Archives for June 2012

It is finally nearly here!

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Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton | 16:56 UK time, Thursday, 28 June 2012

Next week the BBC National Orchestra of Wales heads off to China! Typically, I am overexcited (and have been since it first appeared on our schedule). I love traveling, and Asia is a continent that I have long been keen to explore. That I get to play lovely music while I'm there is a bonus.

But what does it take to get a whole orchestra from Cardiff to Beijing? The answer is, a lot of paper work that must all be filled out perfectly. Our office staff are easy to spot in town - they are the ones running in terror from the piles of paper in stationery departments. They've had visa forms, freight forms, travel forms, itineraries that are constantly subject to change to supervise, and vaccination information to procure. In short, mountains of paperwork that has threatened to spill out of the office, all while our own season ticked along.

Our tour to China is part of a very prestigious international festival called UK Now. This will be the biggest ever festival celebrating British arts in China. Not only does the festival mark the 40th anniversary of the resumption of China-UK Ambassadorial relations, but it also celebrates the relationship between the 2008 Olympic Games holders and the UK as this year's Olympic host (come on, you knew the Olympics would make their way in there somehow). It also builds on the success of the British involvement at the Shanghai Expo of 2010.

The British orchestral tradition enjoys a fantastic reputation, not just across Europe, but worldwide, and so it is fitting that many British ensembles will take part in this festival. Our colleagues in the Scottish Ensemble, Academy of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, the Philharmonia and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra have already completed their turns at the Festival, and on 4 July it will be our turn to head East! It is an honour and a privilege for us, not just as representatives of the United Kingdom, but also of Wales, to be involved in this huge festival.

As a mainly studio based band, while we frequently tour domestically, we do not embark upon so many international tours. There are many stresses involved in touring - leaving family behind, coping with a different climate and different food - but touring is also a very good experience for an orchestra.

Traveling is always a broadening experience, and not only does it allow us to perform on an international stage, but it also gives the orchestra an opportunity to bond a bit away from the normal stresses of studio life. The viola section still laugh about the great Spanish-English translation error during the viola section dinner on our Spanish tour several years ago (too rude to recount here)!

Over the next two weeks, I will be writing on the highs and lows of touring life. I am armed with guide books, insect repellant (I'm allergic to mosquito bites) and a freshly rehaired bow. Just need to relocate my passport...

"Rap is a cool thing" for telling Bible stories

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James McLaren James McLaren | 11:31 UK time, Thursday, 28 June 2012

A Welsh-language musician, part of some of the scene's most well-known bands of the last decade, has released an album bringing Bible stories to life through rap.

Ed Holden

Ed Holden. Photo: Helen McAteer

Ed Holden, who has performed as part of Pep Le Pew and Genod Droog, recorded six tracks with children from around Blaenau Ffestiniog, telling the stories of Noah, Jesus and David and Goliath, among others.

"Before I began this project, I didn't have that much interest in the Bible," said Holden. "I always thought that it was something for true believers, until I created a rap version of Zacchaeus' story. After this my opinion changed completely.

Rapio'r Beibl

Rapio'r Beibl

"It's a lot of fun to introduce these stories to the children and then re-vamping them in a modern and interesting way, especially for the new generation, because rap is a cool thing."

Rapio'r Beibl is available to download now from Sain Records.

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And now, the end is near...

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Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton | 12:51 UK time, Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Saturday evening saw our final concert in Swansea with principal conductor, Thierry Fischer. The Brangwyn Hall was well filled to hear a virtual variety performance of a programme that included Argentinian pianist, Ingrid Fliter.

Now, I don't normally like a big heavy meal before a concert (it makes it difficult to zip the concert dress up), but to be honest it felt like there was enough music in this programme to make several concerts. I therefore felt the need to have a massive pre-concert feast in order to avoid running out of steam before the end (cheeseburger with ketchup, disgracefully large portion of chips with mayonnaise).

After Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito Overture (short and sweet), Ingrid Fliter took to the stage for Beethoven Piano Concerto No 1. Not only did Ms Fliter have fabulous hair, but her playing was exceptionally stylish and elegant. She is a beautiful communicator, to both listener and orchestra, and it was a real pleasure to accompany her. I like soloists who communicate with the orchestra - I feel it makes a real difference to the quality of the music making.

One of my favourite works in the programme was Massenet's Scènes de féerie. It's a really fun play, with plenty of 'meat' in the viola part. I also think its a good work to listen out for if you thought the only work Massenet composed was that infernal Meditation from Thäis!

Our programme ended with Ravel's La Valse, a work that is, as my friend Julia would put it, a bit 'noodly'. As the music progresses, not only does the tempo pick up, but harmonically, you fly through so many different keys that it makes you feel cross eyed. I really like this work as a piece, but you do need to keep your wits about you. I had an utter meltdown during one rehearsal that involved me playing non-existent A flats. Ravel would not have approved.

Come the concert, everything was went well (due to a little extra PPR session - Personal Practice and Reflection). This was only my second performance of this work, and I enjoyed it immeasurably more than the first time I played it (that involved not blinking for the duration of the last six pages).

Egged on by Alex's suggestion that the viola section should 'go large' at the end, and by my desk partner Jim's seemingly unlimited ability to draw more and more sound out of his viola, 'go large' desk four did. By the end, one was very sweaty and had shredded a fair amount of bow hair

And so, now we have enjoyed a few days off. I have restrung my viola, sent my bow off to be rehaired, got my currency for our China tour, lost my passport 300 times, and am currently pondering the contents of my suitcase. Today we record more Doctor Who with the lovely Ben Foster and Murray Gold, then we are straight into rehearsals for China - very exciting times!

Introducing Barefoot Dance Of The Sea

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Bethan Elfyn Bethan Elfyn | 10:25 UK time, Wednesday, 27 June 2012

There's been a host of great Welsh albums released this year already: Richard James, Meilyr Jones and Euros Childs' Cousins, Julie Murphy, Joshua Caole, Future Of The Left... and so the list goes on.

Another to add to the pile is Beneath Closed Eyes, the eagerly anticipated debut from three-part harmony group Barefoot Dance Of The Sea.

Barefoot Dance Of The Sea

Barefoot Dance Of The Sea

With honest, real life songs, and signature intricate harmonies, it's a beautiful listen from start to finish. It's a celebration of the distinctive voices of Rebecca Wood, Elizabeth Whelan and Sophie Cochrane. I've been a fan for a while, and seen them perform live many times, so it was a great chance to speak to the band to find out a bit more about putting the record together.

What have you all been up to? I know your lives go in many different directions now.

"We've been busy preparing the next generation of Barefoot Dance of the Sea - both Bec and Beth are pregnant! We've been gigging, had our album launch and a couple of great gigs at the Wales Millennium Centre and planning collaborations with Andy Regan and Ivan Moult and Will from Little Arrow."

Do you feel like you are evolving as a group?

"Yes! Definitely. It started from the ashes of The Hot Puppies as we didn't want to stop playing and we'd always enjoyed our singalongs we'd have as a pre-gig warm up, so we carried on from there. Soph joined us and the covers slowly got replaced by our own songs. That's when we properly became Barefoot Dance Of The Sea.

"We've changed a lot over the years, being more harmony-based around simple accompaniments and developing our own style and sound. We've also grown more confident in our songwriting and are proud that each of us have provided songs for the album, which means its a very personal record."

Are there stories behind the songs that you could tell me about?

"And there's another about Bec's husband building a house for their family. Another true story!"

Have you played some interesting gigs recently?

"We played at The Small World Theatre in Cardigan which is an amazing venue. A wooden roundhouse-type building - really high ceiling, ideal for our kind of music and a lovely audience and organisers. Would definitely recommend going!"

Your melodies, harmonies, and a capella numbers are such unique things to do. What made you go in this direction after The Hot Puppies?

"It seemed to be a natural progression for us: Bec had her first baby and our quiet harmonies/folky sound was much more suited to entertaining baby Amber. As we're all singers it comes naturally to concentrate on our voices with any accompaniment coming second."

What's coming up for you over the summer?

"A bit of a break for babies, then back to making more music. We have lots of collaborations planned and already have quite a lot of new material, so more recording for album number two. And, of course, more live dates to be announced soon!"

Any download treats available for our readers?

"Free downloads from our record label here:"

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Bryn to bring Faenol home?

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James McLaren James McLaren | 10:10 UK time, Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Speaking before the start of Brynfest at the London South Bank, bass baritone opera star Bryn Terfel has talked of his desire to stage his Faenol Festival in Gwynedd once again.

Bryn Terfel

Bryn Terfel

Two years after cancelling the 2010 festival because of poor ticket sales, Terfel said to the North Wales Daily Post: "[I hope we can bring it back to] a special location between the Menai Strait and the mountains of Snowdonia.

