Archives for May 2012

Shostakovich Violin Concerto 1 with Daniel Hope

Post categories:

Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton | 14:25 UK time, Thursday, 31 May 2012

Last week was a difficult one for me. On Monday I fell off my bicycle, cut my knees, grazed my left hand, my left elbow, both of my feet (no idea how that happened) and worst of all, put a little hole in the knee of my favourite black jeans.

On Wednesday, as a result of an overly enthusiastic up bow crescendo that got a little out of control, I managed to move my A string several millimetres to the left along the bridge and took a chunk out of the string binding. Then on Sunday, while on the Cardiff Bay barrage revising for my upcoming OU History exam (argh!), I got woefully sunburnt, proving once again that Irish skin should never be exposed to temperatures in excess of 10 degrees.

However, in the middle of all this woe there was Daniel Hope playing Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto. I was rota'd off, so had the opportunity to listen. It dramatically improved my week.

Many people find this concerto disconcertingly bleak. To be fair, the first movement is not exactly sunbeams and fairies, but as it was composed during the period of Zhdanov's persecution of many Russian artistic figures, I don't think these sentiments were high up Shostakovich's emotional spectrum at the time of its composition.

The second movement can be described in no way other than demonic, and frankly, I think I would need a little lie down after playing it - it demands such stamina from soloist and orchestra! The Passacaglia is heart rending and the extended solo cadenza bridging the third and fourth movements (surely large enough in scope to almost be considered a separate movement in its own right) doesn't so much give way to the finale as it crashes headlong into it. The full throttle finale feels as much like a race to the death as it does a race to the end.

Having recorded this work in 2006 with our colleagues at the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Hope is obviously exceedingly familiar with both of Shostakovich's violin concertos. However, at no point did this feel like a mundane repetition of a work trawled out for the umpteenth time.

Daniel has amazing technical facility, but that's not what made his playing of this concerto so satisfying for me. He took risks. Instead of a concerto performance that simply begged to be admired for its technical prowess, what we got was an interpretation that genuinely took the audience on a journey. I know that's a cliché, but sometimes clichés become clichés because they're true.

Mr Hope's playing reminded me that I want to take risks with my own playing. It's not enough to play the notes on a page, these are only the composer's blue print. Rather, we have to strive and strive to find the soul behind the music, no matter whether the work be a Bach suite, a brand spanking new contemporary work, a mammoth of the symphonic canon, or a heart wrenching concerto such as Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto.

Razorlight and Kids In Glass Houses for Merthyr Rock

Post categories:

James McLaren James McLaren | 11:00 UK time, Thursday, 31 May 2012

Merthyr Rock, Hay Festival's rock and indie offshoot, has today announced the first tranche of artists confirmed for the late summer event.



Razorlight, Kids In Glass Houses, Deaf Havana, Saves The Day, Yashin and Arcane Roots will perform at Merthyr Rock, which takes place at the town's Cyfarthfa Park from 31 August to 2 September.

Aled Phillips of Kids In Glass Houses said: "We curated a stage at Merthyr Rock last year and spent the day at the festival having a great time. Now this year we're honoured to be playing what is set to be a fantastic weekend."

Rhodri Jones, festival director, said: "We had an incredible response to the festival last year, and this year's event is going to be bigger, better, bolder and an awesome way to end this summer."

The 'boutique' festival is a 14-plus event (under-16s must accompanied by an adult). You can follow the festival on Twitter with the hashtag #mrock or on Facebook.

Video footage from last year's inaugural event is available on Vimeo.

In 2006 the Hay Festival started the Hay-On-Earth Project and for the past six years have been engaged in a programme of managing and mitigating their environmental impact. "Our aim is that all waste created by Merthyr Rock will be separated and recycled," said Jones.

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.

Islet/Mowbird - Central Station Wrexham, Thursday 24 May 2012

Post categories:

Adam Walton Adam Walton | 08:51 UK time, Tuesday, 29 May 2012

It's too hot to breathe, let alone listen to molten, leftfield, musical aceness. Central Station has a tin roof and tonight all of the cats are inside being baked. As Mowbird plug their instruments in, I'm dreaming of being reincarnated as a salmon, leaping out of chill, frothy waters on my way to a spawning ground up near the Arctic Circle. Or an ice cream bath.

Mowbird are surf twang gone so wrong, it's right; Guided By Voices distracted by UFO tail lights; liberated garage punks grottying canvases in an art school studio.

They start off Shaky and finish Jerry Lee Lewis. They're The Castaways' Liar Liar in a Molotov Cocktail aimed at SyCo HQ. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

So, despite an apparent lack of familiarity with their own songs at the start of the set, they still have tunes to dye your hair for. Scratchy, fuzzy things that burst and pop with off kilter melodies half inched from the B movies of a parallel dimension. Or The Pixies' first two albums.

I really need to learn some contemporary reference points.

So much of the music I hear is overboiled tasteless by its own competence: bands who've sacrificed the fun out of it all before the Altar of Sheen. Even David Beckham - a man who looks like he could find his own visage in a coal forest on a cloudclad, midwinter night - would struggle to see his reflection in Mowbird.

They are great fun. Wrexham cocks up the B-52's, more-or-less magnificently.



Imagine if The Vaccines had a whiff of freshness about them, rather than the antiseptic odour of a Q journalist's impeccably right-on record collection of 'edgy' music. But Guided By Voices is my favourite comparison, of too many. Sorry.

Influential labels are sniffing around their impeccable crotches. They might want to give it a few days and a couple of showers after this sweatfest, though.

Trying to breathe at the merchandise stall - counting pound coins in my pocket to see if I have enough for a fresh t-shirt - I am suddenly surrounded by chimes. Mark Islet is behind me. Another Islet is sat at the table across the room. They've playing some weird bell-like things, like campanologists from Hamlyn. We all stop what we're doing (bar the breathing) and allow them to lead us to the stage.

If Islet were magicians they wouldn't make things disappear or appear - that'd be too obvious. They'd make things evolve in front of our eyes. Even an aged hack like me, steeped in decades of strange, communally-fashioned music mostly from Germany - can ear-smell the aural freshness here.

It's no wonder they eschew most of the tropes of modern band-dom. No Tweets, no Facebook, no obvious entry, or exit, points. 'Songs' so nebulous, yet all there, they'd have Thom Yorke locking himself in his yurt, crying luminous green tears. Because whilst Islet are, no doubt, conceptual, and pretentious, and art school, and dangerously close to being dressed in new togs that would fit Eeyore emperors, they're also - you know - really, really, REALLY good.

They may spend their entire set torching the rock 'n' roll rulebook, but that - no longer - comes across as their raison d'etre. Perhaps it never was, but it was the impression they gave off, in those early days of self-marooning themselves at the periphery of what we loosely call rock 'n' roll.

When an instrument gets swapped tonight, and a face changes place on the stage, it's in subservience to the music, not as an affectation to make the audience gape at the audacious unexpectedness of it all.

There is a great sense of infinite possibility about the band. The album tracks act only as templates for the actual performance. Some things stutter, as should be expected on the first night of any tour (Entwined Pines trips over its own aceness), other things take on a mystical life of their own, transforming Central Station's pragmatic, sulphuric innards into one of Live And Let Die's voodoo cermonies, but with more drums and distorted synth.

It's mostly about rhythm - and how primal and hypnotic rhythms can be intertwining within and without each other. This has far more in common with the less regimented, more experimental, edges of dance music than it does 'indie' music. Thank god for that. I'd hope that exposure to Islet would give a Pigeon Detective, or an Enemy, a non-fatal aneurysm that'd make it catatonically impossible for them to dull the world with their flavourless bum gruel any longer.



One completely transcendental moment that comes readily to mind, even today, five days and two hangovers after the event: Emma standing centre stage, singing down two different microphones: one lathered in a dubby delay, the other as clean as a new pair of white jeans. She switches between the two, on an ever undulating tapestry of noise, with a glorious smile on her face. It's as clear as the big, red, peeling nose on the end of my moonface, that the first people Islet want to amaze and confound is themselves. We're just fortunate to be invited along for the ride.

So, they're not so much leftfield, as in a skylift high above the field. subject to hitherto uncharted jetstreams of sound and rhythm. And great as the début album is on many occasions, this is soooooo much better. Live, they justify any extra vowels thrown in their direction, trust me.

A fresh breeze of possibility and excellence has blown through Central Station tonight.

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.

Charlotte Church on Radio Wales

Post categories:

James McLaren James McLaren | 07:50 UK time, Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Last weekend Charlotte Church joined Bethan Elfyn for an extensive interview.

Following up her 2010 album, Back To Scratch, Church exclusively chatted to Bethan about her as-yet untitled new set, working with local musicians and her attitude to the music industry.

In addition, three brand new tracks had their exclusive first plays.

Listen to the interview here:

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

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.

Adam Walton playlist and show info: Saturday 26 May 2012

Post categories:

Adam Walton Adam Walton | 09:14 UK time, Monday, 28 May 2012

This week's show is now available via the BBC iPlayer. Please visit the link any time between now and the start of the next programme.

