Live: HMS Morris, Rhodri Brooks & Eugene Capper @ Gwdihw

A little characteristically late, the eponymous and cantankerous Eugene Capper took to the stage as first on the bill of the evening joined by lo-fi Americana aficionado Rhodri Brooks with support, as if often the case with Capper’s ever changing suffix ‘and Band’.

His is a blend of whatever he darn well feels like on the night, it would seem, varied and often conflicting genres in a gentle tug of war. The light and lackadaisical interaction with the crowd and bandmates colours the performance and feels like a bit of a performance itself; a little wry and sarcastically clichéd. Most impressive though is Eugene’s multi-instrument abilities – no matter the switch between genre or style, each song is richly layered and almost prog-like in progression.

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After a brief interlude, Rhodri Brooks takes the stage with Eugene supporting, just to confuse us. The two complement one another nicely, Brooks’ languid Americana proving a well-considered accompaniment to Capper and Band’s unique brand of folk. ‘Intro (Herwgipio)’ is a psychedelic and melancholic drawl of an opener, while ‘Fold Me’ showcases an unhurried yet carefully considered style both cloying and relatable. And toe-tappingly good.

Both supports provide that particular branch of psychedelica that can only be rooted in Wales and set up HMS Morris nicely. Making waves in the same vein as Peski Records electronica peers Plyci and R Seiliog, this is catchy dreamscape electro pop at its catchiest.

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Heledd’s bewitching vocals slice through the swirling synths and Wil’s lush percussion and Sam’s live-sampled ethereal voice backing on the loping and brooding ‘Gormod o Ddyn’. ‘Shipping Forecast’ smacks ever so slightly and infectiously of kraut-rock, before breaking down slowly but surely and ‘Aur (Gold)’ encompasses the band’s sound succinctly; a captivating and cinematic style.

All three will also be playing at Chapter Arts Centre on Tuesday 17th for ‘Overboard’, a gig fundraiser for The Boat Studio. The first of its kind in Wales, artists Ellie Young and Amber Mottram hope to transform a canal boat into a floating and adaptable art space that hosts residencies, exhibitions, gigs and performances. More information at www.theboatstudio.org

Y Mae’r Môr Mawr yn Ddu from HMS Morris on Vimeo.

Photos: Noel Dacey

Review: Tuff Love, Roll for the Soul, Bristol

Roll for the Soul – a charming community bike café – is the setting for tonight’s Glaswegian trio of bands: Tuff Love, Pinact and Algernon Doll. In the lead up to the gig, the set times had been shifting around, re-ordering, until it transpires Pinact and Algernon Doll were stranded on the motorway and would no longer be playing. Although disheartened to be missing out on those two, the buzz of excitement filling the small, cozily lit venue remains intact for Tuff Love.

Tonight’s show is part of a micro-tour celebrating the release of their second EP, Dross, but they also pay heed to the earlier songs from Junk. The lack of glaring lighting on the stage area allows for wave after wave of surf-pop melodies to evoke images of dappled light emanating around us – it’s a signature haziness that has a distinct Glaswegian hometown flourish.

Each and every short, fuzzy pop song is met with great enthusiasm and delighted anticipation. One such song is ‘Sweet Discontent’ – saturated with sunny haziness, piercing drums, soothing vocal harmony and jaunty-dance-inducing guitar, driven by insistent bass.

The second single taken from Dross, ‘That’s Right’, pummels us with its catchiness, its scuzziness, its undeniable upbeat instrumentation. An unadulterated affection fills us all because Tuff Love are quickly proving to have mastered the perfect balance of impressive lo-fi with imaginative flair.

Finishing with ‘Slammer’ – a song that they wrote in a day last June – Tuff Love show off their ponderous yet energetic riffs and sharp lyrics. With a confident ease, they command our excitement – for, after a 45 minute set, our stamina is not yet worn down. If anything the friendly, encapsulating atmosphere is ever hankering for more. Something will happen, hopefully, we are told.

The organisers do not disappoint. After an interlude, two local musicians turn up to play an acoustic set, alternating songs between the two of them. Lou (of both Personal Best and Caves) and Warren (of something I’m sure; I regret I do not know) embark on a spontaneous performance with songs about binaries and fluidity; close friends leaving; and finish with Warren singing Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5. Hastily put together through necessity though it may be, this only adds to the sincerity of their compassion.

With the small group of us circled around the space in which they perform, there is something of a campfire to nature of it all: not just in the way that Warren, when playing, leaps around the space like a flame, but in the sense of togetherness, lightheartedness, and community. It’s all you could hope for and imagine in such a charismatic venue as Roll for the Soul.

You can see Tuff Love at Wales Goes Pop!, April 4th at The Gate

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