Thursday, May 30, 2013

Islwyn Williams

These two splendid novels were penned by all but forgotten sci-fi author Islwyn Williams from Porth. Both were published by Gryphon in 1952 and are very Brit-centric in outlook. Dangerous Waters features an advanced race of green aliens living under the sea in Neptunia who plan to invade Britain via Pembrokeshire. Follow up novel Newbury in Orm is a space adventure with squadron leader Newbury as its hero. Apparently these works were better received in Italy than they were in the UK. Islwyn Williams died in Bridgend in 1988.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bassey and Nixon

Awww, they would have made such a great couple! Richard Nixon visits Our Shirl after her show at the Persian Room in the Plaza Hotel, New York, early 1963.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fuck Off Facebook

Heartening to observe that radical cultural and political zines are still flourishing in Wales. Fuck Off Facebook is a bilingual anarchist fanzine that has been around since 2011. During its existence they have published articles on the iniquities of Tesco, Wetherspoon, Coca Cola, Nick Griffin, the royal family, and various other villains. They also do music reviews and have carried features on Poly Styrene, Datblygu, Pussy Riot etc. Also making the scene is FFWFF, a bilingual anarcho-feminist zine put together by a small collective. Their publication which was birthed last year includes art, stories, and poems. It also contains advice on how to make a Pussy Riot balaclava; and the perfect vegan ice-cream. The latest addition to the underground sphere is Cardiff-based Bitch, a cut'n'paste queercore art zine. A more comprehensive account of what is contained in these publications and details of how to get hold of them can be found at the excellent Afiach website

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Anna Kashfi School Photo

This school picture taken in 1948 shows Form 5 of St Joseph's Convent School, North Road, Cardiff. In the back row, second from the right, is Joanna O'Callaghan. She lived in Newfoundland Road, Gabalfa. Just a few years after this photograph was taken she became an actress and changed her name to Anna Kashfi. Moving to Hollywood she starred in films opposite the likes of Spencer Tracy and Rock Hudson. But more significantly she would marry the hottest male star of the era, Marlon Brando. Unfortunately their marriage was short-lived but the tortuous custody battle over their ill-starred son Christian went on for years. All that torment was still to come when this picture was taken - here she is just an ordinary and reasonably happy teenager living in Cardiff.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Rebecca Magazine

Rebecca was a fine investigative news magazine published between 1973-82. It came out of Cardiff under the editorship of Paddy French. Wales-wide in scope it focussed especially on corruption in public life. One of its most controversial issues featured an article on the pervasive influence of freemasonry in Wales. At the time (1981) there were apparently 290 lodges in Wales with over 20,000 members. To nobody's great surprise it was discovered that leading councillors, police officers, bankers, quangocrats, the judiciary, and bastions of the Welsh business community were members of the funny handshake brigade. But no women, of course, who are by and large omitted from The Craft. Rebecca was eventually run along co-operative lines but ran out of money and folded.

*The above edition of Rebecca from May, 1982, featured ubiquitous drugs smuggler Howard Marks.

Cai Jones

Cai Jones - the creation of J Selwyn Lloyd - is Wales's very own footballing superstar. He's a sort of Welsh-language Roy of the Rovers. A proto-Gareth Bale. Check out his cool red and yellow kit - I particularly like the vaguely fascistic lightning flash badge and matching socks. Jones gets involved in all kinds of adventures. In Cai Jones A'r Elain Wen, for example, he takes an under-15 north Wales football team to Germany to compete in a tournament. There are explosions, a luger-toting woman, and a gothic castle on a hill. In Cai Jones Ac Esgyrn Y Diafol he goes to Brazil and pits his wits against some of their top teams. Author, J Selwyn Lloyd, originally from Tal-y-Sarn, Caernarvonshire, was a school teacher who became a writer in 1990. His books for children include westerns and war stories as well as the Cai Jones football series.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Planet Magazine

The latest issue of Planet magazine is out now and contains some excellent articles. Let me draw your attention to Steve Gough's piece on Tom Hyndman. Hyndman, from Cardiff Docks, was an ex-Guardsman who during the 1930s became Stephen Spender's lover. For decency's sake he was employed as Spender's 'secretary'. The pair eventually split up with Hyndman running off to Spain to join the International Brigade. In the 1960s the alcoholic Hyndman returned to Cardiff where he earned a living as a night porter at a hotel. He wrote poetry and also drifted into the leftist political scene, penning articles for radical journal the Cardiff People's Paper. He committed suicide in 1980.