My Viking genes don't get on too well with sunshine. But I'm no killjoy, I love that other people are outside having 'fun': guiltlessly gobbling ice cream; throwing frisbees in municipal parks and messing about (safely) on rivers. Me, I just want a hammock in the shade, a good book, and access to my DAB radio or an iPlayer stream.

Great sounds make great summers, as much as great weather does, and I hope I have a programme bursting with them for you this week.

There are début plays for Bennetton, She Ripped, Mandy, Milestone, Zervas & Pepper, Zebedy, Dubrising & Rhys Trimble, Mr9Carter and Daine.

I'm determined to dig up as much excellent, new Welsh talent as is humanly possible this year.

That doesn't mean I'll play any old flannel. The standard of new music across Wales is remarkably high. Send me good stuff - your best recording/a recommendation about a band who blew your flip flops off - to Download links/high quality mp3s, please.

Elsewhere in this week's show, a defiantly tweedy Ben Hayes treats us to some Monochrome Set - and, cooler than a shaved polar bear's arse, Lara Catrin translates some Derwyddon Dr Gonzo for us.

The iPlayer link in this email is specially designed for sharing. Spread the word about all this great music and move me a step closer to world domination. Actually, being well-known enough to secure a good seat in the local supermarket caff would suit me just fine.

Many thanks/diolch o galon, Adam Walton.


POKET TREZ - 'Rockin'/Dom Da'

FUTURE OF THE LEFT - 'Failed Olympic Bid'

MARTIN CARR - 'Sailor'

BENNETTON - 'Framework'
Cardiff Label

SHE RIPPED - 'Ultra - Social Happy Man'

RALPH RIP SH*T - 'Something [ Radio Edit ]'

SUE DENIM - 'Bicycle'

EUROS CHILDS - 'Spin That Girl Around [ Single Version ]'

SCHOOL, THE - 'I Should Do'

POOH STICKS, THE - 'The World Is Turning On'

MANDY - 'George And Lorna's Secret Romance'


STEFAN MELBOURNE - 'How Long Is Always? ( Featuring Chloe Leavers ) E. P. Version'

BO NINGEN - 'Koroshitai Kimochi (reprise)'

CREISION HUD - 'Satellite'

TRWBADOR - 'Gwlana'

IFAN DAFYDD - 'To Me ( E. P. Version )'


MILESTONE - 'Showtime'

CRIMEA, THE - 'How To Make You Laugh'

ZERVAS & PEPPER - 'One Man Show'

ISLET - 'This Fortune'

MOWBIRD - 'Thank You, You Are Revolting'

Connah's Quay

ZWOLF - 'Breathe'

ZEBEDY - 'This Is My City [ Radio Edit ]'

CLOCKWORK RADIO - 'Feel It Up [ Youan Remix ]'

SEAN BW PARKER - 'A More Defensive Attack'

EUROS CHILDS - 'Just A Dream [ Single Version ]'

LARA CATRIN - 'Spoken Contribution'


PANABRITE - 'Moss Port'
Seattle/Welsh Label

DUBRISING & RHYS TRIMBLE - 'Kapita [ Radio Edit ]'

OZRIC TENTACLES - 'Disolution ( The Clouds Disperse )'

MR9CARTER - 'The Moombatune'


DAINE - 'Wonderful Waste'

BEN HAYES - 'Spoken Contribution'



MARTIN CARR - 'I Will Build A Road'

Should Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland go it alone at Eurovision?

Post categories:

James McLaren James McLaren | 08:00 UK time, Friday, 25 May 2012

This weekend sees the grand final of Eurovision 2012. How will Engelbert Humperdinck do? Will it be nul points again for the UK? What might happen if Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland went it alone?

Manic Street Preachers

Could Manic Street Preachers represent Wales at Eurovision?

Since about the year 2000 the UK's position as regular Eurovision high achievers has been eroded, some say fatally. Never again, they say, will the UK win, battling as the country does against politically-motivated 'bloc voting', an expanded competition, anti-British sentiment and terrible performances.

The UK last won in 1997 with Katrina And The Waves' Love Shine A Light. All through the 1990s the UK came in the top 10, until 12th place in 1999. From then on, we dipped: 16th in 2000 and 2001; 26th in 2003; 16th in 2004; 22nd in 2005 and 2007; 19th in 2006; 25th in 2008 and 2010.

Jessica Garlick

Jessica Garlick was one of the few highlights for the UK since 2000

Welsh woman Jessica Garlick got third place in 2002, with other high points being fifth in 2009 and a mere 11th in 2011.

So, the UK's average position has dropped a long way from the golden days of Bucks Fizz or Brotherhood Of Man.

We were wondering, therefore... might it be better if Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland embraced the spirit of independence that - politically - our assemblies and parliaments have fostered?

Might it be that the British 'Celtic' nations could bat above their average in this most politicised of 'talent' shows?

There's a man who might know, and he's Dr Patrick Finney of the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University. "What an interesting question," he says. "It's not a subject that's been rigorously addressed by political science, but in the spirit of fun I can offer some thoughts."

Let's start simply: Do you think Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland might benefit from entering Eurovision separately from England?

"They might well do, and this would certainly be in the spirit of the current moves towards the establishment of more autonomous political identities in these parts of the UK. This assumes, however, that doing well in Eurovision is a prize worth winning - given the ruinous cost of staging the contest the next year, this might be a moot point."

What do you think of something I've heard people say on occasion, that the UK as a political entity has something of a toxic identity for mainland Europe? In 2003 even Terry Wogan suggested there was a backlash because of the Gulf War.

"This is a complex problem. What factors explain the UK's recent lamentable performance in Eurovision? It could simply be the proliferation of nations competing in the event, which makes it harder for any single nation to do well consistently.

"Equally, regional voting 'blocs' have emerged in the Balkans and Caucasus, in which near neighbours tend consistently to vote for each other - out of loyalty to each other rather than hostility to the UK, of course. But it may well also be that the UK is not well-positioned to win many friends on the continent, given entrenched perceptions that it is slavishly loyal to the US and snootily indifferent or haughtily superior to its fellow Europeans in the EU and beyond."

That tallies with a conversation I had a few days ago, in which a friend was explaining how much more friendly French people were when they discovered he was Welsh, rather than English. So might a 'Celtic' identity be more appealing for mainland European countries to vote for?

"Anecdotal evidence suggest this might be so - I have in the past pretended to be Irish when abroad to good effect! And the Republic of Ireland, I think, has a track record of more recent success than the UK in the contest."

You mentioned voting blocs. If voting blocs exist in the Caucasus countries, or the Balkans, might we expect a similar voting bloc from the Celtic countries?

"Definitely possible! I doubt they would give many votes to England, however."

Do Stereophonics capture the Celtic mood with their song As Long As We Beat The English?

Indeed; we see that in sport - "As long as we beat the English," as Stereophonics once sang. But do you think that Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish entrants should perform in the indigenous languages of their countries?

"This might make sense if the main purpose was the expression of national identity; if the purpose is to win, then English would probably be the better option, especially as it is increasingly the lingua franca of entrants."

Some interesting thoughts from an academic there. As a political experiment it would be fascinating. Culture is inseparable from politics, and it's more complex than one might first suppose: the Balkans are mutually-supportive despite having engaged in the most brutal conflict since World War Two.

At the core of the issue is the fact that most European countries, especially in the expanded format we've had in recent years which embraces former Soviet states, take the competition seriously. It's a matter of national pride. If the Celtic nations entered independently, would they also have this seriousness of purpose? If the UK sees fit to enter kitsch nostalgia, might Wales enter Manic Street Preachers draped in Welsh flags? Might Northern Ireland put forward Snow Patrol to sing an elegiac epic? Might Scotland decide that Paolo Nutini would show their country in a good light?

After all, exposure to hundreds of millions of European TV viewers would be something our tourist boards would love, and wouldn't even have to pay for.

Who would you put forward for Eurovision? 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.

"Seeing Welsh flags in the crowd made me very proud"

Post categories:

James McLaren James McLaren | 08:00 UK time, Friday, 25 May 2012

In 2004 James Fox became the last Welsh person to represent the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest. He came 16th, so not an unmitigated disaster, but neither was it a stellar success. I talked to him about his time on the competition.

James Fox

James Fox

Looking back to 2004, what were your thoughts about Eurovision as a whole? Do you think it has a place for acts really trying to make a career?

"I remember being quite reticent about taking part in the selection show at the time, but not only was there the chance of representing your country on a massive scale in front of a European audience of hundreds of millions but there was also the offer of a Sony recording contract for the winner of the selection show, so that definitely tipped the balance for me.

"Eurovision was something I had watched growing up and always had this strange feeling that I would be involved in it someday. The competition is a strange concept anyway: I mean, how do you judge which song is 'better' than another? It comes down to taste, obviously, countries voting for each other and who provides the most shocking or original idea for the three minute 'mini musical theatre stage show' that it has now become.

"I think with the amount of exposure you get from the contest, that unless you have a total nightmare on the night like Gemini did the year before I did the contest, then I think it has a place for acts trying to make it, even if it does put them in a certain category within the music industry after they have competed."

What would say was the effect of your appearance on your career?

