You and I can conquer all the negative vibes

I probably need to crack on with this – I’m in danger of missing the boat with it (“You think? – May ’19).

An over-excited voice on the recording (the same one as usual, I’m afraid) can be heard saying more than once “There are literally no situations that can’t be improved by a bit of Gruff Rhys” and without wishing to blow my own trumpet or to deny the existence of all the other instances where I’m clearly talking a load of old bollocks, on this occasion, I stand by this statement.

Gruff Rhys, Sea Change

It had been a bit of a mixed day up to this point, to be fair. There’d been an aborted attempt to see Stuart Lee which had been transformed unbeknownst to us (and a load of other politely disgruntled punters) into a ticketed event during the course of the weekend. There’d been the pure and undiluted pleasure of a new Field Music set (there are, after all, literally no situations etc, etc…) and also the vaguely surreal spectacle of a marquee full of misty-eyed old lags singing along to the songs of Bagpuss.

By now it was late afternoon and a table having already been booked at a likely looking restaurant back in town, this was the last set our happy band was likely to be seeing. So I guess a certain responsibility lay in the hands of the man I took to be our genial host. In three piece suit, red bobble hat and raybans, he wore it easily, of course, and rolled out a trademark set of graceful melody and fanciful whimsy.

I’ll be honest, I’ve taken my eye off the ball of recent and I was completely unaware that another Gruff Rhys record, Babelsberg, had emerged, (last Summer, I think). I need to sort this, because the songs he played from it, “Negative Vibes”, “The Club”, “Frontier Man” and a couple of others, sounded just super.

Here’s a clip of “The Club” recorded last year, which if a little static does the trick, I’d say…


New material there may have been, but there was a reassuring familiarity about the whole set – the same shambling rhythms, the same avuncular informality, the same spaghetti western airs – even the applause signs were back. There was a fair smattering of songs from Candylion, American Interior and Hotel Shampoo, and the welcome return of “Pwdin Wy” (broken into its two halves by an interlude where an offending wristband was cut off with the help of a ‘knife amnesty’– “I was alarmed by some of the knives that came out just then. I thought it was a different kind of festival”).

Gruff’s voice continues to be a friendly, melancholic guide in times of creeping uncertainty. His quirks and idiosyncrasies are still more rousing than almost any other artist I know and I’d be happy to continue seeing him once every couple of years for the rest of my days.

We trudged off full-spirited, happy of heart and ready for a spot of dinner.

Lonesome Words

American Interior

Negative Vibes

Literally, no situation.

It’s a hill I’m willing to die on…

Seven Great Gigs of 2011

I’m a little apprehensive about writing this post about best gigs of the year, partly because I think I’ve seen less this year than many others but mainly because I seem to know a few people who seem to go to a mindboggling number of gigs. I know of a couple of people who are nearly into three figures for the year.

Think about it, pretty much two gigs a week… {prostrates himself on the floor}

But, anyhoo, for what’s its worth here are seven cracking live experiences from this year.  In no particular order…

Seven Great Gigs of 2011

The Decemberists – Bristol Academy, March

I’ve tended to remember this gig for some of the sillier things that the ever-adlibbing Colin Melloy and friends got up to, but a quick listen back to the recordings remind me that it was actually a great evening. I loved the new songs (and went out soon after and bought The King is Dead on the strength of the evening) but also found myself enjoying the Hazards Of Love songs, previously not a record I’d warmed to at all.  Exhilarating, boisterous stuff, and they also played Grace Cathedral Hill, my favourite Decemberists song of all.  A lovely evening.

Laura Cantrell – St Bonaventura’s, May

A delightful get-together, in the unpretentious, intimate surroundings of St Bonaventura’s, itself a support player in a great evening. Laura Cantrell (can I call her Laura? Ms Cantrell?) still has a pure, ringing voice and an uncluttered delivery style which shines the spotlight full on her dazzling songs. Lots of Kitty Wells Dresses, but also a good few from the another favourite Not the Tremblin’ Kind. Engaging between-song chat and the always pleasing sight of a true star selling her own merchandise after the show.

Toots & the Maytals –BristolAcademy, September

I don’t think I actually wrote about this evening at all – I was sulking a little at another recording comprehensively buggered up by clumsiness and circumstance, I suspect. I’ve just referred to Laura Cantrell as a true star, so what is Toots Hibbert? I went through a phase in my early twenties of trying to see various old timers perform before they were gone forever, and I’m still a sucker for a bit of nostalgia. Great versions of 54-46 and Pressure Drop, and a whole lot off the Funky Kingston record, including a lung-busting, belting version of the title track. The sort of evening that the Academy does well…

Suuns – Green Man, August

I’ve banged on about this lot so much in the last months that there’s not a lot more to say, other than that for me this performance – in the Big Tent, mid evening, with enough smoke, distortion and swagger to suggest everything else should be called off afterwards – is the sort of stuff Suuns should be building their legacy upon. Belligerent, funky, inarticulate, and really very loud.

