Swn Interview: Rag N’ Bone Man

Historically the rag and bone man made a living from picking out valuable bits-and-bobs from the city-streets. Salvaging audio detritus might seem an apt description for some UK hip hop and electronic acts who you could accuse of ‘phoning it in’ with cut ‘n’ paste beats. Meeting our Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, Rory Graham, it’s clear his rich pickings are based on much more, piecing together a mixed bag of influences from mum and dad’s record collection to the UK’s hip-hop scene. I caught Rory after his 5.30pm Swn slot, just before he made his way back to London.  Towering over my five-foot-five, he gave me a few insights into how he’s gathered the inspiration for his music:

‘People always say to me, you don’t look like how you sound.  I guess, don’t judge a book by its cover, that’s the thing.  Most people think that I’m black, but I guess that’s just the way I sing.  It’s got a lot to do with what stuff you were brought up on.  I think the importance of influence is lost quite a lot of the time – you don’t realise how important it is.’

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Meeting him off stage, Rory has an unassuming, gentle demeanour.  On-stage he is quite still and sings with control, not quite belting it out, but creating a smooth sound, with rich bass notes and the occasional rasp.  Quite simply he has a beautiful voice.  I asked him how he learned to sing, but he insists that he sort of didn’t:

‘I just did it.  I never had any lessons.  It’s down to my mum and dad really.  We always had good records about.  My dad would always play John Lee Hooker and my mum used to sing around the house.  Instead of sitting me in front of the TV they sat me in front of a record player.’

Family influence has definitely rubbed-off onto this soulful singer, but his influences don’t end there.  Rory comes out of the UK’s hip-hop scene, as part of Rum Committee, and he brings with him a network of musical friends.

At the Swn show quite a few people were familiar with his tracks,including Cardiff mates Baby Queens(they met playing Boomtown). The audience were slow to warm up at this early-in-the-evening slot, but permission to dance came with the arrival on-stage of friend and collaborator Stig of the DumpSelf-deprecatingly he invited us to provide the moves for “two clumsy fat men”:

‘Stig of the Dump: very talented rapper, and very good friend of mine.  I used to go out on tours with him sometimes and be his back-up guy.  And now he’s coming to rap on my sets.  It’s great to have him as a good lyricist and rapper but also a mate that comes along.’

Also on stage was drummer Ben Thomas whose style is effortlessly cool, although looks can be deceiving:

‘My drummer, he’s a very good guy to have on board.  He won’t mind me telling you this but he’s a bit OCD so everything’s got to be perfect.  We’re doing it very simply at the moment but it’s important to be to get the right sound.  And when you’re on stage and you’ve got a band around you there’s some kind of comfort in knowing that everybody’s got your back.’

Rag n Bone Man’s tracks reveal a heady mix of blues, soul, hip-hop, spiritual -and Clint Eastwood.  ‘No Mother’ is perhaps the biggest mash-up of influences.  The rockier ‘Lay My Body Down’ and ‘Wolves’ are both very catchy, but perhaps a bit too close to melodic metal for a typical Swn audience but if you really want idea of how his direct lyrics easily captivate live, as well as where this guy is coming from and his respect for family, ‘Life In Her Yet’ gives it:

She still remembers a time that was uncomplicated; As sure as the sunrise, she’s seen things that you’ll never see; Losses and heartache amount to her strength; But oh how they all take their toll; She’s still here fighting; Better know there’s life in her yet…Let her go, I can’t let her go.

‘It’s important to have emotion on stage because it comes across to the people that are watching you.  Life In Her Yet is quite personal – I wrote it about my grandma.  My grandparents lived with us for quite a long time. I’m from just outside Brighton, so Sussex born and bred – a lot of my family are around there.’

Other vital tracks to check out are ‘Sirens’ featuring samples from Clint Eastwood movie Hang ‘Em High, and the chilled-out ‘Rain’ featuring Mercury nominee Kate Tempest.

At Swn Rory was accompanied by live drums and backing track.  A full live band would have been the icing on the cake and in future will gainmore credibility with festival audiences.  But he doesn’t need this cheeky madam to tell him that.  He has big plans:

‘We’re going to be expanding the live aspect pretty soon.  We’ve got two girls, Sheena and Sam, they’re singing back-up for me, so they’re going to come on board when the tour starts.  Hopefully, we’ve got another guy called Jack who plays keys.  We’re expanding but obviously, it’s quite difficult when you start out because ultimately you’ve got to pay everybody, and sometimes you can’t because you don’t have enough money.’

With a recent signing to Columbia and potential resources to foster his sound, existing tracks have the potential to captivate with a more luscious sound. Here’s  hoping that this Rag N Bone Man won’t be picking a living for much longer.