"After competing in 2004 I can honestly say that the most successful and profitable times of my career so far were in the years that followed immediately after Eurovision. It opened lots of doors and allowed me to go and star on Broadway and release my own records.

Did you have a sense of pride in representing 'the land of song' at such a high level?

"Of course! I did countless television and radio interviews and found myself constantly correcting the interviewer when they said I was representing England. I am a very proud Welshman and would reply: 'I'm a Welshman representing the UK'. If I had won that year then the following year's contest would have been held in Cardiff.

"That was a massive incentive and seeing all the Welsh flags in the crowd on such a huge event calmed my nerves and made me very proud."

Looking at Eurovision now, do you think it has the same appeal for acts and audiences as it maybe did in the 70s?

"Maybe not. Like I hinted at before, it definitely doesn't provide longevity in a music career but then these days that is something very hard to come by anyway. Record companies used to give signed acts three albums to get it right, now you are lucky if you get two singles!

"Back in the 70s the bigger acts of the day seemed to take part because they thought they could win it; nowadays it seems that for number of reasons the acts just do it for the exposure and winning is maybe not on their mind."

What were the memories you took away from the contest? Any oddness? I can't think of a single event that brings together such a collection of disparate people.

"I remember getting off the plane at Istanbul to the biggest collection of TV cameras and media that I had ever seen. Europe takes the contest so seriously and the memory I will always have is the crazy media circus that surrounded me and the other competitors that week.

"It was a lot of fun but totally chaotic, with bizarre press conferences and meeting so many people that were Eurovision fanatics. It really is something I will never forget!

"Walking on the big stage in front of 20,000 in the arena and all those millions around Europe on television I can remember everything being very silent, an almost out of body experience in terms of calmness, and also not fully being able to deal with or comprehend the size of the job in hand and the pressure that came with it.

"Time seemed to stand still and you just work on autopilot. Then when the song ends you snap out of it and wake up in the hall full of people. I have never experienced anything like that before or since. Also, I have never seen so many people crammed in a make-up/costume department prior to a gig. It seemed that a song was merely a vehicle to display the ability to stilt walk whist wearing a horror mask (yes, that really did happen). There really is nothing like watching Bosnians singing and dancing wearing swimming costumes during a 'serious' press conference!"

Lastly, what advice would you have for UK Eurovision entrants now?

"Search their family history and see if they have any relatives in other European countries, try to represent one of those countries and have a chance of being voted for! But on a serious note, if the UK is their only chance, then just enjoy yourself and try and make inroads into the many other more profitable music markets in Europe as a result of the mass exposure that they will get.

"Despite this country not taking the contest seriously, try and remember that you are still representing your country in the field that you have chosen and to take as much pride in that as you can."

The Welsh at Eurovision

Post categories:

James McLaren James McLaren | 08:00 UK time, Friday, 25 May 2012

Did you know the most successful Eurovision single ever was, in part, Welsh? Or that the highest-placed Eurovision song since 1998 was wholly Welsh? No? Then read on as we plot the course of Welsh involvement in the biggest gathering of international singing talent on the planet! (And Jemini.)

Things kicked off in 1970 with Mary Hopkin's Knock Knock Who's There? She finished second, to Ireland's Dana with All Kinds Of Everything.

Pontardawe's Hopkin told the Western Mail in 2009: "I was so embarrassed about it. Standing on a stage singing a song you hate is awful. Unless you're expressing what's inside there's just no point."

Others haven't been so down about their moment in the sun. Carmarthen's Nicky Stevens of 1976's chart behemoths Brotherhood Of Man told us: "I remember sitting at home in Carmarthen watching the New Seekers on the contest and thinking wouldn't it be marvellous to win something like that. Little did I realise what was to come. I never dreamed in a million years that one day I would be a winner."

The song, Save Your Kisses For Me, went on to win, becoming the biggest-selling Eurovision song of all time, topping the charts in 33 countries.

Watch Brotherhood Of Man perform Save Your Kisses For Me:

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

The UK has suffered a drop in average scores since the 1990s, some think because of political protest at the country's involvement in international conflict, some think because the songs we've put forward haven't been any good. Luckily, there was a ray of light in 2002 with Swansea's Jessica Garlick.

Here she is, talking about performing at Eurovision and the inspiration she had from previous entrants:

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Watch Jessica performing Come Back at Eurovision 2002, in which she finished third:

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Two years later, James Fox of Bargoed attempted to do something that no male soloist had ever done for the UK: win Eurovision. Despite the Fame Academy graduate winning the selection show by a country mile, he came 16th in Eurovision, He did, however, improve on the previous year's 'nul points' from Jemini.

Sometimes Welsh artists don't even compete for the UK. Newport's Jon Lilygreen stepped up for Cyprus in 2010 in mysterious circumstances:

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Watch Jon Lilygreen And The Islanders performing for Cyprus in the 2010 Eurovision finals, with Life Looks Better In Spring:

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

This year we could have had another Welsh entrant as Tom Morgan went for the competition to represent Finland. Unfortunately, as he told us: "I didn't make it any further than the final 40! I got myself 826 "likes" but that wasn't enough to get me far up the chart. I think I ended up in 37th place, although I'm not 100% sure about that. At least I know I didn't come last!

"I'll admit that my song wasn't particularly great (I wrote and recorded it in a massive hurry), but I still think it was one of the better songs of the 40... maybe the Finns just didn't appreciate having a foreigner 'in the running' to represent them in Baku."

So this year we'll have no domestic talent to cheer for, but never fear. We can always pretend that Jemini were Welsh and watch this on repeat:

What have been your favourite Eurovision entries? 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.

"A three minute song in 1976 in Holland changed our lives forever"

Post categories:

James McLaren James McLaren | 08:00 UK time, Friday, 25 May 2012

If you were born in 1976, there's a good chance that Save Your Kisses For Me topped the charts at the time. The summer of drought, water bowsers and sunburn was also the summer of Brotherhood Of Man - Eurovision winners and chart superstars.

Brotherhood Of Man's Nicky Stevens of Carmarthen is to this day the sole Welsh person ever to have won Eurovision. She told us about her involvement with the competition all those years ago.

Brotherhood Of Man in 1976

Brotherhood Of Man in 1976

Looking back to 1976, what were your thoughts about Eurovision as a whole? Did it have a place for acts really trying to make a career?

"In 1976 Eurovision was a tremendously prestigious contest to take part in, especially if you won. Of course it was a great place for acts to be seen who were trying to further their career; it still is a great 'shop window' for performers as, after all, it goes out to numerous countries accumulating millions of viewers.

"Also, let's not forget it really is a song contest. It opens many doors for the songwriters. Their product gets heard and hopefully recorded by successful recording artistes. There is no cheque as a prize, it's the prestige and high acclaim that one receives and any successful career move that results from it.

"I remember sitting at home in Carmarthen watching the New Seekers on the contest and thinking wouldn't it be marvellous to win something like that. Little did I realise what was to come. I never dreamed in a million years that one day I would be a winner."

Brotherhood Of Man in 1976

Brotherhood Of Man in 1976

What would say was the effect of your win on your career?

"The contest for us had the most marvellous effect on our career. Save Your Kisses For Me went on to be number one in 33 different countries. For us it could not have been any better.

"The year that we won saw a new concept introduced. The songwriters for the first time were able to choose the artist that they wished to perform the song. Our song-writing team of Hiller, Lee and Sheridan obviously chose Brotherhood Of Man as Hiller was our manager and Lee and Sheridan were two of the group members!

"The song eventually sold six million copies worldwide and is still the highest selling Eurovision winner ever. It earned us a platinum disc and ended up the top selling single of 1976, and is currently one of the top 100 selling songs in the UK.

"After Kisses, we continued with several hit records worldwide, travelling the world performing in concert and numerous television appearances. We have been privileged to meet and perform in front of many of the worlds greatest dignitaries, including our own Royal Family and appeared at some of the world's most prestigious venues.

"Due to our success of winning the Eurovision, we still perform internationally in concert and television and we are now celebrating our 40th year together and still the same four original line up. So, for Brotherhood Of Man, a performance of a three minute song in 1976 at the Hague in Holland changed our lives forever."

Brotherhood Of Man in 2011

Brotherhood Of Man in 2011

As the only Welsh artist to have ever won the contest, do you have a sense of pride in representing 'the land of song' at such a high level?

"As the only Welsh artist to ever win the Eurovision contest, it goes without saying that I am so proud to have represented Wales at such a high level. I remember so well how exited the townsfolk of Carmarthen were and the numerous cards and telegrams that I received. The art master, Terry Johns, of Carmarthen Grammar School had designed and made good luck pendants for each of us. We had them in our pockets as we performed the song. That's the Welsh for you - and yes, there is always a welcome in the hillside when I go home."

You guys must have attracted groupies and engaged in all sorts of high-jinks... or not? Is the idea of the big 70s band a bit of a myth?

"The 1970s produced many bands with many different personalities, shall we say. Yes of course we had our regular followers, some are still following us now and bring their children to see us, would you believe.

"As a group back then, we would do our fair share of partying; we were young but we were a very clean-living group and were always devoid of any scandal. Not one of us were ever involved in the drugs scene and when we were not working we would be with our family and friends.