Phosphorescent – Thekla, May

One of those, for me classic, occasions when I turned up not entirely convinced of a band’s worth, but left having totally got it. The Here’s To Taking It Easy album sounded entirely different afterwards and throughout the following weeks, I couldn’t listen to Hard to be Humble without seeing the foppish Matthew Houk waving his finger in my face. Another of my favourite songs of my year, Mermaid Parade, got its definitive performance this evening.

Gruff Rhys / Y Niwl – St George’s, February

Saw both artists again later on in the year at Green Man, but neither sets were as good as the twin performances in the robust, muscular surroundings ofSt George’s. Again, some of the magic of the evening was lost for me as soon as I realised I’d not managed to record it properly, but that’s all wrong, really. It was a terrific evening, the Y Niwl boys banging out their surf sounds with infectious eagerness, before joining Gruff onstage as he ran through most of the Hotel Shampoo offering in his own inimitable, shambling style. Guest appearances from Cate le Bon and Sweet Baboo as well…

Wild Beasts – Guildhall, May

Yet another performance for which I have no recording, but which will survive in my memory for a good while. Lots from the two recent, breakthrough albums, neither of which I’m terribly familiar with, still (inexplicably); but also a good few of their older more awkward songs, their galumphing, shuffling rhythms still on show for all to see. Really enjoyed their combination of craft and enthusiasm, and they went down well in the old hall.

So, another year gone, another few tickets, pinned to the board, wink lasciviously at me and it all starts again…

Tomorrow I’ll think about my best of the year releases.

In a House With No Mirrors

Well I don’t know how this has happened, I appear to have been catatonic for a period of weeks.

No posts, no recordings, a whole raft of EotR recordings untouched…

And somehow this post never got written…

Gruff Rhys @ Green Man

I scarcely know what to say, this all seems some time ago now. In fact I’m sure I did actually write a clever and bang on the money review of the last set of the weekend that I think we can all agree would have made this Blog the go-to place for many a discerning reader, but alas, it appears to have never made it to the airwaves. What can I say?

All I’ll say is, great set, national treasure, decent recordings, and we’ll leave it at that, eh?

Gwn Mi Wn


Court of King Arthur

House with No Mirrors

Lonesome Words

Sensations in the Night

If We Were Words (we would rhyme)

Honey All Over

Ni Yw Y Byd

Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru

Shark Ridden Waters


Actually, listening to the recordings again, it all comes rushing back – the euphoria and fatigue of the weekend, the long delay for “technical problems beyond my comprehension”, the good humour of the man, and the knowledge that I’d finally managed to catch a set on disk that I’d conspired to miss on each of the previous three occasions I’d seen him.

Now I must get on with all the other recordings…

Colonise the Moon…

Why does life just whip by sometimes and others, drags and limps along like some dead animal?

I meant to get the second half of the Calmer recording out at the weekend before another gig. It never happened, and now I find myself almost a week late with it and a full three days late on some words about Gruff Rhys. Ho hum.

Worst of all, however, is that my near-legendary cack-handedness means that I somehow came away from a really great gig with absolutely no recordings of it or any of the brilliant set played by support band and PP favourites Y Niwl. (Although I did manage to record a conversation I had about Bo Diddley…) Disaster…

Worth saying though, that Gruff Rhys is a national treasure. He was funny, wacky and profound in turn, bewilderingly so at times. Third time I’ve seen him now and I’d go again tomorrow… We were also treated to a bit of a who’s who of whimsical Welsh pop. Not only were the surf sounds of support band Y Niwl fun and, well, boss, they were also excellent backing Rhys with his own set. Spoke to guitarist Alun Evans during the interval  and he was a really charming feller, enjoying immensely the whole Gruff Rhys experience and hinting at an appearance at Green Man this year. Onstage the band were serious about what hey did but likeable, and I found especially endearing the way Evans gave an infectious little clenched fist at the end of his set. Nailed it!

On top of that we were treated to a couple of cameos from a couple of other PP favourites in Sweet Baboo and Cate le Bon. Spoiled, we were…

Other highlights of the evening were a new selection of electronic thingamajigs, punctuating a lot of the songs, strong performances of most of the songs off the new album and a belting 20-minute version of Skylon. Wow!

Fortunately, some kind soul has already posted a video from the evening to rescue the situation. Many thanks Mwnghawk!

Thinking about it would be hardly fair for poor old Laish to share a post with a madcap genius like this, I’ll return to Calmer tomorrow…

Soon anyway…