In the belly of one of London’s newest theatre’s, I
experienced one of the most emotional and best nights of my life.
Entering the space, we are welcome to live music, played by
a band of 7 – with brass instruments, electric guitars, sound scapes and a drum
kit. The set basic, only light bulbs above each person and in the ceiling, and
all dressed smartly but shoeless – I cannot tell you how much this minimalist
band excited me – something unusual and live!
Styx is a true-life play developed by two of the band members
who are siblings – there is a cross over of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice Greek
myth and their own grandparents’ lives. It tackles the issues and reality of dementia,
of love, of life and ultimately how memory works.
Second Body chop and change, from true recordings of their Grandmother,
new and brilliant music composed, written and performed by the band on stage,
spoken word and recordings from interviews with the band. While this sounds
like a lot, it really works amazingly well. There is a pattern to the
performance, and it felt like a dark yet humorous, genuine and unbelievably
cool musical. The story is brought to us, from beginning to end, as we get to
know their family, their grandparents, but with musical interludes.
Both of these are so genius-ly done that you could happily take
them apart from one another and still love every second – but you don’t want to
do that. It is so wonderful composed that it is hard not to love every single
person, to love their family and to really see their emotion and passion for
This review feels hard to write – I could gush all day about
how phenomenal this piece was. Dementia is something close to me, but even if
you have never experienced this, you would have experienced some kind of grief
or ending of a story – and so I would defy anyone to come away not feeling
tearful, feeling welcomed and honoured in sharing their story and a warmth at
how beautifully this performance is.
So enough gushing – I can only see that if you do not see this, you will miss one of the best pieces of theatre I have ever seen. Styx is unlike anything I have ever experienced before, and tantalised every theatrical and personal emotion.
Hi Owen great to meet
you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
I have been a Playwright for almost 20 years. My plays include ‘Benny’, ‘The Wood’, and ‘Richard Parker’. I have a lifelong love of storytelling and the rhythm of words. How the dialogue sounds to an audience is always as important to me as the strength of the narrative.
The play I am best known for is ‘Grav’, a one-man show about the life of Welsh cultural and sporting icon, Ray Gravell. This year saw ‘Grav’ complete its 100th performance and counting.
I grew up on a farm in Mid Wales where my parents still live and work. I
now live in Tongwynlais on the edge of Cardiff. I am married to Amelia, and we
have twin daughters, Sofie and Brooke. I love swimming and running and, for my
sins, I am a fanatical supporter of Tottenham Hotspur.
So, what got you
interested in the arts?
urge to write was always there. My earliest inspiration was my Primary School
Headteacher at Bronllys Primary School, Mr Dave Cooke. He was also a writer and
would occasionally play us a radio play he had written. I was transfixed by the
idea that something you had written could entertain people. This was where the
idea of being a writer took root.
went to a secondary school where drama wasn’t taught and with no history of
school shows. One day I asked the Head if I could write a play and put it on.
The result was a rather strange effort called ‘Where Have All the Foxes Gone?’.
It was staged as part of the Christmas concert and the reception to it, as well
as the buzz of writing dialogue for actors, was instantly addictive.
was my first love, and I had some poems published whilst at school. I won some
prizes for my writing at local eisteddfods. In my recent writing I feel I am
returning to my poetic roots, and my new play, ‘West’, is certainly the
most rhythmic and lyrical play that I have written.
wasn’t until I was living in London that I had the confidence to stage a play
professionally. One day I rang all the Pub Theatres in the phone book
pretending I was a successful writer looking for somewhere to stage my new
play. The Hen and Chickens in Highbury and Islington offered me a weekend in
December 2003 and the result was my first play, ‘The Dead of Night’.
Your background is in education. I believe you left teaching to
work full time as a writer? This must have meant some risk for you in terms of
you career, why did you feel the need to make this move?
I was a Head of Drama in various schools for almost 20 years and I thoroughly
enjoyed the job. I still do some Freelance teaching at venues such as Welsh
College. But, in my own life, as with so many other people, there had been a
few reminders that your time is finite, and that if there is something you
really want to do then sometimes you just have to go for it. Carpe Diem. I
thought about making the leap for many years, and felt I had enjoyed enough
success to encourage me to go for it. But yes, it was a huge decision and one
that I didn’t take lightly.
Playwriting is my passion. It is the job I have always wanted to do. I
wanted to give myself the opportunity to see how good a writer I could be if I devoted
myself to it. So far, the decision has proved to be the right one. In the past year
I have written two new plays, ‘West’ and ‘The Night Porter’. ‘The
Night Porter’ is a life-long ambition, a good old-fashioned ghost story in
the vein of ‘The Woman in Black’. I am delighted that the Arts Council
of Wales have granted me a large research and development grant to bring the
play to life in January 2020. We have an amazing team lined up I can’t wait to
bring a chill down the spine of Welsh theatre very soon.
You have successfully written plays based around the lives of
Benny Hill and the Welsh Rugby player Ray Gravell. How do you approach
transposing these real lives to the stage?
I have always been fascinated by the lives of real people. The key to bringing a life to the stage is thorough research. There is a huge responsibility in ensuring that you do your homework and present an accurate depiction of your subject matter. When ‘Grav’ was launched at Parc Y Scarlets there was a moment of genuine terror just before Gareth first took to the stage to showcase an extract. The Chief Executive of the Scarlets jokingly said to a room full of dignitaries, ‘well, I hope you’ve got his right, because there’s an awful lot of people in here who loved and knew Ray.’ I went white. Thankfully the reaction to the scene was great.
