Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Sun Also Rises

Talking of odd folk, The Sun Also Rises were an acid folk duo from Cardiff. More specifically they were husband and wife team Graham and Anne Hemingway. In 1970 they released their one and only LP on Village Thing entitled The Sun Also Rises (it's the title of an Ernest Hemingway novel).

At the time it received really positive reviews from the music press. Sounds said it was, "One of the most refreshingly original albums of the year". Melody Maker, too, gave it the thumbs up - "Their voices complement each other extremely well, and when combined with Graham's considerable skill as a classically influenced guitarist, provide a very soothing sound".

With its kooky hippie lyrics and wide array of instruments - from dulcimer and glockenspiel to bells and a kazoo - the result is reminiscent of outfits like the Incredible String Band and Dr Strangely Strange. Guesting on the LP were John Turner on string bass and Andy Leggett on whistle who were both from The Pigsty Hill Light Orchestra.

The Sun Also Rises was reissued on CD in 2007. Fortunately for us someone has put the entire album up on YouTube. Here are a few random tracks: Green Lane; Flowers; Song of Consolation; Until I Do.

I don't know much else about the Hemingways other than that they used to perform in local pubs. So, if you have any additional information on this all but forgotten acid folk duo, get in touch.

UPDATE: Graham and Anne are both alive and well and living in Cardiff. Apparently they split up in the 1970s but remain good friends. Anne has since remarried. I'm told by Ian Anderson, editor of the excellent fRoots magazine (and the man who produced The Sun Also Rises in 1970), that Village Thing are putting out a 40th anniversary compilation in 2010. Graham and Anne will, of course, be featured. Now that's something to look forward to.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cate le Bon - Me Oh My

Over recent weeks I have been enjoying greatly Cate le Bon's excellent debut album Me Oh My. Released on Gruff Rhys's new Irony Bored label it is a mixture of the melancholy and the (sometimes wilfully) kooky. In terms of setting these songs are essentially pastoral and thus we find an abundance of references to forests, hounds, fields, the sea etc. But her natural universe is deeply imbued with a folk tale darkness. Screams, black clouds, shadows and death, haunt these love songs to such a degree that you begin to worry for le Bon's mental health. Although, in essence, an alt.folk album, the production and instrumentation push many of her tunes into stranger, more psychedelic pastures. It's an arrangement that works wonderfully well. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dylan Klebold

What's in a name? When Tom and Susan Klebold named their son after Welsh bard Dylan Thomas they were probably hoping that in some vague way his soul would be filled with poetry. I'm pretty sure the highly intelligent couple weren't hoping that their offspring would turn into a self-destructive pisshead who would drink himself to death in a New York bar. Unfortunately for the Klebolds an even worse fate would befall their son. On Tuesday, April 20, 1999, Dylan - along with his best friend Eric Harris - armed themselves to the teeth and massacred 13 people at Columbine High School. They then killed themselves.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Margaret Phillips v Rod Steiger

Here is a clip from a TV play, The Evil Within (1953), part of the Tales of Tomorrow series which was regularly broadcast in America. It's basically a reworking of the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde story. This particular show has acquired cult significance because of the iconic presence of James Dean, who played a lab assistant. I'm more interested, however, in the slightly less iconic presence of Margaret Phillips from Cwmgwrach. I've mentioned her before on this blog as a much overlooked Welsh actress.

In this excerpt she goes toe to toe with screen hubby Rod Steiger. Their scenes together make for a great contrast in acting styles. Phillips, who enjoyed a long career in the theatre, gives a fairly stagey performance - all precise enunciation and large gestures. Steiger, on the other hand, was a keen student of the Method and consequently his delivery is imbued with a characteristic brooding intensity. That's real sweat on his brow dontcha know.

You'll find the whole show on YouTube. Have a gander.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Anthony Reynolds Sings Syd Barrett

Just a quick reminder that Anthony Reynolds, formerly of this parish (oh, he's back again), will be performing Syd Barrett songs at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff (Saturday, 14 November, 9pm).