"Over the nine years at the Faenol we've had wonderful performers and I want to see that again.

"I want to see the festival in Bangor again. All I can say is, watch this space."

Over the life of the Faenol Festival it attracted some top names to north west Wales: Jose Carreras, Andrea Bocelli, Shirley Bassey, Westlife and Hayley Westenra among them.

Brynfest runs from 4-7 July and features performances from Gruff Rhys, male voice choirs, Huw Warren and young Welsh vocal talent, plus workshops.

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Lostprophets live at Radio 1 Hackney Weekend

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James McLaren James McLaren | 14:20 UK time, Monday, 25 June 2012

Lostprophets, the sole Welsh participants in this weekend's Radio 1 Big Weekend in Hackney, played their usual energetic, anthemic set on Saturday night.



The sixpiece, touring their fifth album Weapons, played Can't Catch Tomorrow (Good Shoes Won't Save You This Time), Bring 'Em Down, A Town Called Hypocrisy, Sweet Child Of Mine, Where We Belong, Last Summer, Rooftops (A Liberation Broadcast), Last Train Home, Earthquake (featuring Labrinth) and We Bring An Arsenal.

Watch their performance of We Bring An Arsenal:

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And catch the full set here:

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Adam Walton playlist and show info: Saturday 23 June 2012

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Adam Walton Adam Walton | 13:00 UK time, Monday, 25 June 2012

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

The show is a fist of defiance in the face of the booze aliens who attempted to kidnap me in Cardiff on Thursday afternoon. My feeling is they come from a musically barren planet and are jealous of Wales' sonic riches (little 'r').

Despite their attempts to poison me, keep me up all night and break my voice (by forcing me to answer - in order - all of the most inane questions I've ever asked in interviews... it was a long night) I tricked them and escaped, all so I could bring you this week's show. As I said, a fist of defiance. Well, a collection of fascinating Welsh sounds... but 'fist of defiance' sounds sexier.

So - despite an obviously damaged brain - I bring you first time plays for Oakesy, Beyond the Wizard's Sleeve, Inc.A, Audio Additive, Secateurs, Don Kool, Ryan Elis and Tom Ash.

Green Man Festival's Fiona Stewart talks about the imminent excellence of Busk On The Usk - Green Gartside, Jon Langford, Cate Le Bon, Anna Calvi and many more all appearing for free this coming Saturday in Newport (you still need to claim a free ticket to attend).

Alan Holmes celebrates the polymathic and idiosyncratic Mark Windows.

Lara Catrin translates something naive and wonderful from Y Nhw.

Ben Hayes gets all tweedily excited by The Searchers.

Please send fascinating sounds as a high quality mp3 or download link to:

More sleep, this week. No booze aliens. I showed them.

GWENNO - 'Ymbelydredd'

ECTOGRAM - 'Out Of Storks'
Bangor / Ynys Môn

London / Pembrokeshire

RALPH RIP SHIT - 'Something [ Radio Edit ]'

GOLDEN FABLE - 'Sugarloaf'

OAKESY - 'Lazer Whippin''
Colwyn Bay


ALAN HOLMES - 'Spoken Contribution'

MARK WINDOWS - 'Wardrobe Of Wonder'

SCHOOL, THE - 'It's Not The Same'

JOSHUA CAOLE - 'Farewell My Dear'

INC . A - 'Faust'

CATE LE BON - 'Cyrk'

FIONA STEWART - 'Busk On The Usk Interview'
London / Wales

BOY ROYALS, THE - 'Voice Of The Future'

Y NIWL - 'Dauddegpedwar'

SŵNAMI - 'Mynd A Dod'

CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN - 'Take The Skinheads Bowling'
California, U.s.a

FUTURE OF THE LEFT - 'Notes On Achieving Orbit [ Radio Edit ]'

DENUO - 'Dreamless'

AUDIO ADDITIVE - 'Dub Diversion'

CIAN CIARAN - 'Martina Franca'

SECATEURS - 'Unlucky Charm'

SECRETAIRE - 'Prick On The Racetrack'
Rhyl / Manchester

JEWELLERS - 'Sing Trees'


LARA CATRIN - 'Spoken Contribution'
Bangor / Cardiff

Y NHW - 'Siwsi'

AL LEWIS - 'Lines Upon The Sand'

KITTY COWELL - 'The World'
Newport / Cardiff

DON KOOL - 'Seperatly 2getha'
Aberdare / Cardiff

JAMES MCARTHUR - 'Roll Another'

Brighton / Welsh Label

SHE RIPPED - 'Ultra - Social Happy Man'

GULP - 'Game Love'

JAUGE - 'Y Do I'

RYAN ELIS - 'Whampin''
South Wales

ANGUS POWELL - 'Special'

BEN HAYES - 'Spoken Contribution'

SEARCHERS, THE - 'Second Hand Dealer'

TOM ASH - 'Rain'

Introducing: Gulp

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Bethan Elfyn Bethan Elfyn | 09:30 UK time, Monday, 25 June 2012

Super Furry Animals might be on a hiatus at the moment, but the members of the band are keeping busy with individual projects.

Bassist Guto Pryce has formed Gulp with singer-songwriter Lindsey Leven, and their first release has fans and critics salivating. They've created a unique sound that would soundtrack a Bridget Bardot film with ease. I sent them a few questions to find out more.

Gulp. Photo: Mary Wycherley

Gulp. Photo: Mary Wycherley

Gulp: a new outfit and a new beginning. Tell me a bit about who you are and how Gulp came about.

"Gulp are Guto Pryce from SFA and Scottish singer Lindsey Leven. Lindsey moved to Wales a few years ago and we met through mutual friends, the way you do in Cardiff. After a while we discovered a shared desire to create cosmic-pop music so we decided to make a record. It has been a very natural process."

How do you put the tracks together? You've brought in a few friends to help haven't you?

"We've been putting down ideas for a couple of years. We started writing a few of the songs in the Scottish Highlands and some in west Wales, playing about with synths and stuff, the inspirations coming from a love of being in rugged landscapes by the sea.

"We then got some help from friends to complete the recordings. Game Love was recorded last August in Sir Doufus Styles' late-great Wings For Jesus studio in Cardiff with Dafydd Ieuan (SFA) on drums and Gareth Bonello (The Gentle Good) on acoustic guitar and cello.

"We took those recordings back home to fiddle about with some more before enlisting Cian Ciaran (SFA) to help mix the tracks. Cian did an amazing job and took the songs to another level sonically.

"Home recording has its advantages and disadvantages. With paid studio time a deadline is imposed on you where as at a home set-up there's plenty of opportunity to tweak and adjust your songs. The hardest thing is to stop playing about with a track and decide when it's actually finished."

Who inspires you and the music you make?

"We're inspired by experimental and electronic music, especially 1970s German acts like Can and Cluster, and also music from Sheffield's Warp records and the like.

"Also equally important are great pop song writers and record makers like Lee Hazlewood and Brian Wilson. Inspiration from some of our favourite bands also seep into our consciousness, artists like Grandaddy, Blondie, Lindsey's record collection of female vocalists, ESG, and more recently Wooden Shjips and Django Django.

The studio project is currently being 'prepped for' live outings, so how will the live set-up work?

"We've been jamming with our good friend Gid Goundry on guitar. Guto plays bass and dabbles with machines, Lindsey sings and plays synths. We decided early on that things will need to be stripped down as there's no room for a cello in the back of the car so practical reasons have dictated the live set up; circumstances that we've embraced to create our sound. A kind yogi gave us the missing link in the form of a Roland Groovebox that has some nice classic electro sounds so the rhythms come from this."

Where will you be playing?

"We have our début gig at Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff on 13 July and we play on the remote Scottish Isle of Eigg on 21 July. We intend to play a lot more after the summer."

You've had some great press and blog gushings already - tell me about some of these.

"Yes, we've had a nice reaction. Although we've been working on the music for a while now, the Game Love single came out of the blue for most people. It was a relief to finally get some music out. We're releasing on our own label and without a PR hype machine behind us so were very pleased to get 'Pick of the Week' in the Guardian Guide and nice write-ups in Spin and various online blogs. We hope to build things up organically so the best thing we can do is create our music as good as we can and hope people enjoy it."

What's next for Gulp - more recordings?

"Yes, we're getting together enough songs to make an album but there'll be another EP first and we'll be getting this done over the next couple of months. We'll also be playing live more which will help the sonic development of our tunes."

Do you have a website?

"Yes you can find us on You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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Introducing A Girl Called Ruth

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James McLaren James McLaren | 14:00 UK time, Thursday, 21 June 2012

A few months ago a brand new Welsh singer - A Girl Called Ruth - started following BBC Wales Music on Twitter. I try to listen to the music made by our followers, especially if I've not yet heard of them.