Finding the voice of a person is crucial. This comes from watching all that you can, and meeting people who knew what they were like. Ray’s widow Mari and his daughters Manon and Gwennan were incredibly supportive. The trust they placed in me to do justice to someone who was so loved by them personally was the primary thought kept at the forefront of my mind.
With Ray Gravell it was easier in that he was a well-loved figure. I
chose Benny Hill precisely because he is more of a marmite figure. I wanted to
get under the skin of a more divisive character, and to explore the impact of
society changing around a person. I have always been interested in the lives of
old comedians. With Benny Hill I was intrigued by how a man who was the most
famous comedian on the planet for a time had become airbrushed out of popular
culture. There was some hostility when the play was first unveiled, but
thankfully this dissipated when people saw the play, and Liam Tobin’s skilful central
performance as Benny.
I am just about to start writing a brand-new play about another
much-loved Welsh icon. The team behind it are excellent. It is somewhat under
wraps at the moment so watch this space.
You frequently work with the same collaborators, Peter Doran, Artistic
Director at The Torch Theatre and most notably the actor Gareth John Bale. How does this relationship work?
On a personal level we are all good friends with a lot in common, but more importantly there is a huge amount of trust between us. That is essential. As a writer you have to be prepared to hand over your work to a creative team who may well suggest cuts and alterations you may or may not agree with. If you have an open and honest relationship, then this is far less painful. I have worked with people in the beginning of my career who would put a line through writing I had spent hours pondering and shaping. This never gets easier, but if you trust the people share the same vision and passion for the project then these decisions become much easier.
The journey we have been on as a creative team has been incredible, taking us from an initial conversation about ‘Grav’ at the Torch, to New York and our performance this year for the Welsh Rugby team. I can honestly say that throughout this process we have never had a cross word. We all believed in the project and each other. Peter and I went on to work on ‘The Wood’, a play commemorating the Battle of Mametz Wood in World War One. I was incredibly proud of this play and I hope that Peter and I will collaborate on another project in the near future.
Gareth and I have worked together for over a decade. We were first introduced
through the excellent Script Slam at the Sherman Theatre. I had a 10-minute
play called ‘The Window’ in the final and so was randomly paired with
Gareth as the director. We hit it off immediately, and our relationship has
seen us work on a wide range of projects. He is a very skilled director as well
as actor, and we complement each other perfectly in the rehearsal room. My
family often joke about how often I ring him. Usually once a day, often more. We
have lots of plans for the future as Bale and Thomas, and are shortly heading
out to the United States with a new play.
Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public
to access cultural provision. Are you aware of any barriers to equality and
diversity for either Welsh or Wales based artists?
Encouraging diverse voices to feel empowered to share their stories on
stage is key to this. People from all walks of life who live in 21st
Century Wales need to feel confident enough to share their individual stories
and experiences. We live in strange and somewhat divisive times at the moment.
Theatre has always had the ability to hold a mirror up to society and pose
questions. In my opinion the importance of cultivating awareness and
understanding of other people’s lives and journeys has rarely been so relevant.
New plays by diverse voices can play a key role in inspiring discussion,
generating understanding and engineering social change.
There are a range of organisations supporting Welsh and Wales based
writers, I wonder if you feel the current support network and career
opportunities feel ‘healthy’ to you?
Generally, yes, but there are a few areas where there could be some improvement. I developed as a writer through opportunities such as Script Slam at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff.
I think there is room in Wales for more events like these for up and coming writers. Writing is a very insular activity, and the chance to see something you have written actually performed on stage is incredibly important in your development. Seeing actors perform your story and hearing your dialogue spoken aloud, as well as having an audience respond to your work, is key to helping you find your style and voice. These early opportunities were fundamental in teaching me how to craft dialogue, and introduced me to some of the most important people in my writing career.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be
Funding for youth provision is essential. Growing up I never had access
to Youth Theatre or drama lessons. Having taught the subject for so many years,
I fully understand the benefits that drama can have on a young person’s life. I
have set up my own Youth Theatre in Tongwynlais which is great because I also
get to teach my own daughters. There are about 25 members at present, and to
see the growth and development in them over the course of the first year has
been really exciting. It is essential for the lifeblood of our industry that we
nurture our future performers and equip them with the transformative skills
that performance can provide. It is essential that drama continues to empower
and embolden young people.
Can you tell us about your writing process? Where do your ideas come from?
Ideas come from a range of sources. I have always enjoyed people
watching, and indeed was inspired to write ‘The Night Porter’ after
glimpsing a haunted looking man sat behind a hotel front desk through a window
on a gloomy night in Edinburgh. Sometimes, as with ‘Grav’ or ‘The
Wood’ I am lucky enough to be approached. But it has to be something I am
going to enjoy researching or something I am able to give my own unique slant. I
will often research a play for ages before I start writing, building up a
thorough knowledge of the subject in my head.
For ‘The Night Porter’ I wanted to properly get under the skin of
how to make people scared and so I enrolled in some night classes on Ghost
Stories in Literature at Cardiff University taught by the fantastic Dr Juliette
Wood. Through that academic process I was able to improve my understanding of
the genre, and this will hopefully add to the scream count in the audience.
I always begin a new play by free writing, getting a load of ideas down
on the screen before saving it and leaving it for a week or two. I then re-read
and delete the vast majority, but in there I often find the elements I want to
develop and expand. I draft and redraft many times until I am satisfied. ‘West’
has undergone five drafts, with ‘Grav’ it was many more. I always try to
hear an early draft spoken aloud having long understood that something might
look great on the page but sound awful when spoken aloud. Failing that, I read
it to the dog in the shed.
