Recommended gig
Sion Russell Jones, Brigyn & Little Arrow at St John's Church, Canton, Cardiff on Saturday 10th November 7.30pm. Tickets available from: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/189421.











....
John Cale
The Coal Exchange
7
th October



At the age of 70 you could forgive John Cale for taking it easy and choosing an easy route of nostalgic re-runs of Velvet classics or just simply retiring to the Mumbles. However, despite 50 years of performing there seems to be no stopping his willingness and enthusiasm for exploring new musical territories. Backed by a 3 piece band he focussed on his new album the excellent " Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood " with songs such as " I wanna talk 2 U " indicative of the up tempo, almost dance driven nature of the material. It was a far cry from the pastoral textures of his last Coal Exchange concert when he performed "Paris 1919" but it was nonetheless equally effective and captivating. The two hour show took time out to perform older material such as " Helen of Troy " but even this had received something of a makeover and actually sounded far superior to the original studio recording. Closing with an encore of " Ship of Fools " you sensed that there is far more yet to come from the man who has been described as the 'greatest living Welshman'.
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Zervas & Pepper

Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff
28
th July

If Zervas & Pepper stowed away in the Tardis and were transported back to Santa Monica Boulevard circa 1968 they would no doubt be snapped up by Doug Weston for a season at the Troubadour. For some this channelling of music made over 4 decades ago might seem anachronistic and out of place in 2012. However, Zervas & Pepper are genuinely talented live performers with an impressive catalogue of original songs and their influences have served to help rather than hinder their development. The additional musicians fitted in perfectly bringing colour, pathos and establishing an expansive musical landscape that bring the songs to life. The band chose not to play it safe and included several new songs such as "Buffalo Crow" and "Faceless" as well as old favourites "The Ballad of Shotgun John Collins", "Run Run Run" and the nascent classic "Cigar Store Indian". Not many other Cardiff bands could produce a sell out crowd at a venue of this size and in years to come this could well be seen as a pivotal moment in the history of the band.

Set list: Lookout Mountain, Buffalo Crow, Faceless, King of the Skies, You Must Be Doing Something Right, Run Run Run, One Man Show, John Collins, Everybody Knows, All the World's Has Changed, Get Gone, Cigar Store Indian, Coming into Los Angeles (Arlo Guthrie cover)
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Sion Russell Jones, Barefoot Dance of the Sea, The Gentle Good
Norwegian Church, Cardiff Bay
20 July 2012
Reviewed by Stephen Nottingham

This third "great music, great causes" gig from promoter TOM.presents (a.k.a. Tom Bevan) saw all proceeds go to Actionaid: founded in 1971 and today campaigning to alleviate poverty in 42 countries. A large audience enjoyed a full evening's music in the Norwegian Church, with its beautiful setting and fine acoustics . Luci Vernon opened proceedings with a promising set, including a couple of songs she had written the week before.

Gareth Bonello performing solo under his stage name The Gentle Good , playing material from his two acclaimed albums. He also sang a new composition ( The Seabird's Journey), in Welsh, based on the life of the poet Li Bai. This song will be on an album released later this year, inspired by his recent residency in Chengdu, China. Other Welsh language songs, such as Llosgi Pontydd (Burning Bridges) alternated with English-language originals, including Pamela and Ocean is King ; a debt to John Renbourn being acknowledged on the latter. Gareth concluded his impressive set with the virtuosic guitar instrumental Tethered for the Storm . A nautical theme was established, as the sun started to set across the bay outside the chapel window.

Barefoot Dance of the Sea performed as a duo rather than a trio, as Rebecca had recently given birth to a son. Recent album Beneath Closed Eyes was the basis of Elizabeth (barefoot) and Sophie's harmonious set. The ukulele-led So It Goes and, appropriately, Sea Shanty were highlights.

Siôn Russell Jones performed most of his acclaimed debut album And Suddenly . He opened with intent on Lover, Come Back and kept the momentum going through crowd-pleasing renditions of Indestructible, Maybe She'll Remember and Mandy . Siôn's new album comes out later this summer and the new songs he previewed here, such as Jaded are My Wings and The Way You Move , make that an enticing prospect. Some dynamic guitar playing and a Country and Western encore rounded off a most enjoyable evening of music.

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Patti Smith

Coal Exchange, Cardiff
26th June



Patti Smith is a true original who has the ability to communicate and work an audience like few other artists I have seen. At times she is the rousing preacher, at times she is the political activist yet you sense that she is always nothing less than 100% honest. Tonight's set highlighted tracks from her recently released Album 'Banga' by far her best studio output since 'Easter'. Songs such As " April Fool " and " Nine " may not be as rousing as some of her earlier work, but they are well constructed and work well in a live setting. Naturally it was the classics such as " Pissing in the River", " Free Money " and " Because the night " that kept the faithful happy. However, the climax of the evening was momentous " Rock n Roll Nigger " during which she urged the audience to seize the moment, protest and ' wrestle the world from fools '. Throughout the evening Smith made much of her Welsh roots and you felt by the end of the concert as she stood there showing an appreciation of the applause that the promise she made to keep the sound of the Welsh voices in her heart was authentic and genuine.