"Most of our friends were outside the business so we were never part of the London scene mixing with people of similar success. It goes without saying the boys had their female admirers and Sandra and I had male ones, but they were always just admirers as we were all in stable relationships."

Looking at Eurovision now, do you think it has the same appeal for acts and audiences?

"For some, the contest is still as appealing and for others not. We still perform in other European countries, sometimes performing on their Song For Europe; this year we performed on the Irish one in Dublin where Jedward were chosen again. I do find that other countries are far more enthusiastic than the UK.

"When we won. there were only 18 countries entering. Now there is an elimination contest as well as the major one. It still has the appeal for acts and even though I speak to people who feel that it has lost its appeal, I find that they still watch it. The media still show the same interest as this time of year we find ourselves doing numerous radio and television interviews."

Lastly, what do you make of the camp take on the contest that Terry Wogan and subsequent presenters have driven? Is that the right way in which to view the contest?

"The camp take on the contest can be funny and sometimes not. I think it depends on one's sense of humour and seriousness. Wogan got on my nerves many a time but other times I had to laugh.

"However, one year we were performing in Copenhagen and watched the contest there. I really enjoyed it more because if the commentator was throwing quips around. We did not understand the language and I must say I found it refreshing!"

My brain is all full up!

Post categories:

Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton | 10:40 UK time, Thursday, 24 May 2012

This week theBBC National Orchestra of Wales has been tackling Debussy's Images with associate guest conductor, François-Xavier Roth. Now, I have always had a bit of a problem with Debussy. I know his music is very lovely, and very exotic sounding, and all the other words that we are taught should be used when discussing Monsieur Debussy's works, but I have always found it a little hard to get into.

I like the big gestures of Mahler, the rawness of Shostakovich, the unabashed heart on sleeve writing of Tchaikovsky, and for me, Debussy's music has always seemed a little too intangible, a little too diaphanous. I often find myself a little overwhelmed by what can sound like a wall of sound, an orchestral wash of colours.

Approaching Images this week has been something of a revelation for me. François has an amazing way of breaking the music down so that you can hear all the layers of the music (and being Debussy, the layers are many), building it up bit by bit to create the whole picture.

This is so helpful, as it means you understand exactly where your line fits in and your ear learns what it can latch on to. The end result is that, rather than being a wishy-washy, airy-fairy, sensuous melee of Frenchness, the music can blossom forth with all the subtlety and nuances needed to make this style of music successful.

Debussy's scores are always so explicitly marked. In one bar of four notes, you can often have four different articulation marks over each individual note. It can often feel like information overload, and there can be the temptation to gloss over some of the details. The problem with that is, while you will still get the general gist of what it sounds like, you miss the crucial details that give the music its character, and you can also adulterate what the music is really supposed to be saying.

Glossing over is strictly prohibited in François' rehearsals. Any attempts to do so are normally met with "Ah, my very dears, do you not see in your score that this is different from the note that came before? Why you no play this?"

I guess the thing with Debussy's music is that it is a subtler style of writing than the music of the German romantics whose music I love so much, or the Russians whose music thrills my mind. With Debussy, the devil really is in the detail, and I think this is the first time I've really full grasped that. I have found myself really challenged to capture every nuance in the score, and, as a result, am enjoying Images in a way that I have never enjoyed playing Debussy before. I can honestly say I get it now.

My goodness, it is hard work though. My brain feels full up. I feel slightly cross eyed, slightly overwrought, I definitely have a slightly furrowed brow and I could do with a coffee!

The orchestra performs Debussy's Images at Cardiff's St David's Hall on Friday, and Swansea's Brangwyn Hall on Saturday. For tickets and more information, call 0800 052 1812.

Lostprophets on Radio 1's Live Lounge

Post categories:

James McLaren James McLaren | 08:06 UK time, Thursday, 24 May 2012

On Tuesday Pontypridd rock titans Lostprophets appeared on the Live Lounge section of Fearne Cotton's Radio 1 show. The band rocked out live from Maida Vale with one of the singles from the most recent album, plus a cover version with a very special guest.

First up was We Bring An Arsenal from their fifth album Weapons. Watch it here:

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Then the band was joined by Hackney songwriter, rapper and producer Labrinth for a cover of his single Earthquake:

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

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.

Tom Jones and Rob Brydon talk to Spirits In The Room

Post categories:

James McLaren James McLaren | 09:09 UK time, Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Tom Jones has joined forces with comic actor Rob Brydon to produce a humorous video to promote Jones' new album Spirit In The Room, out this week.

Playing up his reputation for regaling interviewers with anecdotes of his time hanging out with the likes of Elvis and Frank Sinatra, the video features Brydon as a medium, communicating with the spirits in the ethereal realm.

Jones' record label has put the skit up on YouTube, which we've embedded here:

Spirit In The Room, the follow-up to 2010's successful Praise And Blame, has been largely well-received, with The Independent giving it 4/5: "Continuing the association with producer Ethan Johns that proved so fruitful on Praise And Blame, Tom Jones's 2010 exploration of American blues and gospel modes, Spirit In The Room takes a decisive step forward by focusing instead on a more modern repertoire."

The Guardian (3/5) comments: "Ultimately, you conclude, Jones's golden voice was built for hooting, hollering and hubba-hubba-ing at the ladies, not mulling things over."

The Telegraph (3/5) concludes: "When Jones really connects with the material the results have undeniable emotional heft, with an elegiac delivery of Paul McCartney's (I Want To) Come Home and a brooding interpretation of Blind Willie Johnson's dark blues Soul Of A Man. The album has to be judged a late-period triumph, even if I am not entirely convinced The Voice's avuncular judge is quite as deep as the material demands."

What do you think of the video and the album? 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.

Lies, damned lies and chart statistics

Post categories:

James McLaren James McLaren | 11:22 UK time, Monday, 21 May 2012

American author Mark Twain once reported British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli as saying: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

It's a maxim, however apocryphal, that has power, and which drives a lot of the thinking of commentators in politics, economics and culture to this day.

It has its place in music too: how regularly do we hear statistics bandied about when it comes to the 'best-selling' or the 'fastest ever sales' and so on and so forth.

But where's the truth? And does the truth even matter?

The Bee Gees

The Bee Gees

Today the sad news came through of Robin Gibb's death. The Bee Gees singer and songwriter has rightly been eulogised for his artistic accomplishments, but in passing a figure of 200m record sales has been mentioned. Sometimes generally as 'records' but sometimes more specifically as 'albums'.

For those of us immersed in the business of music, it matters how facts and figures are reported. Call it geeky if you will, but with the continuing assault by Adele upon the UK's best seller list, it's in the news almost every week. Cower before the might of Adele as she vanquishes Dire Straits, Pink Floyd and even Michael Jackson.

The message to news consumers, to people who might even occasionally buy records, is that sales figures are inherently newsworthy. If that's the supposition, then a certain degree of accuracy should be striven for, as with all other subjects of news journalism.

The trouble is that music is inherently unreliable, muddled and muddied in the upkeep of its own history. Until the 1970s at the earliest, charts were often manipulated - the 'payola' scandal in America had record companies paying radio stations to play their works. Skulduggery and underhand tactics characterised the industry across the world. It still does in some territories.

But that's not to say that educated guesses can't be made.

In America, the world's largest music market, an album goes platinum at sales of one million, while in the UK it's 300,000. France, Turkey and Germany are 200,000 and Japan 250,000. These are the biggest music markets in the world, by far. The rest of Europe, Asia and Australasia add another significant portion of course, but individual countries have far lower thresholds than these examples.

It is plausible that the 'rest of the world' could double the sales of these main markets.

Sales figure data is easy to come by for these main markets, owing to three decades of 'point of sale' electronic scanning. So...

The Bee Gees' best-selling record is the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. It's 15 times platinum in the US, with more than 15m sales. Its sales in the other main markets add about five million. At the upper-end this album might have sold 40m.

Their only other US number one album was 1979's Spirits Having Flown. Its total sales from the main markets is 5.5m. So let's estimate total worldwide sales, at absolute maximum of 11m. USA Today puts it at 20m, so just for the sake of argument let's take that.

This gives us 60m so far. There's another 140m to account for. Let's estimate that the other studio albums sold another 10m (they really weren't very successful). Can singles sales take care of 130m? That's far from likely.

It seems likely that reported sales figures are cobbled together from online encyclopaedias, which only require one source for stated facts. It's therefore easy to imagine figures amalgamating, expanding and getting a life their own, without any mathematical analysis being applied to them.

Why is any of this important? Well, it's part of a wider picture. The more inaccurate facts people have, the less they understand about the industry. Down the bottom of the ladder, artists have to deal with their audiences fundamentally misunderstanding their capacity to earn, to live, to make a career.

The vague notion people have that any kind of chart appearance or magazine coverage means riches and stardom is so far wide of the mark that it's almost humorous, but it's a serious issue when the reality is so far wide of the mark.

Accuracy helps to give a more complete picture of an industry in which a tiny percentage of acts make any money at all. Inflated estimates of the top acts' sales figures knock that drive for accuracy before it's even begun. Why should anything be accurate if this isn't?