Can you describe your writing day? Do you have a process or a minimum
I tend to be at my most productive first thing in the morning. I get up early and go for a walk or a run to clear my head. Then I make a pot of tea and head to the shed for 9. I tend to keep going until ‘The World at One’. The afternoon is often spent reading, researching and editing.
Music is very important, and Spotify is a godsend. The right mood can be created by who you have accompanying you in the background. Richard Hawley is one of my go to artists for this. His lyrics and music are very inspiring, and his latest album, ‘Further’ is just beautiful.
I used to set myself very strict word targets, but after a while I found
I was getting more concerned with the number of words I was writing than the
quality of them. As long as I leave the shed with a scene or some dialogue that
didn’t exist before I went in there then I am happy. A good day could be one
page or five pages – it is the quality of the writing that is important.
Is there a place you go to write?
I am lucky in that I have a shed at the bottom of the garden. It has a desk, a chair, bookshelves and pictures all over the wall. I like to be surrounded by postcards, paintings, and photographs, for inspiration. There is no WIFI in the shed which is very important. With a good WIFI connection it is very easy to disappear off into a digital rabbit hole instead of actually writing.
If I want company then the Park and Dare in Treorchy or Chapter are both
great places. But mostly, and fuelled by a steady stream of tea, I am content
to lose myself for hours in the shed.
What excites you about the arts in Wales?
I am currently working for ‘Pick of the Fringe’ at the Edinburgh
Festival. It is so exciting to see such a wealth of terrific Welsh companies
showcasing exciting, innovative work across the city. Companies like Dirty
Protest, Clocktower and Volcano, to name but a few, are just superb.
My wife is a graffiti artist and spoken work performer called Amelia Unity. She is part of a collective called ‘Ladies of Rage’who are working hard to address the lack of opportunities for female performers in Hip-Hop, grime, drum & base etc. To see how inspired and empowered they are as a group, including firing up the imagination of my own teenage daughters, is terrific.
Gareth Bale and I have recently set up ‘Rebel Rebel Comedy’, a monthly comedy night at Tiny Rebel in Cardiff. I’m really enjoying getting to know the stand-up comedy scene in Wales, and through our wonderful MC, Steffan Evans, we are being introduced to the huge depth of talent that is out there. Stand-up comedians are fearless performers and I love watching them work.
Music wise, I am always in awe of Gruff Rhys. His career is so inspiring and organic. I am always excited to see what he does next. From his very early days he has yet to record an album that I haven’t loved, and his imagination is something I am very envious of. To work with him in some capacity is a long-term ambition of mine. That would be a dream come true.
Finally, after the incredible impact of Rachel O’Riordan at the Sherman, I am very excited to see where the newly appointed Artistic Director, Joe Murphy, takes the theatre to next.
What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would
like to share with our readers?
I grew up in the Britpop era and have always loved going to gigs. I am a big fan of 6 Music and recently happened to hear ‘Kebab Spider’ by the Sleaford Mods. I fell in love with it and them on the spot, and went with my wife to see them at Cardiff University earlier this year. On stage were two men in their mid-40’s, one with a lap top and one with a microphone. It was the most unbelievably visceral, and exciting live experience I have had in years. To lose yourself in a crowd and feel the joy of being in a mosh pit was something I thought I had left behind long ago. I am going to see them again in London in November and I cannot wait. Jason Williamson is far and away the best front man I have seen in years, and I would urge you to check out their documentary ‘Bunch of Kunst’ if you want to know more about them.
And finally, I believe you are about to have your new play ‘West’
premier in America. How do you think American audiences will react to your
Last year we were invited to the North American Festival of Wales in
Washington DC with ‘Grav’. The play was well received and so I was asked
to write something original for this year.
‘West’ explores the lives of the first Welsh settlers who went over to America. It is written largely in verse and stars Gareth Bale and Gwenllian Higginson. On a superficial level it is a love story between two people who make the decision to uproot their lives. On a deeper level I wanted to explore the theme of immigration, and to hopefully show the audience that we all originated from different places. I am very proud of it, and delighted it will premiere in America.
If there is any time for a production around Brexit, then
this is it.
But this is Volcano Theatre Company – do not expect it to be
as simple as a Brexit play.
In what looks like a village hall at Summerhall, there are
no chairs, no ‘basic theatre staging’; nothing is quintessential about this
Firstly, it is AMAZING how this small group of performers
keep going. Edinburgh is unusually hot at the moment, and to then essentially dance
full stop, in character, no where to hide, for probably 15 minutes is a feat in
Volcano are well known (and gosh don’t I know it from my
training days with them as a student) for their physicality, and so there is no
fear in this when they battle over tables, ‘claiming space’ and almost throw
one another around the room. They each have a ‘character’ but there’s also an
honesty about them – we get to know them, their personalities, with the
opportunity to ad lib and interact with us alone and as a group, and from this
we get the impression of their personalities. Of course, this may just be very
good acting, but still, we enjoy getting to know them, laughing with them, dancing
with them and all the absurdities in between.
The ‘choones’ are EXCELLENT- A brilliant choice of music; it
lets us get involved, as music is a powerful tool when everyone knows the song.
And these are eclectic in themselves, with diverse nationalities and drag us
into one era, while the performers question the future; we are left in a state
of every changing existence.
The Populars is high energised fun, full of important questions, great music and intense choreography.
In the tiny upstairs room of a lovely bar, Sofi’s, we are
introduced to Andy Quirk and his partner in crime, Anna J. Dressed in what
could be described as street/ ‘chav’ gear, the two entertain us through comedy
in the form of songs addressing some of the 99 problems of the World.