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The View
Cardiff University
19
th June

Most bands have periods of time when they are out of fashion or have forces conspire against them. Whether it was the England match at Euro 2012, the fine weather or students having broken up that resulted in such a minuscule audience is difficult to ascertain. However, the band didn't seem too phased by the sparse crowd and played a set promoting their yet to be released album 'Cheeky for a reason'. Much has been made by their marketing department of it being " Fleetwood Mac's Rumours done by The Clash". However, if anything the new tracks such as " How long " sound to have more in common with their early work than the more sophisticated sound of the neglected 'Bread & Circuses'. The band played the obligatory ' Same Jeans' but it ulitimately it was the more melodic and passionate songs such as the closing " Sunday " which most impressed.

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Sarah Jarosz

Muni, Pontypridd
30
th May


Having been to some sparsely attended high profile gigs at the Muni it was re-assuring to see a virtually full house for a performance by this incredibly gifted multi-instrumentalist and songwriter. It's hard to believe she has only just turned 21 and yet has already released 2 excellent studio albums and seems genuinely at ease on stage. She was joined by some excellent musicians with Alex Hargreaves on violin and the extraordinary cellist Nathaniel Smith who managed to make his instrument act as both string accompaniment and bass almost simultaneously. The set highlighted her recent album 'Follow me down' with songs such as ' Come around' and the Bob Dylan cover ' Ring them Bells' . During the evening she took time out to praise Bluegrass legend Doc Watson who had passed away a few days before. It was fitting that the artist destined to take bluegrass into the 21 st century should pay tribute to a man who did so much to keep the genre alive during much of the latter half of the 20 th century.

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Skinny Lister

Moon Club, Cardiff
7
th June

Any band that arrives on stage with a flagon of alcohol (still not sure what it was) and then proceed to play a set of polkas and jigs whilst sharing said flagon with the audience gets my seal of approval. Following in the footsteps of bands such as the Pogues they were born in the folk clubs of London with roots in Leicester and have just released their debut album 'Forge & Flagon'. Authenticity is always vital with this type of music, now more than ever, with well heeled public school educated offspring of the Sunday Times Rich List making big bucks out of the genre. However, I am assured they are state educated, have a genuine love of the music and barely a farthing between them. Their set included the glorious tub thumper ' John Kanaka' and the uplifting ballad ' Seventeen Summers' . Skinny Lister are a welcome addition to the live circuit and are guaranteed to get the audience on their feet whether it be a tiny club in Cardiff or a festival with 100,000 people.

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The Waterboys

St David's Hall, Cardiff
15 May 2012

(Reviewed by Stephen Nottingham)



A first set by a six-piece The Waterboys, led by Mike Scott and including 'old boys' Steve Wickham (violin) and James Hallawell (keyboards), amounted to a sonic immersion in big music dating back to the band's ' A Pagan Place' LP. The Pan Within, The Thrill is Gone , rare gem Girl in the Swing , Glastonbury Song : it was exhilarating stuff. After the interval, a sharper-dressed and tighter band returned to play ' An Appointment with Mr Yeats ', the album Mike Scott has being nurturing for years, with its musical settings of poems by W.B. Yeats. Mythical and love poems were to the fore, with White Birds clearly sung by a man in love (Scott even bought a picture of his girlfriend on stage at one point). Yeats' political poems are harder to put to music, said Scott, with the powerful September 1913 being an obvious exception. There was a creepy section of musical duelling and poetry recitation performed in masks, a perfect The Song of Wandering Aengus (my favourite), and a poignant set-closer in Politics ("O that I were young again") that had band and their audience (most of whom had probably grown up listening to The Waterboys) reflecting on the passing of time. The encore amounted to a third set, with a raucous Don't Bang the Drum , an unexpected reggae twist on Whole of the Moon , a heart-felt A Man is in Love , and an exuberant Fisherman's Blues . The connection between band and audience made for a thrilling gig; maybe The Waterboys won't leave it so many years before returning to Cardiff next time.

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Wibidi and Cakehole Presley

Chapter
21
st April
Review by Tom Bevan


The fourth newsoundwales showcase combined two of the best live outfits Wales has to offer in one of our most loved arts venues. Not often used for gigs, Cardiff's Chapter was the perfect backdrop for a lively couple of hours of live music from local heroes Cakehole Presley and the fiery Wibidi.

Cakehole Presley opened the night with their sixties tinged brand rock 'n' roll which got the packed room moving. Lead singer Chris Ridgeway showcased his song writing talents with a highly memorable set of songs, ranging from the mellow to the highly energising, from the band's debut album " Look after Your Chihuahua ". It was quite clear that the whole band love creating music, with some past members of legendary Cardiff outfits such as the Howlin' Sleepers and Doofer. Playing to a live crowd is what Cakehole Presley do best and the warmth which radiated from the band themselves was replicated by the rapturous response from the audience.

Wibidi exploded onto stage with their truly unique fusion of funk, reggae and psychedelia, playing songs from their recently released debut album ' Tiger Baby' . Created to perform the soundtrack for Howard Mark's biopic 'Mr Nice' the band have toured throughout Wales, and impress with their crunchy guitars and high octane songs. Members include Super Furry Animal's Dafydd Ieuan & Cian Ciaran and dread locked singer Wibidi, whose coarse voice and lively performance make him a front man to remember. Highlights included the heated " What Gets You Home at Night" and the catchy, upbeat " Some People ". The band provided a brilliant collection of songs that challenged musical boundaries, but had an unquestionable Tiger Bay vibe which kept you wanting more.

Both artists proved themselves as the bands to see in Wales this year.