Very occasionally, the music I encounter on those listens make me sit up and pay attention - sometimes it's passion, sometimes it's virtuoso musicianship and sometimes it's a sense that someone really, really should be putting this stuff out.

A Called Called Ruth. Photo: Shaun James Cox

A Called Called Ruth. Photo: Shaun James Cox

A Girl Called Ruth was one such artist: listening to her Soundcloud tracks I was struck by the clarity of her production, the big melodic hooks and a kind-of Suzanne Vega-meets-Edie Brickell-meets-post-Gaga-pop sensibility.

As such, she's a far more straight-down-the-line pop proposition even than Marina And The Diamonds or Florence And The Machine.

It came as no surprise to learn, therefore, that Ruth's journey from her native Conwy to London came alongside a deal with a decent management set-up. She's looked after by Diane Wagg of Deluxxe Management and Jake McNeill of Kutt Management, who together also look after Scouting For Girls.

A Girl Called Ruth. Photo: Andy Willsher

A Girl Called Ruth. Photo: Andy Willsher

Wagg's background includes management of the likes of Republica, Beth Orton and Mike Scott (The Waterboys), while she has another Welsh connection: she worked as director of record producer Tony Visconti's group of companies, and of course he was once Mr Mary Hopkin.

Ruth says of her first contact with McNeill: "He emailed me one morning telling me all about himself and his background and how himself and his business partner Diane were were looking for a new artist to manage and came across me on Star Now (a profile I set up to feel like I was trying to pursue my dream while doing an office job).

A Girl Called Ruth. Photo: Andy Willsher

A Girl Called Ruth. Photo: Andy Willsher

"So we exchanged information and spoke on the phone that evening. Instantly I felt like someone really understood my passion for my music and what I'm about. He just instantly got me! He was so passionate and didn't want to change anything about my music or me which I loved.

"He understood that I had no idea about the industry and that I kept my talent hidden away as I lacked confidence. But that didn't make him doubt me at all. Once I got off the phone I knew this was the start of something massive."

It'll be interesting to see if, with this kind of representation, A Girl Called Ruth can follow in the footsteps of other recent solo singer-songwriters onto the airwaves and mp3 players of the nation. She certainly has more commercial potential than any new Welsh singer I've heard since the aforementioned Marina.

Here's the video for her forthcoming début single, You I See, out on 6 August:

"I'm currently booking and performing shows around London which is awesome fun," says Ruth. "As well as that I'm working the open mic circuit in London. It's great for confidence-building and improving your performance, which I needed as when I was starting out I spent most of my performance staring at the ground. You can check out my Twitter, Facebook or website for all information about upcoming shows and open mics I'll be doing. Come along and say hi!

"My album is due to be released next spring, following another two single releases. I can't believe it I'm finally releasing my single. If you told me a year ago that I'd be living in London, making a music video and releasing a single I'd have said 'pull the other one, now help me take this food to table nine'. I just thought it would always remain a dream. I can't believe that dream is actually coming true!"

In related news, an old friend of mine, Michael Shankleman - aka producer Young Favourite - has applied his beats magic to You I See. I asked him about A Girl Called Ruth.

"I get a kick from hearing a new artist before anyone else and I predict that very soon a hell of a lot more people are going to get a kick from A Girl Called Ruth," he said. "I don't think she knows quite how good she is, which is one of the best things you can say about a new artist.

"Pop music can be incredible. If you can write a song that connects with 10 million people then in my eyes you're a genius and I want to know your darkest pop secrets."

Mike, who's remixed for artists such as Rizzle Kicks, Don Broco, Pete Lawrie and Young Guns, explained: "The remix offers have started to come in, but I've been trying to concentrate on making my own little tunes. That was until I heard A Girl Called Ruth's music.

"I then made it my mission to get in touch with her and harangue her until she sent me the parts for her single. I don't think I did too much to the song in the end but it was a total pleasure to work on.

"Hopefully I'll have some of my own tunes out by the end of the summer, but knowing me that could quite easily turn into next summer. As they say, watch this space."

Listen to the Young Favourite remix here:

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Newport venue Le Pub up for sale

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James McLaren James McLaren | 09:53 UK time, Thursday, 21 June 2012

News is coming in this morning that, just a couple of years since the demise of TJ's, another great Newport venue could be in danger of falling out of live music usage.

Le Pub, on the city's Caxton Place, has been put up for sale. The tiny two storey venue has gained a very special place in the hearts of fans of all kinds of music thanks to its proximity between artist and audience and the generally easy-going, relaxed atmosphere.

Die! Chihuahua Die! Photo: Nadine Ballantyne

Die! Chihuahua Die! Photo: Nadine Ballantyne

Certainly it has been the venue for some of my very favourite shows over the past decade and more, so the news that the venue is for sale comes as something of a shock. There is no guarantee that any new owner would retain its current usage.

The estate agents managing the sale, Davis & Sons, say that at the moment it is marketed as a going concern, but as I understand it, there would be no obligation for any new owner to maintain its live music usage.

If it does cease to be a live music venue, Newport - once the jewel in the crown of south Wales rock and indie - will not have a live music set-up that matches its importance and history, despite the best efforts of venues and promoters at the moment.

Indeed, Ashley Sicolo, the grandson of TJ's owner John Sicolo, has made his own move to boost the city's music scene with the launch of the 200 Club on Stow Hill on 29 June.

But venues need time to establish themselves. Le Pub has a history of which many small venues would be jealous.

Bands and other friends of the venue have been quick to express their support on social media. On Twitter, the hashtag #savelepub has been adopted. Aled Phillips of Kids In Glass Houses tweeted: "Devastated to hear about @lepub. I hope someone with the right intentions can come in and preserve it. Best venue. ‪#savelepub."

Save Your Breath tweeted: "#savelepub‬ a place that means the world to us. they have supported us insane amounts."

Jamie Allen, once of Welsh punks Douglas, who played there regularly, tweeted: "Can't believe the news about @Lepub. Really hope someone comes through and saves what is a venue. Had the best nights there.. ‪#savelepub."

As of 10.30am, other acts out of bed and who have rallied to the hashtag include Lilygreen And Maguire, Man Of The Hour, Stars And Flights, The Boy Royals, The Guns and Beasts.

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Stravinsky Symphony No 1 in E Flat

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Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton | 16:56 UK time, Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Wednesday afternoon's concert from Hoddinnott Hall (live on Radio 3, and Thierry's last from our own studio) will feature Stravinsky's Symphony No 1 in E Flat Major, a work that I was unfamiliar with until now, and if I had heard it on the radio, I would definitely not have guessed it was a work by Stravinsky.

When I think of Stravinsky, my mind generally moves straight to the big ballet scores. The scores he produced for Diaghilev's Ballet Russes, for me, rank among some of the finest scores in the repertoire in terms of their energy, orchestral colouring and dramatic drive. What better evocation of the fairground is found in classical music than the opening of Petrushka? What more violent, genuinely terrifying music is there in ballet than the Sacrificial Dance from the Rite of Spring?

It is understandable, perhaps, that this symphony, as a purely symphonic work, should have a less pictorial vibe. Nonetheless, the Symphony in Three Movements is still recognisable as a work of Stravinsky, although it too has no explicit programme. With its jazzy syncopations (I find it impossible to sit still in it - although the viola section would say I find it impossible to sit still at any time), angular melodic lines, and quite dissonant harmonies - it is essentially Big Igor in symphonic mode. To that end, if it is the Stravinsky of Petrushka, Les Noces, or the Rite that you seek in the Symphony No 1, you may be very surprised.

If someone had taken Stravinsky's name off the front cover, and told me it was a work by Glazunov, Rimsky-Korsakov, or even Tchaikovsky, I would have believed them. This is a youthful work written between 1905 and 1907, and the first of Stravinsky's official output. In its traditional structure and traditional harmonies, one hears more the influence of his mentor Rimsky-Korsakov and his Russian master predecessors, than the emerging voice of the composer widely regarded as the most influential of the 20th century. Although arguably the material played by the pianissimo and still diminuendoing tremolando basses at the end of the third movement can also be found in Firebird (I seriously think it is, it is almost exactly the same as the bit before the amazing horn solo near the end of the ballet's score), to me there is little else to link this work with his better known scores.

That is not to say that this symphony is not a viable work - it is charming, pleasant, uplifting and buoyant. However, it is simply incredible to think that the Symphony No 1 predates Petrushka and Firebird by only three and four years, and the Rite of Spring by less than a decade. Perhaps if Rimsky-Korsakov's death in 1908 had not ended Stravinksy's formal composition studies, and thus encouraged the young composer to adopt influences from further afield, it would have taken longer for these behemoths to be conceived. Indeed, perhaps they would never have been conceived at all.