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.

New York hip hop giants play Newport

Post categories:

James McLaren James McLaren | 19:39 UK time, Thursday, 17 May 2012

In one of the strangest bookings Wales has seen for a while, one of the world's biggest and most influential hip hop bands have been booked to play in Newport this July.

Wu Tang Clan

Wu Tang Clan

New York's Wu Tang Clan will play Big Splash on Monday 16 July.

On Twitter the response to the booking was a combination of the ecstatic and the incredulous. @garethjphillips said: "What a massive coup for Newport", while @Beau__ said "Wu-Tang Clan are playing Newport in July. I'm genuinely ridiculously excited."

It was perhaps expressed most succinctly by @Lou_143: "Holy cow!"

A note of caution was expressed, however, by a local music industry linchpin:

"Hats off to the organisers of the festival if they've managed to book Wu Tang Clan," said south Wales promoter John Rostron, who co-runs the Sŵn festival. "It certainly makes a change from the usual fare at civic festivals. The thing with The Wu Tang Clan, though, is that you don't know who you're going to get these days."

And that might be the problem for the Big Splash: Wu Tang Clan, once a globe-straddling unified collective, have become increasingly fractured over the years and given the fluid nature of their working practices might be represented by anything up to the full nine members.

This booking could be a massive triumph for the officials of the Big Splash, if it goes well. The ambition is to be applauded. And, lest we forget, Newport hasn't been averse to a spot of hip hop magic over the years.

Will you being going? 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.

It's like work experience, but much more fun

Post categories:

Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton | 11:46 UK time, Thursday, 17 May 2012

This week the BBC National Orchestra of Wales was joined by a number of students from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Similarly to many other colleges and orchestras, the college and orchestra co-operate on a student placement scheme.

The students win their places by competitive audition, in much the same manner that each of us have won our jobs. The successful students take part in rehearsals throughout the year, sitting beside members of the orchestra. The opportunity to work with the orchestra gives students an intimate insight into working life.

Firstly, it demonstrates how prepared your music must be before the first rehearsal. In my first year of Ulster Youth Orchestra, I thought it was good enough to give the music a cursory glance before rehearsals began. Surely rehearsals were the time when you learnt all the notes? Wrong! Lessons were quickly learnt on that course.

As all of the violas appeared to have the seem attitude as me, the conductor made us play, desk by desk, a particularly nasty viola passage in front of the whole orchestra. In a subsequent course the late Mike Cookson asked if I knew which instrument the violas played a particular passage alongside. I did not, and he kindly pointed out to me that, although I could play the notes, I did not know the music. He was right.

While it is seldom that a conductor will pick out individual string players to play passages in front of all their colleagues, the point is that you probably should be able to if you were asked to, and you should know where in the grand scheme of the music your line fits in. In order to lift the music to a high standard, you simply have to know the music thoroughly before you arrive for rehearsal.

In addition to this, the scheme gives students the opportunity to hone their awareness skills. In the orchestra a lot is done within sections without much being said. You are supposed to keep an eye on the music, an eye on your principal, an eye on the leader of the orchestra and an eye on the conductor. Now, I'm rubbish at maths, but that's too many eyes, but all the same, you have to get quick at doing it.

As the summer term wears on, with the summer break itself approaching (someone might like to remind the weather of that fact), the colleges will all be gearing up for final recitals. Students will be frantically practising their recital programmes, with the final year and postgraduate students hoping to demonstrate to the examining panels the culmination of what they have learnt during their studies. This is a stressful time for students; it can feel like the rest of your life is dependent upon you not messing up that shift, not splitting that note.

I would like to wish all the students who have worked with us all the very best for their recitals and for the future.

The orchestra presents a programme of Debussy and Shostakovich at Cardiff's St David's Hall on Friday 25 May, and Swansea's Brangwyn Hall on Saturday 26 May. For more information and tickets, call 0800 052 1812.

It's a bit loud, isn't it?

Post categories:

Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton | 08:20 UK time, Wednesday, 16 May 2012

In recent weeks, celebrities from the world of popular music have spoken out about the obvious, but often ignored, link between loud music and hearing problems. Chris Martin (Coldplay) and Plan B (handsome) have spoken about their problems with tinnitus; a constant, high pitched drone that can develop if the ear has been damaged by over-exposure to loud sounds.

This, and a host of other ear problems, are a problem in the classical music world. In my own practice, if I have repeatedly practised a particularly high, loud passage, I am conscious of discomfort in my ears - and that is nothing to do with dodgy intonation or screechy strings, thank you very much. I am often very thankful not to be a piccolo player when in a practice room. If there can be discomfort with just one person playing, how much worse can it be with multiple musicians playing?

When we rehearse music of a particularly bombastic nature, for example a Mahler or Bruckner symphony, or something very contemporary with an abundance of loud, jarring dissonances, I often feel that the silence on leaving the studio is very loud. Sometimes, I get a slight ringing in my ears, but thankfully for me, this is not a continuous sensation.

When I was young, my parents, quite rightly, were continually telling me to turn the volume down in my headphones. Alas, in work it is impossible to do that and you can't walk away from the noise in the way that you can move away from speakers at a gig or festival.

As musicians, our livelihood is somewhat dependent on our ability to hear satisfactorily and, therefore, we have to do what we can to minimise the damage inflicted on our hearing. This is often a compromise and involves a fair bit of trial and error.

On stage you frequently see little perspex screens behind various players' heads. These screens are supposed to protect the player from the sound levels coming from behind them, but often have the adverse effect of simply throwing that noise back to the colleague from which it is emitting, therefore placing their hearing at greater risk also. We have been experimenting with screens of different shapes and materials in work, but I don't know if there has been a conclusion reached yet. We're continuing to work with the orchestra's management to try and find a solution that works for everyone.

In the BBC National Orchestra of Wales we all have fancy-pants earplugs created from moulds of our ears, but I personally still do not find them particularly comfortable. I'm trying to persevere with them. Earplugs can sometimes make it difficult to hear either yourself, or the delicate nuances called for, and I personally hate feeling that I'm not catching all the details I should. However, better that than burgeoning hearing problems, I guess.

February saw British Tinnitus Awareness Week and now, Action on Hearing Loss' Loud Music Campaign aims to raise awareness about hearing health. Perhaps it is time for all of us to really start thinking about the health of our ears.

The orchestra presents an afternoon of Brahms, Mozart and Hindemith tonight (Wednesday 16 May) from 2pm, at BBC Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff Bay. For more information and tickets, call 0800 052 1812.

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.

Adam Walton playlist and show info: Saturday 12 May 2012

Post categories:

Adam Walton Adam Walton | 17:33 UK time, Monday, 14 May 2012

This week's show is now available via the BBC iPlayer. Please visit the link any time between now and the start of the next programme.

This week we bathe in the heartening radiance of a live set from The Gentle Good, aka Gareth Bonello. I wrote - at length, with a certain amount of ear drool spilling on to my keyboard - about Gareth's excellent live set t'other night elsewhere in these blogs, well this is 13 minutes of that set. Lucky for us, truly.

Elsewhere Huw Williams talks about Datblygu, Ben Hayes inspires us with some Essential Logic (a programme first!) and Lara Catrin tackles the not inconsiderable task of translating a couple of verses from Genod Droog for us.

Then - of course - there is the music. New tracks from The School, Race Horses and Future of the Left - and debut plays for The Secret Agent 5, Mike Fantastic, Amane, Best Days, Ronnie Parry, Panabrite, Exempt, Ric L. Washer and Bo Walton.

Please mail new releases/demos & gig info to, or post baubles to:

BBC Wales
Canolfan y Diwydiannau Creadigol/The Centre for the Creative Industries
Prifysgol Glyndŵr/Glyndŵr University
LL11 2AW

Here are the show stats for the year so far. Not that I'm obsessed or at all bothered by statistics. Well, maybe 47.946% of the time I am - at a rough estimate.

628 unique songs/734 Total. 405 Artists in 20 shows since 1st, Jan '12 (~songs per show:37, unique artists per show:20) Welsh:94%

Top 5 played since 1st, Jan '12: Future Of The Left(18), Irma Vep(17), Y Niwl(16), Cate Le Bon(16), Georgia Ruth(13).


