Thursday, 1 December 2011

Review: VVolves - When I'm Down EP

Pic taken from http://vvolves.bandcamp.com/

VVolves are a newly formed band from Cardiff whose members enjoyed previous success with Zimmermans and Byd Dydd Sul, supporting the likes of Marina and the Diamonds and Race Horses, in addition to receiving Radio 1 and Radio Cymru airplay. 

This new union has also attracted Welsh music royalty attention, as VVolves were invited to play at one of Bethan Elfyn’s ‘And Friends’ nights in Buffalo, Cardiff, and they’ve also supported the venerated Welsh bands Gallops and Threatmantics. In short, they come recommended. But what do they sound like? I investigated via their October released EP, When I’m Down

My first impressions were reminiscent of Late '90s/early '00s indie, with a refreshed feel. Their sound is an understated, melancholic, melodic industrial, interspersed with gorgeous soaring vocals, haunting synth and sometimes spiky guitar. Comparison wise, I’d mix hints of Gene and The Longpigs with glimpses of The Cure and The Libertines along with US venture Broken Bells, to concoct a VVolves-y feel. One of the three tracks, Where You’d Start, has been re-mixed by flourishing Cardiff producer Matthew Mayes, aka Channel Swimmer, resulting in a beguiling, subtle dancey version flooded with layers, beats and an echoey 'The XX' style intro, which becomes addictive after the first play.

This is a great, extra listenable-to EP which shows promise for the Peski Records signed band. I’m hoping for more releases in the future, and if you fancy checking them out in the meantime, the Channel Swimmer remix is available as a free download on Bandcamp.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Swn 2011

My Top Eight Picks

Cardiff’s 2011 city hopping festival Swn was even bigger this year. Instead of legging it from electronica band to acoustic artist to folk singer for three days, in 2011 the event allowed gig goers to do so for four. Whilst upping the chances of needing rehab, it offered an entire extra day to choose from a plethora of hand picked acts. For those not in the know, Swn means sound in Welsh, and the fest is organised by Radio 1 DJ Huw Stephens and Cardiff based super promoter John Rostron. Using only city centre venues to host its events, it is easy peasy for customers to navigate. Instructions: buy a wristband for the whole weekend. Choose the acts you want to see. Wear your wristband to get into any venue. There’s even an iPhone app to help plan your schedule, and you get to sleep in your own bed at night - or hotel if you’re visiting – with no tents or toilet cubicles in sight! Out of over one hundred and fifty acts on offer, I saw eighteen, and here I’ll highlight my top eight. I only wish I could relive it a few times over, changing my gig combo each time!



Alt-J :named after the short cut for the delta sign. A triangle-loving band.
Alt-J’s friendly frontman Joe Newman (we chatted post-gig) has chameleon like vocals he uses to change styles and pace regularly, his sound quirky, engaging, scratchy, like a Paolo Nutini/Thom Yorke hybrid who can sing to send a shiver down your spine, yet deliver hip hop sounding tracks with ease. I cannot pin a genre onto this Leeds born band, their sound outside a single definition. Theirs is a complex mix of quick heart-poundy jumpy tripping beats, folky sounding harmonies, beautiful guitars, xylophone, percussion and bass - tracks which simultaneously made me want to cry and dance at this magical Swn performance. Oh, and their track ‘Tessellate’ makes triangles sound seductive – surely a stand-out skill worth mentioning.

Slowly building layers of instruments combine to create captivating, enrapturing soundscapes which are the Among Brothers’ signature sound. All five members of the Cardiff band crammed onto the tiny stage in Undertone for their Swn gig, whilst the anticipative audience mirrored with shoulder to shoulder positioning, beautiful music enveloping the tiny, packed space. Their sound is emotive, dreamy, dancey. It has depth you can lose yourself in, and I certainly got lost in this performance.

The London based purveyors of spiky, jagged, lo-fi dance-making music were a fantastic surprise, their great recordings translating into a stunning live performance in the intimate venue space in Dempseys. The guys tested out their Welsh on the audience and when Sean, the super shy bassist, confessed to being lost for words, he received lots of supportive banter from the crowd. To summarise: bendigedig (wonderful)!

The Herman Dune brothers. Pic taken from www.leedsmusicforum.co.uk
The French John Peel approved anti-folk band presented the audience with sometimes dance-inducing, sometimes beautiful heart-rending harmonies, with romantic titles such as ‘My Home is Nowhere Without You’, and ‘I Wish That I Could See You Soon’, all delivered via lead singer and guitarist David-Ivar Herman Dune’s slightly odd, are-they-or-aren’t-they-off-key tones. Theirs is happy-making music, and in spite of the fact David-Ivar happened to wear the tightest jeans I have ever witnessed on a male, this was a happy-making gig.

Joshua Caole. Photo taken by Pippa Bennett.
Joshua Caole is Wales’ answer to Ryan Adams, but with a gentler, more mournful sound. Hailing from The Forest of Dean, but Cardiff based, his brooding brand of bluegrass details love, loss and wisdom beyond his youthful years, delivered with feeling and gorgeous guitar playing. Josh’s Ten Feet Tall Swn gig was particularly eventful, as he suffered several mishaps including a stage stepping trouser split, and a nastily cut finger. He still played beautifully and bantered with the crowd, continuing to drink beer, despite visibly paling. Very rock and roll! If you’re a fan of Americana, I recommend catching Mr Caole live, and have a future song title suggestion for him…Blood on the Guitar Strings?