I'm a big fan of Reynolds' Jacques Brel-esque oeuvre so I'm curious to see how he'll tackle Barrett's particular brand of English psychedelia. I understand the songs will be given a classical emphasis. Intriguing.

The concert will be conducted by Italian composer and musicologist Marco Lenzi. Also lending a hand will be Dave Stapleton on piano. This event forms part of Chapter's always interesting Experimentica season. Ticketing details here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Cramps in Cardiff Photos

A while back on this blog I mentioned my personal favourite ever Welsh gig - The Cramps at the Ritzy, Cardiff, in 1986. Somebody (cheers Dave) pointed out to me that photographs of this momentous musical occasion are lurking around on Flickr. And indeed, amazingly, they are. Martin was at the gig and took 9 snaps which capture perfectly the charm of The Cramps in all their camp, sleazy, '50s B-movie glory. Have a look.

*Thanks very much to Martin for allowing me to use the above picture.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Berkoff on Ruby Street

56 Ruby Street, Adamsdown, is hardly one of Cardiff's most salubrious addresses, but from 1970-3 it was luvvie-central, for this was the new home of the Welsh Theatre Company. The old Mission hall on Ruby Street had been converted into an 80 seater arena - the Casson Studio Theatre.

During its brief history the theatre hosted many interesting and sometimes controversial productions, such as The Killing of Sister George and 10 Rillington Place. Jake Thackray did a week of shows; BS Johnson read some of his poetry, there. One of the most memorable performances took place in 1972 when uber-thesp Steven Berkoff brought his theatre company to Adamsdown.

Berkoff was directing and starring in his own adaptation of Kafka's Metamorphosis. Unfortunately the show would be dogged by bad luck. The opening was delayed by a couple of days because an actress broke two of her ribs. Further problems occurred on the opening night. One of the cast, Tony Meyer, failed to turn up because his London to Cardiff train broke down. Undeterred, the director insisted that the show must go on. Not only did Berkoff perform his own role (as Gregor Samsa) but filled in for Tony Meyer, too. How marvellous!

The Casson Studio Theatre tucked away in the narrow, terraced, working-class streets of Adamsdown sounds, to me, like a pretty cool facility. However the locals weren't quite so enthusiastic. They used to regularly complain that the cars of visiting theatrical types clogged up their neighbourhood. Nowadays 56 Ruby Street is the home of the Rubicon, a community dance space.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Fabulous Fabs

Apparently one of the rarest and most sought after beat albums of the 1960s is The Fabulous Fabs by south Wales girl group, The Fabs (see pic). Why is this piece of vinyl so difficult to get hold of? Because it was only ever released in, of all places, Mexico.

So who exactly were The Fabs? They were Marilyn Johnston (guitar) from Cardiff; Maria Kitson (rhythm guitar) from Newport; Linda Mazey (drums) from Barry; and Margaret Lewis (bass guitar) from Trethomas.

They formed in 1962 and from 1965 spent a lot of time in Germany touring American service clubs. Whilst in Germany they managed to land a £5,000 film and recording contract. By all accounts they were set to appear in a flick called Skol, Mr Playboy and release a single, Don't Go. Whether these projects came to fruition or not, I have no idea.

After their sojourn in Germany they toured many other countries including Holland, Austria, Spain and Portugal. In 1968/69 they wound up in Mexico City, where they completed a year long residency at the El Senorial nightclub. One evening at the club they met Steve McQueen who invited them for breakfast the following day. They watched the Hollywood star eat a huge meal while, awestruck, they quietly sipped cups of coffee.

Also in Mexico City they cut The Fabulous Fabs which is mostly just a collection of cover versions with only a couple of original tracks. After a year in Mexico they returned to Wales and at some point changed their name to the Jonson Sisters. Unfortunately the group broke up in 1972 when Maggie Lewis (bass guitar) had a nervous breakdown and ended up in hospital.

If you happen to have a copy of The Fabulous Fabs hang on to it - it's probably worth a few quid.