Friday, June 28, 2013

Welsh Rock Juvenilia

Here are two pictures which feature a couple of Welsh rock music luminaries. Above is a fresh-faced Richard Parfitt who would later go on to find fame in 60ft Dolls. In this snap from 1984 he is performing with Newport band The Colours. They were a kind of Jam-inspired combo who had a reasonably large following in south Wales at that time. They even released one single The Dance / Sinking in 1983. Below is a 14-year-old Gruff Rhys. He is the one with a cymbal on his head. The band he was in at this point was called Machlud (sunset) which preceded both Ffa Coffi Pawb and Super Furry Animals. The photograph is taken from Welsh-language fanzine Sgrech circa 1984.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Radical Wales

Radical Wales was a well produced political quarterly funded and published by Plaid Cymru. It ran from 1983-1991. Printed in English it was committed to the idea of decentralised socialism in an independent Wales. It was meant to appeal to radicals across the political and cultural spectrum. The first edition carried an interview with recent convert to Plaid Cymru, Marxist historian Gwyn Alf Williams. When asked why he had joined Plaid, he said: "It's very easy to love Wales, it's the bloody Welsh are the problem!" Williams immediately joined the editorial board and the magazine benefitted from his intellectual presence. Over the years Radical Wales would feature weighty interviews with the likes of Raymond Williams (another Welsh thinker who had converted to Plaid Cymru); Ken Livingstone; and Noam Chomsky (see pic). Not sure what the reasons were behind the magazine's demise but while it lasted it was certainly an impressive piece of work.

Mandela Cassette

Anyone remember Billy Bragg and Côr Cochion Caerdydd’s 1990 cassette single Mandela released on Welsh-language record label Sain? Nor me – sounds like an interesting collaboration though. Two other songs were included on the tape: Power in the Union and a Welsh-language version of The Internationale with words by T E Nicholas. The cassette cost just £1.99.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Arcade Magazine

Arcade was a magazine concerned with Welsh matters that ran from 1980-2. It covered the arts, history, politics and sport. John Osmond was the editor. The editorial board included the likes of Ned Thomas and Dai Smith. Compared to the often ‘after you sir’ spirit of a lot of today’s cultural commentary Arcade seems refreshingly opinionated. In one edition historian Gwyn Alf Williams, responding to a negative reading of a talk he had given, suggested that the reviewer, “the next time he takes a shave, stand closer to the razor”. Despite having a healthy circulation of over 2000 copies Arts Council funding was withdrawn in March 1982 and, soon afterwards, Arcade folded. There hasn’t really been a Welsh magazine like it since. The above edition from 1981 featured an interview with actress Julie Christie who was at that time orchestrating a bi-lingual anti-nuclear campaign from her farmhouse in Powys.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Gwynne Edwards

If you are into Spanish culture - particularly film and theatre - then do investigate the works of Gwynne Edwards. He has written several fine books on the subject including: Indecent Exposures: Buñuel, Saura, Erice, Almodóvar (1994); A Companion to Luis Buñuel (2005); and Lorca, Buñuel, Dali: Forbidden Pleasures and Connected Lives (2009).

Originally from south Wales, Edwards was educated at Porth County Grammar School and University College, Cardiff. He has lectured on Spanish at the Universities of Liverpool and Aberystwyth. As well as pursuing an academic career Edwards has won acclaim as a translator and adaptor of Spanish plays - many of which were originally written by García Lorca.

Edwards himself has penned several award-winning dramas. These have usually focussed on the lives of Welsh cultural icons, such as: Dylan Thomas, Richard Burton, Rachel Roberts and Gwyn Thomas. He has also written a libretto for the opera Do Not Go Gentle which was based on the last days of Dylan Thomas. He now lives in Aberystwyth.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Desolation Island

It's always quite jolting when one comes across unexpected references to Wales in great works of literature. As, for instance, when a couple of characters suddenly start talking about the Men of Harlech during A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick. I've mentioned elsewhere the name-checking of Cardiff and Penarth in Conrad's The Nigger of the Narcissus. Another example would be Primo Levi's The Periodic Table in which references are made to Aberdare, Holywell and Mount Snowdon. In the Mercury section of that book the narrator explains how Desolation Island (the loneliest island in the world) came to have Welsh place names. Some of the soldiers who were sent to guard the island were originally from Wales. Levi even provided us with a map of this mythical place (see pic) - the only one in the book. It's an uncharacteristically Borgesian tale and for curiosity value alone well worth a look.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Welsh Vampire Matthew Hardman

When it comes to serial killers Wales is very much a second division country which is a good thing in my view. I guess we're just too nice. The only one who really springs to mind is 'the man in black' Peter Moore from north Wales. Wales has, however, produced a genuine class A vampire in Matthew Hardman. I know this because his name crops up in those true crime books with the lurid red and black covers – a reliable indicator that in the world of the macabre he has arrived. Infamously Hardman committed the stomach churning crime of stabbing a harmless 90-year-old lady to death before cutting out her heart. He then drained some blood from her leg and drank it. He was 17 at the time and an art student at Coleg Menai in Bangor. Hardman is profiled in Sondra London’s True Vampires: Blood-Sucking Killers Past and Present (2003). He is part of a particularly gruesome pantheon that includes such psychos as Ed Gein, Henry Lee Lucas, Issei Sagawa, Andrei Chikatilo and Transylvania’s own Vlad the Impaler, amongst others. Author London is a bit of a crazy lady herself having dated at least 2 serial killers. Not for nothing has she been dubbed ‘the serial killer groupie’. Her book is illustrated by Nicolas Claux who is, of course, a convicted serial killer, necrophile and cannibal.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

JFK in Wales

I have often heard it said that JFK as a young man once visited Wales. The most convincing case for this assertion was given by Edward Nicholson, a London-born engineer who worked for William Randolph Hearst at St Donat's castle. According to him JFK along with his father Joseph (then a US ambassador in London) and other members of the Kennedy clan arrived at the luxurious Welsh retreat in July 1938. The future President was 21 years old at the time and spent 5 days holidaying there.

After JFK's assassination in November 1963 Nicholson was tracked down to Leeds where he had become a teacher to elaborate on the story. Reflecting on his time at St Donat's, he said: "Mr Kennedy came on a Thursday and stayed until the following Tuesday. He was a very active youngster full of life. He swam in the pool and was an excellent swimmer. I remember him doing some rock climbing, and he used to walk the nearby country lanes."

Nicholson went on to say that he took Kennedy to the lighthouse at Nash Point in the Vale of Glamorgan. Furthermore he stated that Kennedy visited Cardiff where he attended morning mass at St David's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Charles Street. He added: "I shook hands with the President. He was young and enthusiastic with a particular interest in economics. He asked a lot of questions about the Welsh language and how many people in Wales spoke it. He showed keen interest in Welsh industry, too."

I think that's almost enough quality information to justify a JFK bus tour of south Wales. For north Wales's links to the Kennedys see Jackie O in Llanfihangel- y-Traethau.