Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Joy Division in Bangor

As far as I'm aware Joy Division only ever played one gig in Wales - that was in the refectory at Bangor University on October 18th, 1979. Simon Calkin was there and here is his account of the show:

"I worked on the Joy Division/Buzzcocks gig at Bangor University. Everyone in print says it was 19th October (even Deborah Curtis) but it wasn't the 19th, it was the 18th. I've still got the ticket (see scan) despite not needing it to get in (as I worked on the gig, humping PA and lighting gear around).

I'd never heard Joy Division until that night and they blew me away - and the Buzzcocks off-stage. They played with a very simple lighting setup (red wash, blue wash or white wash) because during their set one of the lighting guys was re-patching the lights, as the hall's electricity supply would not support the full lighting rig, which was designed for use in much larger places.

The hall was used as a cafeteria during the day, and the soundtrack to me having my tea was Joy Division soundchecking. Their soundcheck was a waste of time, as they suffered from a poor sound balance during their live set ... This didn't stop JD blowing the Buzzcocks away though."

Very special thanks to Simon Calkin for allowing me to reprint his account of the Joy Division gig in Bangor and also for the superb ticket scan. Simon informs me that the ticket appears in the recent Joy Division film, albeit fleetingly.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pembroke Welsh Corgi Celebrity Owners

The most celebrated Pembroke Welsh corgi owner ever is, of course, Lizzy Windsor which is a bit of a shame. Much cooler celebrity owners of the breed have included Ava Gardner, Stephen King, Dirk Bogarde, Michel Houellebecq, Diane Keaton, Norman Rockwell, Gary Cooper, and Kiefer Sutherland to name but a few.

Ava Gardner, in particular, was a huge fan of Pemmies. Her first, Rags, was given to her as a present by her then lover, Frank Sinatra. Her next pooch, Cara, would regularly accompany her on set. In the above photo you can see the director’s chair that Roddy McDowall had especially made for the dog. Her last Welsh corgi was Morgan. It was her faithful companion during her final reclusive years in London. After Gardner’s death Gregory Peck took responsibility for the mutt. When it eventually kicked the bucket he buried it in his backyard.

Below is a picture of horror novelist Stephen King with Marlow (RIP) his Welsh corgi. Corgis have featured in several of King’s books: Horace in Under the Dome, and Daisy in The Regulators.

Monday, June 28, 2010


A while back on this blog I enquired about a photo of a naked woman brandishing a tafod logo. It transpires that the picture comes from a 1971 edition of Lol. This was an annual satirical magazine published by Y Lolfa - a kind of Welsh Private Eye, which poked fun at members of the Welsh establishment. The magazine is still going strong today but now has a different publisher.

*Thanks to Huw Jones for the info and the scan.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Spades & Hoes & Plows

Spades & Hoes & Plows by David Wrench is a 64 minute album that contains just four tracks. One is an instrumental while the other three are traditional folk songs. Eschewing genteel folkey-dokey interpretations of his chosen works, Wrench prefers instead to reconnect them with their original radical intent. As the album cover states, these are songs of insurrection, defiance and rebellion.

Living, as we do, in an era where political ballads are out of fashion it comes as a shock to read the subversive lyrics of A Radical Song (1816). Vehemently anti-Christian in its revolutionary message, Satan is readily invoked and violence called for to achieve aims. The doom-laden production and Wrench's intimate vocal undoubtedly lend the song a sinister quality, but also present is an almost masonic sense of the passing on of old and dangerous knowledge.

The Blackleg Miner is a much more widely-known folk song. Here it is given several doomy interpretations, the incantatory repetition serving to underline the hatred of the scab. No sympathy at all for the blackleg worker - just resolve to stay solid. Although set in the north east of England, the song will have strong resonance for listeners in the former industrial heartlands of Wales.

A Digger's Song was written at the time of the first English Civil War. Here it becomes a chant that advocates violence against the gentry, lawyers, priests, and monarchists. Amen to that. The Black Sheep chorus (who include Deri's own Julian Cope) provide able vocal support. The album's final track Helynation Beca is an apocalyptic instrumental that summons up the ghosts of the Rebecca Rioters. These Welsh cross-dressers smashed up toll booths used to fund corrupt landowners.

