Thursday, September 27, 2012

Peter Morgan

Another virtually forgotten figure from Wales’s musical past is Peter Morgan. He grew up in Newland Street, Barry, and attended Barry Grammar School where he learned to play the double bass. After completing his education he became a boilermaker. At night, however, he performed as a bass player and vocalist in local pubs and clubs. In 1963 he quit his job and along with his missus (Jean – also from Barry) he moved to London. He was determined to pursue a career in the music industry and joined the resident band at the Mayfair Hotel. When their stint at that venue ended he and another member of the group, Colin James from Birkenhead, resolved to forge a career as a duo. Being keen students of logic they decided to call themselves The Morgan-James Duo. In no time at all they landed a deal with Phillips Records. Their music is on the interesting side of MOR with mostly mod-jazz-inflected interpretations of other people's songs. Before they split in 1969 they would cut 3 albums - At the Bar of Music (1964), Shhhh Talent Strikes Again (1966), and Two for the Road (1968). They also released several singles - Sweet Pussycat (1966) being the best-known. The duo regularly featured in the pages of the NME and were featured on such television programmes as The Kathy Kirby Show, The Millicent Martin Show and Thank Your Lucky Stars. They also toured in the USA. After they split in 1969 Morgan became a much sought after session musician and joined the Dudley Moore Trio. Apparently he worked on lots of hit records in the '70s and '80s (although I need enlightening as to what they were exactly) as well as doing much TV work. Here is some YouTubage: Put Your Tears Away (1966); You Can Bet I'm Laughing (1968); and Let's Ride (1968)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Who in Pontypridd

This is a cool picture of The Who taken at the Municipal Hall, Pontypridd, in January 1966. They posed for the shot before performing a 45 minute set for which they were paid a fee of £400. It was a memorable gig with 1000 mods turning up from all over south Wales. The only problem being that the venue’s capacity was just 800. Nevertheless, on police advice, everybody was allowed in to the hall as it was feared that a couple of hundred frustrated mods might cause disturbances outside. As it turned out there was no trouble at all. Much to the audience’s disappointment the band didn’t even smash up their instruments on stage. The Who’s success was, of course, built on their energetic live performances and it is remarkable just how relentlessly they gigged. Even when they were having hit singles between 1965-66 they turned up to play at such obscure Welsh locales as: Pill Social Centre, Milford Haven; Ritz Ballroom, Skewen; the Regal Ballroom, Ammanford; Coed Eva Community College, Cwmbran; and - my favourite - the British Nylon Spinners Club, Pontypool.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Aberdare Psychedelic Go-Go Bar Discotheque

It may not have been Haight-Ashbury exactly but in June 1967, at the height of the so-called Summer of Love, Aberdare was in the vanguard of the Welsh psychedelic revolution. Or at least that is what this advert suggests. Unless, of course, psychedelic go-go bar discotheques were ten-a-penny in the Valleys back then. How quaint that Welsh flower children from the upper reaches of the Cynon Valley were only allowed to rattle their love beads until 11.30pm on Saturday nights.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Vernon Watkins' Spoken Word LP

Vernon Watkins is Welsh literature's forgotten man. There was a time when he was bracketed alongside Dylan Thomas and RS Thomas as one of the greats of twentieth century Welsh poetry. His champions included TS Eliot who published his work at Faber & Faber; and Philip Larkin who visited him on the Gower. Yet his reputation has gone into terminal decline.

There are several reasons for this. Firstly his metaphysical musings can be quite difficult to grasp. Secondly, during his lifetime, he hardly ever promoted his work. And finally he just wasn't very cool - after all, he spent most of his life working for Lloyds Bank. He didn't conform to the stereotype of the drunken, self-destructive, Celtic genius like Dylan Thomas; nor was he provocative and eccentric like RS Thomas.

Watkins was born in Maesteg in 1906. After attending Swansea Grammar School he went off to Repton, an English public school, where he was a contemporary of Christopher Isherwood. Then it was up to Cambridge University to read Modern Languages, but he dropped out after one year. Aged 19, he got a job as a junior clerk at the Butetown branch of Lloyds Bank in Cardiff. His digs were in Roath - 73 Connaught Rd. By day he totted up numbers but at night he avidly wrote poetry.

