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.

Eugene and Rhodri 1

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.

HMS 1

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

In The Mood For Love review

I know almost nothing about Chinese history. This is an admission I’m willing to share as Marc did in his review for Song at Midnight. Then, this year the BFI launched an unprecedented Chinese film season; some titles in the programme have never before been screened in the UK.

There’s no better a title with which to take the plunge than Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love, an atmospheric and seminal film with a seemingly slight plot, phantasmagorical beauty and a bunch of accolades (anointed most important Chinese film ever by Sight & Sound and nominated for the 2000 Palme d’Or).

Secretary Su Li-zhen rents a room in a Hong Kong apartment building on the same day as journalist Chow Mo-wan. Despite friendly neighbours and the bustling city-life below, they find themselves repeatedly alone, either in their respective rooms in the crowded tenement or walking to the local street noodle vendor. Both of their spouses consistently work overtime shifts and arouse suspicions surrounding fidelity. The cinematography is protracted and saturated, lingering over their loneliness. A title card at the beginning of the film reads, “It is a restless moment. Hong Kong 1962.” This restiveness is palpable throughout, sustained not only through dialogue but a rich cinematic lexicon.

The shots in which Su and Chow encounter one another are dramatically slowed down, as though the fleeting instant of the brushing of a shoulder could last an eternity. The pair eventually meets to work on a martial arts serial for a newspaper, developing a platonic relationship with a tightly orchestrated subtle and suffused desire. The social conduct of 1960s Hong Kong dictates that even their friendship must be kept a secret. Add the brooding lull of Nat King Cole to the stunning palette that Wong is well known for and you’ve got a flush of gorgeous emotion.

Wong once answered a poll by the Village Voice about his favourite film endings. Speaking of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclipse, he wrote “A sequence of empty shots at the end of the film revisits many of the locations seen earlier. Suddenly, one realises this film is not about Monica Vitti or Alain Delon, but about the place they live in.” This is true of In the Mood for Love, almost undoubtedly. Their secret kinship is very much informed by the breath-taking city below; the mise en scene flows with the changing setting, morphing from traditional flowery motifs to bold, modern patterns. As the two venture through alleyways, there’s an overwhelming and hanging aesthetic of film noir that embeds their unrequited desire, made all the more cruel and intangible by their ever absent partners. One can tell that Wong Kar-Wai thinks through the camera lens and the results are heartbreaking.

Chapter’s Electric Shadows season concludes on Tuesday 23rd September with The Red Detachment of Women.

Noys R Us: Last Days Here review

Noys R Us, in association with Chapter, bring incendiary cult rock documentaries to their natural setting – the live music venue. “The project was born of a pretty organic conversation with Chapter”, organiser Mark Gubb tells me. “In a wider context, I think live music venues are great venues to watch films like this in – less formal than a cinema setting, loud, with a bar just a step away. It just makes for a slightly different environment and experience”. It’s certainly not a rigid screening; Mark approaches the screen and introduces everybody to the night, briefly outlines the film and shows some trailers for upcoming films As the Palaces Burn and A Band Called Death.

This week’s offering at The Full Moon (complete with popcorn, plush armchairs and a well-stocked bar) was Last Days Here, which tracks indie label owner Sean ‘Pellet’ Pelletier’s renewed interest in obscure 70s heavy metal band Pentagram and his attempts to get lead singer Bobby Liebling off crack, out of his parents’ ‘sub-basement’ and back on stage for a reunion show.

‘I was saving these for when I got big’, Liebling says as he fingers through demos and newspaper clippings, ‘and that never happened’. He’s pictured scratching himself repetitively, murmuring about parasites and surrounded by squalor. Yet the film never pities, places undue blame or revels in his destructive addiction like countless age-old rockstar biopics; it focuses rather on Pellet’s hope for his recovery, placed somewhat precariously in a fanatical interest in his music. As Liebling interrupts an interview to search for a piece of stray crack, the audience is unsure.

There are a few hard-hitting moments, but by and large the film is jovial, tongue-in-cheek and a little balls out and brash; everything you’d expect from a heavy metal documentary. The editing is adroit and the cinematography, in its fly-on-the-wall honesty, paints a sometimes embarrassingly intimate picture of Bobby Liebling’s life, friends and family, flitting between soul-searching interviews and his mother bringing him a grilled sandwich. Pellet makes him sign a piece of paper that states if he uses crack again after that day, Pellet will gain his entire record collection – and it’s a ‘kick ass record collection’.

