Cymru Cuts #9 1

IN CONVERSATION : AhGeeBe “the pedal steel is melancholic, but it can wolf whistle”

Welsh multi-Instrumentalist Rhodri Brooks is commonly to be found as a band member, more often than not. At present, he’s doing lively things with psychedelic country surf pop outfit Melin Melyn. Over the past twelve months however he’s found the time to step into the spotlight a little more, and what a pleasure it’s been to encounter his new Americana project AhGeeBe. The three beautiful laid-back singles shared so far have the sweetest mellow and positive vibes, lap steel and gentle country flavours seeping through. We’re taken to more innocent days, rose-tinted decades past for sure but firmly reflecting our own current and recent times.

Listening to the songs – receiving a whole lotta love from Huw Stephens, Adam Walton, and Bethan Elfyn across BBC Radio Wales, Tom Robinson on BBC 6 Music – it’s worth kicking our conversation off by asking who is Rhodri’s favourite Beatle. Because everyone has a favourite. Don’t they? I’m going out on a limb here and guessing in his case it just might be George Harrison?

‘George is a good boy, isn’t he. From a guitar player point of view, definitely. His slide playing and songwriting as well. He was a big country fan. I like his understated approach.’

Understated and country music loving is the perfect way of describing AhGeeBe, named after Rhodri’s initials. Growing up in the South Wales quarry village of Creigiau, he had piano lessions as a boy, and learned the guitar. ‘My dad was a piano player and used to play organ in the chapel when he was growing up as a teenager. He wasn’t a very cool kid either.  He was always playing piano in the house, old hymns mainly.’ The interest in country bloomed within Rhodri as an adult, a passion nurtured by songs recommended by experimentalist Eugene Capper, the pedal steel on Tammy Wynette, The Carter Family, George Jones songs piquing his interest further. ‘This was definitely the moment of “wow, this is the type of music I always wanted to listen to but never really knew it”. The harmonies really jumped out,’ Rhodri explains. ‘Close vocal harmonies and harmonies within instrumentation. And in effect the pedal steel is like a backing vocalist a lot of the time, that goes between the vocals. Like an emotional backing vocalist that doesn’t speak with words.’

‘It’s melancholic. People nickname it the sad machine because you can have that vibrato so it wobbles, very emotional. But it can be quite a funny instrument. You can make a wolf whistle sound with it,’ he laughs.

Debut AhGeeBe single ‘Cocoona‘ featuring Steve Black (Sweet Baboo) on brass is a celebration of freedom and hope, joy, all the nice things. Rhodri had been listening to Harrison’s ‘All Things Must Pass‘ on long walks during that period we don’t talk about where long walks became a pastime for us all. ‘That style of playing came through,’ he acknowledges. It was treating himself to a new slide for the electric guitar was the silver bullet.  ‘When you buy a new piece of kit or gear it inspires you to write something in that world. The lyrics came really easy after writing it in on the piano initially. Euros Childs is a big influence on that piano style and lyrically as well, he’s really playful. It was nice to write a catchy pop song that wasn’t too serious. As a reaction to writing some heavier songs.’

All the AhGeeBe songs are recorded partially in Tom Rees from Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard’s studio. Boy Azoogas Davey Newington and Sam Barnes on drums and bass respectively, the remainder completed at home at Rhodri’s leisure.  The new slide wasn’t the only new gear trigger sparking ideas. For the cinematic Adain Ystlum (Batwing) he picked up a preloved Burns guitar – much loved by Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch from The Shadows mid-1960s onwards – with BATWING stamped on the headstock. Curiosity at the name, combined with digging the dark, unnerving nature of Serge Gainsburg’s Melody Nelson album bore creative fruit. ‘As soon as I came home I started jamming and within two mins that riff came out. I wanted to have a soundtrack sort of vibe. I could pretend there’s a lot of depth to that song but there isn’t to be honest! It’s just a cool sounding surf song. I wanted to write a poem in Welsh about bats and recite it on top, trying to be like Serge Gainsbourg. I’d been listening to a lot of David Axelrod, scuzzy guitars, soundtracky stuff from the 60s, library music.’

It’s the production on Melody Nelson appeals, the atmosphere it puts across, with that 1960s/70s US cop show essence present.

Most recent single ‘On The Run‘ was also written on piano and came to him after briefly playing with Welsh Music Prize winner Meilyr Jones, both Jones’ and Euros Childs’ piano playing and songwriting nudging at him. The song emerged after a European tour with another band, lasting a couple of years. As enjoyable as it was, he explains, the transient life in lands far away from loved ones and familiar surroundings became a double edged sword. There comes a time when home tugs hard. It’s a classic country theme. ‘You’re just missing everyone at home. And you want some solidity and comfort at home. It’s about missing people and realizing what you want to do with your life and where you want to be and who you want to spend it with.’

It’s interesting how the country music Rhodri’s been soaking up and those classic shows like Starsky and Hutch existed in the same time, alongside each other and occasionally meeting, on tellies with tiny screens and wonky colour. ‘Maybe it’s like flicking through the channels of an old tv!’

But AhGeeBe songs do carry another common thread, they offer an uplift, a sense of optimism. And so, reassurance. ‘They all seem to gravitate to reassure or pick up someone struggling or down. Pull somebody out of the mud,’ Rhodri adds. ‘Reassure people life isn’t too shit.’ 

Coccona, Adain Ystlum (Batwing) and On The Run are out now via Clwb Music. An AhGeeBe album is due in 2023.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.