Thursday, January 29, 2009

Commune Movement

Wales has long been drop-out central. A place where unhappy citizens (usually from England) come to project their Utopian fantasies onto the landscape. Father Ignatius and Eric Gill at Capel-y-Ffin; John Seymour getting back to the land in Pembs; hippies at tipi valley, are all obvious examples. Even today you'll find any number of downsizers, white flighters, second homers, born-again environmentalists, and New Age types fleeing across the border in search of their little bit of Eden in Wales.

It is no surprise, then, to discover that the Commune Movement was set up in Wales, circa 1968. Its founders - the Selene Community - were based in a remote cottage called Can-y-Lloer (Song of the Moon) overlooking the village of Ffarmers, in Carmarthenshire. These pioneers started up a magazine called Communes, of which an impressive 2,500 copies were produced on a bi-monthly basis. The journal acted as an information point for all the hippie, pagan and alternative communities across the UK. It was hoped that an international federation of communes could be developed.

The people who produced the mag were Tony Kelly and his two "wives" Betty Kelly and Pat Blackmore. They were a threesome and shocked villagers by strolling around nearby fields in the nude. Apparently the locals thought they were Buddhists. In fact they were neo-pagans and it was their desire to eventually become witches. Ironically, as a commune, the Selene Community proved ultimately to be a failure. Tony Kelly and co were too busy getting the magazine together to develop the commune properly and their numbers gradually dwindled from 34 to 3. They lived on sickness benefits and by renting out the land which they had bought for grazing. Their magazine eventually ran into financial difficulties and folded. The Commune Movement itself petered out in the mid-70s.

Pictured above is an edition of Communes magazine.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dolenni Hud

The Americanisation of the Welsh landscape has often been remarked upon. The economic might of the USA manifesting itself in a proliferation of powerful brand names, for instance. Occasionally it is pure fantasy wish-fulfilment like naming your resort Coney Island (Porthcawl) or Miami Beach (Aberavon). At other times it is just a weird physical similarity between certain Welsh landscapes and those in America (see Robert Haines's photo Tex Jones, for example).

Welsh writer Owen Martell and photographer Simon Proffitt have done the complete opposite - they have sought out a parallel Wales in America. Visiting towns in the States with Welsh names (Neath, Bangor, Cardiff etc) they have come up with a playful book of visual and geographical puns. In this part-travelogue, part-photobook we find the Llanerch diner; the Nanty Glo fire dept; and the Bryn Mawr travel agency. Street signs proclaim Pendyrus St and Llangollen Blvd. Cymric roots are more overt in a photo of the Neath Welsh Congregational Church. Notions of identity, cultural exchange, colonisation can all be taken from this book. What I particularly like in Dolenni Hud, though, is the subversion of expectations and the odd sense of dislocation that you find in their parallel Wales.

An audiovisual installation relating to this project has already been shown at The LAB gallery in San Francisco and Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. Dolenni Hud is published by Gomer and costs £12.99.

Oh, and if you've ever wanted to see Owen Martell going against the flow on a moving walkway then this must be your lucky day. Click here.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Sophie Dee up for Porn Oscars

It is important that we celebrate Welsh cultural success, so let's hear it for Sophie Dee who has been nominated for no less than three gongs at the AVN Adult Movie Awards 2009. This is the porn equivalent of the Oscars. The categories are Web Starlet Of The Year; Best Unsung Starlet Of The Year; and Best Girl Group Sex Scene. It is just reward for Carmarthenshire's finest whose reputation within the industry, since moving to the States in 2005, has quietly blossomed. The awards ceremony is taking place this weekend in Las Vegas, so keep everything crossed for this soon-to-be Welsh porn superstar. Good luck Sophie.

*You can keep up to date with everything Sophie Dee-related at her excellent website but remember - because it is quite rude - you must be 18 years of age or over to go there.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Holosonic Cerith Wyn Evans

I’m a big fan of Cerith Wyn Evans (even though he never answers my emails). This Youtube shows an artwork he created in collaboration with Throbbing Gristle called APPARITION which was exhibited at the Yokohama Triennale in November, 2008. It uses holosonic sound – ie directional acoustic technology. Basically he has constructed a giant mobile with rotating speakers which project targeted sound while eliminating ambient noise. Music, speech, sound effects, are sent in various directions while the viewer moves across the room. As the speakers rotate, sound builds, fades, cuts out, or suddenly assaults the eardrums, before disappearing again. Depending on their position in the room the experience is unique for each listener and, they too, become an integral part of the artwork.

I think it’s terrific conceptually, aesthetically and aurally. It would be great if APPARITION was exhibited in Wales at some point.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Welsh Terrorist Chic

What I find interesting about Welsh terrorist John Jenkins - apart from the fact that he went around blowing things up - is that he always seemed to look quite stylish. Take a gander at this picture from '76, for example. He looks like a cross between William Burroughs and the keyboard player in a generic punk band.

