Thursday, 30 September 2010

Prettily Paranormal Pop Melodies

Review -

Aerophlot is the debut album by Jakokoyak, probably known by his mother as Rhys Edwards. Released by the independent Welsh label and music publisher Peski, he joins alternative music royalty such as Cate Le Bon, who provides vocals for the record - also involved is Dafydd Ieuan and Guto Pryce of SFA and The Peth. A follow up to critically acclaimed EPs, Aerophlot was inspired during the early 80s by travel memories and the Russian 'space race'.  Flying on the legendary Russian airline Aeroflot, Rhys was enveloped by the compelling symbolism of Russia’s space programme, and as he skimmed over the Siberian panorama, insights were impressed upon the future musician which would influence his creations in years to come. The sound is airy, light, dreamy, wistful and wonderful, with prettily paranormal pop melodies smattered by electronic bleeps, synth sounds and mechanical drums. Reminiscent of Air’s Moon Safari, it also sits comfortably alongside the more current M83, but should not be described as chill out music as it’s more intelligent and far from bland. It contains tales about an abandoned Ukrainian city (Prypiat), the first dog in space (Laika), Yuri Gagarin’s very own postcode (Moscow 705) and a private seaside in Sweden (Amine). The surreal, space focussed quirky subject matter sits perfectly alongside the softly supernatural sound.

The Spotify album link: Jakokoyak – Aerophlot

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Diolch yn Fawr

I'm thrilled to have been shortlisted for the Wales Blog Awards. But I can't shout about it. That wouldn't really be my style. So, I'm whispering here on my blog - as loud a thank you as an e-whisper will allow.

I've justified that people who are reading have found their way to this post single handedly (that's you - thank you!) I haven't tweeted, 'Hey, look at me, my blog has been shortlisted!' There's no Welsh blog related sheet of celebration knotted to a roundabout in Merthyr Tydfil, with an ink smudge spelling out my web page. I haven't even told my gran.*

Not that self-promotion is a bad thing. It's intrinsically linked to social media and furthering a creative career. I'm just not particularly good at it. I unpredictably blush bright red in social situations. Interview presentations flood me with the kind of fear most people reserve for swimming with piranhas or being forced to strip naked and perform Queen's greatest hits live at Wembley. Simple conversations with strangers can fill me with self-consciousness. This real-life shyness translates into a shyness about my e-world too. Which is why writing is a bit good. I can be myself, regardless of how red my cheeks grow!

I really am delighted that my blog has been nominated. If you're reading this and had an input into my shortlisting, thank you very much. Quietly, it means a lot to me.

*Granted, my gran didn't understand vegetarianism when I adopted that (temporarily) in the 1980s. She calls my degree a thingy. Evidence suggests she probably wouldn't know what a blog is. Still, she likes to hear my news, however unintelligible.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Plaid Blankets

Old Crow Medicine Show
September 21st 2010
The Glee Club, Cardiff Bay

Upon reading that Old Crow Medicine Show were a 'Nashville version of Mumford and Sons' my decision to attend the Glee Club on September 21st was instantly made.* The Southern quintet had the big shoes of my heroes to fill - and fill them they did, bringing appropriately balmy weather with them to Cardiff Bay along with their style of American roots music. Despite the school night, the gig played out like a Saturday shindig, with the instantly enigmatic five-some creating a great atmosphere from their initial step on stage.

Ketch Secor - fiddle, harmonica and banjo player extraordinaire, encouraged banter between the band and crowd, repeatedly expressing a love for Tesco Mackerel at forty nine pence a can - apparently country doesn't pay so well (y'all)! Willie Watson's perfect teeth gleamed like a toothpaste advert (or should I say commercial?) as he grinned continuously, belting out his trademark vocals to a mixture of old songs and new, some being tour tested for the first time. Each member was equally energetic in their performance, exuding infectious enthusiasm throughout.

The gig was played in two sets, lasting two and a half hours in total, allowing the audience to fully savour the band's debut in Wales. As the bows gradually warmed their strings, so warmed the checked shirt and cowboy boot clad crowd, hustling closer toward the stage to form a plaid blanket of bouncing bodies. When the fiddles became frenzied, folky mosh pits formed, with country dancing replacing hair flicking and crowd surfing. Favourite songs such as Wagon Wheel , Tear it Down and Take 'em Away elicited particularly strong responses, so much so the fans demanded an encore, achieved through fierce foot stomping!

Old Crow Medicine Show conjured up a feel of authentic Americana with beautiful bluegrass, poignant lyrics, Southern twangs and do-sí-do inducing melodies on this late Summer evening - magic musical moments indeed.