These musical interludes tap into different genres of music –
rap, house, punk pop, 80’s and are all entertaining, addressing Bags for Life,
waiting in a queue and the meal deal; and while funny, they are also true to
life, making our interaction easy and the connection to the narratives true to
The relationship of Andy Quirk and Anna J is on point – they
interact well with us and with each other, making the show flow and with room
to add ad libs, going with the flow and making the show catered to us.
The music is fun, recognisable and also clever in how they
in put the lyrics to the beat. For every song, we have a chance to be involved
so rather than being sung / rapped at, we have the chance to join in and sing
our hearts out to relatable content.
99 First World Problems is fun, funny and quite a nice break out of the main hustle and bustle of busy Royal Mile. If you want a laid back, enjoyable show you can get involved with, then this is it.
Hi Neil. It’s great to meet you. Can you give our readers some
background information on yourself please?
I’m a writer. It’s taken me a while to be comfortable saying that. Because I’m not from an academic background. My dad was a carpenter and I spent my formative years being led to believe that “the arts” were created by posh people, for posh people. I knew I had something to say, though. And so, after having been overlooked yet again, in favour of the tremendously talented, doe-eyed Derek Allen for the lead role in the school drama, I decided that, unless I wanted to be “chorus” for the remainder of my life, it was time to take things into my own hands. As a parting “gift” to my school, I produced, wrote and directed the inaugural end of year School Revue, a chaotic sketch show, interspersed with bands and Spike Milligan poetry renditions.
I left that all-boys grammar school, a hellish hotbed of bullying, conformity and privilege, with 6 average O Levels, to join a Youth Training Scheme in Print and Design (having turned down a potentially lucrative, but ultimately soul destroying, banking career). But that Print and Design Training Scheme was good to me, exposing me to a previously unknown world of words and images and allowing me to quickly learn a balance between creativity and commercial viability. But, as ungrateful as it seems now, it was never overtly creative. Expressive. Risky. At school, I remember my English teacher complaining that my stories were too long and that he didn’t have time to read them. Having pointed out, with typical teenage cockiness that it was his job, he reminded me, as others often did, that I’d never amount to anything. But I’ve always found the need to prove doubters wrong a powerful motivation.
I joined poetry groups. And naively welded words together, as a form of primitive catharsis. Short poems, laden with unconscious subtext, created to accommodate my own limited attention span. But these poetry groups so often consisted of the spurned and disenfranchised of the world. Society’s sensitive rejects, confined to the sad, back rooms of usually celebratory places. So I wrote a screenplay. About a man in his late 20s, who leaves a mundane and unfulfilling life, to go travelling. It was rubbish. But I finished it. And then I wrote another. A time travel love story. About a widower who travels back in time to change his wife’s fate, so that she lives. But while he’s there, he falls for someone else. It wasn’t as rubbish as the first one, but, having received polite letters (and they were letters back then), I decided to put my aspirations on hold.
Years later, after wearing a hole in where I was from, it was time to move on. To the medium-sized smoke of Cardiff. Five months, in a city where I knew next to no one, living in the attic room of a shared house, in a sweltering room, with nothing but the sobs of the duped pensioner in the room below to remind me I wasn’t alone. Motivation enough to get out and start throwing myself into the posh life. Seeing posh art, created by posh people, for posh people. And posh theatre, written by posh people, for posh people. And nobody stared. Or looked at me like I didn’t belong. And before I knew it, I was talking to people. About art. And theatre. And they weren’t posh at all. Most of them, anyway.
One night, at the Sherman Theatre, I saw Script Slam. Five plays, by previously un-produced writers. Directed by and featuring proper professionals.
And I thought, I could do this. Seven People, seven monologues delivered by seven people with undisclosed secrets, and my first ever play, not only won the Script Slam heats, it also won the Grand Final. And soon, there I was, on stage, receiving a prize in front of my parents for writing and I thought, this is it…
Ten years later, with
a London-based agent, two Guardian reviews, and countless performances of my
work in Wales, London and throughout the UK, this still isn’t it. Writing the
play is just the start. Then comes the re-writing, the rejections and the
resolve to start all over again. But, like an addiction, you just can’t stop
doing it. Because you know, that the highs of simply completing a new work are
nothing compared to the incapacitating elation created by that elusive moment
Since making my first short film, BETWEEN, last year, I’ve discovered new ways of telling stories for the screen (big and small), too. Having had a meeting with a TV production company about my play RABBIT, I’m currently working on a treatment with a view to developing it into a six-part comedy drama. I’m also in the process of applying for development funding for my first feature. Like I said, it’s an addiction. You just can’t stop doing it. And every compelling addiction story has a killer soundtrack…
This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played
in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you
currently listening to?
Music’s always been there. My mum and dad were jivers, rockers and rollers, lucky enough to hear Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis the first time round. They saw The Beatles in Gloucester in the 60s, in a building which is now a slowly fermenting, beer-sticky Wetherspoons. At every opportunity, they’d jive, perfectly sychronised, at smoke-fogged dinner dances, then play the tunes from the night before, whilst peeling carrots to add to the other overcooked ingredients for Sunday lunch. And, slowly, every one of those anti-establishment lyrics and rhythms started to sink in. So, at the age of ten, I fell for punk. A lamb, in parent-approved, respectable gingham check, demanding 3 minutes of anarchy from the DJ at the family disco at Croyde Bay Caravan Park, so I could pogo, solo, starting with The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks, in 1978. And, though there have been giant deviations in my musical mores, there’s always been something about the energy and attitude of punk-influenced music that energises me and makes me smile.
