Blog posts by year and month May 2012

Posts (74)

  1. Just beside the A44 near Eisteddfa Gurig, about 10 miles outside Aberystwyth in mid Wales, you'll see it. In a dip in the road, there's a scruffy-looking rock. On it, stark white letters are painted: ELVIS. Elvis Rock. Photo: Jeremy Bolwell The Elvis Rock has been there for 50 years. ...

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  2. Today is the 80th anniversary of the death of Welsh composer John Hughes, whose major contribution to the world of music is probably familiar to every single adult in Wales. Honestly. Born in Dowlais on 24 November 1873, John Hughes, a deacon and chorusmaster at Salem Welsh Baptist Chapel in ...

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  3. On 13 May 1897 radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi made telecommunications history, transmitting a radio signal across open sea for the first time. He chose Lavernock Point in the Vale of Glamorgan as the location for the event. Lavernock Point is a headland situated on the southern coast of the ...

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  4. I am sure many of you are fed up with the rain. It feels as if we have had enough to fill a swimming pool lately! But they say every cloud has a silver lining and following the recent downpours, the drought is over in south west England, the Midlands and parts of Yorkshire according to the ...

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  5. The vibrant panels that adorn the walls of Brangwyn Hall at Swansea's Guildhall are some of the finest examples of the decorative, large-scale mural work of British artist Sir Frank Brangwyn. 145 years on since his birth, on 13 May 1867, the name Brangwyn will always be closely associated with...

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  6. Great news for the team up at the RSPB Glaslyn Osprey Project as the first of three osprey eggs hatched today. The first chick hatches at Glaslyn. Image taken from the RSPB webcam. After a rough and windy night which saw the osprey webcam lose power, the female finally revealed the ch...

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  7. One of my favourite places in London is the National Portrait Gallery; I genuinely could spend the best part of a day there. I love starting with the really early portraits and moving through to the most contemporary. It never ceases to amaze me how our western idea of beauty has changed - in terms of physical beauty, fashion, and style. With music it is very much the same. What was down with the kids in Bach's time was so out of vogue by Beethoven's time that it was almost fashionable again. This year's Vale of Glamorgan Festival has highlighted works that have not just challenged what I see as 'good' music or 'not so good' music by the yardstick of our western sensibilities, but has also made me question what I believe to be beautiful in music. One of the works by Qigang Chen, Iris Devoilée, mixes traditional Chinese instruments with our traditional western orchestral instruments, and mixes a voice of the Beijing Opera with two western operatic singers. In rehearsal, the first entry of the Beijing Opera soprano was really quite a shock. This is singing like nothing found in the western canon, but that does not mean it has not its own beauty. The range is quite unique, the form of ornamentation completely alien to our ears, and the tone is very different from the carefully crafted, rounded tones considered desirous and beautiful by western operatic singing. Once you allow your ear to grow accustomed to the Beijing style however, it is eerily expressive and other worldly, in a way not often found on the stages of our great opera houses. For this alone, I think Friday's concert is worth a nosey! Also featured in this work are three traditional Chinese instruments - the pipa, the ehru and the zheng. The one that looks a little like a skinny, stunted cello is my favourite: the ehru. I cannot for the life of me figure out where all the sound comes from that it manages to produce; unlike the big resonating chamber of a cello, or viola, it has instead this little barrel-like structure. Years ago, in Cambodia I tried my hand (exceptionally unsuccessfully) at a similar Khmer instrument, called a tro, and I can confirm that not only is it very difficult to play in tune, but it is also very difficult to make a beautiful sound. Thankfully for all concerned, I shall be sticking to the viola for this concert. We will also be performing Chen's Reflect d'un Temps Disparu for solo cello and orchestra, with soloist Li-Wei Qin. This piece has lots of interesting effects for the strings. The concert will also feature another work by Philip Glass, The Olympian (it is, in fact, an Olympian effort to get all the repeat bars and da capos and 'go to the codas' right) and Iris by Per Nørgärd. The Vale of Glamorgan Festival closes tonight (Friday 11 May) with a concert by the Orchestra at BBC Hoddinott Hall, 7pm. For tickets and more information, call 03700 101051.

