Tag Archives: Gareth Williams

Review, Elin Grace, Bee Without Wings EP, by Gareth Williams

One of the most exciting talents coming through this year’s Forté project is surely 18-year-old Elin Grace. The singer-songwriter from Mid Wales has just released an EP of sheer brilliance. ‘Bee Without Wings’ may only be her debut release but it demonstrates a maturity far beyond her years. Lyrically complex, sonically fascinating, vocally mesmerising, the whole record is absorbing from start to finish. With touches of Kate Bush, Lily Allen, Rona Mac and Amy Wadge, along with her particular inspiration Laura Marling, it is generous with genre while maintaining a consistency of sound. Always serving the narrative, the music becomes an accurate representation of each song: the fragile piano on ‘Little Bit Delicate’, the rhythmic synth of ‘Breathe’, the music box sound underlying ‘Doll’. All touch on mental health in some way, whether it be anxiety, self-esteem or depression. All contrast the expected angst of their subject matter with a poise that is strangely comforting – sometimes soft and light; ironic and even comic – to make this an EP shot through with eccentricity. It is as if Elin Grace is wanting to hold a mirror up to her experience to reveal its peculiarity. She is an artist of genuine depth, unafraid to share moments of personal vulnerability and confident to deconstruct the false values of contemporary society. ‘Bee Without Wings’ is a consummate piece of music-making. Elin Grace has a very bright future ahead of her.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Series Review, Y Golau, S4C by Gareth Williams

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

For such a highly-anticipated Welsh drama, Y Golau seemed to run the well-worn tracks of what has become the genre’s favoured train: the psychological thriller. Given its all-star Welsh cast, I expected something much more original and distinctly different from previous Welsh noirs like Hidden and The Pact. As a result, I felt underwhelmed by its decision to present yet another murder mystery, complete with the same familiar tropes as its predecessors. Not that there was anything inherently wrong with the production. It just simply didn’t thrill and engross in quite the way that it might have done had it not been in the guise of similar series that had gone before.

Joanna Scanlan as Sharon (photo by Alistair Heap)

The typically rural setting and small-town cast of characters is one thing; but the desolate landscape, solemn music, and gloomy figures present yet another side to Wales that panders to the bleak and pedantic detail of the crime subgenre. Iwan Rheon plays the haunted convict who is released from prison having served a sentence for the murder of the daughter of Joanna Scanlan’s haunted mother. He returns to the town that is still haunted by the events of 18 years previously, his presence disturbing an uneasy peace which is exacerbated further by the re-appearance of Alexandra Roach’s journalist, who is looking for a story. The three of them give ample performances for what are very rare appearances in a Welsh-language outfit. Yet none command the kind of screen presence that has come to be expected of them. In particular, the animated spark that enlivens Scanlan and Roach’s appearance’ in No Offence is largely absent here. Instead, vacant stares obtrude their presentations such that it becomes difficult to make a significant emotional connection to their characters.

Ifan Huw Dafydd

It is Ifan Huw Dafydd that gives the best performance here. He strikes a menacing veneer over his character Huw that is justifiably unsettling. It is no surprise that his growing presence onscreen and involvement in the central narrative coincides with the more compelling and intriguing parts of the drama. If anything, the return of his estranged daughter Shelley (played by Rhian Blythe) is the catalyst for the twists and turns that follow in the final two parts of the series. This is where Y Golau becomes gripping in a way that its shortcomings, up until this point, can be forgiven. It enters a similar phase to that of Yr Amgueddfa, whereby its web of disparate characters start to become interconnected, drawing the various strands of the narrative together to create a big grand finale. But whereas Fflur Dafydd manages to maintain interest in the opening episodes in spite of the expositional setting up of the story, Regina Moriarty’s script doesn’t possess the same hooks with which to retain the audience’s attention. The result is a requirement to persevere in order to be rewarded rather than being kept sufficiently entertained throughout.