My friends and I just about made it into the Trinity Street O’Neills venue, the one in one out entry policy working in our favour minutes before the Swedish duo began, releasing us from the queue into the packed to capacity room. We filled the only apparent gap in the crowd, which was right at the front, resulting in me standing so close to Gustav Karlof I could have reached out and touched him were I a stalker type fan. Thankfully for us both I am not, and I concentrated instead on the other worldliness of Niki & The Dove’s sound and presence. Malin Dahlstrom was a smiling vision of big hair, strong make up, facial glitter and shoulder pads, her male partner in music looking rather more serious and slick. They have quirkiness in spades, their music an assemblage of stacks of synth, changey beats, pulsating electronic sounds and enchanting vocals which combine to be instantly winning whilst complex.

I walked into the downstairs space of Clwb Ifor Bach mid-Al Lewis’ set to be instantly blown away by  the beautiful melodic music being played with the accompaniment of Al’s band. His stuff is low key and subtle, emotive and touching without being sentimental, a mix of English and Welsh language acoustic folk. The hushed crowd who had gathered for the performance obviously shared my love of his music and whether already familiar with Al or an instant fan like me, the atmosphere was electric, everyone mesmerised by the allure of the North Walian born musician’s stunning sound.

David Dondero. Pic taken from www.swnfest.com
To listen to David Dondero’s songs is to be entertained, and his live performance offers even more fun. The American folk singer who has recently joined Conor Oberst’s Team Love label, weaves amusing tales of people and places, delivered via his deadpan style, dry sense of humour, and melodic, sometimes pretty, sometimes rugged guitar playing. Examples of his tracks include Not Everyone Loves Your Doggie Like You Do and Please Hand Me Over To The Undertaker. He’s not all about comedy however, he also belongs to the traditional school of Americana with songs about heartbreak - not surprising then US’ National Public Radio declared him one of the greatest living songwriters. This was one of the most fun Swn gigs due to Dondero’s connection with the Ten Feet Tall audience - and amusing anecdotes aside, he makes amazing Americana.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Post Race Report: Cardiff Half Marathon 2011

I ran the Cardiff Half Marathon on October 16th for Tenovus Cancer charity, inspired by my amazing friend Hywel Jones, who is a cancer patient and Tenovus supporter.


The big day began gloomily, with grey clouds above and drizzle in the air, but by the time I force fed early morning carbs and sports drinks, and made my way over to the race start the clouds had cleared and the sun emerged. There was a huge queue to begin the run, with sections of people staggered according to predicted finish times. If I'm honest, I just squeezed into the portion closest to the portaloos, which happened to be near the two hour fifteen minute marker man. It took seventeen minutes to actually step over the starting mat such was the volume of people ahead - which was actually a welcome slow start as it gave me chance to savour the anticipation and build up.


Once we were running rather than walking, lots of weaving in and out of people was necessary to establish a comfortable pace and avoid tripping over the person ahead. My parents and sister were cheering on around the two mile mark which was an early boost, and I particularly enjoyed the surrealness of running down a blocked off Castle Street at four miles. I felt ok, my breathing was comfortable and my legs pretty light - as this was both my first half marathon and race of any kind, I kept wondering whether a terrible fate awaited me such as the infamous and feared runner's wall. Luckily, such a fate did not arise, although running uphill along the A232 slip road just past Cardiff City Stadium, toward Cardiff Bay was a tough point as the sun was beating down, and as I've since discovered, burning my face! Another tricky factor at this point was being able to see the faster runners spilling down the opposite side of the A232, having already covered the roundabout we were heading for. I resisted the temptation to scale the middling barrier or catch a bus (joke!) and kept going!


Getting to the downhill stretch myself was a lovely feeling. Even lovelier, was reaching the section of the race along the flat waterside of Penarth, toward Cardiff Bay barrage as I knew the finishing line was near. I still had some energy left in my legs and thoroughly enjoyed picking up the pace as much as is possible for me along that final stretch and crossing the finishing line, with another welcome sighting of my family supporters along the way.


I was pleased to beat the man carrying a gigantic cross on wheels, and also the man running the race backwards, although I'm afraid to say I was pipped to the post by a speedy giraffe.


The crowd who'd come along to watch were fantastic, at many points during the race I felt bolstered by cheers and claps, and whilst I inwardly cursed the sun at points, a bright day did in fact add to the already cheery atmosphere. The organisation of the event was spot on, and I'll definitely be signing up again - once my legs are working - as I loved the experience, and the wonderful feeling of wellbeing the finish provides. My finishing (chip) time was 2:10:14, with a placing of 6531 out of approximately 15000. I'm really pleased, and hope to improve on this in future.


A big huge thank you to everyone who sponsored me. Fundraising allows Tenovus to carry on with their work, supporting cancer patients and their families across Wales. If you haven't sponsored me and would like to, my page is open for another three months so you can still do so - I'll be really grateful.  Also, it would be great if you could continue to read Hywel's blog about his experiences and share with your friends, he's aiming for weekly updates very soon.

Monday, 10 October 2011

A Running Story

A brief background,
recommended reading,
a bit of stolen running-based philosophy,
a sponsorship link
and my new trainers. 






