Ar nos Sadwrn mi es i wylio'r grwp 'Wibidi' yn Chapter gyda'r troellwr a chynhyrchydd Llyr Dyfan. Erbyn hyn mae Cian or Super Furry's wedi rhoi gore i'r grwp er mwyn chanolbwyntio ar ei yrfa fel unawdydd. Er serch hyn, mae'r grwp wedi recriwtio aelod newydd ac roedd brenhindod yr SRG wedi troi fyny i weld nhw'n chwarae gan gynnwys John Gedru (Llwybr Llaethog) a Mark Roberts (Catatonia/Y Ffyrc). Mae Mark bellach yn gweithio gyda Dafydd Ieuan o'r Furry's ar brosiect cyffrous fydd yn siwr o weld golau dydd cyn diwedd 2012.
(Extract from Iestyn B Jones piece in Y Cymro)


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Christiaan Webb

Clwb Ifor Bach
14
th April 2012



When your father is Jimmy Webb and has written such classic songs as " Up, Up and Away ", " MacArthur Park " and " By the Time I Get to Phoenix " there is bound to be a sense of expectation when you release your debut album. Thankfully Christiaan has inherited at least some of his father's gift for song writing. Backed by a full band he played the majority of the new album ' A Man Possessed' which was recorded in Cardiff as well as a generous scattering of Webb Brother's material. At one stage he asserted that he only ever wanted to be Billy Joel - now that is something you don't often hear performers at Clwb Ifor bach admitting! However, he is definitely following in the footsteps of 70s singer song writers such as Jackson Browne and Carole King and this gives his songs a retro feel. The material was varied ranging from the tender ballad " It's Your Last Night on Earth" , through to the Keane like " Fountain of Youth " and he even got a few people dancing with the up tempo " Kids in Love ". On the evidence of tonight's show he could well surpass the success of the Webb Brothers and may well write some classic songs worthy of his father in the years ahead.

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Christy Moore with Declan Sinnott
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
2 April 2012
(Reviewed by Stephen Nottingham)

No time to chat, too many songs to play, says Christy Moore at the start of this two-hour straight concert; his first for six years in the Welsh capital. Accompanied by Declan Sinnott's exquisite guitar-playing, he focused on the narrative songs from his three decades as a solo artist, including a half-dozen from last year's album Folk Tale .

There was banter, and it was funnier and more upbeat than you might expect if you only know Christy Moore from his 1980 heyday. There was his trademark stream-of-consciousness surrealism weaving through the material and comedy songs punctuated the evening, including two new ones My Little Honda 50 and Weekend in Amsterdam . However, social commentary remains his main concern. New song On Morecambe Bay , about the deaths of Chinese cockle pickers, is one of the saddest you'll ever hear. Back Home in Derry , Smoke & Strong Whiskey , Ordinary Man , Vive La Quinte Brigada : all retain their extraordinary power.

Christy Moore is a great interpreter of other people's songs, borne out by a spellbinding sequence in this concert that included The Magdalene Laundries (Joni Mitchell), The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (Bob Dylan) and Beeswing (Richard Thompson). Towards the end, he took requests and it was a pleasure to hear songs like The Voyage that he rarely performs. Between encores, Christy signed autographs and shook hands along the front row.

The fine acoustic at the WMC, and a capacity audience hanging on every word and note, made for a very special evening. Declan Sinnott's contribution should not be underestimated. A consummate musician, he releases and tours with his first solo record later this year.

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Jonathan Richman

Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff
28
th February 2012

So here we have a singer who has always been out of kilter with the times. His demos, recorded in the early 1970s, ended up getting released years later and somehow helped kick start the punk/new wave scene. However, by the time "Roadrunner" eventually hit the airwaves he had already moved on. This resulted in punks turning up to his shows expecting the Velvet Underground reborn and instead they got a man in a Hawaiian shirt singing songs about the ice cream man and leprechauns. And now at the age of 60 the man he is still out there performing and furrowing his very own particular path. Charming, amusing, slightly unhinged and at times achingly beautiful Richman performed songs largely taken from his recent albums and more or less ignored the songs that made his name . " My affected accent " was performed superbly and with perfect comedic timing. New song " Door to Bohemia " had the audience singing along and helped establish a relaxed atmosphere. There were also moments of tenderness and beauty with " When we refuse to suffer " and a superb version of Leonard Cohen's " Here it is " which somehow mashed up the original with snippets of Egyptian reggae and was the highlight of the night. Yes some fool shouted out for " Roadrunner " but it was half hearted and unnecessary. When he quietly announced " Nos Da " and left to rapturous applause you realised the world is a far better place for having Jonathan Richman in it.

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Errors

Clwb Ifor Bach
Cardiff 13
th February
(Review by Tom Bevan)


With their jagged guitars and jumpy synths Glasgow four piece Errors hit Cardiff's Clwb Ifor Bach this week as part of their UK-wide 'Have Some Faith In Magic' tour. The Scottish electronic outfit, signed to Mogwai's Rock Action Records, are touring their third album as they attempt to make their way into a more mainstream market, using noticeably more vocals than ever before. " We intended the vocals to be used as another instrument, " explains the group's Steve Livingstone, " we've used them in a way that sits really naturally, maybe some of the melodies we used to play on guitar have moved onto vocal and that gives the album something recognisably human ."

I agree. Errors' new record is their best yet and should bring them more radio play and more attention on the festival circuit this summer and it played out brilliantly live.