Also worth a look is Teresa Cherfas's intriguing piece on Welsh journalist Gareth Jones who was murdered in Mongolia in 1935. Here she specifically examines Jones's relationship with Nazi Germany and ponders just how sympathetic he was to their cause. He certainly had friends who were National Socialists but was he merely insinuating himself into the regime for journalistic purposes as he had done  previously in the Soviet Union? It is fascinating to discover that after his murder the Volkischer Beobachter - the leading Nazi newspaper - printed an obituary of Jones. It was titled: Germany was his Beloved Land - A Man From Whom Much was Expected.

Esteemed art critic Peter Lord has written an article on an all but forgotten jewish artist from London's east end, Maurice Sochachewsky. During the Depression he lived for a few months at Talywain, Pontypool, where he depicted the local mining community. The resultant 25 paintings were exhibited at the Bloomsbury Gallery, London, in 1938 but unfortunately most of them have been lost. The Valleys, of course, have been a magnet for artists and photographers over the decades and one always wonders at the motives of these artistic tourists. Were they sincere or like, for instance, Robert Smithson were they merely holidaying in other people's entropy?

Finally, adding a bit of froth to the latest edition of Planet, yours truly has contributed some CD reviews. Martin Rossiter (The Defenestration of St Martin), The Joy Formidable (Wolf's Law), Trwbador (Trwbador) and Only Boys Aloud (Only Boys Aloud) come under my merciless scrutiny. Did I commit the literary equivalent of drowning newborn puppies by dissing wholesome choristers Only Boys Aloud? Well, you'll have to buy the magazine to find out... but I can reveal that I did manage to smuggle the word kulturkampf into my review.

Hurry while stocks last.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Review: A Small Spit of Land

Anthony Reynolds may be dead but that didn't prevent him putting in a sparkling performance at his own memorial in Splott, Cardiff, on Saturday night. Accompanied by the Adamsdown Community Choir and the Sinfonia Cymru chamber orchestra he delivered his song cycle, A Small Spit of Land, with posthumous panache.

This was the schema: a deceased Reynolds would sing a series of songs that formed a loose narrative of his own tragically curtailed life. Writer John Williams - in character as local wide boy Johnny Revive - would link the ballads by way of an ironic and witty eulogy.

And so it proved. After the announcement of his unfortunate demise Reynolds arrived in the theatre, large as life, and belted out opening tune I Was Born - a bravura entrance if ever there was one. Thematically his songs were mainly concerned with identity (I Was Born; Welsh, In Parenthesis), place (A Small Spit of Land; Streets of Tremorfa) and escape (Dear Melvyn; Song of Leaving).

The simultaneous pull of birthplace and the need to break free of its limitations underpinned much of this musical drama. It was amusing to learn, for instance, that Reynolds' favourite TV programme growing up on a Cardiff council estate was The South Bank Show. Yet it is absolutely this yearning for culture that would later provide an artistic route out and a legitimate means of avoiding "honest labour".

Visually the production was intriguing. A montage of images (the youthful Reynolds; Jack videos; RS Thomas etc) was projected onto an elevated backdrop. On the stage the splendid Sinfonia Cymru did their thing. As did appealingly coiffeured guitarist Glyn Kerry Groves. On the floor a crooning Reynolds wandered amidst a set of domestic props that suggested the ordinary but subconsciously promised more - a TV set (culture), bed (sex) and a drinks table (intoxication).

The venue itself was an unexpected delight - a cool theatrical space hidden away on the upper floor of an old building on Sanquhar Street, Splott. The easy option, I'm sure, would have been to stage the show at Chapter Arts Centre but given the subject matter the chosen locale was perfect. And it is always amusing to observe a Cardiff theatrical crowd outside of its Canton/Pontcanna comfort zone.

So often productions that have a local or community dimension end up being patronising or amateurish. This was neither. The songs were strong, the performances of a very high standard, and the linking eulogy smart and funny. That Reynolds didn't sentimentalise his upbringing and was quite open about his ambivalence towards being Welsh and working class gave the piece added narrative bite.

So, RIP Anthony Reynolds, but here's hoping that sometime in the near future he can rise phoenix-like from the ashes and along with his talented cohorts put in a repeat performance. Certainly, A Small Spit of Land, is a production that I would be delighted to watch again.

*The above picture shows Anthony Reynolds on stage during A Small Spit of Land. ©Alister Brenton Photography.