Sŵn Festival day three
Day three begins and I'm starting to feel the first symptoms of Sŵn Fever. My feet feel like I've filled my shoes with gravel and gone to a pogoing convention. My brain is a scrambled mess of high joy and post booze anxiety. My ears are still ringing with the wonders of the days before.
I spend the first few hours of Saturday locked in my hotel room, curtains closed, trying to erect the initial semblance of a framework for the following night's radio show. The hotel's lack of free Wi Fi makes me do something unthinkable to a coat-hanger in my wardrobe. Thus avenged, I grab the clothes that aren't too minging and brave the streets.
Down in the lobby I remember I'm supposed to be DJing, so yo-yo back to my room for the box of Welsh seven inches. That's what I've decided to play, see. But worried that I don't have enough, or that playing 60ft Dolls' entire back catalogue of A-Sides and B-sides might be a self indulgence too far, I head off for Spillers Records.
I know it's in an arcade. But Cardiff, you have more arcades than Blackpool! I get lost in a warren of wool shops and walk headfirst into a crowd of a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emo">emo kids singing Kids in Glass Houses songs. The generation gap yaws and in my unforgiving state of mind and body, I pray that they all fall into it, even just temporarily. But the KIGH fans are my saviours. They're stood in front of Spillers because the band are doing an in-store here later as part of Sŵn..
I climb the stairs to the vinyl section. God I love Wales' independent record shops! Even the ones with stairs. I grab 7"s by Bedford Falls, Gindrinker, Euros Childs and The Gentle Good and, with my box now brought somewhere close to up to date, I make my way to Dempseys. And get lost again. Obviously.
The DJ set goes okay, I take over from C2's Dyl Mei, a man with as encyclopaedic a musical knowledge as it's possible to squeeze into a human cranium. He shows me where the free beers are. WARNING! DANGER! goes the neon light in my conscience. I put a beer mat over it and pretend it's a disco strobe.
Matt Jarrett, from the most excellent Joy Collective is here. He stands next to me and talks into my earhole all the way through my DJ set. Then he wonders why occasional records don't start quite as they should! I play Mary Hopkin, Colorama, Murry the Hump, 60ft Dolls, Badfinger, Man, Psycho VII, Super Furry Animals (blog editor is going to be getting annoyed at this point, wrapping all those websites around the band names), Gorkys, Y Niwl, The Darling Buds... oh, and Sly Alibi by Big Leaves.
This is a key song for me. My aborted record label released it on 7" back in 1998. I've only ever met one person who had bought it. Guess what? The moment I play it, he's there stood in front of me! The magic of Sŵn strikes again.
DJ set completed, Matt, Andy ('Big Leaves man') and I head over to Buffalo. We race a taxi containing other friends, and lose.
Upstairs at Buffalo I'm a little befuddled by Vvolves. They start off rather badly, get rather good, and then go a bit rubbish again. They're young. They have time. I feel like I'm doing a hatchet job on Bambi for his lack of impressive antlers. Given time Vvolves could grow antlers. This is a rubbishly mixed, bestial metaphor. And that sentence is even worse.
Buffalo has a lovely courtyard. We enjoy it and people try to force beer down me. Fortunately, Buffalo's scratch staff of two are on my side. Beers are taking half an hour to acquire. Thankfully.
Back upstairs there is quite a crowd. "Who is this?" I ask. "Still Corners," says Matt. I'm not going to forget their name ever again.
The beautiful, cinematic sounds that fill the room are most unexpected. I say 'Cowboy Junkies', Matt laughs at my wayward comparison and offers a much more apposite, 'Mazzy Star'. It's the sound of a French boulevard on a crisp Winter morning, trenchcoat collar pulled up, Gitanes smoke making the eye squint, walking briskly to a forbidden triste that is bound to end in monochromatic heartbreak.
It's beautifully measured and artful. The drama here is in the restraint - like the next Darwinian step along from Portishead's Dummy. The terracotta army audience are bewitched. I steal past dropped elbows, faces fixed forwards, jaws hanging open, kneel down and lift my camera. The chic singer - cheekbones, Kohl and simple black dress - is as beautiful as her voice and her songs. I mean that with the greatest respect. It's peripheral to the music, of course. But it adds to the allure and the uniqueness of the band and their breathtaking performance.
As good as Nedry. And that took some typing.
We have friends to meet back at Dempseys. Things are starting to teeter. The prow of this ship is plunging downwards and that wave rising above it looks like Very Bad News Indeed.