The BBC National Orchestra of Wales performs an afternoon concert of Honegger and Stravinsky tomorrow (Wednesday 20 June) at 2pm, at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay. Tickets are available by calling 0800 052 1812. The concert will also be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

Adam Walton playlist and show info: Saturday 16 June 2012

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Adam Walton Adam Walton | 13:38 UK time, Monday, 18 June 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.

No fancy dan, double glazing salesman speak to dress this week's show up.

It is what it is: 40-ish pieces of prime new music - the vast majority of which has roots, leaves and branches in Wales.

Enjoy/mwynha! Many thanks/diolch o galon.


CALIFORNIA JR. - 'Oh, Sharky Shark'

MARTIN CARR - 'Sailor'

BAREFOOT DANCE OF THE SEA - 'The Build - A - House Song'

Brighton / Welsh Label

Brighton / Welsh Label

HENRY'S FUNERAL SHOE - 'Dog Scratch Ear'
Ystrad Mynach

WHALES - 'Puck Rock'


SCIENCE BASTARD - 'A Different Same'

FEVER FEVER - 'The Chair'

FUTURE OF THE LEFT - 'I Am The Least Of Your Problems ( Album Version )'

Y NIWL - 'Dauddegtri [ E P Version ]'

Y NIWL - 'Dauddegdau [ E P Version ]'

Y NIWL - 'Undegnaw [ E P Version ]'

GRUFF RHYS - 'Ni Yw Y Byd'

HUW WILLIAMS - 'Spoken Contribution'

FRIENDS - 'This Is The Start'

LUNGWAH - 'A Silent Pain ( Remains )'

HARRY KEYWORTH - 'Knew That Day ( Pulse Atlantica Remix )'
Hebron, Pembrokeshire

KING OF CATS - 'Dr Strangelove'
Oxford / Welsh Label

POLEDO - 'Dark Brown'
Oxford / Welsh Label

ELECTRIC WEDDING - 'My Universe ( System Mix )'

WE'RE NO HEROES - 'Ghost Coast'

MILLION WAY - 'Your Circuitry ( Feat. Mr J Top )'

HOI! - 'Twist Of Fate'

BLUEBELL - 'Normal Heights ( Golden Fable Remix )'
Unknown / Ewloe Remixers

CIAN CIARAN - 'Martina Franca'

BROKEN MOODS FOR HOUSE KITES - 'Cross - Grained And Patulous'
Milford Haven / Cardiff

EMILY C. SMITH - 'Fight Against You'
Nuneaton / Welsh Producer

HOWL GRIFF - 'Fragile Diamond'

PULCO - 'Keeping The Glass Half Full'

JON LANGFORD & SKULL ORCHARD - 'Tubby Brothers ( Featuring The Burlington Welsh Male Voice Chorus )'

SCRITTI POLITTI - 'Skank Bloc Bologna'

LARA CATRIN - 'Spoken Contribution'
Bangor / Cardiff

OSIAN RHYS - 'A Oes 'na Le ( I Oeri Gwers Fy Nghalon )'

TACSI - 'Kingdom'

FUTURE OF THE LEFT - 'Rubber Animals'

BEN HAYES - 'Spoken Contribution'


Dinefwr Literature Festival

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Bethan Elfyn Bethan Elfyn | 13:04 UK time, Monday, 18 June 2012

The Dinefwr Literature Festival, a new event with an exciting line-up, is taking place in west Wales at the end of this month. Highlights will include Gruff Rhys, Howard Marks, Emmy The Great, Julian Cope, Tim Burgess, Josie Long, Joe Dunthorne and loads more.

Held at the beautiful Dinefwr Park and castle (owned by the National Trust) - a short stroll away from Llandeilo with its small cafes, delis, clothes shops and great pubs - the event is bound to be not only one to watch, but one not to miss this year.

John Rostron from Sŵn Festival, is involved with some of the line-up, and he told me more about the new event.

Hi John, can you give me the lowdown on the Dinefwr Festival?

"I'm really excited about it. Literature Wales made an approach to myself and Huw Stephens about a new event they were hoping to put on, and asked if we'd curate the music. They pitched it as a 'Green Man Festival - of literature' and they had a really strong vision of what they wanted to create.

"They completely understood what we do with Sŵn. It's a great fit. I've spent the first part of this year talking to a whole host of acts, pulling together a musical line up to compliment the speakers and comedy and other events that their team have been confirming."

Who will be the musical highlights?

"We've got Gruff Rhys playing two different sets on two nights, Julian Cope, Emmy The Great, Ghostpoet, Jodie Marie, Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog and Georgia Ruth Williams among others."

Can Wales sustain another boutique festival right now?

"If it's as good as this, then yes. Dinefwr is quite a small festival - reminiscent of the early Green Man Festivals - with just a few thousand capacity. I think literature fans have a lovely run now with Hay, Laugharne and Dinefwr, and I know people who can't make the former two because of weddings who are delighted to have Dinefwr in the calendar now too!"

Is it a nice site?

"Stunning. A beautiful old house, a castle up on the hill, acres of land and forest and even deer roaming about the place. I couldn't believe how beautiful the site was!"

Poets, comedy, nature walks, cartoonists, and even sci-fi: this festival is much more than just music - have a gander - full details here... and see you there!

The British Horn Society visits Cardiff... sort of

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Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton | 09:53 UK time, Thursday, 14 June 2012

This week will see Cardiff play host to a meeting of the British Horn Society. Well, actually, no it won't, but it will feel like it, because this week we perform Strauss' once heard/seen, never forgotten Alpine Symphony which features 100 French horns.

Once again, gross exaggeration, but there certainly are an awful lot of them. The scoring of this gargantuan symphonic work is quite staggering. The brass is greatly augmented - eight horns onstage, plus four Wagner Tubas, four trumpets, four trombones and two tubas (note to self: remember to put earplugs in viola case). Offstage there are a further twelve horns, two trumpets and two trombones.

The wind are augmented too, with four flutes and four bassoons. There are also some fun visitors to the percussion section - a wind machine, a thunder machine, and an extra set of timps. There are also cow bells - couldn't have a work about the Alps without some atmospheric bells tolling. Just to add to the general cacophony, Strauss also requires an organ.

Composed in 1915, the Alpine Symphony was the last of Strauss' tone poems. These are works over which I have cried (in despair, at times, in a practice room), been exhilarated and inspired by (the last section of Ein Heldenleben blows me away every time). There is something so genuinely genius in the manner in which Strauss uses his orchestra - undoubtedly, he had a gift for conveying the content of his programmes explicitly through his orchestration.

Alpine Symphony quite simply, tells the story of an Alpine climb. This being Strauss, it is immediately obvious that this is no wander among the foothills on a nondescript, average day. Epic in score, and epic in sound, one can easily imagine the protagonist at the foot of the mountain, beginning the ascent, battling to the summit against the terrain, the weather and all manner of danger, obviously helped along the way by a few horn players who got lost en route to a rehearsal.

Also on the concert programme will be Mozart's Piano Concerto No 22 with pianist Angela Hewitt. Naming no names, when I spotted this in our season brochure, one of our cellists told me that he was related to Angela Hewitt, and I believed him for a full rehearsal until I asked his wife if he was winding me up or not. He was winding me up. I am far too trusting!

This will be Principal Conductor Thierry Fischer's final St David's Hall Concert before he leaves us for pastures new. You will be able to catch Thierry's final Hoddinott Hall concert on Wednesday 20 June, and his final Brangwyn Hall, Swansea concert on Saturday 23 June.

Post-China tour, Thierry's final, final concert with us will be at the BBC Proms on 11th August. Fittingly, we will perform the Berlioz Grande Messe des Morts. Berlioz is a great favourite of Thierry's, and I very much enjoyed L'Enfance du Christ which we performed at Christmas, so this should definitely be a wonderful Prom.

To book tickets for Strauss' Alpine Symphony at St David's Hall, on Friday 15 June, call 0800 052 1812.

Adam Walton playlist and show info: Saturday 9 June 2012

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Adam Walton Adam Walton | 16:19 UK time, Wednesday, 13 June 2012

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

Once upon a time, not all that long ago, an esteemed music journalist mailed me asking why the artist he was then representing, something noodly and sub-Gong from west Wales, weren't getting airplay on my show when Future Of The Left were?

His band (he wasn't in them, just acting as their advocate) were, he said, selling tens of thousands of albums worldwide, yet barely merited a mention on my show. Future Of The Left, on the other hand, sold an awful lot fewer albums, yet I'd genuflect all over them, and would probably lavish airplay on them breaking wind, if they'd let me.

I hadn't really seen things from his perspective before. I did the right thing and questioned myself rigourously, doing the whole good cop/bad cop thing:

"There's nothing wrong with unquestioningly fawning over a band, Adam - I can call you Adam, can't I? Would you like a cigarette? Just tell us all about it and we can go home..."

