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IN CONVERSATION / LIVE: The Family Battenberg

It’s a sub-zero Saturday night in Cardiff city centre, but the cold doesn’t seem to have made a dent in the will of Clwb Ifor Bach’s audience, who have braved the weather to watch South Wales’ very own end 2023 with a bang. The Family Battenberg are Eliot (lead vocals and guitar), Ethan (guitar), Celyn (bass guitar) and Billy (drums), four mates who have electrified the local music scene with their distinct brand of filthy, garage-y charm, and tonight in early December, is their first ever headline gig. Despite having released only four singles, unsigned and self-produced, the group sold out the venue at record speed, and there’s a special buzz about the place, as if we’re about to witness an explosion.

This is your first headline gig tonight, and it’s completely sold out, which is massive! How does that feel?

Billy: Class.

Eliot: Surreal, to be honest. It’s a bloody good feeling.

Ethan: We’ve waited ages.

Eliot: Yeah, I think we did it right.

Ethan: We’ve been playing nearly two years in January, so it’s a long time coming really.

Celyn: It’s weird that so many people wanna come and see us.

Billy: As they bloody should!

On the back of only having released four singles, as well, it’s really impressive.

Ethan: Thank you very much!

You guys got together at uni, right? How have you got to this point?

Eliot: Celyn and I used to play in a band as teenagers, and we were going to uni in Bristol, and we used to play with Ethan’s band.

Ethan: We decided in this room [first floor of Clwb Ifor Bach]- 

Eliot: Was it actually this room?

Ethan: Yeah, in this room, that we were gonna move in with each other.

Celyn: Ah, yeah, it was!

Ethan: We were playing – my old band – upstairs.

Eliot: Much bigger band!

Ethan: And I just mentioned that I was going to uni, to the same uni, and we literally just decided to move in with each other.

Celyn: I think we’d only met like three times!

Eliot: It was cool, yeah.

Celyn: And then we found Billy in the bins behind Tesco!

Billy: It’s always that story, innit. That’s the one that holds up.

‘Fuzzy Features’, your first release – tell me a bit about that.

Ethan: It was never meant to come out.


Eliot: I was doing a sound engineering course, and part of that, my dissertation basically, I had to do thirty minutes of recorded audio. We couldn’t find any bands, so we were the band.

Ethan: We’d been writing loads of shit while living with each other, but Fuzzy just stuck.

Eliot: Yeah, that was the one that was worth keeping, really. 

Ethan: We’d had the thing of like, we were starting a band, but we were just winging it.

Celyn: It was never really official.

Ethan: And Fuzzy was never meant – it was like our baby Jesus. It just appeared – the Virgin Battenberg.

You produce and release all of your own records, right? Is that challenging?

Eliot: Incredibly! Nah, not really.

Ethan: It’s got pros and cons.

Eliot: I love doing it, and I think it means that we can make anything sound like we want – you’re not at the mercy of any other producer, you know that you want it garagey and nasty, so you can do that. Nobody’s gonna tell you, “oh, this isn’t very radio friendly”, because we’re the ones who decide that.

Ethan: Saves shit tonnes of money as well. Honestly, so much.

Celyn: The only con is finding the time, because you work and it’s not your full time job – you can’t do it every day, like. 

Ethan: And ‘cause we’re unsigned, there’s no money funding the recordings, so it’s just after work. It’s not like you can book a week off, do it all in a week, and then ship it off, you know what I mean?

Celyn: It takes a little more effort, but I think it’s worth it. 

Eliot: Yeah. They’ve gotta deal with me being a stress-head.

That creative freedom is so important, though.

Billy: Yeah, I’ve never worked on anything where it’s self-produced, and it’s the most freedom I’ve had. If you don’t have to worry about – not saying anyone’s been like this, but like, you don’t have to worry about a producer being like, “do it this way”, you can just do it your way and then [Eliot] makes it sound good!

Ethan: The lines get blurred a lot in the songwriting process. So like, the disparity between demo and final track is not as big as it would be somewhere else. It’s almost like we start writing the song, and it just kind of ends when we put it out. Like, it’s just a constant process. 

Eliot: Things will change up until the last day, just before it goes off the mast really: “oh, this riff would be cool, fuck it, yeah, alright, let’s put that in.” I think that’s just, like, a big part of being a garagey, psychey band is being able to just play. Just, sit down and have a play with things. We play with the delay pedal for a couple of hours, and one part of that might be cool on a vocal part, so you can do that. You can’t afford to do that somewhere else, but I’m doing it in my fucking kitchen, so its cool. 

Did you curate the lineup of tonight’s gig yourselves? What’s your connection like with the local scene?