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It focuses on idiosyncrasies and switches between bizarre anecdotes to tell the tale, rather than chronologically tracking Pentagram’s demise. Liebling lost the band a record deal with Columbia, had to be dragged on stage half-conscious after an overdose and messed up a big opportunity playing in front of Kiss in the band’s basement studio by not booking the day off work and turning up late still in his janitor’s uniform. Despite his failings, he’s not an all-out villain; throughout the film he demonstrates startling sensitivity as well as an overriding urge to return to the stage.

This is most apparent in the off-beat love story at the centre of the documentary, his romantic involvement with a young Pentagram fan. The relationship catalyses Liebling to move out of the sub-basement back to Philadelphia, where she teaches him how to do adult chores, like opening a check-in account and doing laundry.

Though the film is naturally dominated by Liebling and his larger than life character, Pellet shines too, progressing from Pentagram nut and music nerd to Bobby’s manager and friend. He astutely notices a renewed cult interest in Pentagram’s music on social media, understands the scene perfectly and works extremely hard to organise Pentagram’s comeback. You find yourself routing for them, even though you had no clue who they were before the film. As Mark says “films like these really bring people out of the woodwork … I think rock/punk/metal/alt are genres that first get you when you’re young, so there’s a connection with the culture and the energy in these films that’s never lost.”

The next Noys R Us screening, As The Palaces Burn,  takes place at Chapter Tue 1 – Thu 3 April. 

This documentary follows the internationally acclaimed metal band Lamb of God on their fateful 2010 tour which sadly included the death of a fan in Prague and the subsequent manslaughter trial of lead singer Randy Blythe. This fascinating documentary which started as a demonstration of how music can bring people together deals with the tragic events and provides a rare chance to see Randy discussing the trial. 

With introduction by Noys R Us’s Mark Gubb on Tue 1 Apr.

029 2030 4400 / www.chapter.org

Hub Festival’s first year in preview

hub-article-photo-sam-hollandPhoto: Sam Holland

Despite the scrapping of the Big Weekend, an annual live music event since 1995 outside City Hall, there has been no end to good news for Welsh music fans this August. The less said about Green Man the better, as I’m told by many it was the best yet, I didn’t go and am willing to admit I’m still quite bitter about it. Columns and blogs are positively buzzing around this year’s Welsh Music Prize announcements, Swn has announced that it will launch a radio station during this October’s festival and this weekend will see the inaugural Hub Festival, a multi-venue affair spanning the entirety of Womanby Street for the duration of the Bank Holiday weekend.

Supported by Cardiff Council, it aims to showcase the best of Cardiff’s ever-burgeoning underground live music scene. The announcement comes at a seemingly troublesome time for Cardiff’s live music scene. Beat Box Bars’ recent insolvency meant the closure of Fire Island and a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the future of Buffalo, Ten Feet Tall and Undertone, which have been staples on the circuit for a significant time.

However, Hub’s 150 strong eclectic bill is a bold one that promises to dispel any uncertainty, featuring a mass of familiar names for those well acquainted with the Castle Quarter alongside some surprises – directed by The Full Moon but almost entirely curated by a range of local recognisable promoters, labels and DJs including The Joy Collective, Signature, Obey!, Gigantic and Juju Nation to name but a few across stages at Dempsey’s, Four Bars, CFQ, Fuel, Clwb Ifor Bach, The Full Moon, Moon Club and City Arms.

And an eclectic mix it is. Fjords will leave you pining after more with their own breed of 80s inspired indie pop and dark electro. A staple of the Cardiff circuit, they deliver a tightly woven sound full to the brim with sprightly hooks and a touch of electronica. See Totem Terrors for fuzzy post-punk fun, Gwenno’s unique blend of harmonious Welsh lyrics and melodic synth, The D Teez for a good old fashioned punk knees up or Prosperina fresh from Bloodstock if doom-laden metal tickles your fancy.