Tracks available on Soundcloud and free download of EP Wolves on www.bestlaidplansrecords.com

Photos: Tomos Hooson

Swn Review: Band by Band

And as quickly as it begun, it was over. For the many of us Cardiff gig-goers who are accustomed to cramming a year’s worth of singular, brilliant Indie & much much more into one weekend, I’m sure it was a widespread feeling when we woke up on Sunday morning, expectantly excited for the next three days of Swn. Maybe that’s just me – there’ve been some superb other festivals doing their own thing this year but nonetheless fulfilling the cultural cravings that usually build up to being sated in mid-October.

Hub had a clutch of hugely promising local acts, Juxtaposed & Jealous Lovers filled a bill with Rad-Indie and Holy Boredom had a whole weekend of experimental, pulsating weirdness to behold. Nonetheless, Swn and those other events are their own things, and the thrill of wandering down Womanby St and seeing a cue for something you’ve never heard of, for that weekend’s must-see act was still a Swn-delight this year – with hoards desperate to see Wytches and The Amazing Snakeheads ferocious sets. Despite the roster of bands slimming down to a (relatively speaking) petite 60 or so, there was still the sense of potential and of  inner-city expanse fed by the feeling there is always a fresh faced gem hidden amongst Cardiff’s many streets you still had to snake around.

logo2014There was still space for new festival nooks and crannies to open up too. The BBC Horizons/Gorwelion scheme very much reflects the Swn ethos toward new Welsh music, so it was fitting to see it at the heart of the festival – in the wristband exchange in CFQ on the as usual brimming Womnaby St, with many of their 12 supported artists performing, including Gabrielle Murphy, which you can read more about below. Add to that the justified reverential hush enveloping the transcendental performance by A Winged Victory For The Sullen at St Davids Hall and there was plenty of newness to keep you alive with interest. Here’s the pick of Dim Swn 2014, as seen by Mari Lowe, Ruth Tolerton & Lloyd Griffiths.


The Amazing Snakeheads
All too ready was I to be completely alienated  by hyper-masculinity as I entered the upstairs of Clwb Ifor Bach part way through The Amazing Snakeheads’ set. The venue packed to the brim with festering, sweaty bodies; and none more so than the three figures prowling the stage. How wrong I was – no sooner have I found myself a convenient spot than I am fused into the filthy body of the crowd, totally absorbed by the raw, blues-drenched flesh of the feculent music. Little by way of communication is needed between band and crowd; maggot-fated, we are here to writhe in ecstasy at every sultry riff, every wrenching howl from vocalist Dale Barclay. Something happened between initial alienation and basking in glorious wonder, but trying to pin it down would be as futile as resisting the urge to cavort in the face of The Amazing Snakeheads’ film noir-esque tantalisation.

Ruth Tolerton

Rag N’ Bone Man
Playing early evening at Buffalo, Rory Graham aka Rag N Bone Man delivered a smooth sound, testament to his skills as a wonderful vocalist – with occasional rasp and rich bass notes.  The crowd wasn’t huge but there was a lot of love with plenty of singing along, including Cardiff mates Baby Queens. The audience were slow to warm up at this early-in-the-evening slot, but permission to dance came with the arrival on-stage of friend and rapper Stig of the Dump. Self-deprecatingly he invited us to provide the moves for “two clumsy fat men”, but drummer Ben Thomas’s effortlessly cool style provided more than enough reason to regardless. As a whole, Rag N’ Bone Man’s tracks reveal a skilful and heady mix of blues, soul, hip-hop and spirituals – with many captivating live, notably Life In Her Yet, a moving and beautiful track written about Graham’s Grandmother.

Mari Lowe

Titus Monk
Having had the cheerful encouragement of hearing the fascinatingly varied, fully formed catalogue of Titus Monk online–which had the brio to segue seamlessly from impetuous Kings of Leon vibrancy to misty and brooding TV on the Radio style experimentalism – it’s fair to say I did not anticipate his voice to find its way to entertaining a Gwdihw crowd with straight off the bat acoustic country sounds. However, his more ‘conventional’ takes with a pointed amalgam of acoustic styles, from hammered folk style strumming to plaintive country augmented by the bounty of bass and baritone that is his superb voice, it’s hard to be disappointed. With looping that added subtle emotional shifts to keep the songs far from folkish sentimentalism, it’ll be interesting to see how the songs feel expanded by a full band.

Lloyd Griffiths

Luvv
Newly formed from also-Cardiff based Chain of Flowers, there was a very healthy crowd gathered for the post-punk influenced Luvv in Undertone’s claustrophobic surroundings, at a 3pm slot that you’d be forgiven for thinking didn’t tally with their South-Wales Hardcore lineage.
Keeping alive a DIY aesthetic – “we have cassette tapes at the back” – they delivered a noisy, moody and engaging sound which showed a sophisticated handling of their wide punk and post-punk influences.
The drummer and bassist provided a persistent pummel and their guitars were honed with detail and intricacy, adding an elegance that lifted their songs up to something special. With a heavy dose of delay, songs such as ‘More’ had dirty vocals coming from their lead singer’s small, angular frame with a slurred, vacant feel that made lyrics appealing to the heartbroken all the more captivating.

