Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Snoop Dogg in Cardiff

In this link you can see hip-hop Colossus Snoop Dogg posing in a Cardiff City shirt like he’s about to set off for a pre-match pint down The Corporation or something. It comes as no surprise to learn that Dogg’s sudden sartorial affiliation with the Bluebirds coincides with a forthcoming show that he is undertaking at the Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff, on October 8. It remains to be seen whether His Dogginess will be droppin’ rhymes about Craig Bellamy’s recent defection to Liverpool; or celebrating Cardiff’s triumphant Welsh Cup final victory over Hednesford Town in 1992.

There is another connection between Snoop Dogg and Wales. The rap star appeared in Welsh film director Marc Evans’s excellent 2007 documentary In Prison My Whole Life. The film is an examination of the life of imprisoned political activist and former Black Panther, Mumia Abu-Jamal. As well as Snoop Dogg, other interviewees included Mos Def, Alice Walker, Steve Earle and Noam Chomsky. It is worth noting that Marc Evans’s documentary has a cracking soundtrack which contains a couple of tracks with lyrics especially written by Snoop Dogg himself. See YouTube.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Truth Seekers Review

Truth Seekers Review was a magazine that initially came out of Wales in the early ‘90s. It was concerned with paranormal phenomena. One of its editors was Matthew Williams from Ton Pentre. A former civil servant, Williams became interested in UFOs after spotting one on the side of the Bwlch mountain near his home while driving to work. He estimated that it was about 300ft high, though his passenger completely failed to notice it. Williams avidly began reading books on UFOs and in his spare time he became an investigator of paranormal activity. He got into the whole Roswell incident thing and even travelled to the Nevada desert to check out Area 51 – the US government’s top secret airbase. Williams interviewed UFO spotters and people who claimed to have been abducted by aliens. He started writing reports on his findings and pretty soon became an acknowledged expert in the field, much in demand by the media and on the esoteric lecture circuit. He also went around the UK visiting military bunkers. Truth Seekers Review sold for £1.70.

Sympathy for the Urdd?

In 1972 Bala hosted the Urdd Eisteddfod. The finance committee, headed by the Rev H E Jones, had been successful in raising the £10,000 required to fund the Welsh-language event. The Rev Jones had hit upon the idea of sending out hundreds of individual letters to potential donors asking for cash. One of the recipients of these begging letters was Rolling Stones publicist Les Perrin, who happened to own a holiday home in Bala. A donation from the Rolling Stones duly arrived: £15. The Urdd’s finance committee had probably hoped for more but… you can’t always get what you want.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

David Bowie's Early Welsh Gigs

I’ve recently been reading Kevin Cann’s, Any Day Now, a comprehensive account of David Bowie’s life between 1947-1974. It is crammed with hitherto unseen photos and items of memorabilia relating to the singer. It also contains an exhaustive list of Bowie’s early live performances. Naturally I was keen to see if he had gigged in Wales during those formative years.

He first showed up in Wales in 1965. Apparently he travelled down to Cardiff alone to make a personal appearance at an unspecified record shop to promote his new single I Pity The Fool. Back then he was hardly a household name and so there was zero media coverage of the event. Cann’s book, though, has a picture of a painting by a local art student called Michael John which was used to promote the occasion. Beneath his portrait of Bowie (then still David Jones) are printed the words: David Jones, Personal Appearance, April 15th, 1965.

Bowie’s next visit to Wales occurred on July 23, 1966, in Chepstow at an unknown venue. He performed there as David Bowie & The Buzz. Later that year (October 11) with the same band he played Aberystwyth University. They drove to Aberystwyth in a converted ambulance, stopping off en route at his then manager’s parents’ home in Forge, near Machynlleth. Apparently they went for a walk in the hills before returning to the house where they tinkled about on the family piano. At the gig itself they performed two 45 minute sets for which they were paid £50. They were supporting mod band Unit Four Plus Two.

The singer returned to Aberystwyth University on May 3, 1972, on his David Bowie & the Spiders From Mars, UK tour - one of the key tours of his career and probably his stand out Welsh gig.

*If you live in either Chepstow or Aberystwyth why not check out your local newspaper archive for the above dates to see if these gigs were advertised and in the process grab yourself some interesting Bowie memorabilia.

Monday, September 19, 2011

20th Century Musical Man

Quite intrigued by a singer/songwriter from Tredegar called Alan Phillips. In the early ‘70s Alan knocked around in various bands which did precisely zip, such as Steppin Out and The Uncertain Kind. Legend has it that at one point he was set to become a guitarist for Mott the Hoople but - at the last minute - the guy he was meant to be replacing changed his mind. Bad luck seemed to dog him. When he opened a folk club in Chepstow it folded within a year – that town not being especially famed for its love of the genre. Then he got a proper showbiz break. He was signed up as a songwriter by the Robert Stigwood Organisation. He didn’t manage to write any hits for them but he did put together a demo of 12 of his own songs which he hawked around various record companies. The upshot was that at the grand old age of 23, EMI, Decca and RCA all offered him a recording contract. He plumped for RCA and in 1972 released an album grandly titled 20th Century Musical Man. One track, Like in a Movie, was released as a single. It was remixed by Andrew Powell who later did production work on Kate Bush’s debut album The Kick Inside. Also featured on the single was renowned session musician Big Jim Sullivan. Phillips released another couple of singles before slipping off the radar altogether, so I’m presuming they all bombed commercially. If you have any idea of what became of Alan Phillips get in touch.