SCHOOL, THE - 'You Make Me Hear Music ( Inside My Head )'


Y NIWL - 'Undegnaw ( Sesiwn Gwobrau Roc A Phop 2012 )'

GEORGIA RUTH - 'Etrai ( Sesiwn Gwobrau Roc A Phop 2012 )'

MOWBIRD - 'Thank You, You Are Revolting'

HUW WILLIAMS - 'Spoken Contribution'

DATBLYGU - 'Y Teimlad'



AMANé - 'Sunday'

RICHARD JAMES - 'Down To My Heart'
Croes - Y - Ceiliog

BEST DAYS - 'Wasted'

FUTURE OF THE LEFT - 'Beneath The Waves An Ocean'

GENTLE GOOD, THE - 'Llosgi Pontydd [ Live At Telford's Warehouse ]'

GENTLE GOOD, THE - 'Pamela [ Live At Telford's Warehouse ]'

GENTLE GOOD, THE - 'Siwrne'r Wylan Fry [ Live At Telford's Warehouse ]'

HEAVY PETTING ZOO - 'Deathproof'

RONNIE PARRY - 'Trust And Money'


PANABRITE - 'Equinox'
Seattle/Welsh Label

BWGAN, Y - 'Gwaelod Y Byd'


EXEMPT - 'Blown Away'

RIC L. WASHER - 'Clock Watching'

EUROS CHILDS - 'Spin That Girl Around [ Single Version ]'

CATE LE BON - 'Through The Mill'


STEFF ADAMS - 'Hectic Day'

MOWBIRD - 'We Sell Maternity Simwear'

BO WALTON - 'I Like It Like That'

FAMILY OF THE YEAR - 'Stairs [ E P Version ]'

THREE PAIRS OF SHOES - 'From Wics To Burs'

JAGUAR MIN - 'Hormarma'

YR ODS - 'Dwi'm Yn Angel ( Sesiwn Gwobrau Roc A Phop 2012 )'

SŵNAMI - 'Cyfle ( Sesiwn Gwobrau Roc A Phop 2012 )'

LARA CATRIN - 'Spoken Contribution'

GENOD DROOG - 'Gwn Tatws'

BEN HAYES - 'Spoken Contribution'

ESSENTIAL LOGIC - 'Aerosol Burns'


Museums At Night: Cardiff

Post categories:

Bethan Elfyn Bethan Elfyn | 13:17 UK time, Monday, 14 May 2012

A couple of years ago I was part of a magical concert in a rather unusual location. Breaking open its doors to the public after dark, the National Museum in Cardiff had a month of music, and I managed to catch the wonderful Georgia Ruth playing her harp. Can you imagine the natural acoustics in the lobby area? There was a reverberation around the massive hall, and it sounded spectacular.

Gareth Bonello

Gareth Bonello, The Gentle Good

I'm pleased to say that Museums At Night is back, and this year it's at the heart of the Cardiff Story in the Old Library in Cardiff. Playing this Friday (18 May) will be The Gentle Good, Spencer McGarry, Evening Chorus, Miss Maud's Folly and Little Arrow. Catrin James of Clwb Ifor Bach has helped curate the evening. I caught up with her to find out more.

Where did the idea come from, and what's the main aim?

"The event is part of Museums At Night, an annual after-hours celebration of arts, culture and heritage when hundreds of museums, galleries, libraries, archives and heritage sites open their doors for special evening events. It is coordinated by Culture24, and takes place over the weekend of Friday 18 to Sunday 20 May.

"The Cardiff Sessions will celebrate some of the best live music Cardiff has to offer, and also give visitors a chance to see the galleries and the city's history in a new light, completely free of charge. Lauren Laverne is the ambassador for Museums At Night 2012."

The atmosphere at the museum will be pretty unique, but what else makes the location special?

"The location is special as you are able to walk around the galleries and take in the history and information of the museums collections while listening to local artists."

The artists are all Welsh, but is it a wider concept across the UK?

"Museums At Night is taking place nationally in hundreds of museums and heritage sites but it's the first time the Cardiff Story has taken part as we opened our doors to the public only one year ago."

How will the Cardiff Story play into this evening?

"Music will play a major part in phase two of the the Cardiff Story which will be opening in the next two years, making the museum double its size with collections to do with its music history, culture and diversity and communities."

Line-up and details are here and there's also a Facebook event page.

Wales' first one hit wonder

Post categories:

James McLaren James McLaren | 09:00 UK time, Monday, 14 May 2012

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 Llantwit Fardre, died on 14 May 1932. Twenty-five years before his death, he composed a melody entitled Rhondda.

It would eventually become a rugby terrace anthem.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Hughes showed musical talent from an early age, which was fostered by his equally-musical father, Evan, who bought him a harmonium with which to develop his skills.

His working life began as a 12-year-old boy in the Gelynog Colliery, but he became ill with typhoid after drinking from an infected stream. His illness prevented him carrying out any underground work, so he became a colliery clerk instead.

In the early years of the 20th century he took over from his father as Salem Chapel's chorusmaster and began composing works for worship, most especially for the congregation of Temple Church on the Graig at Pontypridd.

It was in 1907 that a fevered writing session resulted in a melody that would bring him the recognition his talent deserved.

He was invited to compose a work for Capel Rhondda's annual music festival which would coincide with the installation of a new organ at the chapel.

On 1 November 1907 his new melody was performed as planned on the new organ, with a choir marrying the words from Wele'n Sefyll Rhwng Y Myrtwydd by Ann Griffiths (1776-1805) to the tune.

Hughes would later choose Peter Williams' Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah to accompany his melody, and it was in this version that became famous as a song of worship across the world. By 1908 it was known as Cwm Rhondda.

During his lifetime Hughes composed dozens of other other hymns. At the time well-known, they have now slipped out of usage and Cwm Rhondda remains his best-known work.

He died in 1932, aged 58, from illness complicated by - as with many men of the time - his time in coal mining.

After his death Cwm Rhondda developed a life of its own. Rugby fans at the Arms Park would arrive early to guarantee good viewing positions, and keep themselves entertained by singing popular songs from their chapels. Cwm Rhondda began to gain momentum. Its spine-tingling power can still be felt when the Millennium Stadium crowd does what its chapel-going forebears did.

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.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Post categories:

Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton | 10:28 UK time, Friday, 11 May 2012

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.

Richard James, Gareth Bonello - Telfords, Chester, 1 May 2012

Post categories:

Adam Walton Adam Walton | 13:03 UK time, Thursday, 10 May 2012

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.

Intimate show for Charlotte Church

Post categories:

James McLaren James McLaren | 12:00 UK time, Thursday, 10 May 2012

Charlotte Church will play an 'intimate' show at Hay-on-Wye's philosophy and music festival HowTheLightGetsIn next month.

Charlotte Church

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 10 June (6.30pm). Her main aim at the show, said a spokesperson, is to showcase new material that she's been working on.

She said: "I'm really looking forward to performing at HowTheLightGetsIn; it's a great festival in a great town and I've missed playing live. The music I'm making now is pretty different to anything I've done before, so I recommend people come with an open mind!"

Now in its third year, HowTheLightGetsIn (30 May - 10 June) is organised by the Institute of Art and Ideas. The festival gathers some of the foremost and most interesting voices from among the arts, academia, performance, science, politics and more to collectively explore new ideas and the issues facing contemporary society today in a mixture of incisive and inspirational debates, talks, workshops, film screenings and performances.

The festival site sits in the grounds of a converted 18th century chapel, The Globe.

Also on the line-up:

  • Emmy The Great
  • Dan Le Sac
  • Jeffrey Lewis And The Junkyard
  • King Charles
  • Charlene Soraia
  • Camille O'Sullivan
  • Anne Pigalle
  • Man Like Me

Speakers at the event include Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis, electronic music pioneer Brian Eno, composer and multimedia artist Michael Nyman, creator of the Gaia hypothesis James Lovelock, campaigner and activist Peter Tatchell, cult comic author Warren Ellis, Turner prize-winning sculptor Richard Deacon, Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton, political columnist David Aaronovitch, novelist Mark Haddon, Labour politician Diane Abbott MP, Big Chill founder Pete Lawrence, and over 150 more.

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.

Welsh classical performers scoop major prizes

Post categories:

BBC Wales Music BBC Wales Music | 11:06 UK time, Thursday, 10 May 2012

There's been a flurry of successes for Welsh classical musicians in the last couple of weeks, with two leading young musicians winning major national awards.

Llŷr Williams

Llŷr Williams

Pianist Llŷr Williams beat classical music titans Sir Colin Davis and Sir Harrison Birtwistle to win the Classical Music South Bank Show Award on 1 May at The Dorchester in London.

This self-effacing, serious performer does not seek the media spotlight, but his rare insight and musicality are winning him an increasingly large worldwide fan base for his solo performances and chamber music and song collaborations.

The award was for Llŷr's Beethoven piano cycle at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2011, in which he performed all 32 sonatas at Greyfriars Kirk over a two week period. This is a mammoth undertaking, ranging across Beethoven's output from the early, classical-style pieces to the incredibly intense, introverted sound world resulting from the composer's total deafness.

The cycle was the surprise hit of the 2011 Fringe, attracting the attention of all the major national press. Reviewers included The Guardian's Fiona Maddocks: "I heard three of Llŷr Williams's complete Beethoven piano sonatas recitals at Greyfriars Kirk, each yet better than the last. Inward and serious... Williams communes with the piano as if seeking new layers in a palimpsest. The results, as in the Op 10 set last Monday, can be revelatory." The concerts soon became sell-outs.

After the ceremony, Llŷr said: "It is a great honour for me to receive this award and it is particularly fitting that is should be presented for a big project of substance."

He plans to repeat the Beethoven marathon in London and Glasgow.

Leaders of the contemporary British arts scene gathered to celebrate the awards, now in their 16th year, representing the entire spectrum of British arts. Other winners this year included Michael Frayn, Grayson Perry, Kate Bush, Claire Tomalin, Terry Gilliam and the BBC's Sherlock team.

