Review: Fago.Sepia, Gwdihw

It strikes me that no one really knows how to dance, or at least, at the gigs I attend, everyone is unsure of how to execute dancing without bringing attention to their awkward bodies. A few years back when at a Johnny Foreigner gig in Bristol I witnessed (and was complicit in) an apparently spontaneous choreography in which the audience danced en masse with a thrust forward of one shoulder, propelling the other back. That was it. In time with the music, we relegated our movements to our shoulders only.

Math rock music is particularly susceptible to this dancing affliction: arguably, it’s the subgenre most enticing to dance and has attracted dedicated fans who are keen to express their enjoyment and appreciation thus, but the unpredictability of the music leaves us vulnerable to misplaced shapes being pulled left, right and centre.

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Fago.Sepia’s debut gig in Wales is no exception. Like at jofo, dancing seems concentrated in one body part, although it differs for each member of the crowd: shoulders, hips, heads, waists; no doubt the French band have the power to afflict an entire, collective body with their confidence and expertise.

Their outfit is one that brims with self-assurance and an impressive certainty in their skills – a certainty that every twist and turn will infect the crowd with a glorious delight. They share in this very same delight: part way through their set, they thank us for their hot hearts (warming their hearts – this corporeal English idiom is about as graceless in translation as the dance moves I, for one, am attempting).

Onward, with their riffs that pirouette, gyrate and invite us into the over-excited frenzy, the taut structures tumble into dissolution. They clatter, they lull, they storm through our circulations with a wild precision to fuel a body of rhythms more toned, supple and tight.

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They deliver their final punch of fun with quatorze – the first song from their 2010 release, the resume – a fantastic texture of cool, jabbing guitars, intermitted with a yelp of joy reminiscent of that starting The JB’s Gimme Some More. Apt, as the bodies cease with their flailing limbs and shout an “encore”, before a steady dispersion.

Photos: Oli Montez, Circuit Sweet, http://www.circuitsweet.co.uk/

Review: Unease, Sinfonia Cymru

You are right to be afraid of the dark.
Quite a tagline. One that was definitely in my mind as I walked into Jacob’s Market for Sinfonia Cymru’s most recent project which aims to bring ‘Classical’ music out of the concert hall. Great choice of venue for the evenings event. I had been at Jacob’s Market before in the day to wish I could buy some of the antique treasures they have on offer but this was the first time I’d been at night. Already there was an element of anxiety as I made my way past the taxidermied wildlife – up the winding stairs up to the top floor of the market to await in a make shift bar, dimly light, for the evening to begin. I bought a drink, checked my pockets to ensure no-one else had tried to rob me, and waited.

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Finally the doors opened to a low lit (theme of the evening) room which contained six chairs in a row each with its own free hung bulb with six music stands. From behind us came a violinist and sat on one of the chairs laid out. Still no music. It wasn’t until someone walked by and the light above the player’s head came on did he begin to play. The bulb then went out and the music stopped. Another player came and joined the initial violinist and again would only play when the bulb above his head was shining, triggered by the audience through motion detectors.

Four other players joined, the audience became more confident, lights were triggered, music was played. Good stuff. As the players were triggered at seperate times the melodic lines overlapped, creating a beautiful texture of gentle confusion. It was then I noticed behind the players there were headphones arranged along the wall. I went to listen and discovered the accounts of various strangers all discussing fear. The interplay play between the voices in the headphones and sporadic music was truly absorbing, one which each member of the audience to discover and experience the event in their own unique way.

Eventually the sextet began to leave, one by one, until we were once again left in the dull light. What followed next was genuinely unnerving. The doors opened and as we followed, the sextet had gone into a completely black room. No lights. Our soundtrack consisted of eerie ponticello glisses. Through the dark we wandered when a flash of light unveiled the sextet and from them came a stab of sound. Another flash. Another chord. They became more frequent until with strobe lighting and a driving baroquean ostinato from the strings. Stop (Black). Start (Strobe).