Eliot: Everyone in Cardiff, it’s a tight-knit music scene and everyone knows each other, which is nice. Everyone goes to each other’s shows.

Celyn: Probably one of the big reasons why we managed to sell it out, isn’t it?

Billy: Yeah, it’s lots of mates.

Ethan: They’re also the fuckers that ask for guestlist, though. They won’t buy tickets, they just want guestlist! 

Eliot: But yeah, Getdown Services, they sort of took us under their wing at some point in Bristol.

Ethan: I didn’t realise, they’d only been going, like, two months before us – we kind of started at the same time.

Eliot: I thought they were like veterans! 

Celyn: Same!

Eliot: Their shows always went off

Ethan: Put it in that I called them old! 

Eliot: Getdown are fantastic, though. They’re probably my favourite band, to be honest.

Celyn: And I’m a big fan of Secret Jesus Factory.

Ethan: Yeah, the band that’s opening, I heard of in lockdown. They put a couple of songs up, they’ve got a sound backup, they’re just kind of chill with it. It’s like psych-folk stuff, Welsh language as well, so just really cool.

Eliot: Yeah, Ethan dragged me to one of their shows in Porter’s, and I was like, “Yep, fucking great”.

There’s a lot of psychedelia in your own work, too. The music videos, the lyrics, the actual sound – where does that inspiration come from?

Ethan: [Eliot’s] college tutor.

Celyn: Yes!

Eliot: Like, if we’re talking about the very start of it, yeah. He turned us onto a lot of interesting stuff when we were in college; he was a big Brian Jonestown Massacre fan, so that became my obsession, and after that he was like, “oh, you like all this garagey stuff, do you?” I was big into, like, the big hitters like Pink Floyd and all that sort of shit. He was like, “this is boring, you wanna try this stuff”, and turned us onto a record called Nuggets, which was a big compilation of all these great garage American and British bands and that, so that was it.

Ethan: I remember you showed me Brian Jonestown Massacre, and I was like, “this is shit”, and I liked that. And we were obsessed with Gizz [King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard] at the same time. 

Celyn: I can remember me and Eliot in college – we heard Hot Wax by King Gizz and it was like, “oh my God, nothing sounds like this! This is amazing!”

Eliot: ‘Cause we were listening to like, the Jam at the time. So, yeah. And then Billy’s a big fucking psych-head.

Billy: Yeah, I fit in kind of nicely. And you’re all as idiotic as me, and it helps when you’re all on the same kind of mental wavelength. You can just have fun. Obviously the music is the main thing – well, I wouldn’t even call it the main thing, you know, actually liking each other and being friends is the main thing. And they’re all my best mates, so.

Celyn: We were saying earlier, in practice, we’d get so much more done if we weren’t friends. You’ve gotta take out at least, like, two hours of practice for just noodling and being weird.

What’s next for you?

Ethan: Not saying!

Eliot: We’re gonna have a couple more beers, then we’re gonna play a show.

Billy: Then we’re gonna have a couple more beers. 

Ethan: It’s quite DIY. We’ve only got plans up until the end of this year, and those end tonight. It’s Billy’s birthday tomorrow, so tonight.

Happy birthday!

Billy: Thank you.

Ethan: So that’s what’s next. 

Billy: I’m scared.

Last question, and it’s something I’ve been wondering about for ages: what is an nganga?

Ethan: Take it away!

Eliot: Oh, God. So it’s from a thing called Palo, an African, voodoo sort of religion, and they have an nganga, which is this cauldron which they use to talk to the dead, and stuff like that. 

Ethan: It’s full of pee and poo and bones.

Eliot: You’ve gotta like, feed it bones and stuff. So the song [Feed Yer Nganga] is about, like, instead of a Christian household, if every house was a Palo house, everyone would have to feed the nganga like it was a dog or something. But it’s a cauldron full of shit and stuff.

The group take to the stage (following utterly compelling sets by Secret Jesus Factory and Getdown Services) to raucous applause, and by the end of the first song faces are melted and puddling on the floor. They play a set of back-to-back psych bangers, fuzzy, grubby and completely contagious, including both their established singles and as yet unreleased tracks. Topping it off is a cover of Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ which brings Getdown Services onstage and the house down; I’m a total Scrooge when it comes to Christmas music but their performance brought me back to being six again. I tend to judge how much I’ve enjoyed a gig by the volume of sweat I produce – a grim but useful barometer – and despite the temperature outside, by the time the gig kicks out my friends and I are in pretty desperate need of some deodorant. The Family Battenberg are the band I’ve seen this year who are most deserving of praise. Their star is rising. It’s worth watching to see where it ends up.

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.