Tom Rogerson (from Three Trapped Tigers) opened the night with his set of improvised tracks on the synthesiser, with his melancholic vocals helping to create a powerful and moving sound. Fellow Glaswegians Remember Remember then played their psychedelic music via an array of instruments and blasted Clwb with a wall of sound, not always pleasantly. Errors' pop-synth sound could come straight from the 80s yet their uplifting melodies and often cosmic guitar riffs are undeniably fit for a 2012 audience. Much better in a live setting than on record, the band instantly created a party-like atmosphere with dance-floor friendly ' Pleasure Palaces' a highlight of the night. The filled venue and warm reaction of the Cardiff crowd, apparently the band's "second home", suggests further successes this year.

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Tommy Emmanuel & Gareth Pearson

St David's Hall, Cardiff
13
th December 2011



He may not be a household name, but for many guitar aficionados Tommy Emmanuel is the best acoustic guitarist in the world. Tonight's audience, consisting mostly of men of a certain age, was not disappointed. Emmanuel's finger style is incredibly difficult to emulate and when he adds DIY guitar percussion into the mix he becomes a veritable one man band reaching sublime heights on " Mombassa ". Elsewhere his playing was mellow and moving as on " Salt Water " and during the ubiquitous " Beatles medley ". He may or may not be the best acoustic guitarist in the world, but he is certainly one of the most talented and hard working entertainers on the circuit. Support tonight came from our very own Gareth Pearson who continues to improve both technically and in stage craft. The fact that he is gaining more of a reputation in the States than at home is something of a mystery. With a new album due in 2012 perhaps a Welsh tour would go some way to change that perception.

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AL LEWIS, ZERVAS & PEPPER
IVAN MOULT
St John's Church, Canton, Cardiff
26th November 2011
(Review by Stephen Nottingham, Photograph by Francis Brown)


The second annual newsoundwales showcase concert featured three diverse up-and-coming Welsh acts. They all benefitted from the fine acoustics, great atmosphere and attentive audience in St John's Church. Cardiff-based singer-songwriter Ivan Moult opened proceedings, accompanied by drummer Rich, and impressed with songs from his debut EP The Mine Canary . Zervas & Pepper bought their warm Californian-style harmonies to a Welsh November evening, with songs from their critically-acclaimed debut album Somewhere in the City . The Cardiff-based duo of Kath Pepper and Paul Zervas were joined by guitarist Dave Sivell for the evening. They entertained with stories behind the songs, and delighted with delicate acoustic versions of Running Solo , The Ballad of 'Shotgun' John Collins and Cigar Store Indian .

After a selection of new English-language material, performed solo, headliner Al Lewis was joined by his full band. The mesmerising set was mainly drawn from the Welsh Music Prize 2011 shortlisted In the Wake and the band's recently-released Welsh-language album Ar Gof A Chadw . Al also referenced his back catalogue, most notably with Gwenwyn (sung by the legendary Meic Stevens on Al's debut LP), and switched to French vocals on occasion. He sporting a Movember moustache, to raise money and awareness for men's health issues, and tried out some modest but engaging stage banter. With beautiful singing, sympathetic accompaniment, and songs as good as Treading Water , Throw Me a Line , Llosgi and Hanes yn Y Lluniau , this concert confirmed Al Lewis as a major talent.

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SWN Festival 2011
Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Daughter,
Olfar & Ffred Jones

Chapter Arts Centre




SWN has now reached its 5 th birthday and has now firmly established itself as a highlight of the alternative Welsh music scene calendar and so we were more than delighted to be hosting this evening at Chapter Arts Centre. Local folk hero Ffred Jones kicked things off with some deft guitar playing and subtle, but effective backing from his band. On paper it was Benjamin Francis Leftwich who should have made the biggest impression of the night. He certainly can sing and has some fine material from his debut album 'Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm'. " Pictures ", " Box of Stones " and " Butterfly " are all perfectly crafted and bode well for his longevity. However, the real star of the night was Daughter who some of you may have seen when she supported John Grant earlier this year. She is simply stunning and has the ability to entrance a packed room into stunned silence. She already has some nascent classics with " Landfill " and " The Woods " . Laura Marling be aware, your successor is in the wings.

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Bright Light Bright Light

The Iris Prize 2011


(Photo courtesy of http://www.irisprize.org/ )

The Iris Prize Festival is a lesbian & gay festival that takes place in Cardiff every October. This was the 5 th Iris and there are plans for the festival to expand its activities to include music in the years ahead. To that end Bright Light Bright Light were the perfect choice to close the festival, featuring as they do, Rod Thomas one of Wales' finest exports and future hit machine. Up until now Rod has mainly been a one man band. However, with a more permanent line up behind him featuring drums and keyboards he is freed up to become more of a centre stage showman. The band's canon of great pop tunes is growing by the day with songs such as A new word to say , I Cry at films as well as the new single Disco Moment . The band will be supporting Erasure during their autumn tour and if this performance is anything to go by Bright Light Bright Light could well be set for some chart action once their album is finally released next year. A great way to end one of the highlight's of Cardiff's cultural calendar.


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Willy Mason

The Gate Arts Centre, Cardiff
6
th September



The performance was delayed because he had broken his thumb pick and didn't have a spare, he belched mid song which was a sight to behold and his guitar gave him tuning problems all night. However, this mattered not one bit for this was a partisan crowd who were able to see through these minor niggles and appreciate they were in the presence of one of America's most talented young singers. With his amiable, self deprecating personality and songs as good as " Fear no pain ", " Hard Hand to hold" and the classic " Oxygen " he had the sold out crowd in the palm of his hand from start to finish.