It was a long ago, mid-week afternoon at work when my boss suggested running the Cardiff Half Marathon. Being a spontaneous sort of person, I went with the flow and signed up on the spot. The race seemed a distant prospect which wouldn’t really happen, sort of like your thirtieth birthday when you’re aged twelve or Christmas Day on the First of January.

The summer swiftly passed in a blur of rain, holidays and multiple gigs. Autumn arrived, and along with a crunchy leaf carpet so did thoughts of October 16th. I started to consider running more regularly, and began to actually run more regularly. The physical was accompanied by the philosophical, as I read What I Talk About When I TalkAbout Running by Haruki Murakami and re-read Inner Running by Donald Porter. 

I relate to much of the content in both books, particularly these quotes from Murakami:

“…writing novels and running full marathons are very much alike. Basically a writer has a quiet, inner motivation, and doesn’t seek validation in the outwardly visible….For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I elevate myself. At least that’s why I’ve put the effort in day after day; to raise my own level. I’m no great runner, by any means. I’m at an ordinary – or perhaps more like mediocre – level. But that’s not the point. The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday. In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.” (Page 15)

And

“I’m the kind of person who likes to be by himself. To put a finer point on it, I’m the  type of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone. I find spending an hour or two every day running alone, not speaking to anyone….neither difficult nor boring…the hour or so I spend running, maintaining my silent, private time, is important to help me keep my mental wellbeing. When I’m running I don’t have to listen to anybody. All I need to do is gaze at scenery passing by. This is a part of my day I can’t do without.”(Pages 15-16)



I feel as though Murakami has plucked thoughts from my head here, so won't elaborate and spoil his eloquence!

I’ve recently given away my copy of Inner Running, so I can’t share any quotes from this (until I buy another), but the reading was revelatory and I'd recommend to any runner, particularly new. Porter writes all about running as a means of 'feeding the soul' in addition to being a fitness builder; a way of clearing detritus of daily life from the mind. He advocates starting small, running however far you feel like, as long as it’s regular – even walking is allowed in between running bursts – a massive pressure reliever to the perfectionist and self-pusher! The key to Inner Running is having fun and enjoying the process. If you don’t like time and distance based goals, then ditch them – if you take to running often, then you’ll naturally become faster and run further, over a time period which suits you and both the physical and mental benefits will become evident.

This past weekend I tried out two ten mile runs. The first was along the Taff Trail, South bound. I ran from Sophia Gardens car park, just outside Cardiff Castle, to the back of Gelynis Fruit Farm in Morganstown. The first half felt great and very comfortable, but I slowed half way though, the return sometimes feeling heavy and difficult – I think largely due to a very poor breakfast and not enough water the day before, plus I wasn't used to that distance. It was such a good lesson to learn. The next day, Sunday October 9th, I ran several laps around the Roath area, between Waterloo Gardens and Cardiff High, continuing for two hours, with only brief stops for zebra crossings and a clumsy iPod drop onto the ground! Luckily, I have a ‘me-proof’ rubber cover. I'd drunk heaps more water, and eaten lots more carbs in preparation this time, and could feel the energy difference. A great excuse for chocolate spread on toast if ever I’ve heard one, as favoured by the lovely fellow blogger and colleague I’ve recently met for the first time!

So. There’s now less than a week to go until the run. I’ll be giving it a go in my style,  relaxing and (I hope) enjoying it, without time or speed pressure, and finding a comfortable rhythm of my own, with lots of music to keep me going. This will include The Shame, Does It Offend You, Yeah?, Biffy Clyro, and thanks to suggestions from Sarah and Mark respectively, a bit of Fall Out Boy and Future Funk Squad. Yes, there’ll be a private indie/cheesey disco going on in my ears.

I’ll be running the race for my friend Hywel Jones, and his favoured charity Tenovus, who carry out fantastic work supporting cancer patients and their families. You can read Hywel’s blog about his experiences as a cancer patient, and a bit about his life in general here, and if you’d like to sponsor me in aid of Tenvous, my JustGiving Page is here. I’d be really grateful for any help you can spare. Thanks lots to the wonderful people who already have.

This has possibly been the most rambling of my blog posts yet, so I’ll stop writing, and leave you with a picture of my lovely new trainers, purchased from Moti, where I was assessed for the perfectly fitting pair through the method of being filmed running on a treadmill, in a dress.*
My shiny new 'Mizuno Wave Nirvana 7s'



*The dress wasn't a requirement, I just happened to call in after work wearing not very suitable running attire!

Monday, 26 September 2011

Facial Hair Philosophising

I regularly conisder the man beard, and those who've read my blog may be aware of my love. I do not wish to be a beardy bore, even though I feel there is a PhD to be written on the subject. I may instead slip in a brief thought or musing from time to time, reflective of my facial hair philosophising. Today's is written in a handy Twitter style 140 characters:

The beard is the antithesis of fake-tanned man. Whilst the facial hair fearing perceive it as unkempt, to me it suggests a natural skinned academic/artistic man-combo.

Confirmation of my theory: 

William Fitzsimmons, songwriter and psychotherapist. 
The man is uber-talented and uber-bearded.

Photo Credit: Erin Brown.

















