Sunday, April 29, 2007

Fred West at Barry Island

You probably don't need another excuse not to go swimming at Barry Island. The icy brown water and unidentified floating objects ought to be enough to deter anyone from donning their bathers. However there is a further reason to avoid going for a paddle at the resort: Fred West.

As a child in the 1950s Fred West was regularly taken on day-trips to Barry Island. When he grew up and became a serial killer he continued the family tradition by taking his wife Rose and their offspring to the Welsh beach. You can find photographs of Fred at Barry Island in any number of True Crime books detailing his murderous exploits.

But there is another lesser known connection between Fred West and Barry Island.

When West committed suicide at Winson Green prison in 1995 he left specific instructions concerning his burial. It was his desire to be interred at the family plot at St Bartholomew's, Much Marcle. This idea didn't go down too well with the good folk of his home village so it was decided instead that Fred should be cremated. On March 29, 1995, at Cranley Crematorium near Coventry, Fred West was incinerated.

What then to do with his ashes? After all, nobody wants the remains of a serial killer sitting on their mantelpiece. It was left to West's unfortunate children to determine their father's last resting place. As he'd always had a special affection for the area it was decided to scatter his ashes into the brown, murky depths off Barry Island.

Not sure what the Welsh tourist board made of all this. Anyway, if you fancy going for a dip this summer at Barry Island, do please remember to keep your mouth closed when doing the butterfly. Happy swimming.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Scott Walker in Cardiff

Talking of the great Scott Walker, you have to admire the man's chutzpah. In 1968 in the interval between his two solo shows at the Capitol, Cardiff, he informed reporters that local hero Tom Jones was "overrated". And so was Engelbert Humperdinck. Neither singer, he reckoned, was worthy of being compared to the great Sinatra.

He went on to state that his current tour had been a mistake. Girls had been screaming during the first house in Cardiff and this had irritated him. He didn't want the screamers. He thought his songs were more suitable for an adult crowd. He then declared melodramatically that this would be his last tour.

It wasn't of course. In 1973, fact fans, he did an entire week of shows at the Mount St Albans Country Club at Catsash, near Newport!

From what I've read about Walker he seemed to have a bit of an obsession with Tom Jones, regarding him as his greatest rival in pop. I'm not at all sure if this was reciprocated. Walker's comments certainly caused a storm in south Wales at the time with irate Tom Jones fans slagging him off in the local press.

Scott Walker wasn't bothered though - naturally, he had no regrets.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Jack - Pioneer Soundtracks

Jack was born out of the fag-end of Cardiff's underground music scene in the early '90s. Which pretty much meant the Square Club - a murky dive that introduced many a callow youth to cheap amphetamine, bad sex and the Velvet Underground. The Square Club was part of a boys-in-make-up clubland lineage stretching all the way back to the legendary Mel's, via Radcliffe's, Nero's, the Terminus and the Lexington.

Waving goodbye to the working-class badlands of Tremorfa, Anthony Reynolds and songwriting partner Matthew Scott did what thousands of ambitious Welsh dreamers have done before them and legged it to the bright lights of London. There they recruited a gang of musical fellow travellers and in 1996 released Pioneer Soundtracks to almost universal critical acclaim.

10 years on and it's easy to understand why it is regarded as one of the great lost albums of the Nineties. Falling completely outside the prevailing Brit-Pop zeitgeist Pioneer Soundtracks has a lowlife grandeur that harks back to Brel and Scott Walker rather than The Beatles and Kinks. Indeed they drafted-in Scott Walker collaborator Peter Walsh to produce and mix the album.

From it's apocalyptic opening track ...of Lights to the lush swirling lament of Hope is a Liar there is a unity and completeness of vision to this majestic opus. It really does feel like a whole rather than 9 songs stitched together.

Subject matter? Reynolds manages to locate beauty amid the urban squalor in Wintercomesummer; there is a romantic you-and-me-against-the-world defiance in songs like White Jazz and Filthy Names; he nails nightlife melodrama in Biography of a First Son and F.U.; and in the ballads I Didn't Mean it Marie and Dress You in Mourning he displays an unhealthy Catholic preoccupation with sex and death.

You'll be pleased to learn that this ten year anniversary re-release also contains a bonus CD. No filler here either with great material like Kid Stardust, I Was Drunk in the Underworld and The Ballad of Misery and Heaven all getting a welcome airing. You'll also find alternative versions of the singles and extracts from a live performance in Paris (hey, where else?).

Pioneer Soundtracks released by Spinney is on sale now. And if you want to keep tabs on Anthony Reynolds' current projects check out his rather excellent website.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Mervyn LeRoy at St Donats

As we all know newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst bought St Donats Castle in 1925 and turned it into a love-nest for himself and mistress Marion Davies. Apparently Hearst's pet name for Davies's clitoris was "Rosebud". When Orson Welles famously alluded to it in Citizen Kane Hearst was said to be mucho livid. I digress...

Hearst often invited his friends to stay at the Welsh castle - Charlie Chaplin and a young John F Kennedy to name but two. The above photograph taken in 1935 shows some vacationing Hollywood big-wigs standing outside the front portcullis. The guy on the far left is none other than film director Mervyn LeRoy.

Amongst LeRoy's most memorable flicks were Little Caesar (1931), starring Edward G Robinson; I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932); and The Bad Seed (1956) based upon William March's cult novel. One of his lesser known directorial efforts Unholy Partners (1941) is about a newspaperman who starts up a tabloid with the help of a gangster. Interesting.