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Man Without Country

Clwb Ifor Bach
17th August




A buzz is building about this south Wales band that have a new EP " King Complex " and are gaining attention in the national press. The band's music is fairly hard to pin down which is probably a good thing. Lots of synth motifs, overlaid guitar, dreamy vocals and enough dry ice to fill the Motorpoint arena. All told the band's set was full of slow building epics that reached spell binding climaxes. Man Without Country they may be, but they are not without an ever growing audience.


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Green Man Festival 2011



One of the most gratifying aspects to this year's Green Man Festival, apart from the welcome lack of rain, was the sheer number of Welsh acts breaking through. Zervas & Pepper had the perfect sun drenched setting for their beautiful vocal harmonies and Sion Russell Jones cemented his position as a rising star. Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog seemed at home on the main stage and cheekily thanked the Fleet Foxes for opening for them, albeit 12 hours earlier! Wibidi really knew how to get the crowd going with an excellent sound and a front man full of energy and charisma.


(Wibidi)


There are always some surprises at festivals with acts you expect to be crowd pleasers not hitting the mark and vice versa. This year Villagers gave a storming performance on the main stage with full band line up and were many people's highlight. James Vincent McMorrow proved again he is a huge talent and gave probably the best vocal performance of the entire weekend. One band who failed to hit the mark and brought the mood down were Low Anthem . Fine on record, but live a dreary disappointment. Low Anthem - the band that can lighten the mood just by leaving the stage!


(Thomas Dybdahl)


There weren't many discoveries this year, but several acts really stood out and enhanced their reputations immensely. Thomas Dybdahl was unfamiliar to most before Sunday afternoon. By the time he had finished his set on one of the hottest days yet to grace the history of Greenman he had made numerous converts for his high quality song writing and exuberant performance.


(Matthew & the Atlas)


If there was one standout moment it came with Dan Bejar's project band Destroyer from Canada. Their album ' Kaputt ' is already one of the best of 2011 and has rightly been short listed for this year's Canadian Polaris Prize. The album is heavily produced and it seemed unlikely this could be reproduced in a live setting. However, with a full 7 piece band they achieved this and more. Bejar is a captivating and enigmatic performer, fascinating to watch and a pleasure to listen to.


(Zervas & Pepper)


Eclectic, challenging and Welsh just some of the reasons Green Man has established itself as one of the UK's finest medium sized festivals. Next year is the 10 th birthday and that's going to be a party not to be missed.


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Warpaint

Globe, Cardiff
23 June 2011


(Review by Rob Richards)
A packed Globe audience had the chance to find out for themselves whether any band could justify the sort of superlatives that Warpaint have been attracting. They were not disappointed.

At the heart of the music is the dancing bass of Jenny Lee Lindberg. From her first entry on the opening number, Set Down Your Arms, it is no misuse of the word, to say she is a joy to listen to. Try to imagine a bass player with the touch of a great jazzer like Jaco Pastorius but the irresistible dance rhythms of James Lee Jamerson (from the great Motown house band of the 1960s).

Jenny's bass is perfectly complemented by Stella Mozgawa, whose drumming is both excitingly physical and acutely responsive to what the other band members are doing.

Over the top of this fluid rhythmic pattern, Theresa Wayman and Emily Kokal swap improvised guitar lines and let the music build in an organic sort of way, something not really heard since the great psychedelic bands of the 1960s. Often there is tension between the joyful music and the lyrics, most of which are delivered by Emily. She can put a really dark Siouxsie-like edge to her voice when she needs to but all band members can sing and they generate some striking harmonies.

Undertow, perhaps their best known song, was one of many highlights. They finished with Elephants which built to a majestic climax, Jenny leaving her bass at the end to duet with Stella on the drums.

The venue's strict curfew meant there was to be no encore, however loud the audience called for one. With Elephants providing such a satisfying conclusion to the set, it is hard to see how anyone could have followed that - even Warpaint.

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WOMAD 2011

Malmesbury, Wiltshire
28 to 31 July

(review by Rob Richards)
Seasoned WOMAD-goers know that the highlight of the festival is always the band you have never heard of from somewhere you cannot find on the map. This year it was Ayarkhaan , a female trio from Yakutia in the far north of Siberia who sing and play the khomus (similar to a Jew's Harp). Somehow, they combine trance-like rhythms and sounds which mimic animals & the environment to transport the whole audience to their frozen homeland.

WOMAD has always been a showcase for music from all over the world; major stars of African music, with Afro-Cubism finally realising the original Buena Vista to combine the best of West Africa with best of Cuba; Faiz Ali Faiz , a wonderful Qawwali singer from Pakistan; exciting and uplifting music from Egypt, Norway, Japan, Mongolia, Morocco and many other places. Ethiopia has one of the oldest musical cultures in the world but seems to be able to absorb Western styles (Jazz, Soul, Reggae) and give them back enriched. Dub Colossus included some very fine Ethiopian musicians but the standout was Samuel Yirga , an astonishingly gifted young pianist.

Nearer to home, Rua MacMillan is a very gifted and inventive fiddler from Nairn in Scotland. Closer still, are 9bach from North Wales. Singer Lisa Jên has a beautiful voice. She sings traditional Welsh folk songs but the music is anything but traditional, sometimes reminiscent of Portishead. The other key element is a very different and original use of the harp. Almost no sweeping glissandos but notes placed with a lightness of touch that recalls Richard Thompson and early Fairport Convention at their ethereal best.