Mari Lowe

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Gabrielle Murphy
Starting my Dim Swn day, I headed down to the wristband exchange at CFQ in time to catch Gabrielle Murphy, framed by the racks of vintage clothing and the omnipresent festival buntings. After showcasing her velvety, rich vocals we’re informed that her guitarist fell ill at the last moment and has been replaced, lo and behold, by Gabrielle’s father. Her choice of covering Thin Lizzy’s ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’ holds perfectly for the atmosphere and there’s no sign of her father telling her she’s living in a trance; rather, his guitar holds up her mesmerising vocal command.

Ruth Tolerton

Blaenavon
Descending into the depths of Undertone, little can be seen beyond the density of the crowd until eventually I catch a peek of Blaenavon silhouetted against moody backlighting. Something of the uncanny is in this band’s signature sound too. Their instrumentation is in turn delicately creeping, lonesome and sinister, before it becomes explosive and bursts through the venue, pulsing and energised. Ben Gregory’s vocals show remarkable maturity as he adapts from assured gentleness, to a playfulness perhaps reminiscent of The Futurehead’s Ross Millard at his best, and back again.

Ruth Tolerton

Taffy
Most of the late night surprises you receive anywhere in the vicinity of St Mary’s St on a Saturday night tend to involve harassment by way of blow up toys or finding yourself trapped in a world of polystyrene and discarded gravy, so it was with a reassuring kind of curiosity I went to see the to-me unknown Taffy at Four Bars. Although they might sound like a laddish insult from the aforementioned road, they were actually a breezily enthused pop-punk band, riffing on Shonen Knife with some Britpop bands of a similarly fuzzy-fun ilk in there.  Songs such as ‘Tune in a Jar’ would happily soundtrack a Twisted By Design night on the same floor, even if they feel derivative of C86 era Indie-pop. Not entirely surprising fun then, but fun nonetheless.

Lloyd Griffiths

The Art of the Hyper-Trivial: An Interview With James Acaster

Every creative art form, be it music, comedy, writing, is built on the average; the good, the entertainers, the steady-goers. But every so often, through the mass of the good, emerges an artist poised with so much potential that their rise to the top seems inevitable. In the world of stand-up comedy James Acaster is one such man. With his unique brand of hyper-trivial comedy Acaster has forged a new path in comedy and his steadily growing loyal fan base are following his every move.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStand-up Comedy has never been so diverse.  On one end of the scale we have Michael McIntyre packing arenas as Live at the Apollo transforms comedians into rock stars and on the other you have the likes Simon Munnery and Daniel Kitson, who make every attempt to avoid the limelight in pursuit of higher artistry. The breadth between these two poles is astonishing in its scope and as such the middle ground of comedy has become a very tricky thing to define. In this no man’s land you can find comedians who are influenced by Peter Kay as well as the Dogme 95 movement. Notions of alternative and mainstream comedy blur into one as comedians focus on the most important thing of all; making people laugh. It is this calibre of comedian that Little Wander, the people responsible for the Machynlleth Comedy Festival, are inviting to the Cardiff Comedy Scene. With the promise of Sarah Pascoe, Nick Helm and Josie Long already on the horizon, the first of many exciting comedy gigs in Cardiff kicked off this month with three-time Edinburgh award nominee James Acaster.

For those unfamiliar with his work, Acaster tends to focus on the hyper-trivial and the seemingly insignificant details of a story. No topic is inconsequential to Acaster as he dissects innocuous ideas with a philosophical rigour that Immanuel Kant himself would be proud of. The result is a truly unique type of silly comedy that somehow manages to linger with the audience; a type of comedy that can be enlightening in the most unlikely of ways. Needless to say, this style has won James a steadily growing loyal fan base across the country and his arrival in Cardiff was met with a packed house in Clwb Ifor Bach. I was fortunate enough interview James before the show and ask him a few questions about his method, his life and his comedy.

Q: How’s the tour going so far?

Yeah it’s been good, I’m enjoying it. Each tour gets a bit more fun and this one has been a little bit more fun than the last one. Audiences are showing up knowing what to expect rather than just taking a punt.

Q: How much does this show differ from your previous shows?

With each one you just get more people who have seen you before so they are coming to see you do what you do, rather than going to see someone who is meant to be good, which doesn’t mean anything. If they’ve heard in a magazine that something is meant to be funny and they go and see that, they are taking a massive risk, much bigger than they think they are. If people come who know what you do, it’s more likely they’ll enjoy it.

Q: Do you think that because your brand of comedy is so distinctive that it perhaps divides audiences more than the average comedian?

I don’t know, I’m midway between an alternative comedian and a really mainstream comedian- both audiences can like me but when they have a whole night of me it depends you know? If you like really mainstream stuff, this show starts with me kneeling down straight away and it seems some people find that off putting. I think some people just want me to come on and tell jokes so when I go on and just kneel down they go, “Oh here we go- this will be hard work”.