Update: Alan is alive and well and has been living in Los Angeles since the late 1970s. During that time he has been involved in numerous musical projects and made many friends in the industry over there. Alan has a wife and two sons and still makes the occasional visit to Wales. Many thanks to David Phillips (Alan's nephew) for the update.

Further Update: Alan has just done a radio interview in the US about his career. Check it out - it's interesting stuff.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rucksack 'n' Rifle of Wrexham

The provocatively named Rucksack 'n' Rifle was an army and navy type store in Wrexham that specialised in selling Survivalist products. No doubt, it was a handy outlet for those bearded north east Walians who like to stockpile weapons ready for when society collapses.

In the '80s it was run by anglo-Irishman Michael McLaughlin, a former head of the far-right British Movement. During his stint as the BM's boss (1975-83) he had been responsible for moving the organisation's HQ across the border into Wales to Shotton, Flintshire. How charming. He was also involved in the publishing of The Survivalist magazine.

McLaughlin set up Rucksack ‘n’ Rifle in 1983. The shop was located on Abbot Street. One of its catalogues proudly boasted that it had ‘the biggest display of knives in Britain’. Air rifles, cross-bows and slingshots were advertised. You could also get hold of warfare manuals and Better Dead than Red sweatshirts. Amazingly, punters could even purchase nuclear, biological and chemical warfare suits from him.

Naturally such an emporium raised a few eyebrows in the area. As did McLaughlin’s extremist political views. MPs called for tighter controls on licences for the sale of weaponry in such establishments. McLaughlin himself, though, was unperturbed. He told one local newspaper at the time: “It is a matter of particular annoyance to me that youngsters today don’t know one end of a gun from another. I would do all I can to encourage people to come and buy weapons. This is not a wimpish nation – it never has been.”

Rucksack ‘n’ Rifle no longer exists but one wonders whether there are still paranoid men hunkered down in underground bunkers in the Wrexham area waiting to emerge blinking into a post-apocalyptic dawn. I like to think so.

Otis Redding in Cardiff

Now that must have been a gig and a half. Unlike the Motown package tour of 1965 which turned out to be a bit of a damp squib, the Stax-Volt revue of 1967 was a huge success. I’ve met a couple of old timers who were at the Top Rank show and they reckon Otis Redding was immense – almost as if touched by some divine spirit. Tragically, about 9 months after the Cardiff gig he, along with most of the members of the Bar-Kays, died when the plane they were travelling in crashed into Lake Monona, Wisconsin.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Scientology in Wales

During the 1960s Scientology, which was founded by L Ron Hubbard in 1953, started to permeate the Welsh public consciousness. A widespread moral panic about the ‘religion’ was already in full swing. A report by the Australian government in 1965 concluded: “Scientology is evil, its techniques evil, its practice a serious threat to the community, medically, morally and socially, and its adherents sadly deluded and often mentally ill.” In 1968 the British government banned foreign Scientologists from coming to the UK to study or work. Retrospectively, whatever your opinions on Scientology, this all seems a tad extreme.

Scientology made its first proper foray into Wales (that I'm aware of) in 1968 with a lecture tour that took in Newport, Cardiff, Porthcawl and Swansea. Lectures were conducted by an Australian Scientologist called Peter Gilham who was a former chartered accountant. These lectures were well attended by a curious Welsh public. 400 people turned up at Newport's Little Theatre; 200 packed out a function room at the Park Hotel, Cardiff. At the Cardiff event newspaper reporters were apparently expelled from the room and questions from the floor banned. Scientology literature was on sale, though purchasers of the material were asked to provide their names and home addresses. E-meters were also available for £50. Organisers hoped that at the conclusion of each lecture study groups would be set up by new converts.

It’s difficult to assess what long term impact, if any, these lectures had in Wales. Steve Andrews (AKA The Bard of Ely) was a leading Scientologist in Cardiff from 1986 – 1990. He was responsible for handing out flyers, sending off letters and hosting introductory meetings. He even had his own E-meter. He is pictured above in a wonderful, homemade, bright yellow Dianetics boilersuit – on one leg/arm it says Dianetics and on the other L Ron Hubbard. In his excellent article - Bard of Ely’s Scientology Years - he writes honestly and in an even-handed way about his conversion to Scientology, the Welsh Scientology scene (and beyond), and his gradual disillusionment with the movement at large. It’s a fascinating story and one of the most insightful articles on Scientology that I have read.

*Steve Andrews now lives in Tenerife and is the author of Herbs of the Northern Shaman. I’d like to thank Steve for his kind permission to use the above photograph in which he is pictured alongside Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band.