Sunday, 11 September 2011

Shy and the Fight - Havana Specials and Unprintable Tales

As soon as I shook hands with the members of Shy and the Fight in Cardiff’s Ten Feet Tall on August 9th 2011, the guys confessed to being "rubbish at interviews", and invited me to conduct ours in the bar’s outdoor smoking area. Cigarettes in hand, the seven strong band circled me on the paving stones of Church Street, and asked me not to print everything I heard that evening. I found my usual interview-y nerves quickly subsiding with their banter and light hearted self-deprecation. “That’s why we’re in a band, so we don’t have to talk”, they grinned, telling the unprintable tales. I promised to keep some secrets – at least until they’re famous and I can sell the stories to The Sun.

Pic by Pippa Bennett: www.pippabennett.wordpress.com

Shy and the Fight consists of original members Tom Hyndman (vocals, guitar, banjo), Carrie Anderson (violin, tuned percussion, melodica), Chris Done (bass, vocals, banjo), Jackson Almond (keyboards, live electronics and lap steel) Michael Deponeo (known as Depo) (guitar, vocals, banjo) and Tom Wootton (drums, percussion)…as well as the later drafted in Sam Williams to stand in for repeated wrist breaking drummer Tom W! The idea of having both Sam and Tom W simultaneously drumming on stage has now been realised.

I asked the obvious question first, one I imagine most who encounter the band will wonder. What’s the story behind their name? The guys had decided amongst themselves to answer a question each in turn, but this one was batted back to Tom H – as the band’s main vocalist and founder, he seemed the natural spokesperson. He told me it was representative of emotional opposites, feeling shy in contrast to fighting, and an analogy for his song writing style which allows him to say things he wouldn’t otherwise. One of his lyrics sums this up; “There is more truth in what I sing than what I speak.”

I read the lyrics for one of their tracks, Imploding Man, which are a mix of surrealism and personal experience…as the street filled with blood/and all of my friends were all sporting fangs/and at first I was scared but then I just smiled and put on my coat/thought finally something to leave the house for…I asked whether this was typical of their song writing, and what the process behind it involved. I also wondered if the location which inspired the lyrics could be revealed? The band told me Tom H, Depo and Chris tend to initiate the words, tune or both, and then everyone contributes collaboratively to the song during practice. As mentioned earlier when the band name was discussed, their song lyrics convey ideas which would be difficult in verbal conversation, and this particular track is about life in Chester and Tom H’s feelings as many of his friends left the city to do “better things.” “I never write political songs,” Tom H told me. “People need to be clever enough to know how, but songs don’t have to be political to be powerful.” I asked what the music scene is like in Chester and North Wales. “Dry,” was the response. “Some really good bands come out of Chester but haven’t come out of Chester.” But Shy and the Fight don’t plan to leave just yet. They feel they may be lost in the masses within a place such as London and would prefer to grab attention whilst travelling to bigger cities and keep a local name and following. 

Pic by Pippa Bennett: www.pippabennett.wordpress.com
A claim to fame the band hold is being featured on a banned advert for the clothing company Jack Wills. One of their tracks was put forward for the advert by a synching agency, and in turn, selected for use – but a complaint from the Daily Mail about the ad’s content led to its withdrawal and meant their connection with the brand was short lived. “Not quite our style anyway, and we definitely don’t wear the clothes”, added Tom H. More fitting boosts to the band’s profile have included playing at 2010’s Stop Making Sense Festival in Croatia, and plenty of airplay from BBC Radio Wales’ Adam Walton, and more recently, BBC Radio One's Jen Long.

So what’s next for Shy and the Fight, I wondered? “Having fun!” was the reply, as most members were off for their annual band holiday, this time in Newquay. “Playing lots of festivals,” was a more long term plan, and “to play lots of places we’ve never appeared live before.” Finally, I asked whether the guys wanted to add anything else to my write up. Chris was keen. “The rum in Ten Feet Tall is great,” he stated enthusiastically. “Especially the Havana Special!” 

Pic by Pippa Bennett: www.pippabennett.wordpress.com
This punctuated the interview perfectly, and summarises the fun, warm and friendly attitude of Shy and the Fight. They aren’t all about banter however, as their thoughtful song writing and instrumental talent conveys. The gig which followed further demonstrated a band with a genuine love for their music and one another. They smiled and chatted to the audience and each other throughout the set, playing an engaging mix of both gentle and lively folk pop, sometimes ethereal and dreamy, sometimes dance evoking, always with a full, instrument-rich sound and a happy-making feel. Shy and the Fight are a lovely band to talk to, listen to, and watch live. I imagine they’re a great band to drink Havana Specials with too.

You can listen to Shy and the Fight via their myspace, or bandcamp. Their single 'All that we See or Seem' will be released by label Popty Ping in January 2012.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Evan Dando: Promise Breaker

Evan Dando
The Globe, Cardiff
July 6th 2011

Evan Dando has always been on the periphery of my musical interests. As a 1990s grunge devotee, The Lemonheads was a band name I couldn’t fail to notice, yet somehow I didn’t delve into their discography, only being familiar with their most well known material such as the 1992 album It’s A Shame About Ray and their hugely successful cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs Robinson, released from the same record. And I had never even touched upon Dando’s non-Lemonhead solo stuff. So, I eagerly anticipated the evening of July 6th 2011, when I’d get to see the Boston born musical icon in the flesh, and finally have a taste of his music in the lovely setting of The Globe original, faded theatre style furnishings still in tact pre the August closure and refurb. The promise of a special night was implicit. 

