It doesn’t get much cooler than this; classically trained, co-founded the Velvet Underground, recorded a number of classic and highly influential solo albums, worked with Nick Drake, produced and kick started the careers of Patti Smith and Jonathan Richman and to top it all he’s Welsh!
Cale was born in Ammanford in 1962 and studied viola at Goldsmith’s College in London. Continuing his studies in New York, he met and worked with the likes of John Cage. One of his early claims to fame was the first full length performance of Satie’s “Vexations” which lasted a mere 18 hours.
In 1965 Cale helped co-found the Velvet Underground with Lou Reed and then went on to work on their first seminal LP and the follow up ‘White Light White Heat’. Making use of his classical training and interest in avant-garde music he incorporated such techniques as the ‘drone’ that can be heard on many of these recordings. The impact that the Velvets had on the subsequent decades with such genres as punk and grunge cannot be underestimated and much of that is directly down to Cale and his approach to music.
After leaving the Velvet Underground, Cale’s work can broadly be split between his own solo work, collaborations and production.
His best solo work was recorded during the first half of the 1970s with albums such as “Paris 1919” and “Fear”. Typical of much of his solo work has been the radical departures between albums and swift changes in styles. His debut solo album “Vintage Violence” was fairly typical of the folk pop of the period, whereas later work such as “Slow Dazzle” was bleak and dark including a truly awesome cover version of “Heartbreak Hotel”. Later work in the 1980s suffered from typical production of the period and does not bear up well. After a break years Cale re-emerged in 1989 with “Words for the dying” a mainly classical album featuring ‘The Falklands Suite” an extended piece culminating in a setting of Dylan Thomas’ poem “Do not go gentle into the night”. In many ways this album marked the most successful use of Cale’s classical background with a vocal rock approach.
Over the years Cale has also produced a wide range of artists including his Velvet colleague Nico with “The Marble Index”, “Desert Shore” and “The End” as well debuts for The Stooges, Jonathan Richman and most notably the iconic “Horses” by Patti Smith.
Collaborations have included work with Nick Drake on “Bryter Later”, Terry Riley and on various occasions with Lou Reed such as the collection of songs about Andy Warhol “Songs for Drella”
John Cale has continued writing, performing and producing well into his 60s and shows no sign of slowing down now. This year he is representing Wales at the Venice Biennale and will be focussing the work on the Welsh language. If there ever was a time for Wales to celebrate one of its own then now seems like a perfect time to re-evaluate and appreciate one of its coolest offspring alive today.
Vintage Violence (1970)
Paris 1919 (1973)
Word for the Dying (1989)
Fragments of the Rainy Season (1992)
Black Acetate (2005)