Trwbador/Y Niwl: Y Dolydd, Llanrwst, Thursday 12 May 2011
Some people can get a bit sneery.
"You're almost 40," they'll say, noses tipping upwards. "When are you going to get a proper job?"
Then their eyes will focus on the band t-shirt I'm wearing, the tatty jeans and the seen-better-days desert boots, and I'll maybe wish for one millisecond that I had a suit on, that there was a BMW parked on the drive outside, that I had a job that felt like a job so that I could stand proud in their jaded gaze. But the feeling soon passes. The feeling doesn't manage to hang round as long as it would take Y Niwl to play their amazing new single Un Deg Saith. Even mayflies wish that that would twang on a bit longer.
But they can take their pimped up lawns, their assiduous pension plans, their saloon cars, annual forays to arenas filled with volume-limited supermarket music, real stone worktops and tucked in shirts, and they can stick them all right up their colonically-irrigated, joyless backsides.
I don't say that to their faces, of course. I bow my head a degree or two, blush a little, feel like I should be ashamed of myself. Then I feel ashamed for feeling ashamed. All the time I'm not saying anything and they think I'm being rude.
I'm not being rude. I just don't have anything to say to them. At all.
But you! I have lots to say to you. It's going to be a while before you see the end of this here page. Better prepare some provisions.
The sneering happened on Tuesday, a mate of a mate. But the words struck home. Great as this role is, in recent weeks it had been getting on top of me. Hours spent in front of a computer while the rest of the world is out gambolling in the sun can induce rancour. There isn't an iota of that left in my system. I feel re-energised, vindicated, absolved and pretty damn excited considering my pensionable age and the fact that it's 1:22am in the morning and there isn't much likelihood of sleep til dawn.
Amazing what a trip to Llanrwst can do.
Why Llanrwst? Well, Conwy County Council runs a laudable initiative called Goleuo. Goleuo organises "cultural evening events in rural Conwy county." This manifests itself as regular concerts in gig-starved rural communities and it serves a number of purposes. The 'venue' (never a traditional venue - always a local business: a café, a bistro, a hotel) gets the benefit of a good, midweek crowd spending money over the bar; the locals get the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by the best Welsh bands, and those bands get a chance to play without having to stick a minimum of £50 in the van to bomb over to Liverpool/Manchester/Wrexham on the A55.
It's a brilliant initiative. Do other Welsh councils do anything similar? If they do, let me know, I'd love to sing their praises and support their events.
So, after an hour on the A55, my erstwhile gig-going compadre, Andy, and I arrive in Llanrwst a little concerned that we don't know what the venue is called, or where it's situated. Fortunately an ad hoc sign on the pavement ('Live Music Tonight') means we don't have to do too much in the way of worrying.
The venue is a lovely hotel, Y Dolydd, with an awe-inspiring view out over Snowdonia through its bay windows. Within moments we've bumped in to Y Niwl's drummer, Pete Richardson. Pete has drummed in some of my favourite bands (Gorky's, Topper, numerous recording sessions, including some amazing work on recent recordings by Georgia Ruth). Then there's a yawn that makes the mountain's themselves rumble and John Lawrence emerges from the back of a transit van.
"I've got a double bed in the back, there."
And a pedal steel, a teepee and recording studio, no doubt.
I'm more excited (and nervous) than usual because tonight I'm going to see Trwbador for the first time. Trwbador are my favourite new band. There's no point in me pretending otherwise for the sake of diplomacy or fair-mindedness. There is only two of them: Owain (from Cross Hands in Camarthenshire - "where the M4 ends", he tells me, helpfully) and Angharad (from a village just outside Camarthen - "you'll forget its name," she says, correctly). They're an intriguing weave of acoustic guitar, glockenspiel, cut 'n' paste electronics and a crystalline voice that radiates unforgettable melodies. They're Pentangle as reimagined by Four Tet; Fairport Convention rewired by Cornelius. They're original and beautiful, and if there could be a musical evocation of the breathtaking, fresh spring panorama outside, it would be them.
They take to a stage that is, in fact, a bay window bristling with amplifiers and instruments. A tasteful chandelier casts sparkles of light onto their fresh faces. Snowdonia deepens into the gloaming. People are sitting cross-legged in front of them, reverent and respectful of their enchanting quietness.
