Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Wales’ Category

Terry Jones [1942-2020]

Terry Jones died last night at age 77 because of complications from a rare form of dementia.

I was a huge Monty Python fan back in the day.  I’ve seen all the episodes (even the German ones) and the movies.  I have the records and the books and just about everything they’ve done.  They influenced me terrifically.

Terry Jones was a founder of Monty Python and while I tended to not think of him as my favorite on screen person, thinking about all of the amazing characters he played over the years, I think I’ve unfairly put him too low.  Especially as I think of some of the most quotable lines and how he either said them or was in the skit that spawned it (wafer-thin, anyone?).  Not to mention he did some of the best women’s voices in the series.

Most of the Pythons have been slowing down as of late, which is to be expected.  I was supposed to see John Cleese live recently but my plans fell through. Terry Gilliam is making some unfortunate comments in the media lately.  Eric Idle seems to always be about.  Michael Palin has been doing fantastic work travelling and writing no-fiction. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: 47SOUL-Tiny Desk Concert #884 (August 26, 2019).

I had never heard of 47Soul and, surprisingly, the blurb doesn’t give any real background about the band.  So I had to turn to Wikipedia.

47Soul is a Jordanian Palestinian electronic music group.  The band’s first album, Shamstep, was released in 2015 and they are one of the main forces behind the Shamstep electronic dance music movement in the Middle East.

So what the heck is Shamstep?

Shamstep is based on mijwiz (a levantine folk musical style) and electronic dance.  ‘Sham’ refers to the local region of “Bilad al-Sham”, and ‘step’ refers to dubstep. The band’s music is also associated with the traditional dance called Dabke.

So, that’s a lot to take in, especially if you don’t know what half of those words mean.

The blurb does help a little bit more:

Shamstep is the creation of 47SOUL. At its heart is Arab roots music laced with dub, reggae and electronic dance music, including dubstep. It’s positive-force music with freedom, celebration and hope for the people of the Sham region (Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria).

47SOUL play three songs and their instrumentation is pretty fascinating.  Three of the guys sing.  They also play bass drum (Walaa Sbeit); darbuka– a small hand drum (Tareq Abu Kwaik); guitar (Hamza Arnaout) and synthesizers (Ramzy Suleiman).

So what do they sound like?

Well, the first song “Mo Light” opens with some very synthesized “traditional” Middle Eastern music.  It sounds like an electronic version of traditional instrumentation.  The guitar comes in with a sound that alternates between heavy metal riffage and reggae stabs.  The three singers take turns singing.  Walaa Sbeit is up first singing in Arabic.  Then there’s a middle section sung by Tareq Abu Kwaik who is playing the darbuka and an electronic drum pad.  His voice is a bit rougher (the Arabic is quite guttural).  Meanwhile Ramzy Suleiman adds backing vocals and seems to sing loudest in English.

For the next song, Tareq Abu Kwaik does the narration while introducing Walaa Sbeit:

“Is it ok if I do a little dance on your desk?” asked 47SOUL singer and percussionist Walaa Sbeit on first seeing the Tiny Desk. I thought a minute, went under the desk, tightened the bolts, stuck some splints of wood under a few of the uneven legs and (feeling reassured) gave him the nod. It would be our first traditional Middle Eastern Dabke dancing atop the Tiny Desk and the first sounds of Shamstep (a kind of electronic dance music) behind it.

The dancing involves a shocking amount of deep knee bends!

“Don’t Care Where You From” opens with a cool synth rhythm and then sung in English.  It’s fun watching Walaa Sbeit walk around with the bass drum slung over his shoulder as he does some dancing while playing.  The song is one of inclusion

Well you might be from Philly (?) or Tripoli / from the mountains or from the sea
maybe got the key to the city / don’t mean anything to me.

They don’t care where you’re from, it’s where you are that counts.

47SOUL’s message of equality, heard here at the Tiny Desk (and on the group’s current album, Balfron Promise) is meant for all the world. This is music without borders, mixing old and new, acoustic and electronic from a band formed in Amman Jordan, singing in Arabic and English. It’s one big, positive and poignant party.