                        Pic: taken from www.greatseats.com


Audience members gathered expectantly that warm Wednesday were of a certain age, indicative of fans old enough to have followed Dando since his musical birth in the late 1980s. A hush fell as Evan appeared on stage, his head bowed, hair in his eyes, fingers fiddling with guitar leads; but this slightly uncomfortable start was relieved as he began playing. His voice was beautiful; tender with gravelly undercurrents, melancholy and mesmerising. His music did not disappoint. Sparse and simple, pared back from the band sound of his recordings, emotive and heartbreaky. But as one track ended, another began instantly. There were scarcely any words from Dando to crowd, no banter, no eye contact, no warmth. It was a bit weird. He seemed a bit sad. His set finished and he seemingly could not wait to depart the stage, returning for the obligatory encore without enthusiasm. The audience were a bit bolshy by now, being noisy and no doubt adding to his maudlin mood, but despite my usual no talking tack, I couldn’t blame them. People had paid to watch him perform and he seemed rude - although I must admit to feeling torn, as though I ought to give a consolatory cwtch rather than criticism. 

Evan Dando - depressed or dour, who knows, but his Cardiff gig ended with the same whimper it began with, and two things were proven. Sometimes promises (of a special night) are broken. And sometimes a build up is better than reality. I will buy his records, but won't watch him live again.


Sunday, 14 August 2011

Roath Observations

In May this year I moved to Roath, an area North East of Cardiff city centre. To summarise for those who aren't familiar, it has wide tree lined streets, wide swan lined park complete with boating lake, a host of charity shops, art galleries, cafes, restaurants, old-style pubs, and as a result of the previous list of attributes, heaps of character and a community feel. I moved here from Riverside, which lies South of centre, and have been collecting observations drawn from my new surroundings since...

Roath Park, photo from www.fotolibra.com
1. I’ve calculated approximately half my time spent in Roath to date has been stood at the crossing between Albany and Richmond Road, dancing the ‘do I, don’t I’ move. Guaranteed on the occasions I disobey the Green Cross Code and Ralph the Police Witch by crossing before the green man says so – a process which takes an interminably long time – a car speeds around the corner, forcing me to run in flip flops, trip a bit, blush, and generally look a fool.


2. If you’re lucky, you can buy marmite for half the usual price in Home Bargains. This is the sole factor which cemented my gran’s approval of my new flat. She had not yet seen the creative arrangement of my furniture, or tasted tea made from Roath provided tap water, but made her decision upon sighting this Mecca of famous brands at cut prices. She favours their biscuits and corned beef; personally it fuels my diet coke habit with cans at an irresistibly low cost.

3. Almost everyone I know in Cardiff has a connection to Connaught Road, one of the aforementioned tree lined streets of Roath. Whether the link is through having personally resided there, having an uncle/best friend/girlfriend/cousin/hamster who lived there, or once going to a party in number seventeen/fifty six/thirty one, it’s a game which never fails. Try with your Cardiff friends!

4. Dave frequents the shops and pavements of Albany Road. Who’s Dave? He is a Cardiff character, who used to be a Merthyr Tydfil character. So, now instead of seeing him around the streets of Merthyr where I work, I pass him on the streets of Roath, en route to Cathays train station. Such is his fame, he was recently featured in Cardiff's Big Little City exhibition. In a nutshell, he bedecks himself in fancy dress, and sports a sign stating the theme of said fancy dress. Amongst other costumes, I’ve witnessed him as Halloween Dave, (dressed as a devil), and Purple People Eater Dave*, (resembling a human grape). What’s not to like? A mix of interesting characters make a place, and (Fancy Dress) Dave evokes a smile each time I see him.

5. The swans and geese in Roath Park are hungry for human legs. 


*I did not see him eating people.

Monday, 25 July 2011

The T-Shirt of Tour Eradication Campaign

When you hear the phrase tour t-shirts, perhaps you think of a cool piece of clothing. Some memorabilia from a great gig, furbished with a quirky image, a band logo, some unique artwork. I like those too. They are not the subject of the words which await you. There is a different tour t-shirt which has haunted my adult life. It is brash. At best it draws attention. At worst it is offensive. And embarrassing. The female version is invariably pink. It is a culmination of hateful things, and the fact it exists means it must be worn by the designated, in my case unwilling owner. But that was the past, I am older, I am less tolerant. This is the story of the t-shirt of tour, and my campaign to eradicate them from the face of the earth. Which is ambitious, I’ll admit. At the very least, I will deride them here. And I shall never wear one again.

Pic of a hen party available on the interwebs. I'm not in it.
I ought to explain a little more for the t-shirt of tour rookie. A stag or hen party is usually to blame for the hideous article; activities alone which plunge a cold knife of dread into my heart. The t-shirt is the poisonous icing on an already sour cake. But the hens and shirts share a seemingly fatal attraction. Some people cannot leave home without emblazoning the purpose for said trip across their torso. And just in case they forget their name, that is helpfully printed too, along with a date and location. But not in a straightforward kind of way, oh no. Part of the t-shirt’s un-appeal for me, is the “let’s invent the crudest / ‘craziest’ names for ourselves and our trip” game. Whilst browsing online as research for this article, I came across many a t-shirt company who appear to make their living from t-shirts of tour. They suggest slogans such as ‘Watch Out, Hen Party About’, ‘Sex, Drugs and Sausage Rolls’, or ‘Horny Hen’. Delightful. They will of course, print any slogan of the orderer’s choice, which, from viewing experience around a range of night-time city centres, are inevitably far cruder / ‘crazier’ than anything t-shirt companies are able to display via their website. This kind of crass conduct makes me cringe, and the t-shirt of tour has become, for me, synonymous with all manner of abhorrence; fake tan, blow up dolls, fluff lined cowboy hats, ankle-breaking high heels, overt drunkenness, 'bunny' ears, misogynistic sexual innuendo, nasty nightclubs, and Cardiff’s own nefarious nuclei, St Mary’s Street. 