At some point, though, he suffered a nervous breakdown. This involved him going back to Repton and assaulting his former headmaster, Geoffrey Fisher, who would later become the Archbishop of Canterbury. Watkins was certified and sent to a nursing home in Derby. After a period of recovery it was back to the routine of working at Lloyds Bank, this time in Swansea at the St Helen's branch. Apart from a stint in the RAF during WW2 he would remain there until his retirement in 1966. Even his death in 1967 was kind of low key - he had a heart-attack while playing tennis in Seattle. He was in the US as visiting Professor of Poetry at the University of Washington.

One interesting cultural relic of his career is a spoken word LP he recorded for Decca Records in 1965. It was part of the Yale Series of Recorded Poets. Among the other poets who laid down their verses were Conrad Aiken, Robert Frost, C Day Lewis, Robert Lowell, Louis MacNeice, Marianne Moore, John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, and Cleanth Brooks. The poems that Watkins read were: Swedenborg's Skull; Taliesin and the Spring Vision; The Spring; The Peace in the Welsh Hills; The Tributary Seasons; Music of Colours, White Blossom; Elegy of the Heroine of Childhood; Excerpt From the Broken Sea; Ode to Swansea; Semele; and Ballad of Culver's Hole.

* The above picture shows the 1975 reissued LP on Carillon Records.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A World of Colin Wilson

Circa 2003 Anthony Reynolds embarked upon a pilgrimage to meet writer Colin Wilson at his Cornish home. There he interviewed the dapper egg-head and expert on all things esoteric about his life and ideas. This meeting and the subsequent recording form the basis of A World of Colin Wilson. But don't go expecting a conventional spoken word LP. The indefinite article of the title hints at the impressionistic rather than the concrete and this proves emphatically to be the case.

In fact Wilson's vocal presence here is frequently elusive, buried beneath Reynolds' strange, often eerie, atmospherics. Then suddenly, as if picked up on some obscure radio wavelength, his perfectly enunciated words burst through the sonic weirdness and we hear him name-dropping Abraham Maslow, LH Meyers, TS Eliot and George Bernard Shaw. Tantalising snatches of conversation seep through the ether as Wilson muses on ontological themes: "What guarantee have we" he asks, on Life Is All There Is, "that we are not sitting in an execution chamber?"

As is often the case with fans Reynolds discovered the writings of Wilson in his youth. Books like The Outsider and The Misfits have cast a spell that has outlived Wilson's waning literary reputation. Down the years a steady drift into esoteric hackwork has seen the writer's stock gradually fall. If you don't own a book by Colin Wilson then your collection will almost certainly include one that has had an introduction penned by him. Yet it is precisely Wilson's almost heroic path to creative self-suffiency, in which the autodidact has embarked upon an idiosyncratic career of his own choice and making, that one feels Reynolds is really celebrating on this album.

Time and place are also strong themes. The taped document acts as a trigger for Reynolds as he weaves musical phrases, subdued melodies, and occasional moments of Faculty X-like intensity around Wilson's words. Songs such as Cornwall and New York Ozone Memory further underline the Proustian connection between sense trigger and place. After the near abstraction of much of this album it concludes with two of its more conventional sounding songs. The Colour and Light Around Me progresses pleasingly from laid-back psyche to catchy Latin groove; whilst Keats... Shelley... Eliot consists of a hypnotic vocal loop that rapidly insinuates itself into one's consciousness.

Let's face it Anthony Reynolds isn't going to get rich any time soon on the back of A World of Colin Wilson - it's just too weird, too highbrow for the Simon Cowell generation - but his creative ambition and willingness to experiment make for a fascinating and essential listen. A treat for the discerning and literate punter this album will certainly satisfy fans of both Reynolds and Wilson. Kudos also to Martin Carr and La Muñeca de Sal for adding their own unique musical qualities to the recording.

*A World of Colin Wilson is available now on Rocket Girl records.

