim them. Sample the Sterolab type trip-pop of ‘Safe’ below for an example of their talents, its sensuous Goldfrapp like vocals weave alluring patterns through this intricate dream like soundscape. Operating from the attic of a flat they share in rural Carmarthenshire, they write down and record all of their sounds, can find out more at www.trwbador.co.uk or www.owletmusic.com . They’ve embarked on a string of collaborations including the Christmas single by Cornershop ‘Every Year So Different’, which features Angharad on lead vocals. This week they release their debut album
Talented Aberystwyth born, Cardiff based Harpist and billingual songwriter Georgie Ruth finally releases her debut album on Welsh imprint Gwymon Records on the 20th May. Her unusual fingerpicking style of playing the harp was inspired more by the guitar on Bert Jansch, Meic Stevens and old folk revivalist records than by the classical method she was taught as a child.The motorik drive of lead track ‘Week of Pines’ which deals with the pull of home comes with an excellent video(watch below) pieced together with snapshot pictures of her home life and family. Georgia is the possessor of a bewitchingly expressive vocal tone and the album has a strong folksy heart with its glacial tumbling percussion and chiming harp and poetic couplets: representing a maturing in Georgia’s songwriting and the Welsh landscapes where it was crafted.
Georgia says “Week of Pines is a record about joyfulness. And coming home. And reclaiming things presumed gone. And grace, after making mistakes. That element of forgiveness and calm has been integral to this record.”
With various EPs and a background playing with the likes of Ex- Gorkys songwriter Richard James, she appears alongside him in his new project Pen Pastwn. She will also be appearing on the Guillemots’ forthcoming album, having recorded parts for it in the summer of 2012. Many are tipping Georgia as the next artist to break out of the Welsh scene rather like Cate Le Bon threatened to do last year, but whether her work is edgy enough to be hip with the in crowd or commercial enough to pierce the R2 playlists, time will tell.
Legend has it that art rockers Threatmantics first met in a lay-by on the nearby A470. Never a band to respect convention, they have an unusual line-up with viola in place of lead guitar and a drummer who doubles up on keyboards! November 2008 saw the release of their well-received mini-album ‘Upbeat Love’ on Domino’s Double Six label and following a few line up alterations they recently released their full debut album Kid McCoy is due for release on Folkwit Records. From unhinged foot stopping viola led rockers, to b-movie art rock segues, Threatmantics new album Kid McCoy is one of the more under rated releases from a Cardiff outfit in recent months, I suggest you have a listen here forthwith:
The Associated Minds label is a well respected hip hop and urban inprint based in the Cardiff their latest release comes from Metabeats (C.R.S.T / Darkhouse Family) feat. Vanity Jay this single ‘Passport’ is lifted from their forthcoming ‘Caviar Crackle’ LP. The track’s been getting repeated plays on 1Xtra’s Mistajam’s show and others plus Radio 1 Introducing and is playlisted on Radio Wales.Its all very impressive that DJ’s are loving it the world over so we thought we’d give it a shout out too! ‘Passport’ is a soulful RNB joint with funky basslines and hip hop tinged beats: it’s accompanied by a hilariously tacky 80’s parody video, get ready to be transported back to TOTPs of your youth!:
Local art punk twoesome Totem Terrors have announced the release date to their long awaited fan funded debut REPEAT PLAY TORRENT RAR which should be something to look forward to given their angular rhythms, shouty sparring underpinned by a flexiable beat box beat is a witty, skewed take on the works of Talking Heads, PiL and Wire(check out their new album on the handy player below) which never fails to delight. They’ll be performing an instore set at Cardiff’s Spiller’s Records this Thursday:
Fist of the First Man
Fist of the First Man is the new project by producer and musician z w o l f, Fist of the First Man’s debut album was released on the 14th of December 2012. A gnarly dark instrumental album full of dirty double barreled basselines, horns, cut and paste samples and squalling surf reverb heavy guitars it’s the sound of a Propeller heads produced soundtrack for a new Tarantino movie: being chewed up and mashed into an infinitely more exciting creation!
Ponty trio Zinc Bukowski have been tearing up Cardiff venues like The Moon and Clwb in the last year or so with their brutal brand of sludgy, Krautflecked, American-garage-style-riffage, primal punk rhythms set on fire by menacingly apocalyptic vox. They even snuck out a fearsome album entitled ‘The Last Night of Mayan Owl’ and several brilliant videos made up of found footage my favourite being the one for ‘Lost Mondays’ below. Endearingly uncompromising and unpredictable and with a sense of humour that has seen them donning women’s clothing on stage whilst they rattle out tunes so ear crunchingly loud that they pummel you senseless into submission, that Zinc Bukowski really couldn’t give a flying fuck what anyone thinks about them and that’s part of what makes them so utterly undeniable. At the moment they are recording their new album which should be ready for July!