Q: Brian Logan described you as the volcano of British comedy that’s about to blow but do you want to blow? Is the sky the limit or do you feel like your style of comedy is suited to intimate settings?

I don’t really know what the “about to blow” stuff really means. That stuff has been said about so many people over the years. I think you’ve got to take it as it comes and make the call. If I was to end up in big rooms it would be because the material suits it. I think if I keep writing the shows I’m writing, which I’m going to do, then it will just get the audience it deserves. I think everything does- if your stuff doesn’t suit big environments you’re not going to suddenly get a big audience. Someone like Stewart Lee can sell 1000 seaters now and that because he’s been gradually building it up over the years. If I was to suddenly get those kind of numbers they couldn’t possibly all be people who know who I am and what I do; they would just be people who are going to see what’s meant to be good and then they’d get a bit annoyed. At the minute I’d rather fill a small venue with people who want to see me. If you start thinking about career stuff rather than the comedy then your aim is a bit screwed. You can’t second guess that stuff; what people would like, what critics would like, what awards would like- you’ve got to do what you’ve done all along.

Q: I suppose it’s always dangerous when you treat comedy as a means to an end.

Yeah you can’t think, “Oh so people are starting to like it now so what do they want?”, because you got where you are doing what you wanted not what they wanted. They don’t know what they want, if you get a mainstream audience, they think they know what they want and you can get an easy laugh from them somehow but if you start doing that all the time you’re going to hate your own stand-up. I feel lucky that just by doing exactly what I want to do I got somewhere that I didn’t think I’d be, so I’ll just carry on for now.

Q: One of your most well-known routines focusses on a friend of yours who cheated on his girlfriend on a night out. The whole thing pivots on your disapproval of the situation. Would you say that it’s much harder to make a sincere thing like that funny as opposed to a controversial subject?

It’s always a thing that the funniest character in a sitcom is the most ignorant; always. It’s funnier to laugh at that person and maybes there’s a chance that they’ll say something that you’ve thought about but would never dare admit. Even the most liberal person probably sometimes has slightly right-wing thoughts and then you hear that voice through a character or a stand-up and it’s more likely to make you laugh. But then with an example of someone cheating on someone: we all know you shouldn’t do that and so doing stand-up about it is a little harder. I did it once and another comic, an older comedian, told me that I came across as judgemental. But I knew that it made me angry, and I decided to do something about it. But I wouldn’t say that I always do sincere stuff. I often disguise it anyway.

Q: You started doing stand-up in 2008 and it’s been an incredibly fast rise in terms of comedy. Was your style something that you began with, or was it something you had to feel your way towards?

When I started out I could improvise a little bit but I couldn’t write material and I had no idea what my persona was. The first six months were horrible, I was just throwing stuff out there and one night it would work really well and the next night it would go really badly. Some routines I was trying shock comedy because that was what everyone was doing at the time. It took me about six months to find a routine that I liked that worked consistently and then it took me another year to work out that I wanted to do stand-up as a job. Originally I was just doing it a lot so that I wouldn’t end up just kicking about doing nothing. I didn’t go to university and I went straight from school to being in a band and then the band stopped and I got a part time job in a kitchen. I think because I wasn’t looking at it like it was a career all I would focus on was how good an actual stand-up I was. I started to get really obsessed with the ides of persona and how you come across on stage and creating that comic character that people want to see. I’ve never really completely known who I am but after about two years I had a better idea.

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Q: You’ve spoken before about your time as a musician and how your genuine ambition was to be the best band of all time. Have your ambitions changed since you’ve moved into comedy?

I definitely would like to be more than just a comic gigging around who once they stop doing comedy everyone just forgets about them and that’s it. I would like to do something that really is different because that’s what excites me about being creative; it’s about trying to come up with something that no one else is really doing and stand-up is great for that because it really rewards you in that respect. If you’re doing something that’s abit different people go “oh look at this guy, that’s pretty good”, whereas with music people just sort of go “we don’t know what to do with you.” Also with the band, when I look back at it I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have because I was always thinking about the future and so I never enjoyed it as much as I should have. So when we decided we were going to split up we recorded an album in a studio for a month and it was one of the best months of my life because I wasn’t thinking about the future for once I was just thinking about doing what we were doing there and then and making that as good as we could. So with my stand up I just try and concentrate much more on the here and now. I love stand-up now way more than I ever loved being in a band. I really enjoy it and I’m living much more in the moment as well as trying to do something I’m really proud of.

Q: Your style has been described as the hyper-trivial. Do you think that it’s just a funny comic device or is there something more to it?