In the end, Y Golau aims a bit too high. Issues of abuse and power are dealt with admirably. The final episode ensures the series ends strongly. But I expected more from this drama, not least because of the roster of Welsh stars that appear in its cast. Scanlan, Roach, Rheon, Hannah Daniel, Aneirin Hughes and Sian Reese-Williams, all lend it an air of quality that meant expectations were high. To then find a characteristic S4C offering in the mould of an Ed Talfan production that didn’t quite utilise the talent involved left me slightly dissatisfied. As a result, Y Golau lit up the screen but wasn’t a roaring success.

Click here to watch the series on iPlayer.

Review by
Gareth Williams

Series Review, Stad, S4C, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

It is the North West that seems to be in the Welsh TV spotlight recently. The final series of Hidden has begun, Rybish has returned, and a brand-new series called Stad has just completed its run.  Set on a council estate near Caernarfon, it combines the drama and comedy of the aforementioned to create a slightly off-piste narrative similar to Enid a Lucy. This has made it lightly entertaining and surprisingly engrossing; a series that does not make you want to binge from the off but, by the time it reaches its final episode, leaves you desperate for more.

Stad is not strictly original, coming ten years after its highly-popular predecessor Tipyn o Stad ended on S4C. Viewers of that series will recognise the return of a few familiar characters, not least the Gurkha family. However, no prior knowledge is needed to enter this new chapter in the life of Maes Menai, described as “North Wales’ most colourful housing estate”. The opening scene might feel a bit overwhelming and thus confusing for those, like me, entering this world for the first time. But it does not take long to adjust to its tragi-comic genre and realise that the historic connections between some of these characters are no barrier to its accessibility. Instead, one becomes steadily intrigued by the issues, situations and circumstances that arise within the first episode and as the series progresses. Mental health is but one subject which is tackled with a surprising sensitivity, particularly in respect of trauma and loss. Elen Gwynne, for example, gives the most acute performance as Susan whose struggle with bereavement is portrayed onscreen in such a way as to be funny without being derisive.

The writers Manon Wyn Jones, Angharad Elen and Daf Palfrey have pitched the darkness and light of this drama to perfection. There is a bit of a Breaking Bad influence that seems to hang over it in more ways than one. There is the obvious connection to the selling of drugs for financial security, but it is also the hapless nature of the partnership between Ed Lovell (Bryn Fôn) and Dan (Sion Eifion) that strikes chords with the father-son relationship of Walter White and Jesse. The two also find themselves in sometimes absurd situations, like being held hostage by a crossbow-wielding farmer by the name of Iona Kebab (Janet Aethwy). Such wild, crazy scenarios end up contrasting nicely with the far more real-world dilemmas of other characters, like Alaw. Begw Rowlands ensures a real likability towards her character, playing her with a confidence that is tinged with a deeper, hidden vulnerability. It draws much sympathy when she discovers that she is pregnant, and makes her gently blossoming relationship with Kim (Gwenno Fôn) all-the-more sweeter.

Stad can feel a bit pedestrian at times, measured and paced, with no rush to excite or entice viewers into a suspenseful or twisting narrative. It prefers to operate at the most basic level of human drama even as some of its storylines take on a surrealist edge. This means that we get to know the characters themselves in the context of their ordinary lives and is what makes the final part of the series so unexpected and heightens the tension around it. We come to really care as Alaw attacks her dad Keith (Rhodri Meilir), with seemingly-terminal ramifications, and Ed Lovell finds himself trapped in the basement of a burning house. It ratchets up the anticipation before running into the closing credits to devasting effect. Suddenly, it is edge-of-your-seat stuff. A second series is demanded.

Stad becomes a series that gradually wins your heart and then has the power to break it.

Click here to watch the full series.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review, Life and Death in the Warehouse, BBC Cymru Wales, by Gareth Williams

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The first thing to say is that nobody dies. Yet that is hardly a ringing endorsement of the working practices on show in Life and Death in the Warehouse. The BBC Cymru drama lays bare the secret world of online distribution centres. And for anyone used to the quick and easy clicks of internet shopping, this is a must-see to make you think twice before placing your next order with Amazon. It makes for hard-hitting and eye-opening television. This is the worst of consumer capitalism.

