Future of the Left/We Are Animal/Exit International, Friday 10 September 2010
The Wales Millennium Centre is bigger than the village I grew up in. Future space alien archaeologists will muse and theorise about the strange shapes carved into the front (but probably not as much as I did, on account of their superior alien intelligence). Given its awe-inspiring size and vaulted ceilings, they may draw the conclusion that it was a place of worship for the primitive bipedal folk who once trod this backwater planet.
It transpires that it is a place of worship, of sorts. They'll definitely let gods of all denominations in. But if you're the god of rock'n'roll, you'd better be on your best behaviour, otherwise an ignominious exit will be your fate.
Can't have the likes of you spoiling it for all the fine, cosseted, (capital 'c') Culture-loving folk. With their finely-attuned set of morals that allows high brow contemplation of Greek tragedy and its dissolute children, but is utterly unforgiving of a swear word spat out beneath a low brow.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I am at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, participating in Welsh Music Foundation's 10th anniversary celebrations. It is a day of high contrasts. Welsh Music Foundation supports and encourages the Welsh music industry in all its facets and forms. One of its roles is to offer advice to members of that industry. Mostly the advice is offered to businesses rather than individual artists.
The idea is to ensure that there is an indigenous industry here in Wales to support and propagate the talents of the country's finest musical artists. Welsh Music Foundation isn't a government quango. It's so much more than that. Its funding is an acknowledgement of the key contribution music makes to the Welsh economy, and the opportunities that gives to creative folk throughout the country, especially in these depressed times.
If you visualise this as a diagram in a tatty biology textbook, the prime factor in this ecosystem - the thing that all of the other convoluted species rely on for sustenance - is the music, in all its forms: whether puppy-nice and eager-to-please, or pitbull-angry and eager to rip you to shreds.
So, there are seminars during the day to offer insight, advice and inspiration to Welsh labels, music professionals and artists. I chair one on getting your music heard on the radio. It feels like we do some good work, offer finely considered advice, meet some interesting people with their industry on hot CDs or business cards proffered once the meeting is finished.
Then we have a reception where the scabrous rock'n'roll hoi polloi get to rub shoulders with the political suits whose patronage of Welsh Music Foundation has enabled its very existence. There is an inspirational speech from Feargal Sharkey (head of UK Music) and an uncomfortable appearance from the Rt Honourable Cheryl Gillan MP, Secretary of State for Wales. A bit of research beyond the most obvious and hackneyed Welsh musical landmarks would have served her better than hamgobbed namedrops for Tom and Shirl. As would getting some of her key facts right, like who founded Green Man Festival. Especially given the fact that the reception is co-hosted by, yes... get ready to blush on her behalf... Green Man Festival.
Her, or her aides', rather unfortunate lack of research into the current Welsh music industry give the impression of tokenism, in front of an audience that have done much work to move attitudes to Welsh music away from that tokenism. And it went to show how far - still - music has to go to prove its economic and cultural worth along certain corridors of power.
But her speech underlines, as much as Feargal's has, why WMF's continued work is important in helping raise awareness of the critical part the creative industries have to play in the Welsh economy.
While Cheryl is speaking, an unholy racket breaks out in the foyer below. Watching her wince as squeals of feedback shrapnel tear through our room is a thrill in itself. But down in the foyer, another battle - of sorts - is taking place.
This two-day event isn't just about the suits and seminars. Welsh Music Foundation have ensured that we have music to enjoy as well. And given that the Wales Millennium Centre has, hitherto, been more or less impregnable to the rallying forces of youthful noise on the streets of Cardiff, it's a brave, uncompromising bill that has been served up.
And I applaud that. I applauded it in my mind the moment I stepped into the foyer.
Future of the Left! Exit International! We Are Animal! Are all going to play here!
These are anomalous surroundings for a rock'n'roll show because the foyer floor isn't covered in sticky beer; the toilets don't look like a plumbing and graffiti Armageddon; everything is light and airy, where most venues (but not all) are dark and suffocating.