The historical backgrounds of each of the four tracks are comprehensively outlined in the fascinating sleevenotes. But all of these songs have contemporary relevance. With a Tory government again in power punishing the poor for a recession caused by greedy bankers, these ballads are loaded with timely insurrectionist potency. Spades & Hoes & Plows is a fine album and worthy of your investigation. Play it before you go on your next riot.

*Spades & Hoes & Plows on Invada Records is on sale now.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Elliott Erwitt at Barry Island

This photograph was taken by ace Magnum snapper Elliott Erwitt in 1978. The location is Barry Island. Think he must have been on some kind of beach assignment that year as he also took photographs in Blackpool, Brighton and St Tropez. The above picture was taken at the long-since demolished Barry Butlins holiday camp which, as I recall, was a very popular summer destination for miners from the south Wales valleys.
©Elliott Erwitt/Magnum

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rhys Ifans in Edward!

Edward! (1997) is an intriguing short film written and directed by Daf Palfrey and starring Rhys Ifans. The kooky music is provided by Trystan Gwynedd. Bristling with anxiety and neurosis, the plot is an imagined back story to an iconic twentieth century painting. All is revealed in the last shot. If art is not your thing here is a big clue.

Tamla Motown

Whatever dewy-eyed soul boys and elderly mods might like to tell you today, when the Tamla Motown tour hit the UK in 1965 it was largely greeted with indifference. Despite boasting a line-up which included The Supremes (Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard); a 14-year-old "Little" Stevie Wonder; and Smokey Robinson, audiences were sparse. This was certainly the case in Wales. Cardiff was the 4th date on the package tour with the Capitol Theatre hosting two shows by these soul pioneers. For the first house the audience consisted of just 43 people. Imagine that. More folks were actually backstage than were in the crowd that night. For the second house there was a much bigger turn-out but it was hardly a ringing endorsement of the American soul invasion. Major cool points go to Barbara Morris of Pontypridd who was not only there in '65 but managed to get Diana Ross's autograph, too. Nice one, Babs.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ray Roughler-Jones

Drowning on Dry Land is the autobiography of Ray Jones. Most people who pen such books have done something worthwhile with their lives, or at least achieved some kind of fame but not Jones. He is a lowlife, a waster, someone who has frittered away most of his adult life in boozers “talking bollocks”. And yet Jones’s story is worth a hundred of those glossy, celebrity, biographical cash-ins.

A native of Swansea he paints a compelling picture of the city in the 1960s. Back then it was the beat capital of Wales and he swiftly developed an interest in the music scene. In the seventies an increasing taste for drink, drugs and thieving led to a stint in Swansea nick. As a natural anarchist the arrival of punk gave him purpose. He saw the Sex Pistols; joined punk outfit Dyfatty Flats; and started hanging out with Britain’s leading anarchist Ian Bone.

Moving to London in the eighties with his hat-maker girlfriend he settled in the Ladbroke Grove area. It’s as a chronicle of life in the Warwick Castle pub on Portobello Road that this book really comes into its own. With its clientele of working-class Irish, style-conscious shop workers, and boho arty types it soon became a west London cultural hot-spot. Encounters with Joe Strummer, Shane MacGowan, Lady Di (on the blower), Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Chancellor, Keith Allen, Marianne Faithfull et al are colourfully related.

Jones produced the Warwick Castle’s house magazine The Roughler and became involved in the Notting Hill panto. He continued to live on his wits rather than through regular employment. He sold speed to get by and deepened his addictions to booze and gambling. Relationships suffered, though as a loveable rogue and well-known face in the area, there seemed to be no shortage of women interested in his charms. If only he had been sober enough to take advantage.

With the demise of the Warwick Castle Jones upped sticks and headed for San Francisco. Helping to set up a drinking establishment called Dylan’s in honour of you-know-who things, at last, seemed to be on the up. But tensions with his partners and getting burned in a major drugs deal left him, once more, on his uppers. Back in Britain and now an alcoholic Jones finally has to face up to his demons and give up the drink.

Written in an easy-going anecdotal style Drowning on Dry Land is an absorbing tale of life on the criminal-bohemian margins. Ray Jones’s natural charm and intelligence have you rooting for him all the way, even when he is pressing the button marked self-destruct. In fact Drowning on Dry Land is the kind of book that makes you want to jack in your job and head for the nearest boozer to live a dissolute and hedonistic life. Dangerous but enjoyable.

*Drowning on Dry Land by Ray Roughler-Jones is available from Tangent books.