Jenkins had just been released from Albany prison on the Isle of Wight where he had served about 7 years of a 10 year sentence in connection with a series of explosions between 1966-69. He was a member of Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (Movement for the Defence of Wales).

The above snap shows him at Waterloo station, ready to return home to Wales. His first port of call was to be Abergele where he would pay homage to the Abergele bombers (2 members of MAC) who blew themselves up in 1969 on the eve of the investiture. Jenkins was unrepentant about his bombing campaign, he said: "Does a man have to apologise for fighting for his country?"

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Mighty Baboo by Sweet Baboo

Fine musicianship and interesting instrumentation are the hallmarks of Sweet Baboo's impressive debut album. Not that The Mighty Baboo is a po-faced work. Humorous lyrics frequently, playfully undermine the melancholy mood of Stephen Black's songs.

It takes a certain chutzpah to open your debut collection with a ditty called Recapping All My Other Songs. A confidence that will turn out to be entirely justified. Railway enthusiasts will be delighted by the up-tempo Good Lord the Sun (Good Lord the Sun) is Gonna Smile On Me, which is a train song that chugs along rather nicely.

Putting Things in Boxes and Places is positively Tom Waitsian in its wallowing ambience. The tune features some great harmonising - another strong feature of this CD. You're too Close to my Hip Bone is simply lovely. The mandolin/pedal steel guitar/trumpet combo works a treat.

The mixing of the musically melancholy with the lyrically comedic is exemplified in the alt.countrified The Ballad of Mr Mario. As for Emotionally Alone (Close to me), it is just perfect - this CD's killer track. I love the clarinet on this.

You can hear Sweet Baboo wrestling with a church organ in Tom Waits Rip Off. A song which contains the inspired line: "Please don't let me die Lord, I'm the new Phil Spector."

The ghost of George Formby haunts My New Found Love of Recorders, whilst the songwriting technique of Jonathan Richman is wryly deconstructed in Jonathan Richman.

You Can Turn a Smile Right Back Into a Smile is a lush, (uncharacteristically) optimistic love song. The CD ends in comic fashion with the tale of a troublesome wolf called Clive in Wolfie 93. And nice to hear my ancestral homeland, Grangetown, getting a mention.

The Mighty Baboo is as good as anything I heard in 2008. Far be it for me to tell you, dear reader, what you should be spending your hard-earned cash on, but you could do a lot worse than getting your paws on this. The CD can be purchased directly from Businessman Records or a decent record shop like, for example, Spillers.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

You've Made your Bed of Nails...

I spent Christmas day reading an edifying book called The World's Most Fantastic Freaks. What better way to deal with the existential horror of Xmas? Anyway, inside were all the usual suspects: Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man; Yu Chenhuan, the Wolf Boy; and Jo-Jo, the Dog-faced Boy.

In the Freak Skin section, however, I came across a name I'd never heard before. I would have expected the endurance record for lying on a bed of nails to belong to a Zen master from Tibet or some yogi mystic living in a hindu temple in India, not Ken Owen, a council clerk from Tonteg.

Back in 1986 Owen (then aged 48) spent 300 hours lying on a bed of nails. The bed consisted of 600 very sharp 6 inch nails spaced 2 inches apart. Unphased by this he also, during the feat, had 51 concrete blocks smashed on his chest. Crazy guy. The father of two had been a practitioner of martial arts for over 30 years and was a black belt in both judo and karate. He was also a former Baptist preacher.

Ken completed his miraculous stunt at his local pub the Three Horseshoes, Tonteg. When it was all over he expressed a desire for a lager and lime. I have a cartoon image in my head of the alcohol spouting, sieve-like, out of the myriad holes in his body. Ken still does a bit of lying on a bed of nails for charity. And his amazing world record of 300 hours remains unbeaten to this day.

Rheinallt H Rowlands - Charles Bukowski

Talking of Ynys Mon, one of my favourite Welsh-language songs ever comes from that mystical island. It is called Charles Bukowski (circa 1993) and is by the enigmatic Rheinallt H Rowlands. You can see a delightful video of the Joy Division-inspired trio performing it, above.

An excellent website dedicated to them also sprang up last year, without me noticing. It contains lots of interesting info, plus news, press reports, and a complete discography. A copy of their album Bukowski used to reside at my local library. Unfortunately some complete b*****d with, it has to be said, great musical taste, has nicked it. Ah well, I can still enjoy this Youtube.

*Also, listen out for their Wangnerian Welsh-language versions of Joy Division's New Dawn Fades, Atmosphere, and Decades.