To begin with it’s just who I am anyway. The reason behind it is just because thats the kind of person I am. My first routine I ever had that worked consistently was about bearing a grudge against a guy at Kettering train station and it was because I was getting obsessed with this little thing. It took me a while to work out that that’s why that routine worked. To begin with, it’s always because I find it funny. When I’m doing a show I start writing inthe autumn and work all the way through to Edinburgh and sometimes after Edinburgh in a tour; the more you write it the more you realise how these things mirror what’s going on in your actual life. Once in this show that I’m touring now, I choose to reveal that actually this is all about something personal in my life. All my other shows as well have been about bigger things and I haven’t revealed it to the audience because I don’t think that it’s necessary for the comedian to do so, it’s often patronising and ultimately they don’t need that sort of lesson from a comic. This year I felt like they were owed some sort of explanation about what the show was about and why it existed.

Q: Who influenced you and who would you say are impressing you now on the comedy scene?

The first comic I got into was Lee Evans but I thought there was no way I could do that but then when I saw Ross Noble and Eddie Izzard it made me realize that you can talk about whatever you like and that seems fun. Then the more I got into stand-up the more I got into people like Dave Gorman and Wil Hogson and people who did really long engaging stories where the jokes sort of came from the situations. Now I feel like I’m really into my peers who inspire me. I love watching Anish Kumar, Helm, Widdicombe, John Kearns and people like that, you know, people who are my friends who I find funny. But also you get inspired by things that aren’t comedy like; if I’m honest then my favourite comic character of all time is the Rock. Just the way he would take himself so seriously but he was an absolute idiot.

James Acaster is currently touring the country with his show Recognise.

Keep up to date on Little Wanders comedy show at Clwb Ifor Bach right here

Promoter Interview: Ben Gallivan on the End of the Red (Medicine)

A week before this year’s abbreviated (if nonetheless sparklingly good looking) one day Dim Swn fest and a few days after a meeting discussed the seemingly high cost of even pre-emptively working out how to rejuvenate the Coal Exchange, it seems like yet another time where audiences will be asking questions about the ins and outs and state of the Cardiff music scene. Regular gig goers will doubtlessly utter a small sigh at prospective navel gazing – everyone who has even fleetingly forayed into Cardiff’s thriving alternative music gigs knows the problems that remain – no mid sized venues, a dearth of public transport and others which coalesce to give a nagging sense that our capital is outwardly perceived as a ‘nearly’ city on the touring circuit.

Those do seem unalterably and therefore slightly boring questions to repeat ad nauseum but looking closer at the variety of Indie-ish promoters – Jealous Lovers Club, Joy Collective, Fizzi and Holy Boredom amongst others who are able to pop up and pick singularly intriguing bands to book, it seems important to explore the shape of things at a more individual promoter level. Hence why we’ve been talking to Ben Gallivan, aka Red Medicine on his experiences of putting on a fascinating mix of local gems, experimental wonders and the occasional breakout act (such as his recent sold out Sleaford Mods show) and the reasons behind why he’s chosen to retire Red Medicine, with his final show at the Full Moon from That F**king Tank to come on October 14th.

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Q: Give us a little more detail about the bands you’ve been promoting and how you got into the game around Cardiff?
I’ve been involved in the music scene for nigh on 20 years now. Playing in bands at first, then writing about and reviewing them and then for the past couple of years promoting them. The promotion actually started a little while after starting the benlikesmusic.com site. I was writing about local bands that I’d seen and reviewing EPs and albums then one day somebody asked me if I put on gigs. It seemed like the ideal time to start.

Q: What convinced you to do it around Cardiff? Was there something about gig goers/audiences here that encouraged you?
By the time I considered starting promoting I’d been living in Cardiff for 3 or so years and had been regularly going to gigs and chatting with the bands and promoters. I liked the diversity of the audiences that turned up to the different venues. Cardiff audiences seemed interesting to me because they seemed to be more receptive to more off-beat bands and artists than in other places that I’ve lived.

Q: Like many in Cardiff, promoting isn’t your day job – was it something you just wanted to always do for fun or did you think “I could do this better” than others? Following from that – did it become less fun/take more time than you thought?
I knew from the start that it was going to be challenging to get into event promotion in Cardiff. There used to be a monthly get-together of promoters at ClwbIfor Bach that John Rostron used to look after; I turned up to my first one only to find another 30-40 people in the same room who were doing the exact same thing. I never thought I could do it better than others, I just thought that I could do it differently.
It does take a lot of time, definitely. Trying to build up a following has been the hardest part of it all as I was pretty much playing catch-up the entire time to people like Jealous Lovers Club, The Joy Collective et al.

Q: Have you just picked out certain bands you’ve always put on or has it been a case of jumping when opportunities come?
I basically put on bands that I enjoy watching myself (forgetting that most of the time I miss them by having to sit on the door). Sometimes gigs come from bands that have been in touch with me, some of them simply from me enjoying what I’ve seen at a previous gig or had recommended to me. I obviously do have my favourites; Totem Terrors, Gwenno and Y Pencadlys have all featured at my shows in one way or another around half a dozen times.