It is like we'd all managed - temporarily - to break into heaven. And it's not as if we're Hells Angels come to defecate on their floors and claim their souls with hideous murder. Most of the audience, I'd say, are - or have been - part of the city's student population. They're educated, informed, nice middle class kids. The kind of people this place will rely on in future years. You know, before the aliens get here.
But someone, somewhere in this edifice is practising their well-subsidised opera, and given that that is proper art and high culture, Future Of The Left's sound check comes to an abrupt halt. They'll have to wait until the arias have been sung. Surely this could have been foreseen? Maybe not.
This is the kind of thing that happens when you break into new territories. It actually emphasises how ground-breaking and exciting this event is. Unless you're in Future Of The Left, or the other bands, who end up being short-served and given the backhanded impression that they're not as important as their big-voiced brethren in the other room.
It doesn't matter in this environment that Future Of The Left are one of Wales' most critically-lauded exports, a band whose Welsh innovation tours the US, Australia and Europe. Or We Are Animal, who've been played on 6 Music and Radio 1, and got themselves a record deal on Too Pure records. Or Exit International, who played in front of thousands at the Reading and Leeds Festivals. None of these achievements counted for much, here...
You're allowed to swear in literature, you see. And on Radio 4. But we aren't allowed to swear. Not us. But we haven't got to the swearing bit yet. The Swearing Bit.
Exit International are on stage. They are swearing a bit. A few cuss words fall out of Scott's mouth between the songs. He's excited. He's like a Ramone, transported to the future via a time machine that had a bit of Megadeth's DNA accidentally left in it.
These are cartoon, heavy rock songs. Pop with a capital 'P'. It doesn't even register with me that they're swearing because I'm an adult, this is a rock'n'roll show, and I live in the modern world where much more offensive things happen with a lot less fun noise and ludicrous theatre every second of every day.
Ah, but this show is an All Ages Show. It's obvious from a casual glance that there is no one under the age (of what, I don't know) among the few hundred assembled in the foyer. No one has complained about Scott and his nautical language. But the WMC staff have been sensitised. They're our moral guardians. This multi-million (and then some) monument to Welsh culture has our best interests at heart, paid for out of the pounds from our back pockets. We should be grateful.
I haven't got the time to go through the WMC's programme over the years, but I suspect that there have been many occasions when 'high' art of moral dubiousness has been grandstanded to the public. If they've staged a single Shakespearean tragedy to a coachload of schoolkids without dragging the cast off stage the moment they put someone's eye out, tore someone else untimely out of a womb, or had an oedipal moment, then what happened during Future Of The Left's set is massive hypocrisy.
(We Are Animal are very good, by the way. But their goodness rather gets in the way of the point.)
The point being that Future Of The Left, in the act of being excellent at what they excel at, are warned for swearing in their songs. Eventually, after they try and then (thankfully) refuse to compromise what they do, their set comes to a halt as the house lights are faded out and the PA shut down. It's amazing the fuss that little Anglo Saxon words mostly associated with our universal biology can still cause in 2010.
Andrew Falkous is, to my mind and many others', the finest lyricist in Wales at the moment.
You'd hear more swear words in the opening five minutes of any 10pm TV show featuring Gordon Ramsay than you would in your average Future Of The Left show. Actually, I haven't scientifically researched that and now, having typed it, I suspect I'm exaggerating for effect. The point remains: Falkous swears a bit when he gets aerated. He swears a bit when he wants to emphasise something. He swears a bit, occasionally, to make us laugh. He's just like the majority of the rest of us, in these respects, at least.
So which sanctimonious arbiter got to draw the moral curtain down on this set of exceptionally-delivered live music, to an audience 600 strong, some of whom had travelled many miles to be here?
Who treated one of the most highly-regarded live bands in the UK like errant schoolkids, probably with the misguided intention of protecting schoolkids, despite the fact that there were no schoolkids there?
I mean, I'd say that that was a schoolboy error. Or schoolgirl.
It was farcical and all of this needless bother detracted from Future Of The Left's new line-up's excellence on the night, and deflected some of the praise and good feeling that WMF has justifiably earned for its work over the last decade. Despite all the words I've dedicated to the piffling and more farcical elements of the day, please let us remember that and be thankful we have such an organisation toiling day in day out to give our most creative people an outlet for their abilities.