Terence Stamp at Blaen-y-Glyn

The above photograph shows Terence Stamp and Carol White cavorting in the waterfall at Blaen-y-Glyn in the Brecon Beacons. They were shooting a scene for Poor Cow (1967), a film directed by Ken Loach, which was based upon the novel of the same name by Nell Dunn. The film crew of 40 people spent a couple of days in mid-Wales where they shot sequences of Stamp and White picnicking, walking, climbing and snogging in the Blaen-y-Glyn waterfall. They were trying to capture the essence of a typical holiday in Wales, apparently. Don't know about you but frolicking in waterfalls was an integral part of my Welsh upbringing...

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Ian Brady v Neddie Seagoon

Aside from Emlyn Williams's True Crime classic, Beyond Belief, here are some other connections between the Moors Murders case and Wales:

On their first proper date Ian Brady entertained Myra Hindley by doing impressions of characters from The Goon Show. He was a huge fan of the radio programme and was particularly adept at mimicking Neddie Seagoon who was created and played by Harry Secombe. From that point on Hindley's pet name for Ian Brady was "Neddie".

In the trouser pocket of Brady's last victim, Edward Evans, (who had been axed to death) was found a blood-stained letter from a girl called Wendy. She had written to Evans from Penrhyndeudraeth where he had spent a summer holiday. In the letter she complained about the incessant rain. Another victim, Lesley Ann Downey, had also visited north Wales. She belonged to a Methodist organisation and came to Wales with her Sunday School group.

At the trial of Hindley and Brady the prosecution was led by Attorney General Frederick Elwyn Jones who was from Llanelli. During his absences William Mars-Jones stood in for him. He was from Llansannan. Brady's defence team was headed by Emlyn Hooson who was from Colomendy in Denbighshire. He was also the Liberal MP for Montgomeryshire.

When Myra Hindley was sent to Holloway Prison she befriended a 22-year-old Welsh jailbird called Carole Callaghan who was serving a six-year sentence for attempted armed robbery. Hindley and Callaghan had a shared interest in English Literature and philosophy. They listened to classical music and studied together. When Callaghan was released from the nick they continued to correspond. Eventually, however, Callaghan sold their letters to the Daily Star. Hindley responded by saying that her former friend had "syphilis of the brain."

When Myra Hindley decided to pen an autobiography - after encouragement from her supporters - she managed to get a literary agent. When Hindley asked for tips on writing style the agent suggested that she read the books of Welsh writer Jan Morris for guidance. Hindley completed the autobiography but it remains unpublished.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Beyond Belief

Beyond Belief by Emlyn Williams remains one of the best True Crime books ever written. Published in 1967 it is an investigation into the appalling crimes of Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Why has it retained its power? I think it is because Williams approached the project from a literary rather than a strictly journalistic perspective. He aimed for what he called: "accuracy of history and the accuracy of imaginative understanding." In other words his book would be elevated by fictional elements. The previous year Truman Capote's factional In Cold Blood had hit the bookshelves to great acclaim. Williams stopped short of a complete novelisation of the gruesome events in Lancashire, choosing instead to use three elements: "Fact, Interpretation of Fact, and Surmise." Already a skilled and successful playwright he was able to dramatise the Moors Murders story in such a way that the reader is able to experience certain events in the present tense. Or, at least, that is the illusion. As a result Beyond Belief remains a more vividly compelling read than those red and black covered True Crime cuttings jobs, so prevalent in today's bookshops. Though, obviously, no less potentially exploitative for being well written.

Williams began writing Beyond Belief in late 1965. In April, 1966, he attended the trial of Brady and Hindley at Chester Assizes. In fact, in illegal photographs taken during the trial you can see Williams sat a couple of rows behind the killers - the writer's hair as white as Myra Hndley's. For his research he interviewed a host of witnesses and visited the Manchester haunts of Brady and Hindley. Flamboyantly gay with pomaded hair and wearing a cravat, he turned up on council estates and in rough pubs asking questions relating to the crimes, much to the bemusement (and, one suspects, amusement) of the locals who nonetheless treated him well. Williams's justification for writing about such ghastly subject matter was that: "No psychological phenomena can be forbidden to the serious and dispassionate writer, however 'unsavoury' the details." When the book was published it received favourable reviews and became a best-seller. But not everyone was a fan. Myra Hindley called it: "the most obnoxious piece of lies and fabrications that I have ever read."