WOMAD is also about fun and ample opportunities to dance away to big juicy bass beats; Alabama 3 back to their best; manic Glasgow dub from Mungo's Hi-Fi ; dynamic DJing and inspired mash-ups from the Nextmen ; classy reggae from Jazz Jamaica . For pure fun, the "trash pop" of Las Balkanieras is hard to beat; 3 women who manage to be sexy and funny at the same time and have enough energy to light up a small town. The biggest, juiciest bass beats of the weekend, however, were not produced by an instrument nor by electronics but by Bellatrix , the truly amazing beatboxer with all-female singing group the Boxettes.

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Jam with Robina

Cardiff Library
6
th August



Free daytime gigs in unusual venues is something we fully support and would like to see more of. On his occasion Pontypridd's Jam with Robina managed to pull a decent crowd as well as a few quizzical looks from casual passers by browsing for books. The band highlighted their recent album ' Dark Recollections' a fine collection of acoustic songs of mysticism and story telling. The band reached its zenith with the Led Zep lll guitar interplay mastery of " Sons of Odin " and the epic " Epic mother ". Seeing the band in such an unusual environment left me wanting to see them again in a more 'traditional' venue which in itself makes the exercise well worth while.

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Evan Dando

The Globe, Cardiff
6
th July



For the audience of 30 something's they got what they came for; a one man Lemonhead jukebox seemingly happy to play a seamless non-stop medley of just about every significant song he had recorded. There was little interaction with the audience and for most of the gig he seemed lost in a daze, almost oblivious to those around him. There is no denying his impressive back catalogue of songs such as Shame about Ray , My Drug Buddy , and Big Gay Heart . The delivery was assured and relaxed and the man, who was once voted one of the 50 most beautiful people on the planet, still has charisma in shed loads. There was however, a nagging concern about the lack of new material - all we got was a brief snatch of a new song dismissed and abandoned by the man himself as just 'white man blues'. It would be a shame, to say the least, if Evan Dando spends the rest of his life travelling the world playing the songs of his youth in a quasi nostalgia fest for the grunge generation. Here's hoping he can record some new material and give his hardcore fans something to maintain their ongoing love for the man.

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Dean Harris
Parrot Music Bar, Carmarthen
2 July 2011
(review by Andy Stockton)

We all know that nights that exceed expectations are few and far between.

The Parrot Bar in King Street, Carmarthen, is rapidly becoming an increasingly renowned hangout for quality music and is reminiscent of the famous Hope & Anchor in Islington, arguably one of the birthplaces of punk way back in the 1970's. Of the performers here tonight - Dean Harris, Plankton Bloom, 100,00 Bodybags and Nineplanfailed - it was Dean Harris who stood out. A no-frills solo performer, he took his acoustic guitar and his trademark trilby on stage and did a fine set. He sang from the heart with intelligent lyrics and intricate acoustic guitar work.

One half of Shadow Theory , a band that has made its name on the Swansea scene, Harris sang songs that were at once witty, keenly observed and emotionally challenging. After only a couple of songs - 1963 , We Used To Dance - it became obvious this wasn't just your usual troubadour singing songs of unrequited love and beautiful maidens.

His songs are technically impressive: fine guitar work accompanying dexterous changes of pace and clever rhyming and cadence. This was a set of raw emotion, beautiful in its honesty, glorious in its intensity and savage in its scarred reality. Think a melange of Tom Waits, Neil Young, Gaslight Anthem and perhaps just a hint of Leonard Cohen.

His set also contained a couple of covers from The Misfits, including the challenging Last Caress . Never something to be attempted lightly, Dean Harris breathed new life into them, and as a solo performer conceived an added dimension to them that I don't think any post-punk band would have managed to create.

I mentioned Tom Waits, Neil Young, Gaslight earlier. If they had been in the audience they would have approved. Big time. Because they know that nights that exceed expectations are few and far between. and so are artists like Dean Harris.

http://soundcloud.com/soap-macharris

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Martin Simpson & Danny Thompson

Broome Farm, Ross on Wye




This was a special gig organised as a result of Danny having personal connections with the farm. Two legendary performers in a farm shed on a wet Sunday afternoon - what more could you ask for? Grammy award winner Martin Simpson is one of the most accomplished acoustic guitarists in the world, a fine singer, even finer song writer with an engaging stage presence honed from 40 years plus on the road. Danny Thompson doesn't need an introduction and there isn't anyone from the folk world of note that he hasn't worked with. The two blended together perfectly and after a while the novelty and excitement that we were in the presence of a legend seemed to subside and the audience simply lost itself in Simpson's personal, heartfelt songs such as " Never any good " and " Home again ". This truly was a memorable afternoon.

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Ffred Jones album launch
Chapter Arts Centre
1 st June 2011



Another night and another album launch, this time it was for Ffred Jones' impressive new album ' Welsh Whiskey Society' . It's a brave man that has support slots from the likes of Ivan Moult who never ceases to impress and is becoming one of our bright new hopes of the Welsh acoustic scene. However, Ffred stepped up to the mark and gave an impressive performance demonstrating the extent to which he has grown and developed over the past 2 years. His song writing has become more ambitious and his guitar playing is fluid, relaxed and impressive. In keeping with his bigger sound Ffred was backed by a variety of musicians including cello and bass which really boosted his sound. New songs that shone through on first hearing were " When Winter Comes " and " Never Felt ". The new album Welsh Whiskey Society is available to download on iTunes.