The fabulously named Joanna Gruesome are a collection of five whipper-snappers from Cardiff who produce the most fabulously grin inducing noise pop. Their scrappy sound of careering post punk rhythms and sweetly sparring boy/girl vocals scribbles rampantly all over the blueprints of the indie pop/c86/rrioott girl/ and US slacker college rock sounds that have been popularised again in recent years. That they do it all with such riotous abandon lends JoGru a fascinating, incendiary edge.
Stuck in Cardiff with the London blues, nothing to do but get loaded on bubblegum and record a 7” before you get bored all over again and start shooting water pistols into the sea. We’ve kept our beady eyes on JoGru for well over a year as they lead the vanguard of exciting noise pop bands from Wales. They’ve released rather ace 7″s on Art is Hard Records and HHBTM Records and are currently hard at work recording an album for Fortuna Pop.
From Mclusky to Islet and Kutosis, Cardiff has long been home to a clutch of tinnitus inducing outfits with their own sometimes bizarre, often prescient and mostly witty take on the world.
Now add to their number power-trio The Milk Race forming in 2011 made up of previously unemployed members Chris Warlow(vox/guitars), Chris Sklav(drummer), Mike Carter(bassist) of now deceased but not forgotten bands like The International Karate Plus, Mo-Ho-Bish- O-pi, Martini Henri rifles and Heck. Coming together around a shared love of Fugazi,Sonic Youth, and The Misfits they have learned wisely from their past. The Milk Race’s debut EP ‘The Rope Trick’ is tighter than George Osbourne’s budget, and wastes little production faff in hitting you repeatedly right between the solar plexus, and making your head spin with a quick-smart brand of twisted noise pop.Check out their new video for the track ‘The Rise and Fall Of The Indian Rope Trick’ here:
Continuing the tradition for scrappy lo fi post punk bands with witty lyrics, band parody based band names and ear worm tunes are student whippersnappers Rad Stewart whose delightful Wire meets the Fall sprinkled with C86 melodies, their garage style demos released last year, caught the ear, any songs that name check Molly Ringwald are GREAT with me! Their second set of demos from earlier this year show the progression of playing shows and a better studio, reverb drenched surf frame these slacker polemics!
Mysterious Newport outfit The Vestals releases their 7” single ‘Perfect Pain’ / ‘Seventeen’ on the 11th of Feb, through Killing Moon Records. A growing reputation in South Wales has seen The Vestals as name to drop in hushed tones recent months and they have already shared stages with breaking acts including Swim Deep and Bastille and will be touring the UK throughout 2013.‘Perfect Pain’ in particular hints at huge promise, with sweeping widescreen production added to chopping guitars, and bittersweet vocals that arc and soars into an Cure-esque indie pop gem.We look forward to a debut long player planned for later this year!
Forming from the ashes of ankle biters The Knox, four piece Brothers are a sprightly group of lads, which erm consist of well not unsurprisingly two sets of Brothers, and the psychdelic tinged 60s sound of their demos(“Tiger”, “Gun Runner”) to date bounce along pleasingly between the tunesmithery of The Kinks and Americana of Tame Impala. Still perfecting their rather raw live show, they fit snugly besides another floor filling local outfit like Houdini Dax but perhaps hint at more adventurous sounds to come.
Local cartoonish-anti-folk three piece Quiet Marauder are so prolific they had over 200 songs written with in their first few months of their inception. A three piece with riotous humour, gleefully manic dark tales driven by bashed out rhythms(with whatever comes to hand, guitars,spoons, tin pots and sometimes the kitchen sink) and singalongs. Occupying a weird space between the work of the Mouldy Peaces, Syd Barrett and Go Go Bordello their tales stretch from murder to Burt Reynolds ‘tach and Alan Shearer’s ‘Interstellar’ Life! Their new EP of the same name is streamable here, I suggest you get your dancing shoes on and prepare to grin like a loon:
Other bands on Cardiff’s outskirts like Newport’s soul rock hurricane The Lash (featuring former 60ft doll Carl Bevan on drums) and their recent single Rent, and the widescreen alt pop of The Adelines from Swansea with new single ‘Alleyways’ are both promising great things too….
With Record Store day speeding towards us on the 20th of April I will be writing my own extended eulogy to the self styled ‘the oldest record shop in the world’ Spillers once of The Hayes, it is now located in one of Cardiff’s famous arcades. Spillers is a hub of the Cardiff music community, a fine emporium of local and international releases and a place where you can have a chat with the friendly knowledgeable staff. Indeed Spillers with its cardboard display sleeves ( one presumes they don’t have the space to display all of their cds eh?! ) band notice board, stack of vinyl upstairs and unique layout: it’s almost a mini quirky cult with Spillers T shirts being spied across the world and when it was threatened a few years back Cardiff’s music community rallied around it to safeguard its future.
Kelly’s records meanwhile is located upstairs in Cardiff’s market, the CD section has been cut down during the years but its always a delight to have a look around Kelly’s with its range of picture vinyl and 70s rarities. The only issue with Kelly’s has always been the price of its merchandise which has in the past seen some people switching the price tags on their bigger Bowie vinyls to get a sneaky discount(not myself but someone who shall not be named)!
In my next Cardiff round up I shall look in greater detail at the local venues.