It segues into “Jerusalem” with the controversial-sounding lyric: “Jerusalem is a prison of philosophy and religion.”  The middle of the song had an Arabic rap which sounds more gangster than any gangster rap.  The end of the song is an electronic dance as everybody gets into it–clapping along and banging on drums.

It’s pretty great. I hope they tour around here, I’d love to see them live.

[READ: August 27, 2019] Submarine

I saw this book on the shelf and was attracted by its busy cover.  I also thought the authors name sounded familiar.   And so it was.  I have read some of Dunthorne’s poems in Five Dials magazines.

This was his first novel.  And it sounded unusual.  The back cover had this excerpt:

I used to write questionnaires for my parents. I wanted to get to know them better.  I asked things like:

What hereditary illnesses am I likely to inherit?
What money and land am I likely to inherit?

Multiple choice:
If you child was adopted at what aged would you choose to tell him about his real mother?
a) 4-8
B) 9-14
C) 15-18

Dunthorne is from Wales, which made this story a little exotic as well.  It is set in Swansea, by the sea (where people surf!) (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: GRUFF RHYS–American Interior (2013).

Gruff Rhys was (is?) the singer and composer in Super Furry Animals, a fantastic indie-pop band from Wales.   After several years with SFA and several solo albums, Gruff decided to do something a little different.  Actually, everything he does is a little different, as this quote from The Guardian explains:

“The touring musician can feel like the puppet of consumer forces,” he writes, bemoaning the way that “cities have now been renamed ‘markets’ and entire countries downgraded to ‘territories'”. So, over the last five or so years, he has come up with the idea of “investigative touring”: combining the standard one-show-a‑night ritual with creative fieldwork. In 2009, he went to Patagonia to trace the roots of a disgraced relative called Dafydd Jones, and the Welsh diaspora in South America more generally, and played a series of solo concerts, as well as making a film titled Separado!. Now, Rhys has reprised the same approach to tell another story, and poured the results into four creations: an album, another film, an ambitious app, and this book – all titled American Interior, and based on the brief life of John Evans: another far-flung relative of the singer, who left Wales to travel to North America in the early 1790s.

So yes, there’s a film and a book and this CD.  This album is a delightful blend of acoustic and electronic pop and folk.  Rhys’ voice is wonderfully subdued and with his Welsh accent coming in from time to time, it makes everything he sings somehow feel warm and safe (even when it’s not).   Rhys creates songs that sound like they came from the 1970s (but better), but he also explores all kinds of sonic textures–folk songs, rocking songs, dancing song, even songs in Welsh.

“American Exterior” is a 30 second intro with 8-bit sounds and the repeated “American Interior” until the piano and drum-based (from Kliph Scurlock) “American Interior” begins.  It’s a catchy song with the repeated (and harmonized) titular refrain after each line and it’s a great introduction to the vibe of the record.  It’s followed by the super catchy stomping “100 Unread Messages” which just rocks along with a great chorus.  You can see Gruff “composing” the lyrics to this in the book.

“The Whether (Or Not)” introduces some electronic elements to this song.  It’s basically a great pop song with splashes of keys and some cool stabs of acoustic guitar.  “The Last Conquistador” and “The Lost Tribes” are gentler synthy songs, as many of these are.  “Liberty (Is Where We’ll Be)” returns to the acoustic sound with some really beautiful piano.

“Allweddellau Allweddol” (English translation: Key Keyboards) is the only all-Welsh song on the record and it romps and stomps and is as much fun as that title suggests it would be.  There’s even a children’s choir singing on it (maybe?).

“The Swamp” is a simple electronics and drumming pattern which leaps right into “Iolo” one of the most fun songs on the record.  It’s a nod to the Welsh poet who inspired but backed out of Evans’ expedition at the last-minute but also a rollicking good time with the chanted “yoloyoloyoloyolo” and great tribal drums from Kliph.

The end of the album slows things down with “Walk Into the Wilderness” a slow aching ballad and the final two animal-related songs.  “Year of the Dog” is kind of a mellow opus when it is joined by the instrumental coda “Tiger’s Tale.”  Both songs feature goregous pedal steel guitar from Maggie Bjorklund.