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Sion Russell Jones

Wales Millennium Centre
24th April




The free 'Glanfa' stage at the WMC is not the ideal performance space; bad acoustics, little atmosphere and people traipsing past all of which serve to make it an uphill struggle for performers to impress. Sion Russell Jones, whose debut album ".. and suddenly " was released last year not only impressed the audience, but deservedly received an encore, something I have not witnessed on this stage before. Sion has some fine well written songs, plays some mean finger style guitar and a distinctive Paul Simonesque voice.

..and suddenly Sion Russell Jones is the one to watch.

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James Vincent McMorrow

The Globe, Cardiff
7
th May



On paper it is hardly inspiring; another bearded man with a guitar takes himself of to an isolated cabin to write songs and make an album. On this occasion I am pleased to report that the music made by James Vincent McMorrow is sublime and definitely worth hearing. Despite having had a bad week with his car broken into and suffering from a virus, this was a performance that was impressive and at times deeply moving. His debut album is a well produced and has some stand out songs. However, appearing solo with just a guitar served to enhance the lesser songs on the album and bring a fresh perspective to others. " If I had a boat " went down a storm - pardon the pun and " From the woods " stripped of its recorded clutter was chilling. His cover version of Antony & the Johnson's " Hope there's someone" was spellbinding. I don't expect to be seeing James Vincent Mcmorrow in such a small venue again and the audience left knowing it had witnessed a very special talent indeed.

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Jonathan Powell album launch

Clwb Ifor Bach
Cardiff 14 April 2011

Review by Stephen Nottingham


JONATHAN Powell launched his terrific new album The Flight & Other Stories in style in front of an enthusiastic crowd of family, friends and fans. He opened solo with Brave Captain Mallard , a curious song narrated by a duck; although he later described the staccato Puppets (narrated by a puppet) as the weirdest song he's written. He was joined by his band for the rest of the gig, starting with a storming Old Black Joe ; although the album's backing singer Charlotte Church just watched from the crowd. In additional to the new album, entire but in a different order, the band played older songs, including Nicole and Unforgiven Days - standout tracks from his 2008 debut Forgive This Day .

The catchy The Love Song (I never wrote you) will be a live favourite for years to come. Songbird , Edie and At Arm's Length are also bittersweet songs that look regretfully back on a narrator's life. Jonathan closed with The Flight , an involving story of elopement, with a quieter section allowing him a second solo spot before introducing his excellent band as they returned for the finale. The Flight opens the record and shares a Wild West story with other songs on the album, The Pursuit and the poignant The Ballad of Sarah Jones , which are narrated in the voices of different characters. Less personal in content than the songs on his debut album, a love of storytelling informs the new material. Check it out on his beautifully-designed website: http://www.jonathanpowellmusic.com/theflight

Support act on the night Skinny Machines made a lot of new friends, with their accomplished set of new material and a cover of The Beatle's Come Together.

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Rod Thomas' AKA Bright Light Bright Light's
SXSW experience 2011


SXSW 2011 was incredible! I'd been once before, so knowing how the city is laid out and generally how the festival works was a big plus - not being too overwhelmed when I arrived. Still, it never ceases to blow your mind.

If you've never been, imagine a street where every building, car park, roof and space is a venue, where 2000 bands play, and 200,000 people come to watch, drink and pass out. It's easy to get lost in it all, but it's also easy to have the time of your life.

We were lucky to have three great shows this year. Latitude 30, is the British Embassy, was home to two of them. The first was the opening party which was full, bursting with good vibes and a lot of fun. The second was a Welsh Music party the following afternoon curated by Jen Long - great choice of acts and big smiles all round. Lastly, BMI hosted us at Ghost Room where the audience was more international, and properly in a party mood, dancing through the whole set, it was amazing!

Apart from spending all day drinking and eating free drink and food at the hundreds of day parties throughout the week (loads more than last time), I saw some amazing acts play sets. Wise Blood was my favourite new act. A guy with a great band making music a bit like Prince meets Eminem. BATHS was very cool, Twin Shadow made me love his album even more, and I saw sets from long-standing favourites James Yuill, Casio Kids, Owen Pallett, Gallops and Chris Bathgate.

What's amazing is that you see huge bands in venues they're way too big for, and small bands who are too new to tour internationally able to play to a totally new crowd. It's the most fun you can have of a week in the sun. Everyone is having a blast and it's hard not to join in when everyone around you is so in love with the festival and the city.



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The Unthanks

St David's Hall Cardiff
22 March 2011

(review by Rob Richards)


The Unthanks opened with the title track of their outstanding new album ' Last ' and went on to play all bar one of the tracks, plus some old favourites and a couple of surprises.

The core band consists of two sisters, Rachel & Becky Unthank, plus piano, violin and guitar. On the night it was augmented by 2nd violin, viola, cello, drums, bass and trumpet (beautifully played by Cardiffian Lizzie Jones). The extra instruments create a depth and complexity of sound which supports, but never gets in the way of the essence of the Unthanks, which is the sisters' inventive and expressive interpretation of a wide range of material. Their music is rooted in traditional Northumbrian folk songs, but also included Tom Waits, a forgotten gem from Prog rockers King Crimson and Alex Glasgow's savage indictment of the coal industry, ' Close the Coalhouse Door'.

Of the two sisters, Rachel's voice is more conventionally beautiful with an immaculate sense of timing. Crucial when what they do best is tell stories (invariably sad ones). Becky's voice is something else entirely, with a unique breathy quality that seems to bypass the listener's brain altogether and plug straight into the emotions. Add to that those harmonies and interchanges that seem to acquire a special quality when siblings sing together.

