Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Eat Cake and Worship Satan

Check out the Eat Cake and Worship Satan website, a north Wales-based enterprise that specialises in goth/emo/S&M accessories. There's some eye-popping bespoke stuff for sale. The demonic baphomet masks look genuinely scary. And there's even an alien gimp mask if that's your cup of tea. It's reassuring to know that such depravity exists in Conwy - long may it continue.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

ALF in Wales

In 1987 fire bombs were discovered in three of Cardiff's largest department stores: Howells, Debenhams and David Morgan. They had been secreted in items of furniture but failed to go off due to faulty timing devices. An anonymous telephone warning had been received but after a fruitless search of the stores it was believed to be nothing more than a crank call. It's just as well nobody bought the potentially lethal items of furniture. When, a couple of days later, the incendiary devices were finally found army bomb disposal experts had to be called in. All other shops in the city centre were searched as a wave of panic swept through the capital. Sort of.

Who had planted the bombs? Speculation that "Welsh extremists" were to blame for the failed fire bomb attack ended when the Animal Liberation Front contacted a local newspaper claiming responsibility. They warned the three targeted shops to cease trading in furs immediately. Next time, they said, the bombs wouldn't malfunction. The bombs had been set to go off at night when fire could spread more rapidly or at least set off the sprinkler systems and damage stock.

It is thought that the attack was also meant to coincide with the show trial of 6 ALF members which was then going on in Sheffield. They had been accused of attacking shops in other parts of the UK. It was also noted that a few months prior to the Cardiff attack there had been an ALF recruitment drive in south Wales. Leading ALF activists had attended meetings in Newport, Cardiff and Swansea. They had apparently urged Welsh supporters to intensify their campaign of 'economic sabotage' against exploiters of animals.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Suicide Club by Rhys Thomas

Rhys Thomas's outstanding debut novel, The Suicide Club, fits rather neatly into the great pantheon of cool teenage fiction. The sparkling first person narrative recalls Catcher in the Rye; its exploration of the childhood/adulthood cusp has a hint of Absolute Beginners; and the post-therapy retrospective story structure is reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange. But this is no by-numbers amalgam of previous writings - The Suicide Club stands up as a novel in its own right.

Central character Richard Harper is a 15-year-old emo. Far from being a teenage nihilist or self-pitying doom merchant he is hopelessly drawn to drama and romance. So when a charismatic new kid turns up at school proposing a suicide club he, along with a group of friends, is happy to sign up.

In fact Harper is a bright boy. Much of the fizz of his first person narration is derived from his smart-arse sense of humour and in his sharp observations of his contemporaries. Those hoping to read a grim analysis of teen suicide clusters a la Bridgend will be disappointed. This is actually a very amusing comic novel.

Nor is The Suicide Club written in a dour realist style. Frequently Harper interrupts his own narrative to address the reader. At one point he says: "Actually, do you mind if I quickly jump out of the story and say something here?" Throughout, the reader is reminded that he/she is being told a tale and Harper often alludes to television and film when telling it.

Pop culture is a vital element in this novel. Music, in particular, exerts a strong hold on Harper. For instance, there is a sub-plot which outlines his difficulty in getting hold of a new My Chemical Romance record. You'll also find references to the Smashing Pumpkins, Damien Rice, Radiohead and the Lost Prophets, amongst others.

The town in which Harper resides is middle-class and anglo-American. He dwells near an airbase which explains the profusion of yankee characters but you get the feeling the author is more than happy to use diction which incorporates so many Americanisms. It adds an energy and richness to the language which often sounds part school text book part ironic episode of Dawson's Creek.

Is The Suicide Club a convincing portrayal of adolescence? Ask an emo. I certainly bought into Harper's hormonal worldview with all its contradictions. For example, for all his overblown idealism he is capable of petty cruelties, particularly toward his younger brother Toby. For all his academic intelligence he is unable to stand up to the sinister and manipulative new-boy Freddie, even though he is, clearly, aware of the dark side of his friend's personality. So, is Richard Harper naive, a drama queen or a bit fucked up in the head? Read the book and decide for yourself.

Rhys Thomas's The Suicide Club is a smart and funny debut novel published by Doubleday and it's on sale now.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Dr Karanka's Itinerant Photo Exhibition

Cardiff-based Finnish snapper, Joni Karanka, has come up with a splendid concept: an itinerant photographic exhibition. Over the past few weeks photographers from all around the world have been posting him their prints of choice. He, in turn, has been sticking them to the walls of his house with blu-tak. Last week he threw an opening party and for one evening his modest abode in Roath became a kind of lo-fi version of the Tate gallery.

Soon this varied collection of pictures will be moving on to its next destination, Bologna, followed by London, Gliwice (Poland) and then Leuven (Belgium). Along the way the exhibition will grow as other snappers submit their works. In the meantime a selection of prints are on show in the pool room at the New Park Liberal Club, City Road, Roath. There is even talk of a farewell party for them, there, next Friday. Entry is free.