*Just three days after this gig, OCMS were to be found opening for Mumford and Sons on a mini-European tour. That's a dream gig scenario!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Sheet of Celebration

My impending birthday has led to thoughts of celebrations in the South Wales Valleys where I grew up. The highest honour which can be bestowed upon a celebrating inhabitant is to have their name and occasion spelt out in enormous, elaborate typography and strung high above their town or village for fellow residents to see and rejoice in. Perhaps you're imagining some gorgeous, glittery bunting, fantastic artwork, or even a flashing computerised billboard, Times Square style. Reverse those thoughts a little. Actually, reverse them a long way, and picture instead, a crumpled off white bed sheet scrawled on with misspellings in meandering permanent black marker, tied with string or stuck with duct tape to a road sign, bridge, or trees centring a roundabout, sometimes fluttering in the breeze, more often swirling wildly in a wintery squall, ink blurring and smudging with the moisture of precipitation. Happy Birthday! Happy Anniversary! Congratulations on passing your GCSES! Congratulations on winning the darts! Good luck for the X-Factor auditions, you're going to be the next Leon Jackson! (Yes, who?)

The sheet of celebration can also be effectively used as a tool of romance. Are you seeking a perfect method of proposal? What could be more romantic than declaring your undying love and desire to spend eternity with that special someone than committing such wishes to a Wilkinson's used bed sheet, under the watchful eyes and gossiping lips of the multiple Mrs Evans' and Mrs Jones' which exist in every valley pocket, as the bus chauffeurs them past en route to the supermarket for their weekly shop and cafe meal deal. Nothing, that's what. Starry champagne fuelled beach picnics or surprise European concerts crumble to cinders in the minds of prospective 'proposees' when confronted with the dream of their name in black marker on a roundabout.

Valley folklore recently released a story, via the overworked lips of said Mrs Evans' and Mrs Jones', that one subject of romantic desire reported her dedicated sheets of celebration to the police, such was their volume. Apparently, there is a fine line between the amount of sheets which can sweep a valley femme off her feet, and the amount which will lead her to have her beau arrested for stalking.

Use the sheet of celebration wisely. Treat with respect and it could enhance many an occasion which calls for commemoration and festivity. I can only hope that I am held in high enough esteem that I will see my name in lights, or rather, blurred permanent ink this Sunday when I turn 30. The sheet of romance I can only dream about. 

Monday, 6 September 2010

City Sounds

I love the sounds of the city. More precisely, the sounds of Cardiff. I'm in my fourth month of living here and alert to the surrounding new-ness. The place as a whole doesn't feel shiny new, as the roots of my social life have been embedded here for years. I've trodden the cobblestones of Womanby Street hopping over puddles betwixt bars, watched countless bands good and bad, celebrated over a decade worth of birthdays, and wandered the windy walk of the arcades on many a Saturday shopping afternoon. But my bed was in the valleys. So, before I could lay down my head after whichever activity I'd partaken in, a Hirwaun bound drive was necessary. A tedious, curse-littered, usually late-night, sometimes red-bull fuelled Hirwaun bound drive. There are worse things in the world, I know. But there are also better. Like the fact the long car journey has since been swapped for a very short walk; the terraced house a third floor flat. And the sounds of the valleys for the sounds of the city.

Mine is an old school valleys street. Where the homes were built for housing miners and iron workers in the 1800 -1900s and their proximity perfect for gossiping in the 2000s. I loved it and sometimes loathed it in parallel parts. My place was my own, decorated with care, had a mountain view and was two minutes walk from my family and/or the pub. It'd score well on Location, location, location. But sometimes it felt like those surrounding mountains were closing in, their grassy slopes slipping forward at night, seemingly shrinking the space available to move, to live, to be myself - slowly stifling. The street itself also seemed to whittle down in width each day, the neighbours' houses advancing, their eyes fixing closer to my windows. And oh, they watched. Eyes were upon me as I got into my car every morning, and on my meeting them the owner would scurry to arrange a picture frame or adjust curtains. As I mowed my lawn, I'd be observed from upstairs windows, and told the length of time it had been since my last grass cutting. Good of them to make a note. The most audacious neighbourly encounter occurred when a request was made for my apple tree. "Because you aren't much of a gardener, are you love, and them are the best apples I've ever tasted. Ever. In my life." Not a request for the fruits of my tree. A request for ownership of the whole thing, roots and all. It was not granted.

I'm positive I wasn't the subject of fascination, that there was no intrigue as to the person I am, what makes me unique and makes up my every day life. It's just a small street, in a small place, where many inhabitants live small lives in the sense their footfall, their mileage travelled, is minimal. Some rarely leave the village. So, those who exist within this small world are subject to scrutiny. The people within the hundred year old stone terraces provide the stimulus, a live soap opera for fellow residents with little else to do but watch.