There's a Lisa out there who likes t-shirts of tour.

I am a private person. I blush involuntarily and do not invite the limelight. As such, I do not wish to act as a walking billboard, promoting myself to passers by. If I go on a trip…well, I just go…I do not tell people I am there via t-shirted means. They can see and hear you already stag/hen party gaggle, why draw further attention with illuminous coloured garb? Even less enticing to me are the sorry slogans. I am polite, I was brought up not to swear and definitely not to be lairy. I enjoy using the English Language for hopefully constructive purposes. I do not wish to link myself to the aforementioned abhorrent associations. So why, given all of these reasons, would I broadcast terrible, tacky words upon my being?  My DIY psycho-analysis leads me to believe the perpetrators need to validate their ‘fun’having by advertising and enhancing with ‘crazy’ or ‘zany’ t-shirts; “I am having fun, honest, here in Newcastle in 2011.”

I will stop before my writing becomes ranting. I think I have made my point. If you get backed into a sticky situation where t-shirt of tour wearing is required, please join me in my campaign and say no. If you wish to send me t-shirts of tour photographs so they can be publicly derided here, please do so, and likewise, feel free to mail any real life t-shirt examples so they can be reduced to ash on a bonfire.*


*T-shirt of tour bonfire postal address available upon request.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Art + Words + Beard

 













Some things in life which make me happy include art and words and beards. I don't sport facial fuzziness myself you understand, but associate the look with wonderful North American music, and forever more a romantic association has been created. As sightings of good beards make me smile, so does looking at art which floats my boat. It has long been proven that art is linked to wellbeing, and for me, wonderful words have the same effect - obviously they're the staple of the writerly diet I'm trying to stick to. Imagine my happiness then, when I found beards and art and words* combined in a vision of loveliness by artist and designer Matthew Jackson. In case of imagination extractions - well, I am very happy indeed.

You can find more of Matthew's prints in his shop, peruse his blog or follow him on Twitter here.

*I know, they're actually letters which make up the word beard. Over and over. I'm still excited.


Sunday, 3 July 2011

Decades Old Disco Dancing

Darwin Deez
June 1st 2011
Cardiff University, Solus Hall


Pic: www.amazon.co.uk
Darwin Deez’s NY born music is funky and poppy, breezy and fun; as such I was expecting a pleasant enough gig on this Wednesday evening. The reality way exceeded my expectations - a live eighties extravaganza! The first in my succession of Cardiff super promoter Swn gigs, this was an enlivening start and surprising indeed. Extravagantly performed group dance routines punctuated tracks, reminiscent of so-terrible-they-are-amazing workout videos, or two decades old school disco dancing, all stylistically enhanced by Darwin’s trademark moustache, ringlets and sweatband. Mash-up covers accompanied the multitude of moves, including artists such as Paul Simon and Enya. The conclusion? A wonderful gig, resulting in a lot more like for Darwin Deez. I challenge you to leave their live performance sans smile.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Wowtown

Norwegian Church, Cardiff Bay 
June 5th  
Francesca's Word Salad
The Victorian English Gentleman's Club 
Thomas Truax

Pic: www.tangohub.co.uk
Cardiff Bay's Norwegian Church was the setting for what transpired to be the strangest, yet most entertaining evening of my gigging history. Undoubtedly the prettiest venue in the city, the multitude of encircling windows provide a lovely panorama over surrounding waters while a tiny room and high ceilings make for great acoustics and an intimate feel. A close to perfect beginning to the night hosted by Cardiff promoters Swn. So what was weird? Let me share... 

Francesca of Word Salad fame is more entertainer than musical act. Guitar is played but songs aren't sung, her style is one of musical spoken word, and the words spoken are odd. Macabre tales of zombie firemen and missing body parts mingle with visual accompaniments of DIY props and hand made hats – a jarring mix as the overall style befits a slot on Cbeebies, yet the content is more Victorian Gothic. My quiet discomfit contrasted other peoples' obvious enjoyment however, as many audience members clapped along, seemingly revelling in Francesca's comedic children's presenter persona with delivery akin to conversation with a small child. If not musical satisfaction, watching Francesca's Word Salad provided at least a talking topic.

Pic: www.amazon.co.uk
The Victorian English Gentleman's Club scored a different sort of bizarre points. Eccentric and whimsical in medieval fancy dress outfits and funeral parlour styled stage, they are captivating and enchanting. Their third album is an indie pop treat, opening with the title track which describes taking a leaking bag of meat on the bus. And there the alternate reality begins. Pistol Whipped sounds like a horror film set in a fairground; a warped pop ballad tinged with a feeling of expectant doom as if you're one of just two people left on the waltzers at dusk, the other being a serial killer. My Imagination Can't Save Me Now has a jagged sound; cracked death-breath vocals layer upon spiky decisive guitar punctuated by melodious bursts. The track is laden with drama and gloriously opposing notes. Lost My Face in a Fast Car Race is mesmerising, luring you in with tribal-like dreamy chants, before electronic jangles intermingle to make you dance. A live offering from TVEGC is even better than this excellent album, their romantic indie pop rock with a grotesque twist is both energising and engaging.


