Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sian Adey-Jones Agonistes

You might remember her as a beautiful Bond Girl (see pic). To the shadowy figures of Bohemian Grove, she was the supreme new world order pin-up. But, to me, Sian Adey-Jones will always be the ultimate Miss Wales gone bad. Yes, that's right, I'm talking about her conviction for assaulting a police officer at Colwyn Bay in 1976.

Sian was 19 at the time, and the reigning Miss Wales. She'd just attended a function (a 'Bavarian Evening') in Colwyn Bay and was being driven to her Rhos-on-Sea home by her boyfriend. Police stopped their car. According to the rozzers: Miss Adey-Jones took an object from her handbag and sprayed something into her boyfriend's mouth. When asked to reveal the contents of her bag she became aggressive. She kicked one officer between the legs. She was wearing cowboy-style boots. When an officer attempted to handcuff her, she spat in his face and said: "fuck off you pig." The policeman slapped her face.

The situation, according to the cops, deteriorated further at the station. Miss Adey-Jones grabbed the desk sergeant's pen and snapped it in half. As the arresting constable attempted to cart her off to the cells she, once again, kicked him in the testicles. Four officers had to forcibly remove her cowboy boots. It is alleged Miss Adey-Jones shouted: "I am a wildcat, you bastards!"

Sian's version of events was, unsurprisingly, much different. At Mold crown court she denied being drunk at all. She had only consumed 3 glasses of wine. The object in her handbag was merely a mint mouth spray, used to counteract the effects of the garlic sausage eaten at the Bavarian evening. She denied kicking the copper in the balls. She had only lost her rag at the station because the police refused to let her phone her mother. And because they were making sarcastic remarks, such as: "Look who we've got here, Miss Wales."

Sian Adey-Jones was found not guilty of assaulting a male police officer. However, she was fined £100 for assaulting a policewoman, ordered to pay £250 costs, and £25 in compensation to the female cop. As the judge read out the verdict Miss Wales burst into tears and collapsed into the arms of her boyfriend. She would later go on to become a page 3 model, and now lives in Ibiza.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Richest Stones in Newport

This is Church House at 6 Portland Street, Newport, where the writer WH Davies was born. His was a fascinating life: Newport shoplifter; hobo in North America; London doss-house dweller; literary success. He is best known, of course, for his Autobiography of a Supertramp, which outlined his harsh but romantic life on the road.

The above picture dates from 1930, when he was still very much alive and happily married to former prostitute Helen Payne, in England. The building still stands today, although it is currently boarded up and looking a bit forlorn. Which is a shame because, Davies, in his poem The Richest Stones, said of his childhood abode:

My wandering days have run their course,
And Age is in my flesh and bones:
Of all the temples, domes, and towers,
Where have I found the richest stones?

The little house where I was born,
And where my early childhood lies,
Was built with solid blocks of gold,
And all its walls had diamond eyes.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Slade: Cymru am Byth

I've spoken before of the unfortunate fate that befell Noddy Holder's nose at a gig in Porthcawl in 1978. Here he is pictured in much happier times. It's Swansea in 1975 and, amazingly, Noddy is sporting a Cymru am Byth tee-shirt. His finger-pointing Slade bandmates look suitably shocked. Why, they wonder, has their lead singer forsaken the sartorial excesses of glam rock and gone native? Sadly, the answer to this enigma has been lost in the mists of time. Nice picture, though.

Friday, October 17, 2008

In Search of Richey Edwards

Today I checked out where Richey Edwards was living at the time of his disappearance. That meant digging out his old Cardiff dockside address. Straightforward enough, when you know where to look. The records show that he styled himself Richard J Edwards when filling in official forms.

I found myself trudging east along Bute Terrace, past the Big Sleep Hotel (part-owned by John Malkovich) towards the Vulcan pub. Foregoing the pleasures of that fine boozer, I took, instead, a hard right down Pellet Street and scaled the railway bridge. The parapets on either side, I noticed, have metal spikes to deter jumpers. The graffiti there is strangely scatological: 'Woppo Stinks of Shit'; 'Ed the Poo Head'. Down the steps, through the industrial estate, out on to Tyndall Street, and I'm almost there. Schooner Way. Atlantic Wharf.