There are plus points to living in a goldfish bowl. When I locked myself out late one night and stood shivering on the doorstep waiting for my dad to deliver a spare key, I received several offers of cups of tea and shelter from neighbours who emerged from their houses bearing help, obviously having viewed me on Street Soap Opera Live through their crystal clear HD windows. Early one morning I was attempting to bundle a tumble dryer into my car that I'd sold to a work colleague. I tried to hug it with both arms, heaving it millimetre sized distances along the pavement. I'd been struggling just seconds when three blokes, probably instructed by their wives, came rushing out and completed the job with ease. I can't fault the friendliness, the willingness to help. But at the same time, these acts were born from being observed, the need for help identified under a life size magnifying glass. I felt the squeeze of the small world. The valleys don't have to be restrictive. If you employ an open mind and seek your stimulus of choice elsewhere, it's possible to appreciate their beauty, the characters, the warmth, the history. That had been my strategy for a long time, but sometimes an open mind can only stretch so far before you feel the valley family inadvertently wrap their reptile-like, scaly lengths around you, constricting ideas and freedom of thought. I really felt the squeeze of the small world.

Surroundings are best listened to whilst in bed. As night time lays its blue-black blanket down, and tucks in the cities and villages and streets and hills, the sounds which exist outside of sleep become pronounced. There is a comfort in being enveloped in warm duvets and cwtshed amongst plump pillows within a quiet room, whilst the world still awake gently whirrs on outside. It's a pocket of safety and solitude whilst being connected by the sounds seeping through an open window. Lying in bed in Hirwaun, I'd hear the voices so familiar. The voice which asked for my apple tree as if asking for the traditional neighbourly favour of a cup of sugar. There'd be the fleeting blast of a 200 bpm dance track escaping from the tarted up Citroen Saxo of a boy racer, squealing tyres indicating departure after depositing his girlfriend next door. Inebriated men stumbled home from the pub, half-heartedly fumbling with keys before loudly rapping front doors, receiving sharp words from their wives whilst being ushered inside. Each sound was identifiable to an owner, linked to their image and stories and an entire history I couldn't help being aware of.

Riverside is different. My street is wide and the buildings tall. There are terraces and blocks of flats and terraces split into blocks of flats. There is a Muslim school and mosque on one side of the street, and Bangladeshi Centre on the other. It is punctuated by hostels and b&bs and guesthouses. It's en route to town, Bute Park and Canton, the River Taff and Riverside Market. Tens, maybe hundreds of people live in this street and hundreds, maybe thousands pass through. It would be virtually impossible to pinpoint a sound to an individual, unless they had an exploding car or spoke only with the aid of a megaphone. It is immediately bordered by water, not mountains. There is a sense of the wider city and suburbs beyond. It is moving with a moving people, who, at least on the surface, have interests outside of what their windows expose.

I now explore the city as a resident rather than a guest, and I absorb it. I feel the energies and histories and souls of the Cardiffians gone by; and the stories and passions and secrets and longings and evils and regrets of the contemporaries. I feel like a fragment of the place, like the tiniest jigsaw piece imaginable. The impact of my absence would be infinitesimal, but I feel I belong. As I lie in bed at night, a hush settled upon the flat, windows ajar and wooden blinds pulled closed, I hear a distant hum of late night traffic on rain slicked roads, interposed by the boisterous pull of the train as its horn accents its passing through the city. Rain is glugged greedily by flooded drains, joining fat rain drops to make a watery pavement percussion, the beat becoming less pronounced as puddles swell and cushion the rainfall. A mishmash of accents and languages join in conversations throughout the night, at 12.30, 2, 4, 5am. The Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, calls out a summons for Fard Salah. Sirens and clock chimes are a background soundtrack. The hums of Riverside are anonymous, they reflect diversity. My street is 24 hour noise, it is anti-silence, yet I feel at peace.

Whilst lying in Bute Park recently, I pondered the effect of city sounds. The hum of traffic and sirens and clock chimes were again background music, a distant layer of noise. Yet peace prevailed in the park. I imagined sounds as layers, as if a sense of quiet can only be pervaded by noise of closer proximity to our ears, a few layers in. When we are protected by large expanses of grass and trees, all iced by a pale blue frosting laced with wispy white clouds, the serenity is safe, the clatter and noise many layers away. People lounge languorously on blankets, chat in hushed voices, they read, they write, they kiss, they sleep. And perhaps, as a wise man recently pointed out to me, people in cities are able to feel calm because they hear city sounds. City sounds are a comfort, a reminder of both connection and anonymity, a reminder of the fact the mountains are not closing in on us.