Saturday, August 31, 2013

D A Pennebaker in Cardiff

Here's a fine image of documentary filmmaker D A Pennebaker with his wife Chris Hegedus in Cardiff. They are pictured standing outside Chapter Arts Centre in 1985. Pennebaker was in Wales for three weeks to conduct a fimmaking workshop and to deliver a Guardian Lecture. During his stint he obligingly managed to dig up some Welsh Quaker ancestry and talked warmly about the positive energy of the area. Renowned for his dislike of voice-overs and imposed narratives Pennebaker is perhaps best known for his Bob Dylan documentary Dont Look Back (1967). Other great works by him include Primary (1960) which featured JFK on the campaign trail; Monterey Pop (1968) with the likes of Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin; glam classic, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973); and DeLorean (1981) featuring car manufacturer John DeLorean.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Modernaires

More gloomy Welsh post-punk - this time with the added novelty of a bit of saxophone in the mix. The Modernaires were Phil Bradley (guitar); Huw Hughes (bass); Brian Roberts (vocals); and Dave Baynton-Power (drums), who would later join Manchester band James. The Modernaires hailed from Holyhead and Llangefni. Their single Life in Our Times came out in 1980. Also released in that same year was Way of Living, their one and only LP. Soon after this The Modernaires, chameleon-like, changed their name to Y Brodyr Ffin (Border Brothers) and began singing in Welsh. They later mutated again to Y Brodyr (The Brothers). The band became extremely popular on the Welsh-language music scene, invigorating it with their modern sound. At the time they were regarded as pioneers and today they are still held in high esteem by Welsh musicologists.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Platform 6

Although they have been around in one form or another since the 1930s platform shoes reached their zenith (so to speak) during the 1970s. We being, by and not-so-large, a nation of short-arses platform shoes proved very popular in Wales. From Newport to Bangor Welsh dwts were grateful for the extra elevation that these trendy new shoes afforded them. Popularised by outrageous glam rockers on TV the footwear rapidly went mainstream with pairs selling in their thousands on the high street. But according to health experts budding Elton Johns risked swollen knees, arthritis, bad posture, varicose veins, bunions and ingrown toenails. Chiropodists everywhere must have been rubbing their hands together with glee at the prospect of all the extra business heading their way. As I recall, the moral panic even included the lurid urban myth that platform soles caused pregnant women to miscarry. Cardiff HQ for this dangerous footwear was Platform 6 in the Wyndham Arcade which sold nothing but platform shoes and platform boots. The above advert is from 1976.

Alan Ladd at Black Rock Beach

The above photograph shows Hollywood icon Alan Ladd relaxing with his wife Sue Carol on location at Black Rock beach, north Wales. The beach is situated between Criccieth and Porthmadog. The film being shot was The Red Beret (1953) - a piece of post-war hokum that overestimated Britain's role in thwarting Hitler; shamelessly propagandised Britain's 'special relationship' with the US; and completely failed to acknowledge that in military terms it was actually the USSR that had defeated the Nazis. Apart from that it is historically accurate.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Scorcher

The Scorcher was a radical Welsh magazine published in Cardiff between 1982-3 by Britain's leading anarchist Ian Bone. It ran for 4 issues and sold for just 30p in the radical bookshops of south Wales (both of them). Also responsible for putting out the mag were Brig Jones, Rod Jones and Jimmy Grimes. Provocative and incendiary in outlook The Scorcher was vehemently anti-police and the Establishment. Cultural items were also included, with an article by Rhys Mwyn in Issue 1 on the relationship between Welsh-language music and the media. The Scorcher wasn't in any way 'right-on' with plenty of digs aimed at communists and trendy lefties in general. The mag, however, did have a sense of humour albeit a black one. For instance, when Welsh Tory MP Michael Roberts died of a heart attack Issue 3 of The Scorcher proclaimed on its front cover: "Michael Roberts MP - Scorcher Tribute - P13". Of course, the magazine only had 12 pages. Along with Fuck Off magazine The Scorcher can be viewed as a precursor to Class War.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Peter Tosh in Cardiff

During the compilation of this blog I have often been struck by how under written reggae is in Wales. Prince Buster played Cardiff Top Rank in 1967 with barely a ripple of interest from the local press; Jimmy Cliff's gig at the same venue in 1974 went unheralded; even Bob Marley's show at Deeside Leisure Centre in 1980 passed by with little enthusiasm from the Welsh media. So I was delighted to stumble across some old photos on the internet from back in the late '70s taken by Tim Duncan, which show the likes of Peter Tosh, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Mikey Chung, Keith Sterling, Dennis Bovell and Linton Kwesi Johnson performing in Cardiff. The above picture was snapped during Peter Tosh's Bush Doctor Tour at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, in 1978. Peter Tosh is on the left and Robbie Shakespeare is on the right. Reggae fans will be aware that Tosh's Bush Doctor album was banned from many shops upon its release because of a scratch'n'sniff sticker that carried the pungent aroma of marijuana.

Photograph is ©Tim Duncan.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dragon 32

You can keep your sleek Apple, Sony, Toshiba, Dell and HP computers - I want a Dragon 32 microcomputer with a chunky keyboard and futuristic red dragon motif. Launched in August 1982 the Dragon has come to be regarded as Wales's only ever genuine home computer. The company behind the project - Dragon Data Ltd of Port Talbot - was hoping to cash in on the domestic computer boom of the era. Costing £175 the Dragon was aimed at adults and kids alike. Initial sales were promising with over 40,000 units sold within its first year mainly through Dixons and Boots the Chemist. Other outlets included Merthyr Micros and Cwmbran Computer Centre. Punters were kept up-to-date with product developments via house magazine Dragon User. The Dragon's main plus point was that it had more raw computational power than many of its rivals. Its multi-port functionality also made it popular with hobbyists, as did its spacious motherboard which proved ideal for home modification. In addition it was great for playing games such as Donkey King. But the Dragon also had fatal weaknesses. Its graphical capabilities were inferior to those of its competitors; even worse it struggled to display lower-case letters. These limitations excluded it from the increasingly lucrative office and educational markets. Although a Dragon 64 model was launched it was quickly outstripped by the likes of Commodore, Spectrum, Acorn and Atari and in June '84 Dragon Data Ltd went bankrupt and collapsed. Dragon was eventually taken over by GEC and thereafter ceased to be a Welsh company.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013


My Robotic Friend by Trem is a bit of a lost, dark synth-pop gem. Flip-side, Colour Vision, is even better. Very little is known about the band but I can add a fact or two to the information pool. Trem consisted of Robert Randall (guitars/vocals); Michael Cooling (bass); Philip Rose (keyboards); and a drum machine. They were Gwent-based and indeed their single was recorded at Loco Studios in Caerleon. In total 1,000 copies were pressed with the entire enterprise costing the group £900. My Robotic Friend was released in 1983 to universal indifference but in recent years the record has attracted burgeoning internet interest. Press play to find out what the fuss is all about.