An hour... maybe two... hell, it could have been half... is spent talking to ace people who aren't at Sŵn, but are excellent to see all-the-same. Actually, by this stage, talking to people who haven't got thousand yard ear is a blessed relief. We indulge ourselves in conversational sustenance, say goodbyes, and plunge back into the night.
I drag us into Y Fuwch Goch. "This guy is hotly-tipped," I say doing a passable impersonation of someone Arty Fufkin would look down his nose at.
"Who is it?"
The guy on stage doesn't look anything like I expected. He's half munchkin, half tumble through David Bowie's wardrobe of mid-60's cast-offs. He's much better looking than me and a damn sight better dressed, just to put these things in context. But the electric blue trousers are rather distracting.
'We don't care what he's wearing, Walton, what does he sound like?'
Look, the trousers are so distracting it's difficult to assimilate his sound. Maybe turquoise interferes with sound waves? I think he sounds light, pop and soulful. I'm reminded of The Blow Monkeys. Clearly, no one else present is because their reference points aren't preserved in amber.
"He sounds like he's doing an X Factor audition. It's nails down the blackboard for me," says Andy.
"He's doing his own songs!" I protest in Joe's defence. "He's..." I'm not allowed to use that word, Andy. I'd disagree, but his soulful sheen feels as out of kilter with Swn as his electric blue pants do with all aesthetic tastes this side of the Pharaohs.
Which leads me nicely to the next band.
We return to Dempseys and clamber the stairs in anticipation of Egyptian Hip Hop. Now, these - on their debut EP at least - are POP. Electronically enhanced, phat of beat, an indirect descendent of Nile Rodgers' genius, but POP all the same. The queue outside testifies to the expectation that has been raised by enthusiastic support from Huw Stephens and the Introducing fraternity. Our expectation rather deflates after half an hour of waiting over their allocated set time.
"Let's go find some muuuuuusssiiiiiiiccc!" I holler rather boisterously. Yep, I've reached the level of a Tennants-fuelled footie fan.
Maybe The School were on in Clwb before Egyptian Hip Hop were due to start. I can't remember. Referring back to the Swn programme that still hangs from my neck feels like cheating. Got to go with gut instinct, even if it is inaccurate.
Clwb is as clean and beautifully appointed as it always is. It has to be the 'nicest' venue in the universe. It's the perfect place to see The School, then. No one wants to be described as 'nice'. You either sound like a biscuit or someone too simple and idiotic to have enemies. I like my ambulance drivers and UN relief workers 'nice'.
The School, then, although having apparent 'nice' qualities are really a raucous gang of drug-munching weirdoes who'd probably liquidise your pets whilst listening to Uriah Heep records backwards.
Their posters adorn the walls of all of the key Norwegian black metal bands. When Tom Six was looking for music to soundtrack The Human Centipede (if there is a link there, do not follow it!) he asked The School but they refused on the grounds that the film sounded "too pussy" for their tastes. The Daily Mail united with Billy Bragg to try and stop their "unholy filth" from "polluting the minds of the British youth."
GG Allin's estate refused permission for The School to cover any of his works on the grounds that "even association with The School would damage G.G's reputation".
It's something of a surprise then that their music is the epitome of smiles and chimes along to the most beautiful sound of young hearts falling in love.
Now, that is truly subversive. And excellent. I love The School.
Downstairs their American equivalent, The Magic Kids, are about to play. We're almost the only ones in front of the stage. I think that they're thinking: "we've come all the way from Memphis to play in front of a drunk Chris Tarrant look-a-like and John Torode?"
While the thought is still fresh on their synapses, the room fills fully. There's hardly room for me to totter. All I remember is that they're ace. Full of sun and glockenspiels, but not in a Midwich-Cuckoos-with-too-many-Fairport-Convention-albums-kind-of-way. I attempt to smile. It probably looks like a leer.
They finish and it's out into the storm. A different kind of Lear. You don't need much more than half a neuron to work out who the Fool is in this staging. I play the part to perfection. I remember wanting to say 'hello' to Bethan Elfyn. I remember being allowed into Clwb Ifor Bach's inner sanctum to say 'hello' to Bethan Elfyn. I can't say much more than 'hello'. Steve Lamacq is here. I gurgle at him.
A couple of us fall off seats.
Someone drinks something horrendous.
I hear tales about a man who is going to paddle down the Amazon.
I can't remember what it is he's going to paddle.
I have hotel breakfast before bed. It's Wednesday now and I still haven't recovered.
Swn 2010 I loved you. Sŵn 2011 will be a much more dignified affair.
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