So, at the moment, I’m listening to Idles, Slaves and Rolo Tomassi. Quick-fix anger hits, to subconsciously energise scenes. Then there’s a bit of Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree, to help me reflect and introspect. And, though it’s not technically music, there’s the looped sound of the sea, coming in, and going out again, my substitute for the uninspiring sound of silence.
We are interviewing a range of people about their
own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a
personal resonance to you and why?
Narrowing it down to five is practically impossible. Like asking me to pick my top five artists. Or insects. But rules are rules, right? And, in spite of my urge to rebel against this seemingly arbitrary figure, here goes.
To help me prepare to write this article, I’ve been listening a lot to Desert Island Discs. They get to choose 8 songs. Single songs. I get 5 whole albums. As someone struggled to say once, would that it were so simple. Should I pick based on my short attention span, which would mean that I’d just choose a record by each of my “new favourite bands” for the last 5 years? Or do I consider those who might be reading this, and allow myself to be influenced by my barely latent artistic insecurities? Choosing obscure Krautrock, soundtracks from the Golden Age of Mexican Film Musicals, niche Austrian yodellers and ironic 90s pop, to offer some contrast and help portray a self-conscious sense of fun? Because I’m, like, an artist, but I literally don’t take myself too seriously.
This all seemed so
much easier when I agreed to it…
OK. In no particular order, there’s Number 1 Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia by The Dandy Warhols.
I’m in Melbourne in a record shop, stopped in my travelling tracks, hearing it for the first time.I’m lying in a bath, in my tragic “bachelor” pad, on a midsummer’s night, windows open, staring at a bruised sky, dreading Friday’s “big night out”.
I’m at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, having cycled to the gig, the neon-bright colours from the stained glass window behind the stage fragmented by tears of joy, hearing it live and feeling so elated that, in that moment, nothing else mattered. This album has everything. It’s massive. It’s the soundscape of a parallel earth. A dream-like, soft-focus earth, with its ponds of pristine pop, scattered amongst its rolling hills of hypnotic rock, all floating on a sea of fuzzy psychedelia. And there’s chickens. And trumpets. It’s the friend I go to when I need reassurance about aeroplane turbulence or that the thing I’m writing is worth finishing.
2. Then there’s U2’s The Joshua Tree.
I know every word. I can hum every guitar solo. There’s a song for breaking up, fucking up and getting back up. I had that mullet. And I bought into Bono’s pain, until I was old enough to know better. But their extended performance of Bad (from The Unforgettable Fire), and Bono’s one to one with a bewildered audience member (and Wham fan) at Live Aid, will always stay with me. It’s all at once indulgent, exploitative, calculated, poetic, dramatic and beautiful.
U2 were my first serious band. The soundtrack to my later teenage years and the variety of experiences that came with them. I remember one of my first jobs, as an apprentice in a screen printing company, hunched over a lightbox, white vest, mullet and earphones playing the opening jangles of Where the Streets Have No Name (on my original Sony Walkman), goose-bumped and feeling that everything was going to be alright.
And then, much later, in the aftermath of the break up of a long relationship, wallowing in With or Without You. And, deep down, still believing the same.
3. There was a time, when the anticipation surrounding the launch of a new release was so great that you could queue outside HMV at midnight to buy the album in the first minute of its release. I’ve done this once in my life. Having pre-warned my neighbour, I returned home with my still warm, shiny, cellophane-wrapped Fat of the Land by Prodigy.
I’m in my early 30s, purple velvet suit, black silk shirt and Musketeer hair, losing it to Firestarter on the dancefloor. In my head, I’m alone. I am a wide-eyed Keith Flint, emerging from his tunnel, unpredictable and scary as hell.
Minutes later, I’m manhandled into a disabled toilet by two bouncers, insistent on performing a full body search for illicit substances. I mean, dancing with such manic intensity, in such heavy and impractical material, on a sweltering dancefloor, could only possibly be the behaviour of a drug-addled lunatic, couldn’t it?
I’ve never taken drugs (“Alcohol’s not a drug, it’s a drink”), but whatever happens to me when I hear certain tracks on this album, must produce similar chemicals. At the time, Firestarter and Breathe almost seemed to possess me. Something empathy-inducing, car-crash compelling, in that combination of primal beats and Keith Flint’s pained pantomime-punk yelps. I remember being out with friends at Clwb. Bored. So I left in search of a new adventure. Just across Womanby Street, at The Moon Club, the pied-piper bass of Diesel Power pulled me closer. Having convinced the bouncers that I was just here for that song, I soon merged into the heaving mass, all sweat and elbows, eyes closed, smiling and lost. Thanks Keith Flint. Rest in Peace.
4. Over the last ten years, there has been less and less music that has compelled me to learn every line. Maybe that’s more to do with how we consume music now. Attention spans increasingly suited to ready-meal playlists of popular hits, without the time or patience to lose ourselves in something more challenging.
And then, along came John Grant’s Pale Green Ghosts. It’s an album of absolute, awkward honesty, overtly biographical and overflowing with painful poetry. Playwrights have to create characters to hide their flaws in, but this is a balls-out confessional. A “forgive me father” you can dance to. And where does this fit into my ongoing, never a dull moment (but sometimes I wish there was) life?
Well, this particular weekend should have been a triumphant one for me. A new play, premiered at a major London venue, with a transfer to a prestigious arts-themed festival. But everything was about to fall apart and descend into one of the worst weekends of my life. Traversing the country, emotional and feeling utterly alone, I arrived at the festival, hoping to shake off the sense of overwhelming helplessness, only to find myself feeling further excluded at a time when I craved connection. Solitary and mentally and physically shattered, music was again on hand to prop me up, wrap its arms around me and send me on my way, with a sense of hope. And this time, it was John Grant who persuaded me that all was not yet lost.