Richey's block, a red brick number, is much like all the others in the area - soulless. As mundane as you could imagine. Two bedroom apartment, no pets, no kids, no DSS. One of those places. Back in '95 his apartment block would have been brand new, part of the ongoing gentrification of Cardiff Docks. I took a few snaps of the front of the building. No sign of any Richey graffiti; no dried up floral tributes marking significant dates in his life. You'd never guess he'd ever lived here. Then I caught sight of the mini tunnel which leads to the great expanse of deadwater that is the disused Atlantic Wharf. On the left wall - Richey's side of the building - the single word 'void', has been spray-painted in black (see pic). Appropriate.

It's always a shock coming across this body of water from the north. At the southern end you're more or less in the Docks, where you expect to see such things. Here, though, you are practically still in the city centre. It's eerie. Hidden. Enclosed. Plastic bottles bobbing on the surface. I take a few more photographs. Try to imagine Richey leaning on the handrail, peering out across the water. He lived here for about a year. After he checked out of the Embassy Hotel in Bayswater, it was to this address that he drove. When, after several days, there was no sign of him, his father had to break down the door of his flat. Richey was gone, of course.

Half-an-hour later and I'm sitting in the Vulcan. The landlord is telling me that the Manics sometimes drop in for a pint. Nice people, he says. Very quiet. Prefer not to be recognised.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Welsh Art Now

Almost everyone I meet these days claims to be an artist of one sort or another. Seriously, you can't move for conceptual artists on my estate. So it's kind of strange, when you think about it, that Wales has never really had a decent contemporary art magazine. Until now, that is.

Martin Allman has just launched Welsh Art Now (WAN), a new art journal for Wales. It is aimed not only at practitioners but anyone with an interest in the subject. That's all of us, right? The mag is intended to be a platform for young artists and, hopefully, along the way it will engender a bit of debate on the Welsh arts scene.

Issue one features, amongst other things, work by pop artist Brian Jones; an article by Heike Roms; and there's even a piece on murderabilia by yours truly, where I suggest that the best way to get ahead in the Welsh art world is to go on a monumental killing spree.

Welsh Art Now will be available at various outlets, soon. But if you can't wait that long (and who could possibly blame you if you can't?) it is available for purchase, right now, via their website. Check it out.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

God Hates Cardiff

God Hates Cardiff. No, not a reference to the capital's soggy climate, but the debut EP by Box of Thumbs. On offer are eight great tunes in the alt-rock/indie tradition, with particular nods in the direction of Dinosaur Jnr and the Pixies. Highlights include the extreme urban paranoia of White City; the Fall-esque This is Cree; and the eponymous God Hates Cardiff, which contains the fatalistic lyric:

This city and all its streets
They all mean something to me
This city and all its streets
They all bleed for me
But God hates Cardiff
And God hates me
And that's the way
It's gonna be, yeah.

I couldn't have put it better myself. God Hates Cardiff by Box of Thumbs is out now on Monkey Grinder Records.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Crass in Aberdare

In the summer of 1984 anarcho-punk band Crass played their last ever gig at - of all places - the Coliseum in Aberdare. It was a benefit concert for striking miners. Local paper the Aberdare Leader carried the story on their front page. The following week they did a double-page, picture special, on the event (see pic). Clearly, Crass were big news in Aberdare. I wonder if the band had ever before had such extensive and positive coverage from the regular press. Here's the newspaper's review of the concert:

Backstage, our photographer John Wright was given some sound advice: "Don't get too close or they'll gob all over you". Point taken.
Aberdare Coliseum had never seen anything like it.
Over the years the building has played host to all manner of musical and theatrical productions - but never a punk concert featuring one of Britain's best-known anti-system bands.
Billing the event as a 'rock and pop concert' was an understandable mistake made by the organsiers, who had little or no knowledge of the reputations and anarchist ideals of Crass and their support band, Flux of Pink Indians, when the bands offered their services to help swell the miners' strike fund.
Local police turned up in force when youths clad in studded leather and bondage gear, topped with colourful and elaborate punk hairdos, began to congregate in the town.
The police, too, had been expecting a small scale 'pop' concert. It certainly wasn't that.

Crass - one of the major bands to spring out of the mid-seventies revolt against 'glam rock' along with the likes of the Sex Pistols - have managed to maintain a healthy following and every live appearance attracts new recruits.
Their songs attacking the system and those in power have become the anthems of the unemployed and of would-be anarchists.
Relying more on sheer volume and energy than anything else to convey their message, the band have, like so many others, come in for a great deal of criticism from those who refuse to listen and instantly condemn them as riotmakers.
Onstage they stare blankly into space as if unaware of members of their audience scrambling on to the stage to join them.
Offstage they are a bunch of the most engaging conversationalists you could ever wish to meet, bursting with ideas and plans to put the world to rights.
Whether their largely teenage audience at the Coliseum fully understood why the band wanted so much to do something positive for the miners was hard to tell.