I think the whole idea is brilliant and wonderfully egalitarian. Photographers who have contributed works are a mixture of the well-known and the obscure - there are Flickr stars and complete amateurs. My particular favourites are by Blake Andrews from Portland, Oregon, and a couple of night-time shots by controversial Polish lensman Maciej Dakowicz.

Removing photos from the hallowed and often uber-snooty environs of an official gallery is another plus point of this enterprise. Name me one major photographic gallery anywhere in the world where you are allowed to view the works on show whilst sipping a pint of Brains SA? Exactly. And, if the pictures don't float your boat, you can always shoot some pool instead.

*The exhibition at the New Park Liberal Club runs from April 17 - 24.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Shay Hendrix - Pet Sounds

In this YouTube (you must be over 18 to view) north Walian porn star Shay Hendrix is dressed up as a puppy and is barking like a dog. She also has her tummy tickled. What a strange world we live in.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Roy Orbison at the Park Hotel

Roy Orbison was a fairly regular visitor to Wales. He supported the Beatles in Cardiff in 1963. He did a week of shows in Caerphilly in 1975. He even once phoned a Welsh fan to console her over the tragic death of her child in a car accident. But surely the oddest Wales-related Orbi incident occurred in 1965.

In the Spring of that year Orbison appeared at the Capitol, Cardiff, where he performed to two sold-out houses. He was supported by Marianne Faithful who, against doctor's orders, sang with a sore throat. Orbison himself went down a storm sending his Welsh fans into raptures with renditions of such classics as Only the Lonely, Runnin' Scared, and It's Over.

Afterwards, at the Park Hotel (where presumably he was staying), he was invited to attend a dinner given by the law society of the Cardiff College of Commerce. Sure enough the Big O turned up which in itself is fairly incredible. Furthermore, during the night's proceedings, he accepted their offer to become patron of the law society. Honest to God. If you were present at this surreal event then please get in touch. If you've got any photos that would be even better.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska's House

This is Henri Gaudier-Brzeska's old gaff - 29 Claude Road, Roath, Cardiff. I snapped it this afternoon. Somehow I resisted the temptation to knock on the door and invite myself in for a cup of tea. Wonder which floor he lived on?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska in Cardiff

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska has all the right credentials to be a cult artist. He died young - slain in the trenches during WW1; his companion Sophia Brzeska went bonkers and perished in a lunatic asylum; and Ken Russell made a rarely seen film of his life entitled Savage Messiah. He is also known for contributing to the Vorticist magazine Blast and for hobnobbing with the likes of Ezra Pound, Jacob Epstein, and Wyndham Lewis.

For six months, from October 1908 to April 1909, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska lived in Cardiff - 29 Claude Road, Roath, to be exact. His landlord was a Mr George Brace. It's classic bedsit land around there: three storey houses converted into flats, absentee landlords, rubbish put out on the wrong day, bits of furniture abandoned in alleyways. At a stretch one might call it Bohemian.

During his Cardiff stay he was employed by Fifoot & Ching, a coal exporting firm based at Mountstuart Square. Mr Ching encouraged the teenager's talent: "Whilst he excellently fulfilled the duties allotted to him, one could easily notice that his mind was not altogether in his work. Art undoubtedly occupied the greater part of it, and in his spare moments he was everlastingly, pencil or pen in hand, sketching some little incident that appealed to him. During his lunch hours he periodically walked across to the docks and brought back with him a small sketch of, perhaps the bow of a boat, or the elevation of a crane or tip, all of which showed genius. I encouraged him in his work because I felt that commerce was not his forte, and that he would be bound to leave it at the first possible chance. In character he was Bohemian, and just a little casual, which was natural, but he was the kind of boy that one would have expected to have lived, if necessary, in a garret while he got on with his life's work as he felt it to be."

The young artist also spent time sketching at Victoria Park and the National Museum of Wales. He had a particular fondness for drawing birds. I checked out the Gaudier-Brzeska biographies. Frustratingly, little artistic evidence remains of his days in Cardiff. All that I could dig up were a couple of studies of a golden eagle which he had drawn at the museum. They were completed around Christmas, 1908. It occurred to me that the actual golden eagle that he sketched might still be on display there. I phoned them up. Turns out the National Museum of Wales has no less than three stuffed golden eagles (what would the RSPB make of that?), the oldest of which is probably Gaudier-Brzeska's bird. Unfortunately, at present, this ornithological relic is in storage at Nantgarw.

Since 2009 is the hundredth anniversary of Gaudier-Brzeska's sojourn in Wales the time is right, I think, for a retrospective exhibition of his work. And how about liberating that culturally significant golden eagle from the vault, too?