Trwbador performing at Y Dolydd, Llanrwst, 12 May 2011
You can tell they're nervous as hell. It feels like it's an effort of superhuman will for them to coax their fingers and voices to conjure the music for us. But that slight tension makes us all lean forward to urge them on. Angharad's voice, so quiet yet so perfect, plays around the room like a ray of the purest light. It's a voice that can melt cynicism at 100 paces and it's one of the most remarkable I've ever heard live.
And they warm to their task and gain confidence from the audience's acclamation for what they're doing. It's like watching newborn Bambi struggling to his feet, but by the end of the set Bambi is a ballet dancer: graceful, assured, free of that initial nervousness. They do unexpected things. Songs end suddenly, or burst into la-la singalongs. Recorders, tambourines, handclaps, 'slow disco' beats from the battered keyboard, all embellish their sound. They do justice to a cover of Kate Bush's Army Dreamers (quite a feat), treat us to an MC Mabon tune and scatter their own bewitching songs around the room like bejewelled flowers. We love them. We all love them.
It's one of those moments: like 60ft Dolls at In The City in Manchester (but not really *like* 60ft Dolls); like Super Furry Animals in Cardiff in '95; like Murry The Hump in Chester in '99; Mclusky at the same venue the year after; like Georgia Ruth in Sheffield last year... a moment when you get to witness the early flickerings of a most brilliant talent. Go find Trwbador. And don't you dare chatter while they're playing. And if someone should make your mobile phone ring during their set, delete them, whoever they are, from your lives and never speak to them again.
Y Niwl are gentleman musicians of the highest order, Knights of Sound. They're a Welsh Booker T & the MG's... not sonically, of course. But like Booker T & the MG's, they're a consummate instrumental band, without peer in the land. They've become Gruff Rhys' touring band (as the MG's were for numerous Stax acts); and their multifold talents as individual musicians have burnished recordings by some of Wales' finest artists in the most egoless and tasteful fashion imaginable (Georgia Ruth, Euros Childs, Sweet Baboo, Cate Le Bon et al - it's a who's who of the recordings I'd reach for first if my iPod was to burst into flames).
Alun 'Tan Lan' Evans is from Llanrwst. His first album was produced by Catatonia's Mark Roberts (also originally from Llanrwst). There's a real resonance to Y Niwl playing their hometown. It feels incredibly special to be a part of this audience of close friends and family members. Unless they're unlucky enough to be stood behind me. Space is at a premium, and my bulbous head probably made it very difficult for some unfortunate member of the clan Evans to see their close friend/relative. Sorry about that!
Y Niwl performing at Y Dolydd, Llanrwst, 12 May 2011
Y Niwl are a psychedelic surf band steeped in the electrifying tunefulness and musicianship of The Ventures, Link Wray, Dick Dale and, more latterly, East Bay Ray (of the Dead Kennedys) and Man Or Astroman. Any thoughts of pastiche or retro Ludditism are assuaged within moments of hearing them, whether live or on record. They play, and compose, with such melodic vigour. It's proper thrilling and vibrantly exciting.
When they finish with Chwech, it's like a series of chromatic steps down into some seedy club where feverish guitars, free tequila and lithe bodies in a state of abandonment are going to seethe and sweat until the late early hours.
It's like that, but that's not what happens. Andy and I go all fanboy and buy ourselves a mug and a t-shirt each (he can get away with it, he's only 35). We dribble sycophantically all over Trwbador and Y Niwl, Wish the latter good luck with their forthcoming Gruff Rhys tour in America. Bid more goodbyes to the multitude of other friendly faces we've met (Eilir Pierce, Sen Segur, Dataslaves, Jen Jeniro, Y Bandana - bands all out supporting each other...). Feel tempted to break into the back of John Lawrence's passion wagon so that we can have a drink and fall asleep in his double bed, rather than do the sober drive home.
But the sober drive home is the only sensible option. And sensible on occasion is my one sop to advancing age. To think, I could have had a really early night, got woken up by Chris Moyles on the alarm clock, caught a train to Accountantsville, and spent the day paying off the interest on my Beamer.