From Queen of Denmark’s “I had it up to my hairline, which keeps receding like my self confidence”, to You Don’t Have To’s “you don’t deserve to have somebody think about you”, I was comforted by empathy before having everything put into perspective by the monumental Glacier, “don’t you become paralysed with fear, when things seem particularly rough…”
5. Seriously, this isn’t fair. Five albums isn’t enough. I feel that, not that they’ll ever read this, I need to use this opportunity to say thanks for the company and inspiration to all of the following, before I mention my final choice (which, as I write this, I’m still not sure of):
Carrie – Fear of Sound
The Teardrop Explodes – Wilder
Bauhaus – Burning From the Inside
Babybird – Ugly Beautiful/There’s Something Going On
The Walkmen – Lisbon/Pussy Cats
Lou Reed and John Cale – Songs For Drella
The Vaccines – What Did You Expect from The Vaccines
Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking/Ritual De Lo Habitual
Oasis – Definitely Maybe
Radiohead – The Bends
Dogs – Turn Against This Land
Rolo Tomassi – Time Will Die and Love will Bury It
Die Antwoord – Donker Mag/Ten$ion
Rammstein – Mutter
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell
Pantera – A Vulgar Display of Power
Frank – Music and Song From the Film
The Mission Soundtrack – Ennio Morricone
O.K. my 5th and final album (I realise that my approach might suggest a sense of over-inflated self importance, but this is music and it means a lot to me, so be kind!) is…
Rufus Wainwright – Want One/Want Two
This could just have easily been Tom Waits or Nick Cave or
Babybird or Jane’s Addiction and I know, I know, this is technically two
albums, creating a Top 6, but they were repackaged as a double album in 2005,
so no rules broken. And what are rules, anyway, really?
Years before the drive-through ease of Spotify, Later with Jools Holland was my trusted introducer to “new” music. In May 2004, Rufus Wainwright performed Vibrate and, like the beneficiary of a free first crack rock, I was hooked. An incredibly beautiful song, saturated with longing and a barely dignified desperation to be loved, delivered in a voice that wavered between absolute self-assurance and disarming vulnerability. In my mid teens, I was obsessed with Marilyn Monroe. I convinced myself that she might have survived, if she’d had a friend who hadn’t harboured some sinister ulterior motive. Though I was barely equipped at the time to deal with my own issues, I imagined going back in time and unconditionally offering her my smooth, skinny shoulder to cry on.
And now, here I was, in the waistcoat and cravat wardrobe of my mid 30s, listening to Vibrate and reminded of my noble teenage fantasies.I sought out his entire back catalogue, in typically obsessive fashion. I lapped up his earlier stuff, but the theatrical emotional rollercoaster of Want One and Two was breathtaking. From the triumphant optimism of Oh What a World, to the infectiously rousing Beautiful Child, from the unrequited love of The Art Teacher to the grand, sing-a-long heartbreak of 14th Street, these albums reminded me that songs didn’t have to be inspired by rage to make me feel something.
And live, he’s even better. Whether backed by an orchestra or
alone at a piano, these are songs to sing along to, about the collective human
experiences of life, love and loss. All this, and he’s proper laugh-out-loud
There’s also something inspiring about how he seems to have forgone what could potentially have been straightforward commercial success, to pursue his operatic aspirations. Maybe I see a parallel, however truly incomparable, with my shirking of a lucrative graphic design career, in favour of the dogged pursuit of my own creative writing dreams.If I ever meet him, I’ll be torn between the fake bravado of asking him to collaborate on a show and the awe-inspired verbal paralysis of unworthiness.
So, that’s my Top 5. Ask me tomorrow and it might be an
entirely different one.
Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from
the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this?
Why couldn’t this have been an article about my favourite,
most inspiring cheeses? Which would have proved considerably less traumatic.
Ideally, I’d like to say none of the above. So I could choose
Angela Surf City by The Walkmen or Perfume Genius’s Queen or Nick Cave’s People
Ain’t No Good or Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Maps or Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice it’s
All Right or Idles’ Danny Nedelko. But, far be it from me to, yet again, turn
momentary article-based hellraiser…
The song being chosen…
As my favourite…
From the albums above…
Solid by the Dandy Warhols. There are so many incredible songs on Thirteen Tales, but the nonchalant, stoner-swagger of this song, conjures images of walking through sunset-lit, excitingly dangerous streets, without a care in the world.
“I feel cool as shit, cause I’ve got no thoughts keeping me down.” While I wait for writing success (and hope that I recognise it when it arrives) and/or untold riches, that’ll be the straightforward, spiritual mantra that I awkwardly (but resolutely) aspire to. Music will always be my empathetic friend, ready to tell me what I need to hear at exactly the right moment. It’s there to laugh with, to cry with and to dance with. It’s being inconsolable at gigs, snubbed by your idols (that’s you, Karen O, but not you, Henry Rollins), comforted after break-ups, reflective at funerals, losing it on dance floors and pushed to do one more press-up, cycle one more lap, write one more scene….
A review by Ann Davies from RCT Creative Writers Group on the topic of topic of Taste
What’s on the Menu?
What music do you like? Tastes can vary; they can be mood
shakers; a melody can bring a seemingly lost memory to mind. Emotions can be
laid bare. This was the night of Yeah Yeah.
Were we ready for this high octane enhancing performance?