The Unthanks are proud of their reputation as " miserable buggers " and are never afraid to take a song at a slow pace (even funereal) if that is necessary to reveal its full meaning. But rather than depression, what they create is joy. And that was what I saw around me when they finished the evening with the achingly beautiful ' Blackbird ' from their first album 'The Bairns'.

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Al Lewis
Café Nero
9
th March



Al Lewis has been undertaking a national tour of Café Nero's and at the Cardiff date he was joined by Sarah Howells from Paper Aeroplanes. Their voices blend perfectly and with an appearance filmed at Abbey Road due for broadcast by Channel 4 in May they could well become a much in demand duo. Lewis' material switches from Welsh to English with ease and remains accessible throughout whatever your first language. Songs such as ' The Arsonist' and ' Throw me a line' are truly excellent and with added harmonies from Sarah Howells they are given an added lift. At one stage there was a slightly surreal moment when the small PA overpowered the Cafe Nero fridge and cut the sound - Al Lewis blows up fridge headlines beckoned until power was quickly restored. More afternoon gigs in coffee shops please!

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Jamie Woon and Ghostpoet

Cardiff Arts Institute
6
th March 2011


Having come 4 th in the sound of 2011 poll, Jamie Woon is being touted as one of this year's bright new hopes. With all the hype and publicity this brings it wasn't too surprising that this show sold out weeks ago. For once the hyperbole was justified. The evening began with Ghostpoet who is also being hotly tipped. His music is acid jazz tinged hip hop and really got the audience gently warmed up. He has a reputation for being laid back and almost whispering his lyrics; however, on this occasion he was upbeat, energetic and really engaged with the crowd. It has to be said that Jamie Woon is not an incredibly charismatic or exciting stage performer. However, his music is extremely impressive with some excellent songs that have a persistent laid back beat that resulted in mass head bobbing throughout the venue. He was backed by a small tight knit unit that provided just the right combination of restraint and tightness he needed. Of all his songs " Night Air " is the standout and already becoming something of an instant classic. Coming fourth on the sound of 2011 list may have been his perfect outcome as it has given him the lift he needed to launch his album, but without all of the hullabaloo and expectation that now surrounds Jessie J. Very impressive indeed.

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Efterklang

The Globe, Cardiff
22
nd February 2011



When you start a gig with an art house video diary of yourselves followed by some ' technical difficulties' then you had better be on form to avoid alienating your audience. Efterklang didn't disappoint and played with effortless playful abandon, fully at ease with each other. The band have recently played a series of gigs with orchestras and ensembles so this was a return to their ' dirty rock roots' as they put it. They were also joined once more by the hugely talented Peter Broderick who has been off working with Nils Frahm in recent times. Material spanned much of their 6 year output with " Cutting ice to snow " and the vibrant and joyous " Modern drift " standing out. For those who think Efterklang's music is inaccessible and difficult perhaps witnessing the sell out crowd vigorously clapping along and whooping at the climax of the gig would be enough to change their minds.


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John Cooper Clarke

The Globe Cardiff
12
th February 2011



For those who grew up in the late 1970s and early 1980s one of the few poets to reach a wider public with his cutting wit and sharp observations was John Cooper Clarke. On the face of it little seems to have changed over the past 3 decades. He is still dangerously thin, shades are sill intact and yes he is still able to fit into those skin tight jeans. However, for those who came expecting a night of poetry they were in for a surprise as most of his set was pure stand up observational comedy. At times hilarious and at times slightly cringe worthy, it was certainly an entertaining night. Of the handful of poems that got an airing most were new and reassuringly good such as " Christmas at somebody else's house " and an updated version of Beasley Street renamed ' Beasley Boulevard' " There's a pub but the regulars are barred down on Beasley Boulevard". Delivery was at times slightly loose and on more than one occasion he lost his place when reading from his notebook. However, it was an indication of how much he is held in the hearts of the near capacity crowd that this didn't seem to matter. The word is over used, but John Cooper Clarke is fast veering towards legendary status.

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British Sea Power

Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff
7th February 2011



Reviewed by Stephen Nottingham

BRITISH Sea Power kick-started their UK tour at Clwb Ifor Bach, with a driving two-hour set, seamlessly mixing tracks from new album Valhalla Dancehall with older material. They now find themselves with a substantial back-catalogue, causing Noble to comment that they had never before played so many different songs in one set. There was less on-stage greenery than previously, but a stuffed heron and owl (with Viking helmet) looked down on proceedings. BSP are now six: Yan, Hamilton, Noble, Wood, Phil Sumner and Abi Fry. Sumner's trumpet and Fry's viola help create a rich and nuanced live sound, although the emphasis is on layered guitars, strong melodic lines and distinctive lyrics. Of the new material, Living is so Easy, Stunde Null and Luna stood out. A climax was reached via It Ended On An Oily Stage, The Great Skua, Waving Flags and Carrion. Support was provided by up-and-coming Welsh band Race Horses, whose quirky songs and off-kilter intensity was a perfect complement to BSP. Finally, let's acknowledge the best merchandise stall on the rock circuit; a mini-market selling BSP vinyl records, T-shirts, badges, mugs and packs of BSP tea, tote bags, BSP clotted cream fudge from Devon (suitable for vegetarians), BSP's own 'Zeus' lager, and more!

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