"You pathetic slaaaag, Walton! If you climbed any further inside their backsides the BBC'd have to install a studio up there so you could do your crummy, sycophantic bumlick of a show without ever having to listen to anything else. ADMIT IT OR I'LL BELT YOUR FACE OFF!"

It's OK - I'm part psychopathic Gemini.

So, I listened to his band/then I listened to Future Of The Left's album of that time - Travels With Myself And Another - and I realised I was indubitably right, and I've slept soundly (over this, at least) ever since.

The journalist in question - let's call him Colin because it is, indeed, his name - isn't going to like this week's programme much, I fear.

It centres on an in-depth interview about Future Of The Left's phenomenal new album The Plot Against Common Sense.

It is a phenomenal album. It's phenomenal that they managed to record it and get it released at all, after line-up changes; three years' worth of perfunctory, unromantic struggle; three years of steadfast refusal to compromise; three years of temping in anaesthetising jobs; three years of occasionally wondering whether it was all worth it, and - no doubt - whether it would be easier if they went a bit sub-Gong and moved to west Wales.

Mostly it's phenomenal because that three years of frustration has 15 shades of holy hell beaten out of it on this album. 15 (well, 16, without wishing to spoil the ending) songs of defiance, vitriolic resignation, hard-earned wisdom, barbed tunes and lyrical genius. Dedicating an hour of this show to that album, and the excellent people who've made it, is the least I could do.

So, I paid to go to Belgium to see them as a birthday present to myself and interviewed them to death on the ferry back home.

It's a band interview. We hear from all members of the band. Jack says "funk" and it is ace.

Contrast in this week's show comes from a shimmering and utterly beautiful live set from Richard James. Dare I say it's even better than his recent album Pictures In The Morning? There's just something magical about the atmosphere of the recording. Truly wonderful. I do hope you enjoy it.

Elsewhere, Alan Holmes treats us to something on the verge of being forgotten from north Wales, from The Kaseo Kid. And Ben Hayes trots in tweedily with musical inspiration from elsewhere.

Please send demos/new releases/recommendations/law-suits etc to A high quality mp3 or download link is preferred, please.

Many thanks/diolch o galon. I hope you enjoy the ride - well, the ferry journey.

Future Of The Left - 'Goals In Slow Motion'

VESTALS, THE - 'Perfect Pain'

CATE LE BON - 'Falcon Eyed'

MOWBIRD - 'Thank You, You Are Revolting'

SEX HANDS - 'Gay Marriage'

IRMA VEP - 'What's That In Your Mouth? ( Album Version )'

Future Of The Left - 'European Interview 2012 Pt. 1'

Future Of The Left - 'Beneath The Waves An Ocean'

Future Of The Left - 'European Interview 2012 Pt. 2'

Future Of The Left - 'I Am The Least Of Your Problems ( Album Version )'

Future Of The Left - 'European Interview 2012 Pt. 3'

Future Of The Left - 'Cosmo's Ladder [ Album Version ]'

HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT - 'Depressed Beyond Tablets'

ALAN HOLMES - 'Spoken Contribution'

KASEO KID, THE - 'Trendy Nightspots'

MARTIN CARR - 'I Will Build A Road'

GULP - 'Game Love'

RICHARD JAMES - 'All Gone [ Live At Crackling Vinyl ]'
Croes - Y - Ceiliog

RICHARD JAMES - 'Baby Blue [ Live At Crackling Vinyl ]'
Croes - Y - Ceiliog

RICHARD JAMES - 'Say It Ain't No Lie [ Live At Crackling Vinyl ]'
Croes - Y - Ceiliog

RICHARD JAMES - 'Cariad Y Wawr [ Live At Crackling Vinyl ]'
Croes - Y - Ceiliog

RICHARD JAMES - 'Down To My Heart [ Live At Crackling Vinyl ]'
Croes - Y - Ceiliog

RICHARD JAMES - 'Shake My Heart [ Live At Crackling Vinyl ]'
Croes - Y - Ceiliog

RICHARD JAMES - 'Familiar Roads [ Live At Crackling Vinyl ]'
Croes - Y - Ceiliog

RICHARD JAMES - 'Sinners And Movers [ Live At Crackling Vinyl ]'
Croes - Y - Ceiliog

RICHARD JAMES - 'Yes My Love Died [ Live At Crackling Vinyl ]'
Croes - Y - Ceiliog

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

Future Of The Left - 'European Interview 2012 Pt. 4'

Future Of The Left - 'Sorry Dad, I Was Late For The Riots'

Future Of The Left - 'European Interview 2012 Pt. 5'

Future Of The Left - 'Podcast Extract'

Future Of The Left - 'European Interview 2012 Pt. 6'

Future Of The Left - 'Notes On Achieving Orbit [ Radio Edit ]'

BEN HAYES - 'Spoken Contribution'

PANABRITE - 'Station'
Seattle/Welsh Label

Future of the Left, The Deaf Institute, Manchester, 9 June 2012

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Adam Walton Adam Walton | 14:24 UK time, Tuesday, 12 June 2012

I left our heroes in Cardiff on Wednesday night. To be more specific, I said "good night" to Andrew Falkous at Buffalo Bar at 23:57hrs where we were both struggling to fathom how a credit card-shaped USB memory device worked, like feeble-minded old folk presented with bewildering future technology. OK, that was me. I'm sure Andrew's bewilderment at said gizmo was feigned so that I wouldn't beat myself up with feelings of accelerating obfuscation. He's a gentleman, is Andrew. That should be noted.

Embarrassed at my lack of nous, and over-compensating wildly to demonstrate that I'm not 'past it' in front of youthful tour manager Gordon, I try to drink him under the table. It's unwise to try this with Glaswegians. Some stereotypes aren't monotypes for reasons of actual human cabling.

I learn that the modern guitar set-up (Gordon is guitar tech for Biffy Clyro, too) is of a complexity that would give CERN's scientists a headache. I hear about experiences in India that make me gape. I learn more about the strange discrepancy between artist earnings and the earnings those of us who feed off artists make. We have a thoughtful pint and then get assailed by a coked-up nutter who's very proud of his jacket.

The next time I see Gordon, he's on stage in Manchester checking Falco's guitar, a few nights later. This time the venue - part goldfish bowl/part Victorian music hall/part surreal wall of retro speakers - is rammed and getting rammed-er. It's hot. The audience is an edifying mixture of ages and haircuts. Some people are sat in a glass booth that looks like a sociological experiment. Unlike Belgium, there is a palpable sense of excitement in the room. Manchester get Future Of The Left. There is talk about the new album:

"Mate, it's the best thing they've done..." says one guy to another eyeing the album up at the merchandise stall.

It is, that. It expands the horizons of their previous albums, detailing aspects of our times without a whiff of ape or retro. Future Of The Left are the least obsequious band I have ever come across, they don't doff their cap to anyone. That's quite something in an almost entirely second-hand musical landscape.

Their DNA is quite a tangle: strands of Gang of Four, Chris Morris, Wire, Les Savy Fav, Stereolab, Half Man Half Biscuit may all figure somewhere - but the fingerprints aren't clear, just smudges overwhelmed by the fierce pattern of the main structure.

I miss the name of the first band on. They seem pretty good, but I only hear a song and a half. I see all of Fever Fever's set, though. My Tweet afterwards sums the experience up with a rare succinctness:

"Really enjoyed Fever Fever. Toy box Sleater-Kinney. Scuzzy, fresh and well good fun."

They're a three piece who play fuzzy and wiry songs that are twisty dark alleys filled with surprises and occasional daggers. nascent Pavement might have sounded a little like this if they'd had fewer testicles.

Future Of The Left aren't short of testicles: metaphorically nor anatomically. It takes balls to challenge the cosy, self-gratifying snoozefest that constitutes UK music in 2012. Radio stations that purport to support new music seemingly do so with all of the bravery and imagination of a stale flannel. In fact, that's unfair. At least stale flannels are a breeding ground for cultures of bacteria, that's more culture than is evidenced by the ear-friendly, lissom, twinkly folkishness busy being inoffensive on playlists throughout the land.

We have a lot of Radio 2s. Like number twos, but stinking up and clogging the airwaves.

(I like Radio 2, by the way. It's the fact that most other alternatives aren't really that much of an alternative to it that is galling. Paul Weller, for example, is not the future of UK music, and hasn't been since 1978.)


