We’re packed into Clwb Ifor Bach tonight where HMS Morris are launching their new LP, Inspirational Talks, released this very instant on Bubblewrap Collective. Since their last album came out two years ago the band have gigged their little hearts out, delighting audiences at festivals everywhere. If Dorothy Parker set fire to the 13th Floor Elevators and then sang about it in Welsh at a disco in Ceredigion it might sound a bit like HMS Morris at full tilt. A multi-instrumentalist, bilingual three piece under the audacious command of jump suited front-woman, Heledd Watkins, their music navigates a dramatic and sometimes preposterous course between psych rock, electronica, and experimental pop.
With a cute stuffed tiger gracing Alex Møller’s drum kit, the first song, ‘Mother’, starts innocently enough, but the jaunty guitar riff very soon erupts into a cascade of enthusiastic and faintly terrifying maternal affection. Watkins’ voice is superb, one of the best on the Welsh music scene, and the way she attacks the chorus of “I wanna be your mother / smother you for good” is pure theatre. It would be over the top, but the rest of the song is going there anyway, so you hardly care or notice. She’s a consummate storyteller, and as with someone like Kate Bush, the vocal fireworks are always at the service of the narrative. For example, in ‘Cyrff’, which deals with the urgent topic of looking bloody fantastic in a green bikini whatever your body shape happens to be, an audience doesn’t need to be able to follow the Welsh lyrics in any great detail to know that something pretty damn sassy is occurring.
The new material comes across very well. Clwb is their home turf and they take full advantage of the fact that they know every nook and cranny of the venue to confect some amazing sounds. Sam Roberts is fun to watch as he conjures up odd noises and textures, and his deadpan, falsetto harmonies are a perfect foil to Watkins. Whether he’s looping a cowbell into the background of ‘Phenomenal Impossible’ like Shep Pettibone in his prime, or switching blithely from synth to bass, he’s an understated and impressively bearded presence.
They’re able to put on an ambitious show tonight, joined onstage by several other musicians, including local legends Eugene Capper and Rhodri Brooks from support band Smudges. The intermittent contribution of extra synths, vocals and violin give the second half of the set an epic feel, and it’s striking how they can go from something as urbane as ‘Dai at Night’ to the mountainous grandeur of ‘Arth’ or ‘Corff’. In that respect they could be the natural heirs of Super Furry Animals. There’s the same surreal humour and knack with a good pop tune, but coupled with something fresh. The enormous, resounding chorus of ‘Dai at Night’, at odds with it’s indignant verses about ditching some creepy guy, is actually so reminiscent of Cool Cymru era SFA or Catatonia it’s hard to tell if it’s influence or parody. It feels so right and accurate I suspect it might be a bit of both.
HMS Morris play out with a hard and heavy rendition of ‘Morbid Mind’ that sweeps all else before it. It’s an onslaught of psychedelic rock and roll, and it’s what they do best. A thrilling and infectious live band, it’s a more than decent start in life for the new album.