Monday, September 30, 2013

London Welsh Sessions

If you are in London Town on October 4 why not pop along to the London Welsh Centre on Gray's Inn Road and imbibe a bit of culture innit. The London Welsh Sessions will provide an intoxicating mix of music, literature and debate. Four acts nominated for the 2013 Welsh Music Prize will be performing live for your aural pleasure. On the literary front waspish music critic Simon Price and new kid (sort of) on the cultural block Rhian E Jones - author of the excellent Clampdown: Pop-Cultural Wars on Class and Gender - will be mulling over the influence of the Manic Street Preachers. In addition you can grill (not literally) writer and NME scribe Pat Long about the history of that once crucial journal. Also on an historical tip Ashli Todd of the mighty Spillers Records will be there outlining the shop's past from selling shellac gramophone records to the challenges it faces in the digital age. Which all sounds fabulously interesting to me and great value for a fiver.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Ladies First

I love the frighteningly '80s aesthetic of the first few issues of Ladies First magazine which launched, funnily enough, in 1986. Edited by Hilary Hughes and Belinda Thomas it claimed to be the first magazine for women in south Wales. It covered all the usual topics that you find in women's magazines but was especially strong on fashion. Initially there was a firm emphasis on local independent clothes outlets and Welsh fashion designers. This makes it a fabulous retro read especially when it comes to spotting all the local shopgirls who ended up modelling the clothes. However, over time, the magazine gradually became more professional and glossy. It changed from being a monthly to a quarterly and became less overtly Welsh in subject matter. Amazingly Ladies First is still going strong today.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Siân Phillips and David Lynch

This picture shows Welsh actress Siân Phillips and cult film director David Lynch during the shooting of sci-fi flick, Dune (1984). Phillips played the role of Reverend Mother of the Universe. For the part she was required to be totally bald. At the time it was rumoured that Lynch had made her shave her head. Phillips, though, later revealed that she had in fact been wearing a bald cap throughout. Although her part in the film was quite small she was made to suffer for her art. Apparently, during filming, the lighting lamps were positioned so close that they burned her head. A sympathetic props boy from Wales had to hold a script between her and the lights between takes. She said: "I realised when I finally took it off (the bald cap) that the lamps had heated up the wire which was holding my hat in place, and had burned a line across the top of my scalp. So I really did end up losing my hair." There was further discomfort. Because she was required to wear heavy make-up she was not allowed to eat food in the cafeteria, just in case her face cracked. Instead she had to suck liquified food through a straw. She also couldn't go near anybody who smoked in case her silk headdress went up in flames. David Lynch said of the bald Welsh prima donna: "She's not on the screen for a great length of time so we had to make the maximum impact quickly. I think she succeeded in doing that." For no apparent reason, he added: "she was always off looking for someone to speak to in Welsh."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Edward Burra in Wales

Another eccentric English artist who spent time engaging with the Welsh landscape was Edward Burra. Unlike Lucian Freud (see previous post) Burra came to Wales towards the end of his life. From 1968 to 1971 he made several visits taking in the delights of the Wye Valley, Llanthony, Brecon, Newport, Ebbw Vale and the Valleys. He did a particularly fine watercolour of Ebbw Vale which was purchased by the National Museum of Wales, though I haven't seen it on public display for years. Burra is perhaps best-known today for his depictions of the jazz subculture of Harlem in the 1930s. Neglected for many years his idiosyncratic work has become increasingly sought after. In 2011 his painting of West Indian immigrants in London, Zoot Suits (1948), sold for a cool £2.1 million. The above watercolour depicting Newport Docks was completed by Burra in 1971.

*There's an excellent documentary about Edward Burra written and presented by Andrew Graham-Dixon that you can view on YouTube.

Lucian Freud at Capel Curig

In November 1939 a 17-year-old Lucian Freud and his art school chum David Kentish rented a miner's cottage at Capel Curig, north Wales. They would reside there for three months, spending their time sketching and painting. Freud took with him a couple of unfinished canvasses to work on. One of these was of a box of apples. Freud added the bare, treeless Welsh landscape and the painting became known as Box of Apples in Wales (1939) (see pic). It's probably his best-known early work. In January of 1940 Freud and Kentish were joined in Capel Curig by writer Stephen Spender, who was working on his novel The Backward Son (1940). Freud filled a sketch book (168 drawings) with pictures of Spender and Kentish, as well as of horses, fish, whales and distorted limbs. These early Welsh drawings were the subject of an exhibition at the Matthew Mark Gallery, New York, in 2003. Freud later described them as "private and rather perverse".

Friday, September 20, 2013

Ecstasy Calling Card

Most places in the UK didn't encounter ecstasy until about 1987. In Cardiff the drug was being peddled much earlier than that. Calling cards urging young hedonists to: TRY ECSTASY THE ULTIMATE HIGH, were disseminated in a Cardiff nightclub during Christmas 1985. The person handing out the cards, also distributed leaflets and even a 22 page pamphlet (!) extolling the virtues of the drug. One eyewitness told the local press: "He was wearing a dark pin-striped suit as he walked around handing out his leaflets. He was aged 45-50 and had receding hair. Everybody thought he stuck out like a sore thumb but he just carried on handing them out. He was carrying a pile of them. He said he didn't have the drug on him but wanted us to read the leaflets. He would come back later if people wanted any. Quite a few didn't want anything to do with it - but  a few people were a bit curious to see if it was as good as he was saying." Apparently Cardiff was one of the earliest places in the UK in which the drug was seized. As far as I can remember just about every other drug was available on the Cardiff club scene in 1985 but I don't recall anybody selling ecstasy at that time. Maybe I just went to the wrong nightclubs.

Mae Heroin Yn Eich Anrheithio Chi

The Heroin Screws You Up ad campaign of the mid-'80s was aimed specifically at teenagers. Appealing to that age group's sense of narcissism the adverts emphasised not the negative psychological ramifications of taking the drug but rather its adverse physical effects. This included the causing of a bad complexion. Heroin's cheek-bone enhancing qualities were not mentioned. Ironically, lots of teenagers thought the actors used in the ad campaign looked pretty cool in a wasted kind of a way and turned the posters into pin-ups. Heroin Screws You Up was translated into Welsh as Mae Heroin Yn Eich Anrheithio Chi, which means: heroin ravages you.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Welsh Bikers

The above photograph was used in Maz Harris's classic text on biker subculture, Bikers: Birth of a Modern Day Outlaw (1985). That book, as I recall, also included an account of a notorious gang-rape case in Cardiff involving visiting Hells Angels. If you wish to investigate the history of specifically Welsh motorcycle clubs check out this excellent website. It has details and great photographs of various Welsh biker outfits such as The Outcasts, The Tramps, Satan's Breed, Y Brawdoliaeth, The Nomads, The Berserkers and Valley Commandos. Paraphernalia such as patches and calling cards are also included. A broader look at the subculture is taken via an examination of biker books and films.