I guess it all depended on your taste and the performing artists certainly lived
up to a life of their own. What was on the Menu? as the theatre group “Yeah,
Yeah” showcased their act in the lounge of the Park and Dare Theatre in
“Are you ready, Treorchy?”The Haka cry came amidst the burst
of strobe lighting and the throb of music every sound resounding off the
glistening disco ball overhead. Two people strode out, one male one female;
they each had a story to tell. They looked like trapeze artists one with an
enlarged Rod Stewart wig that looked as though it was plugged into an electric
socket. With a fitted costume, accentuating her nubile body, his female partner
embraced the music. Acrobatically and gymnastically the music and story was
revealed as the opposing tastes for musical theatre and rock music battled it
Adult humour laced with music and dance. Changes of
costumes – some more titillating than others were the ingredients for the
night. Their interpretation of known
songs from the musicals and rock classics were exemplary. It awakened deep
seated memories that you would never see or hear a song that you loved in the
same way ever again. It was an experience of tasting selections of melodies
like a club sandwich combining the savoury with the sweet.
During the interval, the duo presented their own adverts
over the lounge speakers.
There was Swan Lake on points overwhelmed with feathers
(now you know where the feathers have gone from your bed linen). The lady’s limbs
were used as an air guitar; the drum set lost its setting the motorbike that
raced to the music of Meatloaf. OMG was the revelation a Smorgasbord special. A
spicy concoction of a recipe, boiled but scrambled, culminating in a Crockpot
of creative juices that would have put Nigella to shame.
Morgan Thomas and Tori Johns were engaging in their tale.
It was colourful; it was crazy, different and an entire work out for your
laughter muscles. Many of the audience would still be laughing at their first
encounter with the company called “Yeah, Yeah”
A tasty dish to savour long after the evening was over.
Music echoed around the valley, the time had come. Radio Rhondda had come to the Rhondda Fach with its supporters and volunteers. The hills surrounding the area, nestled between the villages of Tylorstown and Ferndale were alive with the sounds of people enjoying themselves as the music reached out on the airwaves. Community radio had come to the communities of the Rhondda Fach.
A beautiful sunny day, the pleasant and atmospheric venue of the Scoops & Smiles Diner/Parlour in Oakland Terrace which had been the premises of the former Lockyer and Pacey Garage and forecourt. How many cars had been bought or stopped to refuel there over the years? Present day traffic hooted as they drove past; water fountains were available to all (as were toilet facilities) plus a cool area inside the Diner or at the rear of the building.
Colourful balloons adorned the area provided by ‘Just for you’ of Ferndale, there were stalls offering information on Cancer Research and Dwr Cymru/Welsh Water as they continue their essential work throughout the area renewing water pipes. Representatives from the Police were also present. The central part of the programme was the Official launch of Radio Rhondda in the Rhondda Fach, which was performed by the Deputy Mayor, Councillor Susan Morgans (Ferndale Ward) and Councillor Jack Harries (Maerdy Ward). The diner offered all the delights and descriptive flavours of ice cream in cones and tubs – marshmallows on crepes – plus their usual food fare. Children dug deep into sweet bottles that were offered to them, finding themselves lucky to receive various extra goodies. Face painting with the logo of the station was available. Free key rings and notices promoted the event. A Raffle was held with prizes donated by local businesses.
Commentators promoted the Radio station, introducing their main
programme holders and interviewing local people. There was a miscellany of
music provided by their own presenters, including Lorraine Jones and a chat
about gardening from Terry Walton. Musical compositions were provided by the
group Fiddlers Elbow (where were you, Gerhard Kress?) The Arts Factory Ferndale
duo of Ben and Louise provided a melody of songs which received phone calls
from people who knew them having tuned into the station. Thanks and appreciation
to Louise for mentioning our group RCT Creative Writers.
It was a warm day, which offered entertainment and
conversations with people who soon became friends. Sun cream and Sunhats were
the essential requirements on this day.
Thank you to Radio Rhondda and all who supported and
volunteered for this event. Please come again.
Perhaps like WAM (Mike Church) and Voices from the Bridge
(Rob Cullen) you should go “On Tour” People
in the Rhondda Fach are friendly and creative persons although we often feel forgotten!
Hi Christian, great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Born and raised by my maternal grandparents in Clydach, Swansea. I’m an actor, writer and director. I trained at Welsh College of Music and Drama and did what most graduates do after leaving college…moved to London! I missed Wales way too much and now live in Alltwen with my wife (Actress Michelle McTernan) my son Dylan and my dog Dodger.
This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to?
I LOVE MUSIC! There’s pretty much something playing all the time…whether it’s in the background or something I specifically want to listen to. My wife is going through a bit of a Nina Simone period at the moment so the house is pretty much a Simone Zone! I have to say I’m a big Nina Simone fan (I saw her live at the Royal Festival Hall…she was INCREDIBLE!) so that’s fine by me.
Left to my own devices my music tastes are incredibly varied and eclectic. I achieved a life long ambition recently and managed to see Nile Rodgers and Chic live! IT WAS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING! So, at the moment I’m pretty much a disco devotee! Having said that I love songs that speak to you or capture a period in time…my son introduced me to a song called ‘Ban Drill’ by Krept & Konan and I found it really moving. It’s a great track. I’ve also discovered something about myself whilst compiling this list…I’m very ‘Riff’ led!
Music is also a big part of my professional career with the forthcoming tour of Peggy’s Song from National Theatre Wales. I was really drawn to this play for 3 reasons…written by Kath Chandler, directed by Phil Clark and the beautiful, bittersweet characters at the heart of it.
I play Danny Walkman, a local hospital DJ who loves him job. Music is so much more important to him that just songs…it’s his friend, his family, his passion and his life. He loves people and he truly believes they feel the same way about him…until he meets Peggy! Danny & Peggy have nothing and everything in common…they are two lonely people who only have each other… and the challenge to figure out Peggy’s Song!