As with Belgium, the gig begins with a breathless segue of Arming Eritrea/Chin Music/Small Bones, Small Bodies and Beneath The Waves An Ocean. Unlike Belgium, the earth's crust threatens to crack open, such is the sense of intense "this is freakin' ace"-ness amongst the audience. Every distorted bass note, shattered chord (just not - generally - chords you'd find in any human chord book), pummelled drum and vocal exhortation is battered back by the audience. It's the give and take, the ebb and flow, the dialogue necessary for a great Future Of The Left gig. In some ways, their gigs are a little like DJ sets - infinitely more musically involved of course - similar from the point of view that audience participation is necessary to elevate proceedings to that whole other level.

You can sit down listening to Bombay Bicycle Club or Fleet Foxes. We talked a lot about sitting down yesterday. You can't sit down and watch Future Of The Left. It's hard enough listening to them in the privacy of your own home without getting tremors and palpitations.

Four songs in, and all three different albums have been represented. When you consider that the band also play a couple of mclusky classics (To Hell With Good Intentions and Lightsabre), it's evident what an incredibly strong back catalogue they can choose their set from.

By my reckoning, only six songs from the new album, The Plot Against Common Sense, get played tonight. It makes sense to not overwhelm an audience with new, unfamiliar material. They get the balance just right. It's remarkable to think how much better - even - this set will be when Notes On Achieving Orbit, Goals In Slow Motion and Cosmo's Ladder get added to it. If they get added to it.

Banter, or baiting - depending on who within the massed ranks is brave or stupid enough to open their mouth, between Future Of The Left and their audience has been a de rigeur part of their live experience. Back when they toured Travels With Myself And Another, Falco and Kelson would spend a good proportion of the set dealing with hecklers like a combine harvester's blades deals with dormice - if the dormice concerned were stupid enough to wear a Reverend and the Makers t-shirt to the gig, or dress in a pig outfit - to the general amusement of all concerned. But the two gigs I've witnessed this week have been much sharper in musical focus. In Belgium that was understandable. Verbal interplay with an audience in a foreign land creates more awkward pauses than are comfortable at a rock show.

However the same focus is also evident in Manchester. Stage asides, while still hilarious - Falco's love letter to Phil Collins before You Need Satan, for example - are just that, hilarious asides. It's all about the band. There are few distractions.

The band's ambidextrousness is on full show. Whether it's the fuzzy, fragged up sound of the Juno or the distorted, harmonised guitar riffs, the sound is apocalyptically exciting (well, I'd be excited come the ever end - so long as I had a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster to hand).

There are fists in the air for Satan, which is a sentence I'm hoping will be wilfully misconstrued somewhere. Falco's voice has more settings than a posh microwave. It does singing, shouty-singing, shouting, screaming, all the way up to demonic exorcism (I always thought this setting was reserved for moments when he forgets the words, but they seem to occur in the same places in the same songs. Maybe he doesn't know all of the words? It's taken me 20 years to learn the verse and chorus to Days by The Kinks, so I shouldn't cast stones. Not from this palatial greenhouse next to a quarry stocked with ample supplies of fist shaped rocks, I shouldn't.

It's tremendous and thrilling - and I'm in need of more adult adverbs in order to not make that statement sound like something out of Horse and Hound.

I Am The Least Of Your Problems is surf punk with vocals like the crest of an armageddon shock wave. To Hell With Good Intentions is a cacaphonously simple nursery rhyme for clever kids with sticky tape on their NHS glasses. Polymers starts off as fruitily as this band have ever sounded - Queen dethroned - and morphs into the most evocative coda this side of the big bang - Can lathering Stereolab synths while Falco turns something haiku-like about the ecology of the oceans into a mantra of cosmic import.

Robocop 4 kicks cinema's predilection for sequels in the shins with a riff that tears up Californian tectonic plates and tips Hollywood into the abyss. All helped along by the mighty strength of André the Giant.

Coldplay are playing elsewhere in Manchester tonight. My wife went to see them in London a couple of weeks ago. She shows me footage on YouTube. Everyone in the audience is filming the gig so that they can show it to their friends on YouTube. The gimps. No one raises a bloody iPhone in idiocy tonight. You come to a gig like this to live in the moment. The communion here is about the amazing noise this most excellent of bands makes, and the feeling that you aren't alone in feeling short-changed by the shameless, transparent machinations of the invidious, the greedy and the corporate. There is more to life than share prices, more to music than a phone vote on a Saturday evening. More to a gig than watching it through your smartphone.

Trying to watch the sparks coming off the band and the audience as the last triumvirate of songs is blasted into our torsos, through anything other than your own eyes, will result in permanent idiocy.

"Your brain will stick like that," to paraphrase half-a-dozen of my aunties.

adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood is lo fi, even lower case, death funk that has more in common with Parliament than it does with Kasabian. Lightsabre melts every mind within hearing distance and Lapsed Catholics, for the second gig running, is the point at which I have to go for a pee. I miss Jimmy and guitar crowdsurfing over the heads of the audience like an errant saint, connected by a curly umbilical cord to his God of Noise (all hail Marshall!)

I miss Jimmy doing this but have used some - only some - poetic license in attempting to paint the picture for you.

Mine is not the most objective voice when it comes to Future Of The Left, but this gig was all the big shiny adjectives - brilliant, awesome, amazing, remarkable - strung together with a zillion volts shot through them until the message is beamed far and wide, to every corner of our shabby isle, focusing particular attention on the dullard tastemakers who'd rather play us an old piece of Clash to signify our times than a new piece of Future Of The Left.

I have seen only a few gigs of comparable, primal excellence, in my long-ish life. What a privilege.

More beer is drunk. I feel sad that this will be the last time I see Dan (Williams - excellent young sound engineer/occasional lad) and Gordon (shandy drinker/great anecdotalist/brilliant tour manager). I'll invent excuses to come to Cardiff and see the band, even if they aren't gigging. They're friends, friends who happen to be in one of the last bastions of musical individuality and excellence of our times.

It's fitting that this review should just tail off back to the humdrum and the traffic jams of Coldplay fans trying to get out of Manchester. They've got their YouTube footage, I've got memories that will burn until my last brain cell goes out.

I win.

An educational week of annual leave

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Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton | 12:26 UK time, Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The BBC National Orchestra of Wales has just enjoyed an ever so lovely week of annual leave. It was well placed, a quick pause to catch one's breath before the final countdown to our season finale, our tour to China (I've already started making lists regarding the contents of my case, and us girls are having serious conversations regarding our 'capsule wardrobes') and, of course, the 2012 BBC Proms.

Over our break, in addition to manically learning the dots for Alpine Symphony (Strauss - you bad, bad man. PS I love you), I took a trip to Manchester to have some lessons with my teacher from my RNCM days, Dr Louise Lansdown.

I was asked recently if I still went for lessons, and if I did, why did I. It's quite simple. I am of the opinion that in many ways, being a musician is a bit like being an eternal student. Thankfully, not in the eating beans on toast forever, and wearing jumpers so darned you can't remember what the original colour was way, but in that you can always learn something new, improve some aspect of your playing or knowledge, or take instruction and advice from someone.

In some ways, I find I get more out of lessons and playing to other people now than I used to. Now, although I don't have the luxury of hours and hours specifically set aside for just me in a practice room, I can apply the things I learn much more readily, as I can see how or if something will benefit me when I'm actually 'doing the job'.

In my lessons last week, it was refreshing to have a bit of a technique servicing. Sitting within the section, as I've said before, you often can't really hear yourself properly, so I wanted to do some work on tone production, and was also keen to get some fresh input on a particular work I've been learning in my own time. Two sets of ears are better than one, and bouncing ideas regarding interpretation off someone else can be so productive.

Students, the bad news is there is no quick fix for your playing. On no morning in the future will you waken up and magically be bestowed with the gift of perfect rhythm and intonation, with the innate ability to construct perfect nuances befitting each and every musical style, and the revelation of what composer x truly intended in bar y of piece z. The good news, however, is that you have signed up for a life of continual learning, that will be as exciting and entertaining as you make it.

It's like everything I guess - youthful enthusiasm will take you a very, very long way, but its life experiences (in the studio/in the pit/on stage), a bit of maturity and continued hard graft, that help to hone the skills we learn as students and beyond. I don't think we should ever be ashamed to learn new things, nor to admit that we have more things to learn.

The BBC National Orchestra of Wales' season of concerts at St David's Hall, Cardiff, concludes with Strauss's Alpine Symphony on Friday 15 June, 7.30pm. For tickets and more information, call 0800 052 1812.

Future of the Left, VK Brussels, 5 June 2012

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Adam Walton Adam Walton | 16:24 UK time, Monday, 11 June 2012

We had a bottle opener when I was growing up, a tarnished brass thing showing a little boy having a pee. Granny Walton bought it on one of the two foreign holidays she took in her life. She visited Brussels the week that World War Two broke out. They were more or less chased out of the city. Feelings about the British were running hot and high in those tumultuous weeks. It was felt that treaties signed to protect countries from the Nazi jackboot hadn't been honoured.