Llŷr Williams was born in 1976 in Pentrebychan, north Wales, read music at The Queen's College, Oxford and went on to take up a postgraduate scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music where he won every available prize and award. As well as his recital work, he performs as soloist with orchestras across the world, collaborates with violinist Alexander Janiczek and has a strong interest in the Lieder and song repertoire. Since 2003, he has been one of the official accompanists for BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

Natalya Romaniw

Natalya Romaniw

It was also a very good week for soprano Natalya Romaniw, who represented Wales in the 2009 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, reaching the song prize final.

On 27 April, she received both the main and song prizes in the prestigious Kathleen Ferrier Awards, the first time any singer has won in both categories. Rupert Christiansen was there for the Daily Telegaph: " ...there can be no argument that the winner of both the first and song prize is potentially a world-class talent... Natalya Romaniw has a thrillingly large and resonant soprano, which one day could enable her to embrace the big Verdi roles."

Natalya comes from Swansea and studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, receiving the coveted gold medal in her final year. She is currently associate artist with the Classical Opera Company and joins Houston Grand Opera's prestigious Young Artist Programme in autumn 2012.

The Joy Formidable finish second album with Nirvana mixer

Post categories:

James McLaren James McLaren | 07:59 UK time, Thursday, 10 May 2012

Currently wowing America with their expressive, wall-of-sound indie, The Joy Formidable have put the finishing touches to their much-anticipated second album with acclaimed mixer Andy Wallace (Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine, Kasabian, Coldplay).

The Joy Formidable with Andy Wallace

The Joy Formidable with Andy Wallace

The Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable

The as-yet-untitled follow-up to The Big Roar was recorded at a studio in Maine, and in their tour bus as they journeyed around the States.

Talking to Spin magazine Ritzy Bryan said: "We've just been really excited about moving on artistically. I think it's been a very natural stride forward. [Rhydian and I] are from a classical background, but we've never scored or composed for instruments before so I think we found ourselves quite challenged by allowing our musical palette to grow. That's always kind of exciting about the music that we're making, that it can catch people off-guard in different ways."

Ritzy believes that working with Andy Wallace has given the upcoming record "a greater sense of dynamism and clarity than...The Big Roar. The thing with Andy is, he makes great sounding records. It's not always about everything being technically correct. It's about keeping all these little nuances. It's about making the most out of the music that's there. [Andy] allowed moments in the songs to flourish beautifully."

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.

Welsh label plans Olympics mix project

Post categories:

James McLaren James McLaren | 10:45 UK time, Wednesday, 9 May 2012

A Welsh record label, noted worldwide for its unique mix albums, is calling on music producers from around the world to participate in an Olympics-themed project.

64 Bar Music, based in Cardiff, releases mixes by contributors all to a set tempo. It's a project that has seen it self-release seven albums and three EPs, plus an album on renowned dance label Ninja Tunes.

This time, there's a sporting flavour to the label's endeavours.

64 Bar Music label head Pete Griffin

64 Bar Music label head Pete Griffin

"We are putting together a soundtrack for the games that reflects the passion of sport and its inherent link with the joy of music," said 64 Bar Music's Pete Griffin, aka DJ Kovas.

"We wanted to mark the Olympics with a mix that defined how people were moved by sport, and what the games mean to them.

"The music that is made will reflect the feelings we have when we watch sport. It might be joy through victory, or the melancholy taste of defeat.

"There could be the essence of hope in the music, a sense of pride, of determination, or of drive."

Griffin believes this to be their most ambitious project to date, with over 150 countries participating in the London games. "We're calling for submissions today,' he said. "Tunes have to be sent in by the end of the closing ceremony on 12 August 2012.

"There is no restriction on style or tempo, but tracks must be 64 bars in length."

Contributing producers can use a dropbox to submit a track, or get in touch with 64 Bar Music directly through the contact page.

The mix album will be released on 19 August via the label's website.

When Shaky ruled the charts

Post categories:

James McLaren James McLaren | 08:24 UK time, Tuesday, 8 May 2012

It's not all about Merry Christmas Everyone, you know.

Shakin' Stevens, born Michael Barrett in 1948, was a colossus of 1980s music and tonight a documentary takes an in-depth look at his life and career.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

Shakin' Stevens (10.35pm, BBC One Wales) looks at the man who holds the distinction of being the most successful UK singles chart performer of a decade (beating Michael Jackson, Duran Duran and Madonna) - an honour shared with The Beatles (1960s) and Elton John (1970s).

He charted no fewer than 30 top 30 hit singles in 10 years and, to date, has cumulatively spent nearly nine years in the UK charts. But despite his incredible UK and international achievements, this is the first biographical documentary on his life and career.

Shaky started on the road to stardom in 1968 with the formation of Shakin' Stevens And The Sunsets. Fame and fortune were slightly less than forthcoming, although the band stayed together for a decade and released a couple of albums. They were even voted Best Live Band in a 1972 NME poll.

The Sunsets lasted until 1977, when Shaky was offered the lead in Elvis, an award-winning West End musical. "It was terrific to be earning money while paying tribute to the King," he said.

And it was a formative experience. The show ran for 19 months, during which time he recorded a hit single, Justine, and an album - titled Shakin' Stevens.

The turning point came in the 1980s. He signed to Epic, releasing the Take One album and the single Hot Dog, which reached number 24 in the charts. Marie Marie followed, but it wasn't until 1981's This Ole House single that Shaky truly arrived. It was a number one smash, and made the singer an internationally-recognised face.

This Ole House was followed up by smashes including Green Door, Oh Julie and Shirley. Other notable releases include 1984's A Rockin' Good Way (a duet with Bonnie Tyler), and 1985's Merry Christmas Everyone - which was delayed from the previous year so it wouldn't clash with Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas?.

Towards the end of the 80s, the hits may have been fewer and further between, but Shaky was still a top international live draw. And by the end of the decade he'd had more number ones than any other Welsh artist, and had scored 30 top 30 hits.

He carried on touring until 1995, when he decided to retire from the live circuit. But in 1999 he completed a tour of the UK and Europe, and performed at the launch of the Welsh Assembly in May. At the turn of the new millennium he performed an open-air concert in front of a home crowd in Cardiff, and has since performed to sell-out audiences in the UK and Europe.

In May 2005 Shaky won the ITV comeback show Hit Me Baby One More Time, where he performed This Ole House and a cover of Pink's Trouble, beating competition from the likes of Tiffany, Shalamar and Chesney Hawkes. His victory coincided with the release of The Collection, a CD and DVD best-of.

Fans were rewarded for their loyalty again with the announcement of a new single and album, both titled Now Listen, released in 2007.

What are your memories of Shakin' Stevens? 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.

You need to learn to switch off

Post categories:

Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton | 17:21 UK time, Friday, 4 May 2012

As a musician the job can often be very all consuming. Not in a romantic, tortured artist locked in a garret way, your music lit by the light of one guttering candle, but practically, and by necessity. The Orchestra's own season gives way to the summer Proms season, and splattered all over both are recording sessions, tours and education work.

It's not just that you spend the year learning millions of notes, it's also that you spend an incredible amount of time trying to be, for want of a better way of putting it, better. You practice, and you criticise, and you analyse your playing, and as I've said before, it is the only way to continue improving and developing.

I used to pray that one magical day, the secret to perfect intonation, an infallible sense of rhythm and flawless bow technique would be revealed to me, like scales falling off a man's eyes in a biblical parable. The truth is, there is no secret, just a lot of hard, constant, work.

However, when you are tired and feeling overworked, the constant light that you shine upon your playing can bring all your insecurities into very sharp focus - why can't I play F naturals in tune? Why do I keep dropping my arm like a lead weight in down bows? Why does my viola feel like an actual shoe box jammed under my chin? I personally can at times get myself so wound up that I feel utterly paralysed by negative thoughts about my own playing.

Everyone is aware that you need to look after yourself physically as a musician. I love a good sports massage to loosen the inevitable knots that come from playing the viola, and try to see my favourite practitioner regularly in the hope of avoiding injury. I have poor circulation, so if there is even a slight chill in the air, I wear gloves or arm warmers.

We become sensitive to the smallest changes in our physicality, and seek help from physiotherapists immediately a problem becomes apparent. For some reason, I have always found looking after the mental side of my musical wellbeing much harder. I often feel guilty if I don't practice, like I'm some kind of fraud.

It is for this precise reason that it is important to learn to switch off. In the Orchestra, everyone has their own way of doing this. Some people develop a penchant for Lycra and running inhumane distances. Some people pursue Open University studies. We have keen photographers, foodies, wine connoisseurs, people in bands.

It has taken me a stupid amount of time to realise that it is as important to take time away from the instrument, as it is to spend every waking minute thinking about it. It's not an excuse to avoid practising or to be lazy, but just as an athlete must rest between training sessions, we also need to give ourselves time to rest.

May the Fourth be with you

Post categories:

James McLaren James McLaren | 09:30 UK time, Friday, 4 May 2012

Today is the day when Star Wars fanatics get to geek all over the internet with the pun 'May the Fourth be with you', and Wales can get in on the act, celebrating the successful film strand.