 
                                      Video: Youtube.com

I recall thinking that Thomas Truax is a genuinely talented musician and songwriter. And then he sprinted around the perimeter of the building, flashes of black hair and Hornicator visible through the 360 degree windows while the crowd looked on in bemusement. His performance had this sort of distracting, captivating effect throughout. Thomas Truax came to Cardiff from New York via Wowtown. Where's Wowtown you may well ask. Well it's sort of his imaginary – slash – online world. Once seen live, you can believe that Truax lives in Wowtown most of the time. His energy knows no bounds, and his collection of musical instruments hold a similar lack of limitations. Have you heard of a Hornicator? Neither had I, but Truax has made and plays such a thing, in addition to a collection of other curiosities, even sounds made from a taut, plucked bungee rope. He is inventive, infinitely likeable, and hugely entertaining. A character straight from a Tim Burton film, Truax must be experienced, particularly when sporting light-up swirly glasses. Since the gig, I have subscribed to e-mails from Wowtown, and upon listening to his music sans performance can verify my initial thought was correct. He does a great cover of Wicked Game, and his Hornicator sounds wonderful in the backing track.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Paper Aeroplanes Review - Soundtrack Sounding Loveliness

Pic: www.amazon.co.uk
I was lucky enough to be given a copy of We are Ghosts by Paper Aeroplanes to review, here are the results...


An indie romantic comedy could be written around the ready made soundtrack which is We Are Ghosts, the second album by West Walian born band Paper Aeroplanes. Sarah Howells' lovely vocals weave dreamy tales of love lost and gained, wistful songs mingled with buoyant tracks as if charting the relationship twists and turns of ironic knitwear wearing and heavy fringe sporting main characters. Their acoustic anti-background pop melodies are beautiful and gentle, wholesome and warming; they mesmerise and demand attention. The band's sound has the ingredients to be achingly melancholic but this album is on the right side of optimistic, emotive and memory evoking, yet more upbeat than down. I can imagine Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt getting together, breaking up, and reuniting to this record. A Paper Aeroplanes soundtrack would befit a happy ending.

If you'd like to listen, check out the myspace or buy the MP3 download here.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Hula Time

As I've been busy writing uni assignments lately I thought I'd update my blog with some Guardian Cardiff articles I'd written a little while ago but hadn't gotten around to posting on here. This article first appeared on Guardian Cardiff on February 7th 2011...


Exercise is a word which evokes fear in many. Associations with enforced school gym classes, exertion, sweat, and self-inflicted post-Christmas punishment means apprehension is understandable.


But what if exercise could be genuinely fun and excitedly anticipated? What if it wasn't a sweaty chore and involved equipment of the stripy, glittery variety? Well then you'd be hooping, that's what.




Hooping is different to the hula you remember as a child, because it involves a much bigger and heavier hoop, which rotates slower around the body. This means that even if you think you can't, with a weighted adult hoop, you can - something verified by esteemed fans such as Michelle Obama!


New monthly classes will be coming to Cardiff from 12 February so I chatted to Emma Kerr, the founder of hooping tuition company 'Hooping Mad' and her pupil Tracy Davies to find out more.


I began by asking how Emma's journey to hooping tuition began. "I picked up my first hoop at Secret Garden Party festival in summer 2007," she explained.


"I had never been able to hoop around my waist, even when I was a child, so I was shocked to find that with a big adult hoop I could spin it comfortably. I've been hooked ever since!"


Emma continued to hoop as a form of stress release whilst writing up her PhD in Immunology, and upon completion hung up her lab coat and became The Hoop Doctor! She now runs regular classes and workshops across the country, mostly focused in the South West and South Wales.




So what can be expected from a hooping session?


"Each class we cover a different set of tricks, for example one week we may focus on hooping at the knees, another week we might do throws, another elbow hooping. We also learn how to put the tricks together by learning routines or practicing 'transitioning' between different tricks. There's also time to dance at the end so you can put the tricks you've learnt into action."


The mention of tricks makes it sound...well, tricky I guess. But as a recruited hooper, I can confirm that with practice, they can be picked up pretty easily. And as Emma said reassuringly, there's no pressure:


"There are no 'wrong' tricks and every person dances and therefore hoops in a different way. Each hooper has their own unique style. As you progress your movement with the hoop becomes more natural rather than thinking about what trick to do next. In the hoop world this is called 'flow' and you can come up with your own individual movements (or tricks) when you can hoop in this way."


Hooping is fun, it looks great and it's not super difficult – therefore it's not 'proper' exercise, right? Wrong. Emma told me about the huge physical impact it can have:


"When I first began hooping I lost about 1.5 stone and this has stayed off. I am gradually toning up in all the places I want to and it feels like I'm not doing any exercise at all. I'm naturally lazy. I hate the gym, dislike sports and I'm the sort of person that always takes the lift!! Hooping is perfect for me! I can put some music on and hoop for hours without realising
that I'm doing exercise."