It took Granny Walton a week to get home. No wonder she subsequently preferred a trip to Blackpool rather than a jaunt over the channel.

I tell Future Of The Left's Andrew Falkous and Julia Ruzicka this story stood on a square somewhere in the middle of Brussels. They're getting as much of a taste for the city as they can before they get drawn into the vortex of interviews, soundchecks, then more interviews, to coincide with tonight's gig at the VK.

Future Of The Left

This jaunt is my 41st birthday present to myself. I'm a great gift giver - a historic European city I've never visited and some of my favourite music-making human beings; is much better than a billion pairs of socks or a basket of melodramatic cheese the size of the Titanic, you bet.

Some time between soundcheck and meal-time, we go for a wander in the neighbourhood surrounding the venue. There's Falco, me, Jimmy Watkins (Masters in second guitar, doing a PhD in Taping Bottles of Stella To The Forehead), Dan (specialising in inordinate youth and excellence of sound) and Gordon (Glaswegian tour manager, completing his Professorship in Streetwise and the Correct Way to Pronounce Certain Swear Words).

Our carefree amble, replete with Jimmy trying to out-dribble the local kids (pride only saved by his legendary speed - an unfair advantage to resort to when you're playing seven-year-olds) soon loses the spring in its collective step. Men are arguing and pushing each other on street corners. There's a strong whiff of anxiety colouring the aromas of spice and old sewer.

It's only when we return to the venue that we learn that there have been riots in this area for the two nights preceding our arrival. A Belgian woman had been arrested for wearing a full burkah. Apparently, dressing up however you like, and believing whatever you want, is illegal in the home of the European Parliament.

I'm told it's just coincidence that the second time a Walton comes to the city, there is civil unrest. Well, wouldn't it make you paranoid?

The venue provide us with excellent soup, a comical amount of bread, and something with chicken in it. A local journalist tells us more about the riots (in retrospect, we learn it was a bit of stone throwing - the word 'riot' seems somewhat out of proportion with the reality, but - hell - my Flemish isn't great at distinguishing between different levels of social disorder, so I will let her off).

There is sitting around. I have learnt that there is a lot of sitting around for touring bands. The Joy Formidable did a lot of sitting in America. Future Of The Left are also sitting. Maybe it only seems to be a disproportionate amount of sitting? After all, we all sit around a lot, don't we? Regardless of whether we're in an excellent band, or not. On occasion, I notice that they stand up, or walk to the fridge - shaped like a big can of beer... clever - but they sit down again, eventually. The rock lifestyle doesn't seem to be much about the things I've been led to believe by endless hagiographies and rockumentaries. No drugs, no illicit sexual activities, fewer pasties. Lots of sitting.

But sitting isn't entirely benign. I sit on my six-month-old Galaxy SII, at which point it breaks like a cream cracker. Rock and bloody roll.

Here endeth my anthropological study of Future Of The Left's touring habits. They're very much like the rest of us, just exponentially better with four string guitars, lyrical intrigue, bass swinging and in-tune shouting.

Jimmy writes 'LADS' on his forearm in permanent marker in a show of defiance against all the sitting. It's his shared joke with Dan and Gordon. If they see, or do, something young, unfettered and masculine, something that'd make a politically correct editor at the BBC wince, it's greeted with a round robin of "Lads!", "Yeah, lads innit?", "That's lads for you."

I can't join in. I'm a father of uptight age. Every time they say "lads" I whisper "dads" to myself as a hex to ward off their bad influence. I can't even open a bottle of free beer with a lighter. The shame.

Future Of The Left

I watch a little of the support band. They seem OK. They're Belgian - I think they were Belgian - but they address the audience in English. It's a trilingual country - and that raises interesting political sensitivities. Far better, in some circumstances, to speak in English than risk upsetting someone by speaking Flemish in their face, if they're a French speaker. There's an unfortunate, un-PC joke in that sentence somewhere.


Then we're wandering through the venue's downstairs innards trying to find the stage.

"This is like Spinal Tap," I say.

"Everything on tour's like Spinal Tap," says Jimmy.

This is the first time I've seen 'the new' line-up of Future Of The Left. Last time I watched them - getting dragged off stage at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, for having the audacity to sing their songs using exactly the same lyrics as recorded on all of their publicly available albums, Jimmy had just been added to the line-up. Julia is the newest addition, but only from my perspective. They've toured Oz and made a (truly) fantastic album in the interim.

The set begins with Arming Eritrea. That has to be the most insidious, slipstream of an opening riff in all contemporary music? I expect the audience to erupt, or explode, or at least jump up and down a lot... but they don't, really. Heads are nodded. Some feet are tapped. Hands get clapped at appropriate moments. It's like being at a gig with a roomful of me's. I didn't sign up for this!

By all accounts, Belgian audiences are - and I appreciate that this is a gross generalisation - a little standoffish and reserved. I'm sure there are individual members who wrestle panthers before bed, but they're keeping themselves pretty quiet tonight. Which is a shame, because the band are tight and wide and a multitude of other contradictory adjectives I'd like to use to convey the opinion of 'most excellent'.

Future Of The Left

Julia's rolling style brings a propulsive momentum to the whole set, exemplified by the remarkable new song, Beneath The Waves An Ocean. Jimmy brings flashing sabres of extra guitar, brilliantly delivered co-vocals, inordinate confidence.

"Why has he got LAOS written on his arm?" someone asks me.

"His family are from the Far East."

Oh, and a surreal otherness to proceedings.

Jack drums with a power, intelligence and lyricism (and I do mean 'lyricism') so rare, I wonder why I hadn't noticed it as much as I should have done before.

And Andrew is the phosphorescent core of it all. Whereas in the latter stages of the last line-up (Kelson, Falco, Egglestone), Future Of The Left - as a live experience - had become something of a red giant... massive sounding, awe-inspiring, but a little flabby around the edges (too much talking, however hilarious it frequently was). This is a white dwarf. By that I mean all of the energy and excellence has been focused, tightened, worked and beaten into an hour-or-so of sound, humour, song and fury that has no equal.

The fact that all of this flaring electromagnetic aceness is getting sucked into the black hole of the Belgian audience - who take much more than they give, which is their prerogative of course - makes this show a seven rather than a 10.

No doubt the curtailed public transport services (due to 'the riots') have affected attendance (it's still a good turn-out). But there's something lacking - and it ain't down to the band. They play so well, I soon lose any frustration with the crowd in the awesome storm of noise. Highlights: The Lords Hates A Coward, Sheena Is A T-Shirt Salesman, To Hell With Good Intentions, Failed Olympic Bid, I Am The Least Of Your Problems... but, you know, I saw an even better show in Manchester a couple of nights later - with a crowd who'd turned up to lose themselves in a rock show - so, I'll save the specifics for that review.

Future Of The Left

Somewhat strangely a whole other, mental audience replace the supine one for the last two songs. Lightsabre Costcutting Blues (not its title, but I wouldn't want the Daily Mail to have any more ammunition to fire at my beloved BBC) and Lapsed Catholics wake the throng like cattle prods.

I go for a wee before the end. I've been crossing my bladder for 20 minutes and I'm old, now. I need a wee, or a chewy toffee, after an hour of standing up.

Post gig we drink a few beers, load the van (at which point I demonstrate a certain amount of usefulness in the carrying-things-and-guarding-the-van department... I've found my level!). CDs, t-shirts and records are sold. We forget the 'merch board' and drive 15-ish miles to a hotel that thinks it's a holiday camp disguised as a prison.

We sit down for a bit and then lie down and sleep for a bit more. Sitting feels much more rock n roll after a gig than before. P'raps it's the whiskey in my hand or the thrill of having seen one of the best bands in the (certainly, *my*) world.

Tomorrow there is a long drive, a ferry, an interview and a chance for the band to reacquaint themselves with wives, girlfriends and cats back in Cardiff.

I go to bed having been forced to drink an unprofessional amount of beer by Gordon. My last thought is a fleeting regret that I'd given up on the rock 'n' roll dream when I did. The regret is quickly replaced by a real sense of gratitude and privilege that I know such excellent people and such an incredible band.

What do you mean name me a viola soloist? I'll name you several!

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Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton | 15:23 UK time, Wednesday, 6 June 2012

In a recent radio interview, I was asked why there are so many mean jokes about violists. In all fairness, the viola often gets pretty bad press. Back in the day (or so I was told in A-level music class), owning a viola meant you stood a good chance of getting a plum position in a tasty band with a prominent kapellmeister. Violists were portrayed as halfwitted ignoramuses who should only ever be entrusted with notes of a crotchet length or longer (Mozart totally knew this to be a fallacy).