We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why?
1. Here Comes the Sun – Obviously I love the Beatles version but the Louise Dearman version has a very special place in my heart. We lost our son Harry in a tragic accident when he was just 5 years old. We played Louise’s version as Harry’s coffin entered the church. That song means a lot to me because it is intrinsically linked to my memories of Harry.
2. Sweet Home Alabama – I have always LOVED this track! As soon as I hear the counting at the top of the song I’m already getting excited about hearing the guitar riff! It is just AMAZING! It is also linked to memory for me. My father died a few weeks before his 52nd birthday…he loved this song and we listened to it on many car journeys! I remember the journey to his funeral. I was sat in front of the funeral car and even though I was deeply upset I was keeping it together…then…as the crematorium doors open I heard Sweet Home Alabama and burst into tears. Music does that.
3. Le Freak – It would be almost impossible for me to not include a Nile Rodgers and Chic song! I think Nile Rodgers is a bona fide musical genius! When I saw him live I couldn’t take my eyes off him! It was a real “You are my hero!” moment! The entire gig was totally magical and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. I was born in 1972 so disco was a huge part of my youth…I loved it then and I still love it now!
4. Superstition – Stevie Wonder is another one of those people that I think is a true genius! For me the guitar riff of Superstition is one of if not the greatest guitar riffs of all time! I could choose so many Stevie Wonder tracks but Superstition is a real classic!
5. Immigrant Song – One word…WOW! The first time I heard this track I felt like I already knew it! The riff (told you…Riff led tastes!) is the absolute epitome of rock, the vocal is incredible…it has it all! It’s only 2m 26s…I can’t listen to it just the once! Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are ROCK GODS!
Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this?
This is tough. Very tough. They all mean so much to me for so many different reasons. I suppose I’d have to choose a track that I can put on repeat and be happy every time I hear it. I’m going to go with Sweet Home Alabama…I think it is an incredible track…it makes me feel happy. Yep! That’s the one!
Peggy’s Song tour Wales later this year. You can book tickets at the links below
Riverfront Newport – 25 September, 7.45pm BOOK NOW
Pontardawe Arts Centre – 26 September, 7.30pm & 27 September, 1pm & 7.30pm BOOK NOW
Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon – 1 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW
Grand Pavilion, Porthcawl – 2 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW
Theatr Hafren, Newtown – 3 October, 7.45pm
Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea – 4 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW
Theatr Richard Burton, Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Cardiff – 5 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW
Borough Theatre, Abergavenny – 7 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW
Blackwood Miners Institute – 8 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW
Torch Theatre, Milford Haven – 9 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW
Get the Chance are working with new theatre company YEAH YEAH to support audiences to attend a sharing of an in development piece of work and then discuss their thoughts. The sharing will take place at Chapter Arts Centre on Saturday the 13th July at 7.30pm.
YEAH YEAH are a new Cardiff theatre company developing uplifting gig theatre. A crossover for those that might enjoy a musical, tribute band, stand-up comedy, or a touch of ballet.
The work in development (working title) ‘Magical Place’ is free to attend.
Expect iconic songs you know and love plus drums, keytar, lycra, laughs, dance and the biggest pyrotechnics they can afford, Magical Place is a new work still in development and the company welcome your feedback
Please note, that this is a sharing of a work in progress, and therefore not the complete anticipated production. Sections of the work will be performed, with the aim to gather audience feedback. Audience members participating in feedback will earn two Tempo Time Credits for volunteering their time.
“Tori is here to perform a musical, Morgan is here to perform a rock show.
So expect iconic musical and rock songs you know and love; comedy, dance, live drums, keytar and lycra.”
Duration: 1hr (which will include optional audience feedback)
The latest film Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Richard Curtis is an interesting and very amusing ‘what if?’ idea about everyone in the world forgetting about the songs written by The Beatles, apart from one man.
That man is Jack Malik, aspiring musician, who’s tried to make it big for over ten years and failed. Now the key to success is in his hands, the ‘poison chalice’ of fame and money is offered to him, but is he ready to pay the price for it when the price is his integrity, his self-respect and his true love?
Of course he is!
What follows is a funny, charming and well-made film, which makes some good points about how art becomes ‘product’, and how success changes people. There’s also some touching moments that avoid overt sentimentality (just), while still being very moving. Including one scene towards the end that’ll make you misty-eyed, but more on that I cannot say. You’ll know it when you see it.
There’s also a nice running joke about other things that have disappeared along with Lennon & McCartney’s music, and a decent cameo from Ed Sheeran. You can’t say fairer than that.
Boyle shows a visual flair, enhancing a script that is polished Curtis, giving it a more universal feel than the usual middle-class London scene, and it’s all the better for it. But it does have flaws.
Hamesh Patel is endearing as Jack, even though his motivation seems muddled at times. While Lily James as his longtime friend/love interest doesn’t really have a lot to do. And her surprise visit to Jack in Liverpool is so confusing to him (and us) that it makes you sympathetic as to why Jack never realised her true feelings.
There’s a good supporting cast, such as Sanjeev Baskhar as Jack’s dad, but Kate McKinnon is wasted as the stereotypical greedy agent, whose sole aim seems to be to buy up all of Malibu. I’ve yet to see her in a role that does justice to her talent.
The ending is also a little odd, and a good cameo from Sarah Lancashire hints at an interesting plot line that is never developed.
However, despite promising more than it delivers, there’s plenty to enjoy here. The film has an innovative idea at its heart, and the real star of the show is the music of the Beatles. Seen in one go, so to speak, you realise just how wonderful the songs are. Who can blame Jack when he decides to ‘re-discover’ them?
Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events.