Gruff Rhys is an amazing songwriter.  He could write the history of an obscure Welshman and still get great catchy songs out of it.  And that’s exactly what he’s done here.

[READ: December 2018] American Interior

How to explain this book?

I’ll start by saying that I loved it.  I was delighted by Rhys’ experiences and, by the end, I was genuinely disappointed to read that Evans’ trip didn’t pan out (even though I knew it didn’t).  The only compliant I have about the book is that I wish he had given a pronunciation guide for all of the welsh words in there, because I can’t even imagine how you say things like Ieuan Ab Ifan or Gwredog Uchaf or Dafydd Ddu Eryri (which is helpfully translated as Black David of Snowdonia, but not given a pronunciation guide).  But what about the contents?

The subtitle gives a pretty good explanation but barely covers the half of it.

Here’s a summary from The Guardian to whet one’s appetite for Rhys himself and for what he’s on about here:

[John] Evans was a farmhand and weaver from Waunfawr on the edge of Snowdonia, who was in pursuit of something fantastical: a supposed tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans said to live at the top of the Missouri river, who were reckoned to owe their existence to the mythical Prince Madog, a native of Gwynedd who folklore claimed had successfully sailed to the New World in 1170. In 1580, this story was hyped up by Elizabeth I’s court mathematician and occultist John Dee (born of Welsh parents), in an attempt to contest the Spanish claim to American territory. Two centuries later, with the opening of new frontiers, talk of a tribe called the Madogwys and “forts deemed to be of Welsh origin” began to swirl anew around Wales and North America, and became tangled up in the revolutionary fervour of the time, along with a radical Welsh spirit partly founded in nonconformist Christianity.

All this was moulded into a proposal made by a self-styled druid named Iolo Morganwg (“a genius”, but “also a fraud of the highest order”, says Rhys), who “called for the Americans, in the light of Madog’s legacy, to present the Welsh with their own tract of land in the new country of the free, so that the Welsh could leave their condemned royalist homeland”. Morganwg stayed put in Cowbridge, near Cardiff (the site of his “radical grocery” shop is now occupied by a branch of Costa Coffee), but Evans was inspired by his visions, and eventually set sail.

Rhys goes on a “journey of verification”, following Evans’s route from Baltimore, through such cities as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and then up the Missouri river to the ancestral home of the Mandan tribe of Native Americans, who had been rumoured to be the Welsh-speakers of myth, and among whom Evans lived, in territory argued over by the British and Spanish. Along the way, he does solo performances built around music and a PowerPoint-assisted talk about Evans’s story, keeps appointments with historians, and also tries to glimpse the America that Evans found through the cracks in a landscape of diners, what some people call “campgrounds”, and Native American reservations.

The Guardian’s review also talks about why the book works: (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: GRUFF RHYS-Yr Atal Genhedlaeth (2005).

In honor of the author being from Wales and of me recently seeing Gruff Rhys in concert, this is a post about his debut solo album, Yr Atal Genhedlaeth.  The title is in Welsh, as id everything else.

If you don’t understand Welsh, as I don’t, Wikipedia gives us a guide line for the album which I’m going to trust.  There are 11 songs in just under a half an hour