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Q: Is there still the perception from bands and agents that Cardiff is one-stop away from being on the normal UK tour itinerary? What do you think can be done by smaller promoters and venues about changing that if so?
I do feel that touring bands take a somewhat blinkered view of Cardiff; Wales in general in fact. It’s long been established that Cardiff doesn’t have enough mid-sized venues of, say, 300-500 capacity which doesn’t help matters, but I sometimes get the feeling from agents that they think it’s some kind of backwater town than a city with a thriving music scene. I don’t think the promoters and venues can do much more in all honesty; we just need to maybe convince them that you can play Bristol and Cardiff and get a good crowd at both.

Q: Do you agree that promoters are pretty friendly and like-minded around Cardiff – could there be more sharing of gigs/collaboration between promoters/what more could be done?
Definitely. There’s always going to be some kind of friendly rivalry as to who can get the big names and there are inevitable clashes; simply unavoidable due to the number of promoters in the city and only seven days in one week. I have noticed quite a lot more promoters teaming up to work on getting some bigger names into Cardiff/Newport over the past 6 months or so and they have worked really well in most cases. After winding down Red Medicine there’s every chance I’ll help out other promoters if I am asked and if it suits.

Q: Have the disparities between the enthusiasm of yourself and bands and the frustrations of the business of promoting/small audiences dampened your excitement about any of the gigs?
The problem that I’ve had when promoting my shows over the past couple of years is that many of them have been non-ticketed events so you basically have no idea who or how many people are going to turn up. You can always go down the Facebook event page route, but that simply doesn’t give you any firm idea of numbers; the ‘halve the number attending plus 10’ thing just doesn’t work. This is frustrating for bands also, especially touring ones who will constantly badger you for expected numbers when they know you can’t really provide them. On the flipside, you could put on a trio of unknown acts and have the biggest audience in ages – that’s basically my experience of how Cardiff works.

Q: Talk us through your best gig/audience you’ve had so far – was it just luck it came together, or are you any wiser to how to encourage a great/responsive audience?
There have been a good few surprise ones along the way. One of the big successes I had was an amazing show at Le Pub in Newport. Death Pedals were touring and I had to find good local supports. The Sick Livers were suggested to me and I chanced on a band called Swift Arvel who wanted to play their first show. The Sick Livers’ popularity and general mayhem, added to seemingly all of Swift Arvel’s friends and family turning up meant it turned into a rammed venue and a great night. Definitely one of the best if not the best.

Q: Conversely, what’s the most indicative experience of the difficulties/frustrations of promoting in South Wales?
On a personal level, it’s finding the best way to create a name for yourself and get a good following going. Not long after starting promoting, I managed to secure a gig with Scott and Charlene’s Wedding who had gone down a storm at Glastonbury a few weeks beforehand. Despite plugging the hell out of it and getting a trio of amazing supports sorted, fewer than 30 people turned up. It didn’t help that the venue had failed to update their listings or put any of the posters up to entice people in.
There have been times where the bands themselves haven’t done their share of promoting for an event and are then surprised when there’s nobody there to see them; it should be a given that they shouldn’t expect the promoter to do everything.

Q: What are the reasons you’ve decided to stop – do you still think there’s an audience for the weirder/alternative acts you put on here?
I wouldn’t say that they’re weird/alternative; I guess they’re just smaller acts that I’d like to see turn into bigger acts. The first show I put on included Laurence Made Me Cry and Ellie Makes Music who have since been playing around the country and being nominated for awards and such; it’s nice to see. There are two simple reasons why I’ve decided to stop Red Medicine; time and money. I’ve put on 25 shows in a little under two years and as enjoyable as most of them have been, they all make you a little crazy. I’ve also found that it’s become a lot harder/more expensive since moving out of the city a little over a year ago. Even something as simple as postering doubles in price due to the travel involved and it all adds up.

Q: What would you say to people thinking about going into promotion around here?
Take your time. I went head first into it, burned out and was ready to stop after only 6 shows under my belt. My initial ‘retirement’ just turned into a three month break as I couldn’t help myself. Don’t be aloof – get friendly with other promoters around the city, otherwise you’re doing yourself no favours. And also, do ticketed gigs as often as possible and have a separate bank account. And buy the acts sandwiches, they love that.

Q: So you put on a really successful, sold out gig at the Moon Club with Sleaford Mods – did that make you reconsider to stop promoting?
Yes. That was pretty much the perfect gig. All the bands were friendly, the day went without a single hitch and it was good to see all the acts enjoying each other’s music as well as the audience. I’m looking after the Sleaford Mods return to Cardiff in March because I think they enjoyed the day as much as I did. Thing is though, these gigs are a rarity. The fact that it sold out meant that I didn’t have to worry about anything as I knew I was going to make the money I’d poured into it back, and then some. If I thought I could do that – or close to – every month then I’d carry on. I’ll dip in every now and again, but more as collaborations with other promoters, or managing any band that’ll have me.