The line-up stretches beyond South Wales’ shores. One to watch would certainly be the coupling of genre-defying groove merchant Joe Driscoll and kora genius Sekou Kouyate, a match made in Marseilles that meshes folk with afro-beat in a sunny sound that is sure to defy the weather, dare it take a turn for the worst.

With such a diverse line-up that caters for all tastes, Hub will most definitely live up to its name, showcasing the talent that has come to shape Womanby Street as the ever-growing centre of the city centre’s live music scene and independent bar scene. Tiny Rebel’s (arguably the Welsh brewing success story of 2013) opening of its first flagship bar in Fire Island’s old building will only serve to add to the diversity of the street and further cement its reputation outside Cardiff’s borders.

Live review: Public Service Broadcasting at Clwb Ifor Bach, 23 May 2013

PSB at Clwb-

Credit: Simon Ayre

On Thursday, Public Service Broadcasting, consisting of the pseudonymous J. Willgoose, Esq. and Wrigglesworth, returned to Cardiff on their Inform, Educate, Entertain tour to do, well, just that. With samples sourced from the BFI, Studio Canal and the Prendergast Archive coupled Krautrock, synth lines, pounding percussion and the occasional banjo, they aim to “teach the lessons of the past with the music of the future” and have certainly stirred up a lot of interest since the debut album release, garnering good reviews from Artrocker, The Independent and The Guardian and a lot more airtime on 6Music since they were first on the Rebel Playlist. J. Willgoose, Esq. explains to me that the “entertain” part takes precedence, however: “It’s a sort of tongue-in-cheek reference to Lord Reith and his edict for the BBC. The history is all there to get into and we’re a starting point of sorts, but we don’t expect people to take notes”.

First to the stage draped with floral tapestries were local post-rockers Wicket, who have recently been making the rounds with shows at Gwdihw and Buffalo. Accompanied by live visuals, theirs was an assured and solid set – ‘Harmonics’ stood out particularly, built up in crescendos against a backdrop of twitching blades of grass before culminating in a Battles-esque finale. The visual footage was understated but effective, consisting of cleverly edited time lapses and rolling footage shot from trains unmistakably making their way from Cardiff Central to stations throughout South Wales.

The floral tapestries are removed to reveal stacks of 1960s walnut-cased television sets, crackling with static. Willgoose and Wrigglesworth enter with an antique radio playing a Welsh conversation, to the delight of the crowd. They open with the title track, a synthesized and percussive range of samples from the album: “Public Service Broadcasting, a bright new era dawning, the vivid pulsating miracle that gives substance to shadow”.

Sirens blare as the duo begin with one from The War Room EP, “London Can Take It”. It’s all too easy with the band’s aesthetic of corduroy, bow ties and samples of RP voices to think that this is a somewhat nationalistic and nostalgic venture, in keeping with ubiquitous ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ iconography that has suddenly become the zeitgeist. Willgoose explains that this isn’t the case, but that there’s certainly a desire to be “respectful of the source material.” ‘Spitfire’ exemplifies this; Willgoose explains that in context, it can be legitimately celebrated:

“There’s a sense of positivism in there. Even though it’s a horrendously butchered story, the making of the Spitfire and the key role that it played in defending us from the Nazis, it can be celebrated without nationalist overtones. It’s something we’re careful to tread.”

‘Night Mail’ particularly exemplifies the band’s ability to stretch out into other styles and genres; WH Auden’s poem of the same name, written for the documentary from which the footage is sourced, is sampled and sped up to fit the loping beats that mimic the sound of the “night train crossing the border, bringing the cheque and the postal order.” Context naturally more than often not serves as the backbone to the tracks: the most obvious example of which being ‘Everest,’ which served as encore and is arguably the duo’s most enduring and popular track. Taking footage from the 1953 documentary ‘Conquest of Everest,’ Willgoose explains the process behind layering the track:

“It’s a good example of a song that hangs around a sample. It’s about altitude sickness and oxygen deprivation deluding and debilitating you. When I heard that line, I thought there’d be a bit where it breaks down in the middle of the song.”

