Friday, December 28, 2012

Welsh-Language Record Covers

Take a visually stimulating trip through '50s, '60s and '70s Welsh-language record sleeves at the rather fine Cloriau Clasurol flickr group. Labels such as Cambrian, Welsh Teldisc Records, Wren and Sain are prevalent. Aesthetically you'll find an abundance of kitsch, pastoral and naive designs. This reflects the music which is very often conservative - choirs, harpists, acoustic balladeers (young and old). Ensembles strumming their acoustic guitars in the great outdoors, wearing matching shirts (or jumpers) seems to be an especially popular choice of cover (see pic). There are 'cooler' sleeves here too - the more psychedelic or rockist efforts by bands and artists such as Bara Menyn, Meic Stevens, and Y Tebot Piws, for example; or the political artworks favoured by protest singer Dafydd Iwan. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Anderson and Aldrin in Cardiff

How sad to hear of the death of Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons creator, Gerry Anderson. Anderson was in Cardiff back in 1996, signing copies of his authorised biography at Blackwell’s bookshop. Later in the day he gave a talk about his life and career at the Royal Hotel. The other speaker that evening was American astronaut Buzz Aldrin. What a space-related double-bill that must have been. And tickets at only £5 a pop. The above advert is taken from Beyond the Boundaries – a local sci-fi fanzine of the era.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

South Wales Punk

Do investigate Dave Smitham's excellent South Wales Punk photographic archive. As an actual attendee of the infamous Sex Pistols gig at the Castle Cinema, Caerphilly, in 1976, he was ideally positioned to capture lucid shots not only of the headliners but of support acts the Clash and the Heartbreakers. Also included is a photograph of his ticket for that culturally historic gig which he purchased at Spillers Records in downtown Cardiff. Furthermore you will find some terrific shots of the Slits and Siouxsie and the Banshees taken at the two best local punk venues of the era: the Stowaway, Newport, and Top Rank, Cardiff. Dave, a visual artist from Cardiff, could often be found in other hipster joints of the period such as Mark Taylor's clothing outlets Paradise Garage, Cairo and Civilization. You would also find him propping up the bar in cool dives such as Soho HiTech (run by the Coulsen brothers) in the Duke Street arcade, and the Square Club. Impeccable credentials, then. You can read Dave's thoughts on these early Welsh punk gigs here and also an interesting feature on Valleys punk rockers the Tax Exiles here. For Dave's eye-witness account of the Pistols' Caerphilly concert, go here.

* Photos are ©Dave Smitham. Many thanks to Dave for granting me permission to use his pictures. The top photograph shows Ari Up of the Slits at the Stowaway, Newport, 1978. Bottom pic is a poster advertising the gig itself.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Jackie O in Llanfihangel-y-Traethau

As far as I'm aware Jackie Kennedy Onassis visited Wales twice - and on both occasions it was to attend a funeral.

Her first appearance in Wales, in June 1967, was brief. She was here to pay her respects to old friend Lady Harlech who had died after a car crash in Merioneth. Still alive when pulled from the wreckage of her Hillman Imp, Lady Harlech expired en route to Penrhyndeudraeth hospital. She had gotten to know the Kennedy clan when her husband, Lord Harlech, was an ambassador in Washington. He was a friend and golfing partner of JFK.

At 2.10pm on the day of the funeral Jackie Kennedy, as she was still then known, flew into Hawarden Airport from Heathrow accompanied by her ex-brother-in-law, Robert Kennedy. She wore a black two-piece with a single link gold chain belt. She and Bobby Kennedy were then driven over the border with a full police escort to Oswestry Roman Catholic Church where the funeral service took place, before proceeding to nearby Selattyn for the burial.

Funeral number two occurred in February 1985. This time it was Lord Harlech who had snuffed it and, spookily, he too was killed in a car crash. Jacqueline Onassis, as she was now known, was accompanied by another former Kennedy brother-in-law, Edward (see pic). She wore a long black, fur-lined gaberdine coat with black boots. The funeral service took place at Llanfihangel-y-Traethau near Harlech in Gwynedd. 80 mourners were in attendance with another 100 outside the church.