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Then as soon as it arrived, the moment was gone. As were the players. Again.
The final section of the concert was in an adjoining room and looked more like a traditional setting in the layout but had the ensemble smothered in an array of wonderful lighting and projects throughout. The music in the final part melded the live strings with electronics quite brilliantly. In three main sections the first reminded me of the soundtrack to the Danny Boyle film Sunshine. Uplifting harmony in the strings with a pulsating use of synths with a gentle build that moved seamlessly into the second part which introduced electronics beats, much in the same way as Rob Dougan may in the nineties. Heavy marching drums with unhurried strings. The final section turned up the pace with it’s mixture of strings and idm beats. My personal favourite of the three sections, as it really injected an element of grit and excitement which some classical music can lack.

Unease was a very exciting and very visually exciting piece that managed to put the audience on edge without tipping the balance and scaring them too much. The only bugbear is I felt so many elements really strived to compliment the brief of Unease, of creating a feeling of unrest, anxiety and fear, apart from the music. Not that the music was of a low quality, quite the opposite. I felt the music was stunning quite often. I simply felt it didn’t fit the brief very successfully.

It was quite often very consonant and quick to resolve. It could have been more elusive and essentially uneasy on the listener’s ear. The lions share of the bristling suspense was provided by visual and dramatic means, rather than any internal musical fright. Maybe that’s what made the evening bareable? I’m not sure. I am however very excited to see what Sinfonia Cymru, Unbuttoned and Tom Raybould do next.

Sara Pascoe vs History Interview

It would be offbeat and odd to describe her as a ‘rising star’ of stand up, but with her show that Sara Pascoe brings to Clwb Ifor Bach’s new Little Wander comedy nights, ‘Sara Pascoe vs History’, it does feel like the register of critical acclaim has shifted gears upwardly. This isn’t just superb, wanderingly curious glances at important, Capital-Letter Ideas like ‘Sara Pascoe vs The Truth’ or ‘Sara Pascoe: The Musical’ – having earned her stripes on those shows (both of which are singularly brilliant, by the way), it feels like her ability to treat her personal life and mishaps in such a way to offer new, strikingly intellectual yet accessible ways of laughing is becoming something of a trademark.

Not many people could turn jealous spousal worrying into Nietzschean wonderings on whether your boyfriend has mistakenly copped off with your doppelganger. The best thing about it is how unforced ideas like this are – they’re intellectually inviting rather than monolithic philosophical ideas. This time round, Pascoe is dealing with history with both a capital H and her own – taking a curious comparative look at the urge to commit to long term relationships whilst wondering why even Adam & Eve can’t make it work. Ahead of it, we had a quick chat with the woman herself.

How is the tour going so far?

Pretty well, I am Enjoying the gigs and even being on trains all the time. I am trying to get lots of work done around the shows and utilising my time properly. But it’s early days, I’m sure I’ll be an exhausted mess by the end.

I found it really interesting that you have a section on your website about veganism, how did that come about?

I worked with some vegans on a play, I’ve always been vegetarian since I was a child, and I thought I would try it. I was shocked twice over, once when I read about dairy and egg farming and how cruelly cows and chickens are treated and secondly by how much better and healthier I felt on a vegan diet.

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Which do you prefer, doing stand up or comedy acting?

They are both rewarding and challenging in different ways. I haven’t acted much lately so I feel very rusty, and I would like to do more. And I always feel very lucky when I do get a part in something. But I’m madly madly in love with stand up at the moment, so that’s my main focus.

What has been your favourite piece of TV work?

Getting invited to be on QI was a wonderful experience and something that I have wanted to do ever since I was a teenager. It felt like a very personal achievement for me, and was exhilarating fun too.

What triggered you to start a career in comedy?

I did my first gig not knowing or planning that I would make a career out of it, but as an experiment. I was curious and interested about how it would feel. I had briefly dated a comic and I was intrigued about his lifestyle, when we broke up I wanted to
Understand him better and so I booked an open mic spot as an experiment. And then it became a compulsion. And now a job!

What do you think about the female presence in comedy? Why do you think there seem to be less female stand ups and panel show guest? Or do you think this is something that is changing?

It’s definitely changing, there are more women and certain areas have learned to become more welcoming to newer and different comics. But it’s not something I spend a great deal thinking about- its so easy to get sucked into a panic or Internet activism over a tv show’s quota, and I prefer to concentrate on my work.

How would you describe your type of stand up comedy?

Thoughtful and stuffed full of ideas.