Public Service Broadcasting’s most prominent dynamic is the compelling juxtaposition between the echoed voices of broadcasts gone by with modern technology, between analogue and digital; one that is even more striking in a live setting. A giant television set serves as the projector backdrop behind the band, displaying the visual content, which is also brilliantly edited with distortive effects on the surrounding stacked televisions. The setting, not to mention the amount of smartphone recordings in the crowd, lends another sense of poignancy to the performance of ‘ROYGBIV,’ an ode to analogue and the advent of colour on screen, of “hope for the world to come.” It’s tongue-in-cheek and optimistic and evidences the band’s sense of humour, for the show isn’t a history lesson: they don’t interact with the crowd verbally, taking a slightly Daft Punk with bow ties approach by using a sampled RP voice to thank and talk to the crowd: “We have always wanted to play in … Cardiff.”

After the Inform, Educate, Entertain tours, Willgoose and Wrigglesworth have shows from Istanbul to the British Library, slots on the Rolling Stones’ and New Orders’ bills and the possibility of an autumn tour with new singles – it’ll be well worthwhile keeping an eye on what the future and the past has in store for them.

Stephen Phillips takes a look at Literary Tours organised by Literature Wales

I have only been to Stratford-upon-Avon once, unfortunately, to see a production of King Lear. The production was fantastic, but I was more overwhelmed by the amount of pubs named after Shakespearean women – The Cordelia, The Ophelia etc. The best capitalisation on the Bard’s work I saw had to be an outdoor supplies shop, which bore the sign “Now is the winter of our discount tents!”

Somewhere along the line, literary tourism has become entrenched in British culture. King’s Cross has now proudly named the brick wall between Platforms 9 and 10 Platform 9 & ¾ and you can see Dickens’ London, Hardy’s Wessex or visit a plethora of poets’ graves at Westminster Abbey.

More recently, North Carolina has taken full advantage of the worldwide success of The Hunger Games, reportedly planning a literary tourism site to include abseiling, archery, fire-making and other survival skills. Surely it’s only a matter of time before a Battle Royale themed adventure park opens somewhere on the island of Shikoku.

Wales is no exception; it is a nation steeped in myth, a rich storytelling tradition and a fervent desire to showcase its cultural diversity. Dylan Thomas’ centennial celebrations in 2014, for example, promise to be a festival with international reach.

Literature Wales, known prior to 2011 as Academi, is the national company responsible for the development of literary activity in Wales. Since 2008, it has delivered programmes of literary tourism events. A far cry from shuffling single file and guided audio tours, the programme expanded in 2012 to include Skirrid Hill on horseback with Owen Sheers and a train journey from Cardiff Central to Cheltenham Spa with Tessa Hadley, mirroring the setting of her novel The London Train.

This year’s programme expands even further, stretching as far as an event in London to canoeing over the Taf estuary, retracing Dylan Thomas’ regular trips from Laugharne to Llansteffan to visit friends and, of course, the pubs. The brochure features literary pub crawls with some of the most gregarious writers from the coastline of Ceredigion, with readings from Niall Griffiths, Samantha Wynne Rhydderch and Cynan Jones at pubs of their choice (fish and chips included), to a hike around Anglesey’s Neolithic monuments with Rhys Mwyn, musician turned antiquarian

Clearly, what stands out in the programming is its diversity. The tours are also not day long events, allowing time for participants to explore the surroundings and interact further with literary landscapes on their own terms. Horseback rides are recurrent, this year in Ogmore with Tom Anderson and Kate North, concluding with an intimate reading with the inimitable Dannie Abse. If horseback riding isn’t your forté, you can turn up for the reading alone. Most of the events end with a talk, lecture, Q&A, drink or a chat and most people stick around.

A particular highlight of the programme is ‘Submarine Swansea’ with the author Joe Dunthorne and lead actor from Richard Ayoade’s film adaptation, Craig Roberts. The novel was an immediate hit, adapted with funding from the Film Agency for Wales within two years of publication. The film was premiered at Swansea’s Taliesin Arts Centre a week ahead of the UK premiere.

Both the novel and film are widely acclaimed for the brilliant characterisation of protagonist Oliver Tate, a modern day Holden Caulfield who peppers the texts with nihilistic and darkly humorous attempts to confirm his mother’s paranoid suspicion that he is mentally ill, overly pretentious language to describe his existential crisis and an unsettling obsession with his parents’ sex life.