Incidentally the woman next to him in the photo is his wife Doris. She was the daughter of Harry M Warner who along with his siblings founded Warner Brothers Pictures. That's Harry, second from the right.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Penarth Love-In of 1967

Wales has always been a magnet for hippies. In the Sixties if you couldn't afford a magic bus trip to India you headed for Wales instead. Some parts of the Welsh countryside have even been colonized by the patchouli oil brigade.

However in August, 1967 (at the very height of the Summer of Love) there was some proper indigenous hippy action going on. A Love-in was held at the Paget Rooms, Penarth (see pic). Approximately 200 flower children turned up. Most were from South Wales but exotic specimens from London and Manchester were also in attendance.

Penarth townsfolk were puzzled by this sudden influx of hippies. They watched as teenagers with painted faces distributed flowers outside the venue. The girls wore bells and floral dresses. One young lady was spotted wearing only her bra and panties covered by a man's string vest! The men preferred flares, ironic military attire and sunglasses.

Extra police were drafted into the area as bikers intent on disrupting the event had gathered outside to jeer at the hippies. Apparently they were roaring up and down Victoria Road on their powerful machines. It was like Haight Ashbury in microcosm.

The actual Love-in started at 8pm. In the dimly lit venue joss sticks burned and people blew soap bubbles. The hippies listened to psychedelic music and read out love poetry. Plain clothes police officers who had infiltrated the gathering reported that the event had been "peaceful".

The man who organised the Penarth Love-in was one Paul Barrett. He told local press: "this part of the country needs the flower people and love." Paul, a labourer, was already planning a "freak out" in Cardiff to follow up his Penarth success.

At midnight the loved-up hippies emerged from the Paget Rooms into the balmy night air. Malevolent bikers were still outside hurling insults but the hippies weren't that bothered - they threw flower petals back at them before heading for the beach.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

At the Record Bar

What better way to mark my 100th weblog entry than with a lovely newspaper advert from 1962. None of your fancy downloading music from the internet back then - you consulted a record catalogue, took your vinyl into a listening booth and decided if it was worthy of being purchased. Tates Record Bar was at the rear of Rentaset near Cardiff Central train station.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Man Who Buried Himmler

To this day the exact location of Heinrich Himmler's grave remains a mystery. After he committed suicide in 1945 his body was secretly disposed of by British soldiers. Only those who dug his grave could possibly know Himmler's last resting place. One of those men was William Ottery from Penygraig, Rhondda.

Ottery was a sergeant with the British 2nd Army based at Luneburg in Germany. In May 1945 he witnessed Heinrich Himmler's arrival at the base. The captured Nazi emerged from a heavily guarded car draped in nothing more than a grey army blanket and socks.

It was Ottery who had prepared the building used to contain VIP prisoners. He needn't have bothered. During a routine medical examination Himmler bit into a potassium cyanide capsule secreted in his mouth - one last defiant gesture against the Allies. Ottery was ordered to get a needle and thread which was used to withdraw Himmler's tongue. But it was to no avail - within 15 minutes the poison had done its work and the architect of the Final Solution was dead.

The following day Russian, American and British officials flocked to Luneburg to confirm that the corpse was indeed that of Heinrich Himmler. On the third day after the suicide Ottery formed part of the burial party.

The Welshman helped carry the corpse, which was wrapped in a camouflage net, into an army van. Along with another soldier he climbed inside and followed a jeep driven by his sergeant major and the company commander. They took care to make sure no members of the press were following them - it was imperative that the grave remain a secret to avoid it becoming a future shrine for Nazis.

Their final destination proved to be an area of woodland not far from Luneburg. Once a spot had been chosen Ottery began to dig. Roots from the trees made gravedigging a difficult task; frequently they stopped to take swigs from the beer which they had brought along.

Instead of digging the regulation 6ft deep grave they decided to make do with a 4ft one instead. When it was finally ready they slung Himmler's body down inside - it must have been a satisfying moment for the Welshman. They then set about the task of filling in the earth and stamping down the soil. They finished by covering up the area with leaves making sure there were no visible signs of the grave. With the task completed they headed back to camp.

Apparently Ottery returned to Himmler's grave one final time in 1977 for a magazine article. Its exact location however still remains a secret.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Take Five in Roath

So let me get this right... in 1968 Joe Morello, legendary American sticksman in the Dave Brubeck Quartet, held a drum clinic at a church hall in Roath, Cardiff? Apparently so (see pic).

'68 was the year the Dave Brubeck Quartet broke up so maybe Morello was at a bit of a loose end. Quite a coup for Gamlin's who at that time were holding a series of workshops featuring famous musicians. Who better to demonstrate percussive skills than the man whose drum solo on Take Five made it one of the most instantly recognisable jazz pieces ever.

To see this musical icon in action you simply walked into Gamlin's on St Mary Street picked up a free ticket then hopped on a bus to St Peter's church hall, Roath. There, at 7.45pm, you would find Morello doing a nifty bit of drumming and chatting about his career. Sounds terrific.

I wonder how many people actually turned up to see him? Jazz has always been popular in Cardiff but at that time rock and soul music were very much in the ascendancy. If you were one of those discerning punters who attended Morello's drum clinic do let me know how it went.

If you want to pay homage to this obscure jazz event you will find the aforementioned church hall on St Peter's Street, Cardiff. Just stand outside the building, put on your shades, and absorb those cool vibes.