What is the highlight of your career so far?

Meeting my boyfriend. We had a 5 hour car ride to a gig. He’s wonderful.

Who is your favourite comedian right now? and new starter on the scene do you have hopes for?

I love Sarah Kendall and Nina Conti and Katherine Ryan and Bridget Christie. Of newer comics I like Jack Barry and Peter Brush. But there’s lots of exciting people coming up, the live scene is an exciting place!

If you could ask yourself any question in an interview, what would it be?

No one has ever asked me about personal grooming or my skin care regimen, I must look like I don’t have one, and it’s true, I don’t!

Club Review: Freedom is a Kon-stant Struggle – Kon @ Gwdihw

I’m sitting with Hully-Gully, Sureshot and Blue Honey – three Cardiff promoters who together have brought Gilles Peterson’s King of the Edit, DJ Kon, to Cardiff. It’s been a long time coming for the five DJs round the table – Veto, Conroy, Milesdavis, and Blue Honey’s Ben & Andy.

“What the f*** is this?” someone cries.
“This is Fine Young Cannibals my friend!” replies Veto. “What’s your problem?!”
“We’re trying to talk seriously about the music here!”

It’s never easy bringing international acts to Cardiff – why bother heading over the bridge when you can just do Bristol? A small city can present its own challenges too. “We started doing a night called Hully Gully in the basement of Undertone” says Veto, “but because it was right next to Ten Feet Tall it was hard to get people to pay to go downstairs when it was free to head upstairs.”

“Especially when they copy your music”, adds Conroy.

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Two things have made tonight possible – a spirit of co-operation, and a renewed interest in disco and funk.

Chris suspects that renewed interest in disco may have come via the house revival – history’s master-tape, now working in reverse. “Proto-house tracks were disco samples with a drum machine,” he says. “Then one day there was no sample. House was vey clearly born out of disco, but now you see disco coming through house. You’ve got Nile Rodgers lurking about, there’s disco sound at number 1. You get funk and disco DJs on Boiler Room, whereas before I don’t think they were really a part of DJ culture.”

Disco did give birth to an essential DJ tool however – the edit. The first DJs had a big problem with disco, in that tracks were written by bands with radio-play on their minds. Songs would rarely go over five minutes – hardly time at all for a DJ to work with.

“Back in the day, DJs would go back to the original multi-tracks and extend the bits they wanted” says Veto.

“Yeah,” adds Conroy, “people like John Morales would take the masters and say ‘that’s no good at three minutes, it needs to be longer, on a dance floor I wanna build something, I wanna build these frequencies’, and you’d end up with something far superior.”

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Edits are where Kon has picked up his well-deserved rep in recent years. For a dedicated crate-digger, a number of his cuts seem surprisingly obvious – and we’re not talking crate-digger obvious. We’re talking Steve-Wright-in-the-afternoon obvious. Chic’s Good Times, Hall and Oates’s Can’t Go for That, Donna Summers’s Bad Girls – all veritable corpses that nobody sane would dream of resurrecting. Whether that makes Kon a madman or a genius is unclear, but all of the above have emerged from his soundboard sounding like they were recorded yesterday.

Kon reps a very pure form of edit technique. Recent years have seen others take the technique in other directions. Theo Parrish’s Ugly Edit series takes Blaxploitation era funk and disco, and produces unholy results, ridden with overdriven frequencies and needle jumps. Elsewhere you’ve got the likes of DJ Milktray cutting up noughties’ RnB to drop into up-tempo grime sets.

But it’s that purity, that sense of urgent realness, that makes tonight so special. The sheer warmth and unbridled joy of Kon’s selections is electric – you can feel the guy getting deeper and deeper as the tracks wash over the floor. By the time he’s full swing, Gwdihw’s living-room-chic environs are alive with good vibes. Kon’s mixes in and out of breaks so fluidly, occasionally dispensing with beat-matching to deliver an experience beyond a mere interlocking bass drum.

This is perfect for a place like Cardiff, because if there’s one thing that it has that many cities don’t, it’s an open door policy. You’d be hard pressed to find a dance-floor as lacking in pretension as here tonight, where everyone is welcome to get down. Phenomenal work from all involved, in a city where having fun’s not always so easy.

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.

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