The sight of miners' agent Emlyn Jenkins onstage presenting a brass miner's lamp to Crass guitarist N. A. Palmer must have seemed a little odd to those who had turned up mainly to bash their heads against the amps.
The meaningful words of encouragement to the miners to continue their strike were soon lost amid the sea of catcalls and abuse.
The presentation over, 'normality' resumed. A barrier set up to separate the crowd from the stage was quickly rendered useless as the first band, Flux of Pink Indians, took to the stage.
They whipped up the frustrated concert-goers almost to their limit then left them ready and waiting for the headliners.
Two intervening punk poets did act as a sedative, however, calming the crowd temporarily with their weird and puzzling ranting, so much so that when Crass emerged the floodgates opened.
Accompanied for every number by almost a dozen intrepid members of the audience who forced themselves aloft to join the 'messiahs', the band blasted out their anti-establishment slogans with constant vocal support.
The lyrics of such numbers as Do They Owe Us A Living? rang out with conviction and gave many food for thought.
But the burly miners-cum-bouncers who had been on standby around the hall in case of trouble left with just a few battered eardrums.

The police, too, had a quiet night as the punks filed away peacefully at about 9pm.
More than a few heads had been turned by the unexpected mass pilgrimage made by punks of all shapes and sizes, but the general consensus of opinion was that it had all been worthwhile.

*Incidentally, the Crass concert in Aberdare is also covered by Ian Bone in his anarchist memoir Bash the Rich.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

What's Welsh for Performance?

Is there a more ridiculed artistic practice than performance art? The emperor's new clothes are seldom more passionately invoked than when that reviled term is uttered. This is, of course, grossly unfair. To its credit performance (or time-based) art exists, largely, outside of the commercial art world. It can't be bought, hung on a wall, or exhibited in some snooty gallery in Bond St. It is comparatively egalitarian, transient, elusive.

This elusiveness is, I think, a crucial part of its mystique. Sometimes the only evidence that a performance ever happened is anecdotal. Audiences at such events become witnesses, their memories repositories of unique ephemeral experiences. Occasionally performances are photographed or filmed for posterity. Or perhaps a journalist is on hand to write up proceedings. If so, then these documentary artefacts take on a special significance - they become the performance art equivalent of the Zapruder film.

At What's Welsh for Performance? Heike Roms has been busy digging up and documenting Wales's forgotten performance art heritage. Archives have been ransacked; newspaper cuttings sifted through; participants and eye-witnesses tracked down. In the process she has discovered an avant-garde we never previously knew existed. Be sure to check out her brilliantly researched What's Welsh for Performance? archive. Beginning with happenings in the mid-Sixties, you'll also discover evidence of Kurt Kren's Eating, Drinking, Pissing, Shitting Film being shown in Swansea; Yoko Ono in Cardiff (sort of); Gustav Metzger; a Fluxus exhibition in Aberystwyth; George Brecht in Barry; Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti in Swansea; and much more. In short, all kinds of weird (and wonderful) shit.

But Wales has been more than just an arena for international stars of the avant-garde to do their thing. There has been plenty of indigenous Welsh performance art action, too. Ivor Davies, Paul Davies, Timothy Emlyn Jones, amongst others, turn out to be key players on the Welsh scene. Arguably the single most important Welsh performance art event took place at the Wrexham Eisteddfod in 1977. During a week of commissioned performances by the likes of Mario Merz and Jannis Kounellis, and even some Joseph Beuys-sanctioned work, local artist Paul Davies staged a dramatic and unofficial intervention. He appeared holding aloft a railway sleeper with the letters WN (for Welsh Not) burnt into the wood. For some this marks the inception of a self-conscious contemporary Welsh political art.

For me, it's the great Welsh art moment of the Twentieth century. This was no officially-sanctioned or subsidised performance, but an inspired off-the-cuff action as brilliantly conceived as anything done by those esteemed enfants terribles of the avant-garde, present that week in Wrexham. It truly was a milestone in Welsh art history. Thanks to Heike Roms, Wrexham 77, and other more obscure performance art events, are beginning to get the critical recognition they deserve.

*A book by Heike Roms entitled: What's Welsh for Performance? An Oral History of Performance Art in Wales (vol.1) is available through Amazon.