Tracy verified this positive effect too:


"I've never really liked wearing strappy tee shirts or sleeveless tops as I prefer to keep the tops of my arms covered. However, as a result of the arm hooping I'm hoping I will be happy to wear tops of this kind from now on."


I personally enjoy other types of exercise too, from running to swimming, but I find hooping extra convenient. It doesn't involve being outdoors in the February freeze, or carrying lots of kit around. Once you have your hoop (sparkles optional) you can put some music on at home and begin!


Monthly classes will begin on Saturday 12th February at Welsh Institute of Sport, Sophia Gardens. There will be a 45min beginner's session from 2 -2.45pm for those who have never hooped before followed by a 3 - 5pm class for all levels. You can choose to attend one of the two sessions, or both – find out more here.*


*They are every month, so even when this becomes out of date, keep checking the website for the most up to date times!

DER Collective: Hip Hop in Cardiff

As I've been busy writing uni assignments lately I thought I'd update my blog with some Guardian Cardiff articles I'd written a little while ago but hadn't gotten around to posting on here.



This article first appeared on Guardian Cardiff on October 14th 2010...

I met fifty percent of DER Collective at The Percussion House on Whitchurch Road, Cardiff. Despite this being a Mecca for all things percussion and potentially noisy, there was no need to liven things up with cymbal striking (tempting as that was!) as the band provided plenty of animation and energy of their own. 










The collective consists of Deri Roberts as composer/producer, Elliot Bennett on drums, Dionne Bennett on vocals, Dregz is MC and lyricist, Andrew Brown plays bass, while DJ Jaffa works the turntables. 








DER Collective are described on their website as being a live music based, hip hop influenced band. I had to admit to being a total rookie of this genre - how would they describe hip hop music? As they passionately explained, while hip hop influenced they might be, their music is a melting pot – a hybrid of different cultures and sounds, with an emphasis on the live.

DER Collective artwork by Burning Red Hip hop, the guys described, usually consists of drum and bass, sampling, beats and an MC voice, therefore a stripped back sound. DER Collective, in contrast, are influenced by their respective travels and experiences, the product of which is a 14 track debut album entitled 'New World Order.'
The fusion of different styles and genres is evident throughout as hardcore hip-hop beats, mellow strings, horn sections, Reggae grooves, stunning Persian and African vocals, as well as world percussion flavours seamlessly blend together, forming fantastic and unanticipated combinations of sounds and words. The stand out tracks are Snakes and Blaggers and Grade Red Terror for me and I agree with the guys' feeling that there's a component of their music to suit every listener as it is so rich with a plethora of sounds.


DER Collective I was curious as to what inspires their lyrics. Is there a message DER Collective are aiming to convey? When Deri and Dregz were getting together to discuss the album initially, they were each hoping the other wanted to address a message and use meaningful lyrics in their tracks - luckily this mutual objective ensured they were on the same page from day one. If an overall conclusion has to be decided upon - it is change. It's a collection of many messages Dregz had wanted to convey over the years: attitudes and perceptions about music, how people see the world, personal and political ideas, that people have a voice if they bother to use it, and can make a change if they put effort in. Elliot encapsulated; "The only thing that doesn't change is change itself." There's a total of 6,400 lyrics on the album - so Dregz certainly had a lot to say! As a man of words and the Cardiff born member of the group I asked him his views on the city around which many aspects of DER Collective are intertwined, both musically and personally:


"I like Cardiff, I always have. I think Cardiff is a city of paradoxes. The capital of Wales, the big city, I like that, but at the same time I like being the underdog, and let's face it to the rest of the UK, we are seen as just that. I like being able to be fiercely patriotic about my city, but being able to complain about things about it at the same time.
"I like the fact that Cardiff is small enough for you to get noticed if you really want, and big enough to get lost in and to keep yourself to yourself should you choose to do so."


I was also intrigued to hear his take on the music scene in Cardiff:
 "I feel it has always been buzzing with a mad variety of styles. Certain styles seem to get more 'props' with local press and radio than others, but it is buzzing none the less.


"The genre I'm most involved with is Hip hop, the scene is strong and well protected by those involved and although everybody strives to be better than the next man, there is a massive amount of respect between camps, and between the 'new skool' element and the the older heads who have been involved since hip hop hit these Welsh shores.


"It's not unusual to hear Cardiff emcees rhyming on the same tracks as emcees from Barry, Swansea or somewhere in the valleys. To me that's what makes us so unique."


















Soon to be on the live scene themselves in Cardiff, the next step for DER Collective is to focus on their performances. As Jason stated, "I've got stuff to say and people need to hear it!" They've performed live as a collective on one occasion to date, at The Globe in Roath. A good test of the pull of their performance, the venue was swelteringly hot pre air-con installation so the group and audience were sticky and sweaty, yet the sizeable crowd remained captivated. This bodes well for wintry Welsh gigs when the conditions should be less tropical and more comfortable (read = chilly!) The guys stress a marriage of technology and live is important for their performances, as whilst technology can enable and enhance a gig, they feel an audience relates to the energy of people, to live instruments, picking up the atmosphere and vibe of a band and crowd.


You must be ready to sample the band's sound by now, so make sure you quench your musical thirst in Buffalo Bar at the first of those winter gigs tonight.* In the meantime, I recommend a visit to www.dercollective.com. If you think you're not into a hip hop influence, take a listen. It's something completely different, so you may just have to think again.

*'Tonight' was October 14th, 2010!