Photo: Sleaford Mods @ The Full Moon, Simon Ayre

Live: David Thomas Broughton & Juice Vocal Ensemble – 23rd Sept

Read our extended interview with the engaging David Thomas Broughton right here

If his music on record has the beauty, complexity and diversity of birdsong, then David Thomas Broughton’s live performances are the theatrical, chaotic and spontaneous reality of a predatory bird in pursuit of its prey, crossed with the bizarre but endearing courtship display of the male hummingbird. His spectators can observe his rituals and behaviours ceaselessly and can only expect to emerge in a confused state of awe.

This show is not him alone though; tonight Juice Vocal Ensemble join him on stage to showcase their recent collaborative Sliding the Same Way.

The first two songs of the set lead in relatively conventionally, or as much as you could anticipate from someone acclaimed for their unpredictable stage antics. ‘Woodwork’ naturally preludes ‘Yorkshire Fog'; both showcase Broughton’s rich, cooing vocals, but the latter of these songs is given the perfect setting by girls’ crystal a capella.

Soon enough, during the delicate harmonies of ‘Oh, Nurse of Mine’, Broughton turns to a small case brimming with all manner of equipment: a device that emits a monotonous tone akin to that of a heart monitor, another to both distort his voice and to emulate something between flatulence and a toy train, to name a few.

Unpleasant as these additions may sound if taken at surface level, they actually add depth to the performance, particularly for ‘Unshaven Boozer’. Juice Vocal Ensemble’s sound effects on record seem to parrot the subtle voices of the boozer’s drinks: the crack of a can opening, the whispering of a dying froth, the chug and glug of a bottle being emptied, but amongst the bleeping and indiscernible distortions of David’s equipment it could just as well be the mechanics of the industrial town of which the lyrics speak.

As he begins one of two songs in the set from his second album Outbreeding, the girls seem to take a backseat, but this is only meant to lull us into a false sense of security for this is the song to which Broughton refers the following day in a Facebook status, saying “I feel a little violated. But I gave them free reign. So I let myself in for it. Surprises all round!” ‘Nature’ is one of his more energetic songs, so while he is brought into a state of dishevelment, his unaffected stamina is shown to be thoroughly impressive. He performs with his usual intensity and modest plume, like that of a heron, as they unlace his shoes, unbutton his shirt, turn up his collar and swap his watch for one of their own.

Only when he has the appearance of a disorientated fledgling, do Juice turn on the audience, or rather, those of us wearing watches. No longer are we entitled to keep track of time, not only for our watches now embellish the arms of the band, but I think it fair to say we are all lost in delighted befuddlement.

For David Thomas Broughton, anything and everything is a prop, a means to add some everyday surrealism and to baffle audience and musicians alike. His success is most palpable when his simple “Cheers” swiftly plummets us into the realisation that the performance is over – a man humbly potters on the stage as his counterparts lie sprawled across the floor. They rise. No one knows what just happened but titters of joy are to be heard all around as we migrate away from the stage.

 

All photos by Sarah Dorman

The Red Detachment of Women review

In the build up to the Cultural Revolution, director Jin Xie’s The Red Detachment of Women made a huge impact on the public imagination – so much so, that it was adapted for the stage as one of the party’s eight models for revolutionary opera. Put together by Jiang Qing, the last wife of Mao Zedong, these eight works for stage were designed to inspire revolutionary consciousness and foster class solidarity, as was practically every other facet of popular entertainment. This was one of the PRC’s many tactics in its attempt to purge itself of all things counter-revolutionary, whether physical or psychological. So favourable was the resulting ballet, that it was performed for then president Richard Nixon during his visit in ‘72.

Thematically, one might assume this was an unsettling ordeal for him. Based on the true story of an armed, all-female company of the Red Army during the civil war, The Red Detachment tells the story of Qionghua, a slave of the wealthy landowner Nan Ba Tian. Early in the film she is liberated via covert means by Communist forces, themselves entrenched in the surrounding mountains. With only one road left open to her, she joins a newly formed, all-female division of soldiers, applies for party membership, and throws herself into the business of violent, armed struggle. The tyrant is overthrown, the village is freed, and all is well in the world – that is until Nan Ba Tian returns with a large KMT force, and the struggle (always the struggle) resumes.

The Red Detachment is a film depicting inter-dimensional conflict – two worlds struggling for possession of our space-time. Nan Ba Tian’s house for example is a fortress of misery and despair, where the sheer volume of possessions, the very palette of wealth and decadence, encroaches on every shot. The air hangs heavy with claustrophobic oppression. His water dungeons are full to capacity, and through them drift the tortured cries of villagers unable to pay the goddamn rent. Every move is measured – slaves and servants tread carefully, and only on command. Nobody speaks save those spoken to by their masters.

Later, the Communists liberate the same house. The curtains are thrown back. Light floods the now spacious halls, cleared of their bourgeoisie trinkets, and everywhere are villagers, soldiers, and party members, cheerfully chatting away and helping each other to understand their role in the revolution.

