Thursday, February 24, 2011

John Cale Sings Myfanwy

The above YouTube shows John Cale singing a pared-down, de-kitsched version of Myfanwy and, in the process, getting back to his Cymric roots. It demonstrates that even a traditional Welsh hymn can acquire a certain coolness when sung by a former member of the Velvet Underground. This live performance was recorded in 1992 for Heno, a TV programme on S4C. Wonder if they have any more gems like this in their archive?

*Thanks to Gari Melville for the tip.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bloody Hell!

Bloody Hell! was a well appointed horror fanzine that came out of Cardiff in the early ‘90s. Subtitled ‘the flesh and blood fanzine with a brain in its head’ it was edited and mostly written by local boy David Prothero. Prothero - an old acquaintance – put his zine together in a flat in Pen Y Waun Road, Roath. His abode was adorned with pictures of horror greats but taking pride of place was his signed photograph of Peter Cushing.

Prothero, a former pupil of Whitchurch High School, acquired a taste for horror films from watching late night bills at the Monico cinema. Being a bright boy, he ended up going to Oxford University where he studied English Lit. Whilst doing his MA on William Blake he became increasingly interested in penny dreadfuls and the darker, gothic side of the Romantic movement.

His knowledge of horror films and fiction was encyclopaedic - he wrote numerous entries in the BFI Companion to Horror as well as articles for Sight and Sound magazine. As you can see from the cover of Bloody Hell! (issue 3), Prothero was a fan of Dario Argento. He was an even bigger fan of Alejandro Jodorowsky whom he interviewed on several occasions. Amongst his other cinematic favourites were the films Driller Killer and Henry – Portrait of a Serial Killer. Dave committed suicide in 2001.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Paul Peter Piech

Graphic artist Paul Peter Piech was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1920. World War 2 brought him to the UK, where he served in the US Air Force. In 1947 he married a Welsh nurse. Piech enrolled at Chelsea Art College and after graduating found work as a graphic designer in the advertising industry. In 1968 he went freelance. He supplemented his income by teaching at various UK art colleges. He mostly worked using linocut and woodcut techniques. His striking combination of images and text often reflected his liberal/left political outlook. Piech hated war and was a staunch pacifist and advocate of human rights. If you do an internet image search you will find many of his anti-war poster designs for groups like Amnesty International. He was also a big fan of jazz. In 1986 Piech settled in Porthcawl where he lived until his death in 1996. Whilst here, he immersed himself in Welsh culture and produced many brilliant works in both English and Welsh (see above pics). There is an archive of his artwork at the Yale College in Wrexham, donated by his family.

*On the subject of graphic design this new website dedicated to showcasing music flyers/posters in the Cardiff area is worth a look.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Shay Hendrix and Loz Lorrimar

Not one, but two north Walian porn stars (is this a record Norris?) torment some poor guy in spectacles. Shay Hendrix and Loz Lorrimar are the Welsh underwear-clad termagants dishing out the treatment. You must be 18-years-old or over to view this YouTube.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Gadael yr Ugeinfed Ganrif

Gareth Potter’s theatrical monologue, Gadael yr Ugeinfed Ganrif, opens this month at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, before going on tour around Wales. Potter, a veteran of the Welsh-language music scene, will interweave autobiography with pop cultural elements spanning the last two decades of the Twentieth Century. From the Sex Pistols’ visit to Caerphilly (where Potter hails from) to the opening of the Senedd, it promises to be a fascinating journey. Hopefully it will also inspire other Welsh artists to investigate their pop cultural heritage which is just as relevant and ripe for creative exploitation as, say, the stories in the Mabinogion. On a more terrifying note, I'm informed that a beery conversation in the Vulcan pub, of which I was a drunken participant, forms part of the opening scene. I always knew I'd, vicariously, end up on the stage.

*The production is in Welsh and will run at Chapter from 16-19 Feb.

The Big Roar

Some of the songs on the The Big Roar have been floating around for so long that it has the curious feel of a debut album and greatest hits record rolled into one. The Joy Formidable may have signed up to Atlantic but, thankfully, they haven't compromised their indie sound in a bid to broaden commercial appeal. If anything the production on the Big Roar gives it an, unexpectedly, hard edge. The swooning melodies and multiple crescendos most evident on old favourites Whirring and Cradle are still prevalent but be prepared for a sonic onslaught. Newer tunes such as The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie, The Magnifying Glass and A Heavy Abacus have a heavier, less immediate, appeal reminiscent of the more insidious strain in the Smashing Pumpkins. There are quieter moments here too. Maruyama and Llaw = Wall, temporarily halt the guitar tsunami and offer welcome textural variety. The album ends triumphantly with two of its strongest songs Chapter 2 and live favourite The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade. The Big Roar is an assured debut and well worth the extended incubation period.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Village Person in Newport

Victor Willis, lead singer, chief songwriter and the only straight member of legendary gay musical outfit, the Village People, is currently residing in Newport. To clarify - that's Newport, Gwent. Apparently his new wife, Karen, is from the area. The couple met in the States while Victor was in police custody on drugs and gun charges - no doubt trumped up by the local rozzers. He even appeared on America’s Most Wanted which is ironic because in the Village People he was the one dressed as a cop. Happily Willis managed to evade a prison term and on release in 2007 married Karen (a lawyer), before relocating to sunny Newport. This has to be good news for the Welsh music scene. Newport punk bands, alt.folkies from West Wales, Valleys noise merchants, north Walian electro noodlers and sensitive torch singers from Cardiff ought to be beating a path to his door to collaborate with the man who penned such classics as Y.M.C.A and In the Navy. If you want to find out more about Victor Willis visit Victor Willis World.

Mapping the Territory

In recent years the Library of Wales has been reprinting forgotten or overlooked Welsh literary works. Previously, on this blog, I have stated that this forms part of a wider process of cultural reclamation - a phenomenon that occurred (and continues to do so) in the aftermath of Devolution. A kind of Welsh cultural stock take. In addition, I suggested that the next stage of the process would inevitably focus on what has been unearthed - ie the 'critical phase'.

With this in mind, Mapping the Territory (edited by Katie Gramich), may well be a milestone publication in the re-evaluation of our literary heritage. It is a collection of essays that specifically dissects works taken from Wales's new literary canon (in English). This broadening of the canon is, I think, a great leap forward for Welsh literary criticism. Too often in the past the critical focus in Wales has been overly narrow, concentrating on too few writers - Dylan and RS Thomas, in particular.

Writers covered in Mapping the Territory include Rhys Davies, Bernice Rubens, Dorothy Edwards, Alun Lewis and Ron Berry, amongst others. Landscapes range from Porthcawl to perennially overlooked north east Wales. Approaches vary from postcolonial viewpoints to body-centred analyses. In Laura Wainwright's essay, A Hell of a Howl, the distorted Rhondda milieu evident in Gwyn Thomas's The Dark Philosophers is imaginatively compared to German Expressionist art.

I would like to see much more of this kind of cross-medium cultural criticism in Wales. Song lyrics, television programmes, YouTube clips etc should all be up for critical grabs as part of an even wider, invigorated Welsh cultural discourse. This, I believe, is the future. Mapping the Territory, however, is an exciting and significant development in the world of Welsh literary criticism, and worth investigating if you have a broader interest in Welsh culture