The address was given by Robert Hughes, son of Welsh novelist Richard Hughes, who had been a close friend of Lord Harlech. He said of the aristocrat: “This corner of Wales is his home and it is here he has chosen to be buried. He will share this place with farmers who worked these hills for generations. He loved it and it is wholly right that this son of our parish should be buried here.”

*The above photograph is the copyright of Getty Images.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Mysteries of Opium Reveal'd

It would be interesting to read an essay on the various ways in which drugs have manifested themselves in Welsh culture. Certainly there is no shortage of narcotically-related material. From the distinctly psilocybic transformational myths of The Mabinogion to Howard Marks; from Johnny Hop to Operation Julie; from Smokin' by the Super Furry Animals to Katherine Jenkins' cocaine confession, drugs have long been a presence lurking at the darker edges of our culture.

An early and often overlooked example of drugs literature written by a Welsh person is The Mysteries of Opium Reveal'd (1700) by John Jones. The author's exact birthplace remains unknown though it is thought his family hailed from Pentyrch. Educated at Jesus College, Oxford, Jones went on to become a physician and lawyer. In 1686 he became Chancellor of Llandaff. It was during this period that he wrote his monograph on opium. Evidently an enthusiastic user he believed that the drug could not only dull pain but increase sexual desire and improve sexual performance. His opium as aphrodisiac theory might surprise the modern reader. Jones also described in clinical detail the agonies of withdrawal - making him one of the first writers in western Europe to do so. Jones died in 1709 and is buried near the west door of Llandaff Cathedral. The Mysteries of Opium Reveal'd has recently been digitised and you can read it in full here.

Llanfair PG in Barbarella

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch must be Wales's best known joke. Originally intended as a linguistic lure to tempt tourists to the local area the syllabic pile-up has actually turned into a highly successful cultural export. Most famously the name is used as a password in Roger Vadim's camp sci-fi romp Barbarella (1968) - watch the above YouTube to hear Jane Fonda's game but actually not very impressive attempt at pronouncing it. In The Road to Hong Kong (1962) our expectations are subverted when an Indian neurologist, played by Peter Sellers, asks a perplexed Bob Hope to open his mouth and say: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. The name also forms a punchline in Stephen Sondheim and Mary Rodgers' show song The Boy From... (1966) which was a parody of The Girl from Ipanema. As you can hear the object of the female narrator's affections comes from Tacarembo La Tumbe Del Fuego Santa Malipas Zacatecas La Junta Del Sol Y Cruz. At the end of the tune he ups sticks and moves to... guess where? In 1995 Welsh band Super Furry Animals reappropriated the place name for the title of an EP. They gave it an amusing postmodern twist by adding "yn y gofod" "(in space)" in Welsh and English at the end (see pic below). For some of us Welsh folk however the joke has completely worn off as a recent article on things that annoy Welsh people suggests. Apparently we don't much like being asked if we can say: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Cariad Kate

Wow! Unbelievable! as Kate Bush herself might once have said. Well, OK, it's not all that remarkable really but in the 1980s a fanzine dedicated to Kate Bush came out of Swansea and was called, rather charmingly, Cariad Kate (see pic above). Cariad, of course, is a Welsh term of endearment and basically means love. The fanzine - edited by N Williams - carried news, features, reviews, artworks, letters etc. At some point it became known as CK International (see pic below) and later mutated again into Never Forever which may, or may not, still be going.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Dick & Liz Duet in Welsh

Behold this startling - if somewhat cheesy - footage from 1966 of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor duetting in Welsh on American TV. They are treating host, Sammy Davis Jnr, to a rendition of Ar Lan Y Môr (Beside the Sea) - a traditional Welsh folk song. Here are the words in full if you would like to sing along with Dick and Liz.

*Thanks to Dyl Mei for the tip.