The tour offers a screening of the film at the Dylan Thomas Centre, followed by a walk around the seascapes, cliffs, marshes and boggy fields that informed the novel and inform the character of Oliver Tate so heavily, in both the novel and film. The unsettling ambiguity of the unreliable narrator and tension between maturity and absurdity is cleverly reflected in the landscapes of the south-west that inspire the semi-fictional settings of the film/novel; sometimes bleak, sometimes sublime and often both.

The idea of interrogating literature’s relationship with landscape is integral to each tour, offering a less uniform, more immersive experience. Visiting the locations vital to Dunthorne’s formative years and writing would offer not only an opportunity for new interpretations of the texts, but for many a mirror of the both the banality and brilliance of growing up in South Wales.

For more information on the programme, visit www.literaturewales.org

Cardiff Fashion Quarter

The push in recent months to designate the term ‘quarter’ to certain areas of the city centre has seemed sometimes a little arbitrary and Francophilic – I for one can’t see that many cafés on Mill Lane. It’s certainly difficult to group and map out particular parts of the city that are known for their nebulous collections of like-minded businesses and shops. Cardiff Fashion Quarter, however, fits the bill perfectly.

Recent years have seen a rise in alternative and vintage fashion events at venues such as Milgi, Buffalo and Gwdihw. The annual vintage fair at City Hall took place last weekend, but until recently Cardiff has lacked everything under one permanent roof. The only other hub of vintage clothing that springs to mind for me, the upper floor of Jacob’s Antiques Centre, seems still relatively off the map, figuratively and literally. I struggled for weeks to find the correct railway bridge and side street.

This is precisely why the manager of the Nisa at the top of the alley, Ricky, took it upon himself to post an ad promoting low-rent space for independent traders. The opening couldn’t have fallen on a better weekend what with the inaugural Cardiff Fashion Week and arguably the biggest and best Swn we’ve had yet, and with an unrivalled location on Womanby Street, this old cinema turned flea market has garnered a lot of attention within a week of opening its shutter door to the public, certainly turning a few heads at the impressive street art on display at the front of the store.

For a converted space occupied for barely 3 weeks, it’s already looking well-lived in. Most of the stalls run along the balcony that surrounds the open centre space, allowing visitors to take a meander through the different shops. I tried desperately to find a manager of some sort, to no avail. I found Ellen, owner of Big Knits, knitting in a little crevice by the door. She told me that the market has developed into more a “collective of circumstance” than anything else,

“The grassroots scene has always waxed and waned,” she says. “but there’s been a real need for a permanent space.”

There’s a mixture of period-savvy collectors with a keen eye for fashion and artists selling their crafts. Rock-ola Reborn, for example, occupies a cavernous unit underneath the balcony. The name is homage to Daisy Green’s parents’ vintage shop Rockola, open between ’84 and ’92 at the heart of Cardiff’s rave scene, while Penny Lane is a recognisable local, having relocated from Morgan Arcade to set up shop at CFQ. Venture as far as you can along the balcony and you’ll end up in a stall ran by Modern Alchemists, who have quite recently put on exhibitions at Milgi Warehouse, another emerging event showcasing local independent artists.

Helen of Nelly’s Treasures is putting the final touches to a couple of blue triangles on the wall by the staircase. Her wares are an eclectic range of clothes and accessories, a range of hand-made and revamped clothing. She tells me a little about the successful opening day, which also featured performance art pieces by Kitsch ‘n’ Sync, prompting the question as to whether the space will be used for more interdisciplinary art projects or good old hootenannies. It’s early days yet, but a few at CFQ are in talks with The Full Moon about possible collaboration on street-wide alldayers, festivals and markets – something The Full Moon has shown itself to be a dab hand at in its first year of business. It’s a big and versatile space inside, too, that could hopefully play host to a few DJ sets and parties.

It’s refreshing and encouraging to see artists seize the opportunity to exhibit and sell their work, especially as the textile industry has suffered in recent years. First and foremost, this is a market and everybody here has to make a living. But they’re doing it with a bit of imagination, creativity and flair. Consider avoiding the St David’s Christmas shopper crowds and get your mum a nice little local present this year round. She deserves it.