  • Yr Atal Genhedlaeth [‘The Stuttering Generation’, but ‘atalgenhedlu’ is Welsh for a contraceptive] is 8 seconds of stuttering voices.  I feared the disc was broken when I put it on.
  • Gwn Mi Wn [‘I Know [that] I Know’, could also mean ‘a gun I know’, a reference to the battle in the song].  Gruff played this song live with two members on drums.  It’s a cacthy near-a capella song with just the drums and his voice.  He loops his voice here (and live) to make more and more harmonies of himself.
  • Epynt [named after a mountain in Mid Wales, but about money, with the ‘E’ standing for the Euro, and ‘pynt’ sounding similar to the Welsh word for Pound].  This song has a DIY punk feel–two chords, loud drums and chanted chorus Eh-pint, eh-pint.
  • Rhagluniaeth Ysgafn  [‘Light programming’, but ‘lluniaeth ysgafn’ means a light snack].  This song has an electronic drums and simple guitar chords.  Once again, it’s Gruff’s voice that carries the melody.  As with most of these songs, he makes a big song with very few elements.
  • Pwdin Ŵy 1 & 2 [literally ‘egg pudding’, means ‘”egg custard’, two love songs]  The first part is under 2 minutes with a slinky guitar and bass.  It’s fleshed out with all kinds of weird sound effects.  The second part (all of 3 minutes) is quieter, with just his guitar and voice and some quiet percussion.  The solo is either a melodica or harmonica, I can’t quite tell.
  • Y Gwybodusion [‘The Experts’] is a simple garage rocker.
  • Caerffosiaeth [literally ‘sewage fortress’. ‘Caer’ is a common part of Welsh place-names (for example, Caergybi), used to indicate that there was originally a castle or fortress in the town/city]  This is the strangest song on the disc–full of all manner of weird sound effects.  These effects accompany the simple (cowbell and drumbeat) electronic percussion that sets the tone for Rhys’ overlapping vocals.  This song sound the most like one you might try to insert English words into the Welsh that he is singing like maybe: “Blue-eyed fork, blue-eyed fork, I love your bag and your power torch.”
  • Ambell Waith [‘Sometimes’] opens with a pretty acoustic guitar melody as all manner of quiet sound effects skitter around in the background.
  • Ni Yw Y Byd – [‘We Are The World’] is not a cover of the charity song, it is an incredibly catchy folk song with a flute (piccolo?) solo.
  • Chwarae’n Troi’n Chwerw [‘When Play Turns Bitter’, from a Welsh proverb. A Welsh language standard originally written and sung by Caryl Parry-Jones].  This six-minute song starts quietly with just an acoustic guitar,  It starts to build and go a little faster when the drums come in. By four minutes, there’s cymbals and what feels like a full accompaniment.  The last minute or so is Gruff playing the banjo.

It’s a pretty album with pretty melodies and a splash of Gruff’s wackiness strewn about.

I don’t think you’ll learn any Welsh from this records but it is neat to think you can sing along with it without knowing what any of it means.

[READ: January 4, 2017] “The Edge of the Shoal”

I thought that this was going to be yet another story about a guy fishing–and how he and his father had bonded over fishing.  Because that is how it started.

He didn’t tell his wife where he was going–just left a note to make salad.  He assumed he would catch a fish, but his real reason for going out in the kayak was to disperse his father’s ashes into the water.  (I’m not exactly sure where this is set, but I assumed Europe–okay Cynan Jones is Welsh).

The narrator was still hearing his father’s voice as he cast out for the fish.  Frankly I was worried that this story was far too long if that’s all it was going to be about.

But then things take a very different turn. (more…)

Read Full Post »

[ATTENDED: October 10, 2018] Gruff Rhys

Super Furry Animals was one of my favorite bands of the 1990s.  Their music was great and I loved that they were Welsh.  It’s unfathomable that some of their singles weren’t huge here.  Even their all-Welsh album Mwng is catchy as anything.

Since the mid 2000s they’ve been in a different musical space (and on hiatus).  Lead singer Gruff (pronounced Griff) Rhys has released several solo albums and just recently released the album Babelsberg.

I hadn’t heard any of Babelsberg, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to see Gruff live for the first time.  (I saw SFA back in the 90s, but this would be very different).

Gruff was supposed to come to Johnny Brenda’s a few years ago (he explained), but Visa issues caused him to miss the Philly date.  That show was supposed to be solo, but for this show he had a four piece band: bassist Stephen “Sweet Baboo” Black and Osian Gwynedd on piano (who I could never see because he was behind Gruff, but whom I talked to after the show).  And he had Kliph Scurlock from the Flaming Lips on drums (!).  Kliph was selling the merch (while the other guys were talking Welsh backstage) and I chatted with him for a bit.  He has moved to Wales! (more…)

Read Full Post »