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  8. Gareth Bonello is natural music. That's not great English, but a perfect summation of the man. In The Wire ("the Greatest TV Show Ever Made"� - The Guardian reviews section) those with a natural inclination to protect and serve their districts are called 'natural police'. Gareth has a natural inclination to bewitch and move his audience. He is 'natural music'. Grammar and syntax can go jump themselves upside the river. As subtly wondrous as his guitar playing is, it's always subservient to the song, and - in particular - his voice. Gareth has a voice like a broken heart. It's stained with resignation, eroded by cruel winds, challenging gravity like those unfathomable rock edifices in Monument Valley. It's one of the great Welsh voices. But it's a storyteller's voice rather than a singer's voice. And all the better for that. The obvious, internationally-recognised reference points for his music - Nick Drake, John Martyn, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - are somewhat misleading because this is a music steeped in Wales. It's mysterious with early morning mist obscuring the valley's sides; burnished by the sunrise trying to break through. There is a timeless gravitas that comes from Gareth's knowledge of the history of song in Wales. There are words and musical phrases that resonate, regardless of their age. There are no awkward concessions to contemporaneity, no baubles of modernism. Gareth is like a dry stone waller, or a traditional carpenter, there is an elemental, timeless truth to his work that makes it especially resonant and valuable in our age of the temporary, shallow and ephemeral. His opening song Aubade is about as close as I've ever heard to my soul's harmonic frequency. He plays it, and it vibrates tears, yearning and regret out of every pore. Oh Lord, I love great music - simultaneously hurting and healing in the same cadence. Richard James is tonight's headliner. "I'm going to be playing some songs from an album that was released two weeks ago, and some other songs that haven't been released yet, with Gareth Bonello and Andy Fung. A lot of these songs are quite, erm, well - I dunno - without being too articulate about it, erm, miserable... so, you're in for a treat! It's about the misery of the heart. I think they're joyous as well..." And so begins one of the most magical hours of music I have ever witnessed. The sound is so quiet and delicate that the audience bend, as one, closer to the stage, like sunflower heads craning towards a source of light and life. Richard James mightn't feel articulate speaking about his music but there are few as musically articulate. And - like many of the greatest artists - he works his spells within a deliberately self-limited range. Gorky's - his former band - were a supernova of creative thought, more ideas in single songs than some artists manage in entire lifespans. There were bells, whistles, school orchestras, xylophones, sword mangels and recorders: an entire rainbow of wildly enthusiastic sounds. Wonder and possibility radiated from every note. It's somewhat amazing to consider that we had them and Super Furry Animals at the same time. A Facebook friend opined recently that music's golden age ended in 1979, and that nothing of equable worth had happened since; well, she can't have been listening to Gorky's or the Furries from 1996 until the middle of the last decade, because that's as high a watermark as any. Hmmm. Gorky's is Richard's past. He's been making superlative solo albums for the best part of a decade. But his evolution, from exuberant school kid set free in a sweet shop of the imagination, to an artist of great capability and restraint, who wields less with an emotive power that is the match of the more, more, more thrills of his youth, is a fascinating one. So we have two guitars, three voices, one bongo (or some such, sorry Andy!), an occasional harmonica, and sometime unique use of a pair of sunglasses/beerglass, in conjunction with the unnamed drum. But within that apparently limited range, we get a panoramic tour of the infinite vistas of the heart. I've rarely seen an audience as attentive as this most excellent of audiences is. I swear, on occasion the music is as hushed as whispers on a breeze, but no one makes a sound. No one dares breathe. The sound of my camera's shutter is louder than the drum. Drawing us all more and more into the music's irresistible undertow. When Richard sings his "most miserable" song (which may be called Down To My Heart, but there are fleas with a better memory for names than me) I think we could all - to a man and a woman - die in that eternal moment - melancholic and content. I think this music, this sensation, is priceless because it reminds us all that we're not alone. The high fallutin' call it pathos, or bathos - whatever the correct terminology is - it's a musketeer of hope and empathy. The guitars are subtle shimmers, the unnamed drum a heartbeat, the voice an irresistible glow. Music this nakedly human is rare. If you want a signpost, think Neil Young's Harvest. Then we're in the midst of a 10 minute raga, sucking our souls to metaphysical places of hallucinatory wonder. Shamanistic and about as good as human artistic endeavour can get. Please don't make the mistake of thinking I'm exaggerating. This was the Sistine Chapel in acoustic guitar; Monet in minor thirds; a series of plaintive, folk sonnets that Shakespeare would have stood to applaud. My gauchely-lobbed hyperbole is in inverse proportion to how subtly exquisite this was. All of it. Thank you Richard. Thank you Gareth. Thank you Andy. Thank you ears. Thank you heart. Feel free to comment! If you want to have your say, on this or any other BBC blog, you will need to sign in to your BBC iD account. If you don't have a BBC iD account, you can register here - it'll allow you to contribute to a range of BBC sites and services using a single login. Need some assistance? Read about BBC iD, or get some help with registering.