In my opinion, times have changed dramatically. Okay, we don't have the plethora of concerti that violinists have, but the concerti we do have are beautiful and often quite dark. We don't have a huge deal of original early repertoire, but the viola became a fast favourite of composers throughout the 20th century, and its popularity continues to grow today.

Furthermore, the standard of viola playing has risen dramatically and, in my opinion, this has largely been down to the inexhaustible pursuit of excellence by a number of pioneers. As a young musician there were a number of violists who really inspired me and continue to inspire me today:

  1. Nobuko Imai: The original grande doyenne of the alto clef. This Japanese lady may only stand about five foot, but she has been a pioneer her whole career - as a female musician and as a promoter of the viola as a legitimate solo instrument.
  2. Tabea Zimmerman: Many men wish they could make this much sound! When faced with a musical dilemma, I frequently like to ask myself 'What would Tabea do?' Her sound, and the agility of her playing, technically and musically, is jaw-dropping stuff.
  3. Laurence Power. This does not even need explaining. If you don't know why he's amazing you should a) be ashamed of yourself and b) rectify the situation immediately.

A few weeks ago, in a midweek afternoon concert from Hoddinott Hall, I got to add another name to my 'Violists I Love' list (this list actually does exist - it is a running joke in my family that I like lists, and I blame my mother for this). Nils Mönkemeyer is a young German violist and I really, really hope we get to work with him again. Nils joined us (along with BBC New Generation Artist, violinist Veronika Eberle) to perform Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante and it was quite simply refreshing, exuberant, fun music making. It wasn't just that technically he was impeccable, it was that his playing was so musical and so natural that you didn't even give a thought to the technical aspects. If my mother and father are reading this, I would love some of his recordings (this is a subtle hint for birthday and/or Christmas presents).

Every instrument needs its champions. It is in this way that we can continue to push boundaries, technically and musically, and that we can continue to be inspired.

Talent show top five

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James McLaren James McLaren | 08:00 UK time, Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Five years ago this weekend, on 17 June 2007, Welsh singer Paul Potts won the first series of Britain's Got Talent (BGT). His performance of Nessun Dorma had gained him a standing ovation in the studio, agog responses from the judges, and almost 100 million views on YouTube.

Here we take a look at his career, and four others, as we run down the top five Welsh talent show 'graduates'.

Paul Potts

From his first televised audition on BGT as an unknown singer and phone salesman, Paul Potts from Port Talbot was a star. Much like Susan Boyle two years later, it was the unexpected nature of his performance that was the key.

Paul Potts

Paul Potts

We caught up with Paul this week. He said: "Performing on Britain's Got Talent was a huge catalyst for me. I had entered thinking it would be the very last time I would sing. It turned into being a huge crossroads in my life. It was a genuine turning point.

"I'd never imagined I could spend the next five years (and counting) touring the world, and it all comes back to the first series of BGT. Nobody, especially me, knew what would happen at the end of that week in June 2007. But winning helped start a wonderful career doing what I love in so many beautiful parts of the world. To others contemplating taking the leap on to a talent show I'd say: enjoy the experience, don't assume anything as life always has a way of taking you by surprise."

His win set him up for a successful international singing career with three studio albums including his début, One Chance, which went to number one in the UK, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand and Germany.

He still performs all over the world, and judging by his Twitter feed, he's very much part of the jetset.

Mary Hopkin

Pontardawe's Hopkin had already released some Welsh-language records when she auditioned for ITV's talent show Opportunity Knocks in Cardiff in 1968. She made it through to the televised show, and won it for 10 consecutive weeks with the song Turn Turn Turn.

Mary Hopkin

Mary Hopkin

Following her winning streak on the show, model Twiggy drew Paul McCartney's attention to the Welsh singer. As a result, she became one of the first artists to sign to The Beatles' Apple label.

She went to number one with the same year's Those Were The Days, and number two with Goodbye (1969) and Knock Knock Who's There? (1970).

Although she superficially retired from the industry in the 1970s to raise a family, she continued to record, and appeared as a guest vocalist on many of the records her producer husband, Tony Visconti, was working on. These include David Bowie, Bert Jansch and even Thin Lizzy. She remains a globally-recognised name to this day.


She doesn't like to publicise it much these days, but Duffy (now with 8m album sales) started her public singing career with an appearance on S4C's Welsh-language singing competition Wawffactor.

It seems scarcely believable now, after Grammys and Brits, but she didn't win the 2004 series. Instead, she came runner-up to Lisa Pedrick.



Unfortunately for Duffy, her Wawffactor experience was not a pleasant one: "I signed my life away to the programme and, when I got there, it was completely different from what they had explained. I did it. I didn't want to but I kept getting through.

"It was the unhappiest time in my life... I was a mess."

It didn't matter though; in late 2004 she hooked up with Richard Parfitt of 60ft Dolls and Catatonia's Owen Powell, began writing with Bernard Butler and signed to Rough Trade. The rest, as they say, is history.

Bryn Terfel

Moving into the serious world of classical music now, Bryn Terfel was the winner of a prestigious prize at the 1989 Cardiff Singer of the World competition.

He came second overall in the competition, but won the Lieder Prize.

Here he is, aged 24, receiving the prize.

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This win brought him wider recognition and the young bass-baritone began a stellar career which took him to the top of the classical charts and some of the top operatic roles across the world.

Bonnie Tyler

Our last talent show 'graduate' is Skewen's Bonnie Tyler. In 1970, aged 19, she entered a talent show at a local rugby club. She sang Mary Hopkin's Those Were The Days. Famously, she came second, winning the sum of £1 (about £13 in today's money).

While this wasn't a Paul Potts-style televised, spectacular coming-of-age, it did encourage her to do more. She became the singer for Bobbie Wayne And The Dixies, then formed a band named Imagination. Local gigging was her life until 1975 when she was seen by Swansea man Roger Bell who was working for Valley Music, owned by Tom Jones and Gordon Mills.

Bonnie Tyler

Bonnie Tyler

Now her manager, Roger Bell says: "I went to see another performer at the Townsman Club but saw this girl. I brought her to London and she did a demo, but it didn't work out. Then, two years later, Ronnie Scott - the songwriter, not the jazz performer! - who I was working with, asked me to get 'that Welsh singer' back down again as he had a song for her.

"That song was Lost In France."

The single sold a million copies worldwide, and went to number nine in the UK. It set her career in motion - a career that would see her getting an international number one with Total Eclipse Of The Heart.

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We are heading west!

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Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton | 13:10 UK time, Friday, 1 June 2012

This week we have been preparing to take part in the 2012 St David's Cathedral Festival with conductor Siân Edwards and mezzo-soprano Anna Stéphany. Our concert will be on Friday evening and we have our fingers crossed for good weather because who doesn't love a picnic on the green outside the cathedral?

I am not a great coach traveller and the journey to the cathedral is definitely a long one. I'm sure I've mentioned in earlier blog posts that I have been troubled by motion sickness since I was little, so I always regard long coach journeys with a certain degree of apprehension. I really hate that feeling of getting off a coach to start a rehearsal, with legs like jelly and everything feeling like it is moving! I have prepared nibbles, a big bottle of water, and a pimped out music selection to distract myself for the journey.

This year we present a programme of mostly familiar, well loved works at the festival. Ralph Vaughan Williams' Variations on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, with its double string orchestra, is a real gem in the crown of the string orchestral canon. With its evocative harmonies and intertwining solo melodies, this work is as much a pleasure to play as it is to listen to. We will also perform this in the BBC Proms in a few months under the baton of conductor laureate Taadaki Otaka. The work always reminds me of long hot summer days; the second orchestra is like the hazy mirages you can sometimes see on the horizon, mimicking but not always true to real life.

Elgar's Enigma Variations are a perennial favourite. Pretty much everyone would at the very least recognise the Nimrod Variation, associated as it has become with the solemnity of British state events. My favourite is either Variation 11 (the one where a friend's dog infamously falls into the River Wye) or Variation 7 dedicated to the architect Arthur Troyte Griffith.

I can't decide what I think of the Ravel Menuet Antique that will open the concert. I am fond of Ravel's music, but this sounds rather unravelian to me! However, it will be a real treat to hear Anna Stéphany perform Berlioz's sumptious Les Nuits d'Été.

Anna represented England in the 2009 Cardiff Singer of the World and since then has gone on to many, many great things. This year alone has seen engagements with the Bolshoi, appearances with the London Symphony Orchestra at Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, and, also with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. In addition to this she will join the Zurich Opera in the 2012/13 (her first role will be as Cherubino in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro). She is undoubtedly a star in ascent, and the cathedral will be a beautiful setting for this song cycle.

I think this is a lovely programme to bring to St David's Cathedral. Whatever the weather, it will be a great evening.

The orchestra will be performing at St David's Cathedral tonight (Friday 1 June) from 7pm. Limited tickets are available on the door.

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