This is just one example of the blunt disparities on show. Others are even grander in scope. Nan Ba Tian visibly deteriorates over the course of the uprising, to such an extent that come the end, he’s little more than a pale husk, pleading for mercy. By contrast, it’s always sunny in the CPR. Amid unfettered, pastoral simplicity, Quionghua and the gang are the very picture of health, suffused with the seemingly limitless energy. They sing, they dance, they fall in love, and willingly endure all grief in the name of the collective.

It’s propaganda so blunt in its delivery it should come with a health warning – and it’s all the better for it. The Red Detachment is a joy to witness – an uncompromised vision of people’s desire to reconnect with their labour that resonates powerfully at a time when there may not be many jobs, but in the wake of cuts and more cuts, there’s a hell of a lot work to do.

The Red Detachment concludes Chapter’s Chinese season, and was an inspired choice on their part – a rare opportunity to experience what might have easily been dismissed as a tasteless, outdated relic from the traumatic experiments of the Cultural Revolution.

Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco Review

A play about the stories we tell ourselves

It’s been 13 years since Gary Owen’s breakthrough hit, Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco, premiered at Chapter Cardiff. It was met with high acclaim and launched Gary Owen on an award littered trajectory that would spawn such theatrical hits as The Shadow of a Boy and The Drowned World. Now picked up by Waking Exploits theatre company, Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco returns to Wales, where it all began.

From the offset, it’s clear that director Matt Ball has put his stamp on this with a minimalist stage design stripped of all unnecessary props. As the audience’s murmurs hush into silence, the stage lights turn on and three men stare out at us; Gary, Mathew and Russell. One after the other, each character recalls their story, rarely relying on anything other than their words to portray their circumstances. Without the influence of backdrops and full sets we are forced to see the world through the character’s eyes. When Gary marches towards us, screaming about karaoke, we have nothing else to look at- it’s just him and us- and that’s how it begins.

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Gary is a bully who brags about the violent deeds he enacts on other men. His victims are defined- in Gary’s terms- as weak, posh and four-eyed; everything he is not. When he refers to school his eyes glaze over with nostalgia for the good old days. Gary is the worst type of bully, he understands the psychology of dominance and he loves watching men squirm under his gaze of masculinity. But Gary’s story is a façade. His self-constructed world bursts at the seams with Gary’s real problems. He wants to be loved; a clichéd trope which could possibly have led the play into all-to familiar territory, but in the able performance of Jordan Bernade, it becomes an engaging feature, always present underneath his words but never explicitly stated. A chance encounter with the girl of his dreams thrusts Gary into a verbal frenzy as he wrestles with the vocabulary he has to hand to recollect the incident. Here we see deep universal feelings burst through in analogies of cold pints and fist fights. But Gary only lets his guard down for a few fleeting minutes. In a move that is perhaps slightly heavy handed, it is revealed that Gary has a fear of crying; a character defining flaw which is maybe too conveniently symbolic for an otherwise organic character.

From Gary we move onto Mathew; a soft-spoken man whose unnerving story is punctuated by karaoke(think‘Only God Forgives’ but with Frank Spencer instead of Ryan Gosling). For all his niceties Mathew is just as deluded as Gary. His sole purpose is to serve God and sing Karaoke. He is talentless and yet remains stunned by the fact he hasn’t yet “made it”.  Yet there is a deeper level of delusion operating in Mathew; his naïve outlook is stretched to its limit as he recalls his sinister story of dark deeds and confrontations. Visual cues spill out onto screens in the foreground (tellingly out of view of the character), adding a menacing shadow to Mathew’s sugar-coated words. These projected images, of mouthfuls of blood and milk spilling down chins, were there during Gary’s explosive outbursts. The same repressed emotion that defines Gary lies bubbling under Matthew.

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The final act is for Russell, a man stuck in a rut of a loveless relationship in a town that he despises. Beneath the banality of Russell’s life lies a secret that has come to define him; a dark secret that anchors him to his hometown. Sion Pritchard deserves a special mention for his performance as Russell. His character arc dramatically shifts from a relatable man who wants desperately to move out of the valleys, to something altogether unrecognizable. This transition is fairly rapid but Russell remains the most believable character out of the three. Again, recurring phrases and projections drill home the quite clear message, at this stage, that all three characters are fuelled by the same thing. The fact they are all male is no accident. Questions of masculinity plague all three characters. All three live in the same Welsh valleys town, a place stripped of its industry and influence over the world; what better place to ask questions of perceived male impotence.

Gary Owen’s script ties together the three stories with just the right amount of serendipity. Each story complements the other without it ever seeming contrived. There is perhaps an interesting social message to Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco. All three characters have been left on their own for too long and are in desperate need of help. Their delusions serve to blanket them from the harsh realities of the world. Whether they are outrunning commitment, love or a particular traumatic experience, it all ends the same. The worlds of Gary, Mathew and Russell are testament to the fact that while we inevitably make stories about ourselves, we ultimately have no say in what happens.

 

Images: Farrows Creative