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  9. Welsh artist Stefhan Caddick is appealing for videos of the demolition of one part of Ebbw Vale Steelworks for his project Ghost Parade, part of Wales' involvement in the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Ghost Parade will mark the arrival of Adain Avion in Ebbw Vale at the start of July, and will also celebrate a decade of transition in the former industrial town. Twelve public art commissions will be taking place across the UK's nations and regions this summer to help celebrate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The commissions are part of the UK Arts Councils' flagship project for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, called artists taking the lead, and Adain Avion is the chosen project for Wales. It is a mobile arts space, created from the transformed body of a DC-9 aeroplane, which will travel across Wales in June, July and August. Performances, installations, workshops and events with leading Welsh and international artists will take place at each of its destinations. Ghost Parade will take place at night on Sunday 1 July. The procession will take place along the final mile of Adain Avion's journey from Swansea to Ebbw Vale until the plane reaches its destination outside the former steelwork's General Offices where it will nest for a week. The parade will include outdoor projections and archive moving images, plus music from Ebbw Valley Brass. The General Offices in Ebbw Vale, the destination of Adain Avion in Ebbw Vale As well as celebrating the fuselage's arrival, Ghost Parade will mark the 10th anniversary of the closure of the Ebbw Vale Steelworks. Artist Stefhan Caddick is looking specifically for videos of the demolition of one particular part of the steelworks, called the pickler. The pickler was an iconic part of the steelworks and integral to the steel making process: it was in this part of the works that the surface oxide (or scale) formed on the hot roll coil during the hot rolling process was removed with acid. The enormous structure spanned the valley below the village of Ty Llwyn and when it was demolished on 31 March in 2004 hundreds of people turned out to see the building come down, many armed with film and video cameras to record the event. Here are some before and after photos, screen grabs taken a film submitted by the Ebbw Vale Institute, which show the demolition: The Pickler before demolition... and afterwards Stefhan is appealing for people to come forward with their recordings of the demolition so that he can bring these individual films, each shot from differing angles and viewpoints, together and screen them simultaneously on a large screen as part of the Ghost Parade event. If you want to contribute to the project, or you know someone who may have filmed the demolition, you can contact Stefhan on ghost@stefhancaddick.co.uk. For more information about Ghost Parade visit stefhancaddick.co.uk/ghost-parade or visit the Ghost Parade page on Facebook.

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  10. Charlotte Church will play an 'intimate' show at Hay-on-Wye's philosophy and music festival HowTheLightGetsIn next month. Charlotte Church Almost two years on from the release of her second pop album Back To Scratch, the Cardiff singer returns to playing live at the event, on Sunday 1...

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