Cardiff-based DJ Keltech, aka Lloyd Morgan, is spinning round Twitter and Facebook today with his 2006 video Keltech Strikes Back in which, dressed as Darth Vader, he cuts together a scratch mix of the famous Imperial March:

"In 2005 at the Technics World DJ Championships regional final I decided to put together a routine using the John Williams' Imperial March music from the film Empire Strikes Back. Unknown to me this routine would propel me to new heights as a scratch DJ with a sense of humour.

"When I dropped the mix live the crowd blew up with the club going wild. Afterwards people flocked around me congratulating me on one of the best-sounding sets they had heard which was very overwhelming.

"That night a friend suggested to me that I should record the set on video and put it on the net as a viral. This gave me the idea of taking the little routine one step further and dressing up in a Darth Vader outfit and recording the infamous Keltech Strikes Back routine in my bedroom.

"This video was just a laugh but to my utter astonishment was an instant hit on the internet; in fact it was so popular my website nearly crashed. I was getting 25,000 hits a day at one point which is quite hard to believe for a non-commercial website, and viral video host websites were also hosting this video.

"YouTube,, Myspace just to name a few of the major plays started hosting the videos and before we knew it had over one million hits. The video hit new heights when it was on the front page of, and Lycos. it even knocked the Crazy Frog video off the top of the Lycos viral charts.

"This simple bedroom video had totally launched me on an international level. The website racked up two million hits in no time and the direct video downloads and shares were reaching the nine million point.

"Publicity didn't stop there. I was asked to travel to Belgium to perform the Darth Vader routine live on prime time TV show click here to watch the video. A few months later I performed the same routine at a Star Wars game launch party in Trafalgar Square, alongside some official LucasArts Stormtroopers!

"A few weeks after the Star Wars video was out I decided to record another routine I had made using War Of The Worlds music, again a favourite piece of music I grew up listening to as a kid.

"This was met with equal success on the net and led to Jeff Wayne, the legendary producer of the War Of The Worlds musical, contacting me and asking if I would do an official studio remix for the new album which was later released on Sony/BMG Records."

Lloyd quit DJing in 2008 but still produces music. He is now to be found running an arcade game business, but he tells me he still can't quite believe how "crazy" it was when his video went viral.

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.

The unexpected dangers of live music

Post categories:

James McLaren James McLaren | 08:25 UK time, Thursday, 3 May 2012

Forty years ago today, on 3 May 1972, Leslie Harvey, guitarist with popular Glaswegian band Stone The Crows, died when he touched an unearthed microphone at Swansea's Top Rank. He was just 28.

Leslie Harvey

Leslie Harvey

Harvey was the younger brother of Alex Harvey (of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band) who introduced him to singer Maggie Bell... who is possibly best known for her strident Taggart theme tune.

Stone The Crows were managed by none other than Peter Grant, the legendary Led Zeppelin manager. But not even his considerable talents were enough to prevent disaster. Dangerous mishaps aren't as rare as you'd think. Here are some examples of things going wrong for some of the biggest acts in the world:

James Hetfield of Metallica suffered extensive burns from a pyrotechnic display in 1992 at Montreal's Olympic Stadium. The singer's guitar protected him from the full force of the pyrotechnic, and 17 days afterwards he was back on stage, despite second and third degree burns.

Some injuries are self-inflicted. In their heyday, Nirvana's live shows were all kinds of carnage. Bassist Krist Novoselic was wont to chuck his instrument about and at the 1992 Video Music Awards, playing Lithium, he mistimed his catch. Apparently he still has a dent in his head:

Never shrinking violets, Detroit rockers Kiss have dabbled with all sorts of audacious stage antics over the years. Singer Gene Simmons, while breathing fire, has set his hair on fire many times, apparently. Here's just one of those times:

In 2010, in the German town of Nürnberg, Pink suffered a nasty mishap when a malfunctioning harness failed to raise her up as expected and instead she hurtled into a crowd barrier. She made a full recovery, but she was certainly in pain at the time, as her language showed.

In April 2004, Stereophonics' Kelly Jones and Richard Jones were both electrocuted at the Bataclan in Paris. According to reader Martin Wilding Davies: " There were sparks coming off everything but the band played on." Trooper spirit indeed.

On 23 January 1977 Patti Smith suffered a nasty 15 foot fall into her orchestra pit, breaking several neck vertebrae. She was dancing on a high stage in Tampa, Florida; perhaps a little enthusiastically.

Meanwhile, returning to the world of heavy metal, Iron Maiden guitarist Janick Gers lost his footing at a gig in Mannheim, Germany in 2000. He careered off the stage, into the photographers' pit and onto the venue's concrete floor. Concussion, bruising and sprained back was - thankfully - the extent of his injuries, and he was able to return within a fortnight.

And lastly, sometimes things go wrong in a far less harmful or painful way. Here's Robbie Williams slipping, gamely carrying on and playing himself up:

Can you think of other noteworthy on-stage accidents? 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.

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Russell Brand to duet on Rock Of Ages OST

Post categories:

James McLaren James McLaren | 10:14 UK time, Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones will sing two rock classics on the soundtrack of Tom Cruise's new film, Rock Of Ages.

Catherine Zeta-Jones

Catherine Zeta-Jones

The Swansea star, who also stars in the film, will hook up with actor and comedian Russell Brand on a cover version of We Built This City by Starship, in addition to doing a solo version of Hit Me With Your Best Shot by Pat Benatar.

Rock Of Ages is out on 15 June, with the soundtrack released on 5 June. The tracklisting:

  • Paradise City (Tom Cruise)
  • Sister Christian/Just Like Paradise/Nothin' But A Good Time (Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin)
  • Juke Box Hero/I Love Rock 'n' Roll (Diego Boneta, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Julianne Hough)
  • Hit Me With Your Best Shot (Catherine Zeta-Jones)
  • Waiting For A Girl Like You (Diego Boneta, Julianne Hough)
  • More Than Words/Heaven (Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta)
  • Wanted Dead Or Alive (Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough)
  • I Want To Know What Love Is (Tom Cruise, Malin Akerman)
  • I Wanna Rock (Diego Boneta)
  • Pour Some Sugar On Me (Tom Cruise)
  • Harden My Heart (Julianne Hough, Mary J. Blige)
  • Shadows of the Night/Harden My Heart (Mary J. Blige, Julianne Hough)
  • Here I Go Again (Diego Boneta, Paul Giamatti, Julianne Hough, Mary J. Blige, Tom Cruise)
  • Can't Fight This Feeling (Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin)
  • Any Way You Want It (Mary J. Blige, Constantine Maroulis, Julianne Hough)
  • Undercover Love (Diego Boneta)
  • Every Rose Has Its Thorn (Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Mary J. Blige)
  • Rock You Like A Hurricane (Julianne Hough, Tom Cruise)
  • We Built This City/We're Not Gonna Take It (Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones)
  • Don't Stop Believin' (Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Mary J. Blige)

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.

Olympics concert: Why Stereophonics are perfect to represent Wales

Post categories:

James McLaren James McLaren | 08:01 UK time, Tuesday, 1 May 2012

This morning's news that Stereophonics are to represent Wales at the Olympic concert in Hyde Park (27 July) initially brought a groan from me; but on reflection I've come to the conclusion that actually, they're perfect for it.


Coinciding with the opening ceremony of the games, this concert has representation from all countries of the UK, with Duran Duran for England, Paolo Nutini for Scotland and Snow Patrol for Northern Ireland.

With the eyes of the world on London for the games, all the attendant cultural events should fit with the idea of success and easy recognition - and it's no good putting leftfield oddness forward. The Olympics are inherently conservative; it's an establishment event and as so often the case, when establishment events attempt a more 'with it' stance, down with the kids, as it were, it merely becomes awkward and anachronistic.

Stereophonics, now a veteran act, have dozens of hit singles. Their albums sold by the million across the world (especially in Asia and Australasia) and they're a recognisable, solid name. Their songs can be sung along to. Their musical oeuvre may not be a genre-bending, perception-warping revolution, but it's effective.

The Cwmaman band have been Wales' biggest selling rock band of the past 15 years, lest we forget.

Call them 'dad rock', but look at the other acts announced for this concert. I thank god that 'Let's get a Welsh act on' didn't result in the default booking for Tom, Shirl or Shaky. Instead, we get a band who were once semi-cool, and not in a kitsch way. Their early singles had a verve and vigour to them.

And in comparison with the rest of the acts? I think we do all right here. Duran Duran is an odd choice; fantastic singles band, but over 20 years ago. Snow Patrol? Boring. Paolo Nutini? Enough said.

There's often an impulse, among those who know their music, to bemoan a lack of invention on the part of those who run establishment events - 'they could have booked so-and-so, they're much better' - but this time they've got it right. They've booked a band who aren't the wrong side of 50, who can bash out hit after hit, look good on telly and can provide a damned good time to thousands of gig-goers.

For the record, my alternative bill would be: Therapy? (Northern Ireland), Jesus And Mary Chain (Scotland), Manic Street Preachers (Wales) and Pink Floyd (England).

Who would be on your bill? And do you think the organisers got it right? 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.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.