Megan (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) has been accepted on a fast-track graduate scheme at her local centre. Becoming a trainee manager, she is tasked with ensuring that her team of workers keep up to speed with their daily ‘pick rate’. She is required to monitor their movements constantly via CCTV, praising those who exceed the target and calling out the ones who fall behind. Childhood friend Alys (Poppy-Lee Friar) becomes one of the latter when she confines in Megan that she is pregnant. Instead of receiving assistance and the appropriate support however, Alys is subjected to a ‘personal enhancement plan’ that remains fixated on the numbers at the expense of her health and wellbeing. It is hard to believe that companies operating in 21st Century Britain would treat workers in this way. Yet as it declares from the outset, “This film is inspired by hundreds of real stories”. To say it is shocking then is an understatement.

Director Joseph Bullman ensures that there are plenty of close-ups, with the majority of shots trained on the faces of the actors to capture the intensity, pressure and emotional strain that their characters are under. It means that their environment is pushed right up against the screen. There is no getting away from it. We become embroiled in the ideology of this high-performance workplace, not only witnessing its effect on Megan and Alys but being subjected to it in some way ourselves such is the visceral nature of the storytelling. Edwards brings an incredible vulnerability to her role. She is at once very different from her infamous turn as Esme Shelby in Peaky Blinders. Yet in spite of her obvious nerves and eagerness to please, there is something of the steeliness of that character that seeps in as the drama progresses. It becomes a negative force in this instance however, used to block out a compassionate and caring side to Megan in keeping with the ‘customer-fixated’ culture that she finds herself trapped in. Friar, for her part, puts in a noteworthy performance as one who experiences the most extreme impact of that culture. The gradual decline in Alys’s physical ability to undertake the tasks at hand, and the increasing level of stress she finds herself under, is acutely felt, in part due to Friar’s concentrated effort to keep her character’s emotions in check against a backdrop of sustained bombardment under which the exhaustion, tears and pain slowly to show.

In a sense, both of these characters are subject to the injustices of a system that exploits, dehumanises, and almost kills them. The obsession with media PR over and above medical concern for an employee is but one unbelievable instance that breeds anger in the heart of the viewer. To understand this as reality takes some coming-to-terms-with, not least in the face of the preposterous responses of the management team. Yet Craig Parkinson (Danny) and Kimberley Nixon (Donna) play their roles with such deliberate ease that the manipulation and false empathy emanating from their characters’ intentions becomes entirely plausible. It makes one very aware of the insidious nature of language; and how it can creep unsuspectingly into relationships.

Life and Death in the Warehouse brings us the best in factual drama. It shines a daring light onto the unseen but now-necessary world of warehouse workers who are at the coalface of our online purchasing habits. It finds the companies who ‘employ’ them, “Some… you will know, others you won’t have heard of”, seriously wanting. Bullman directs in the same unrelenting way as he did with its predecessor, The Left Behind. Meanwhile, Aimee-Ffion Edwards and Poppy Lee Friar lead a superb majority-Welsh cast in depicting the dark side to our unrelenting consumerism. It should make us pause a moment and take note. It should even make us turn to look for something better. It shows that the rights fought so hard for in the past are in danger of so easily slipping away.

Click here to watch on iPlayer.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review, Shades of Ham, Rona Mac, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Rona Mac describes the pink cover of her latest EP ‘Shades of Ham’ as a dichotomy. It is a colour, she says, that is both “fierce, bold and strong as well as delicate, floral and soft”. It seems a particularly fitting description for an artist who finds strength in vulnerability. But it also captures something of the sharp contrasts that imbue this record. The Welsh singer-songwriter is perfectly capable of packing a punch one minute and tenderly caressing the next. Not only is she inspired by the Pembrokeshire landscape in which she lives, but the rugged cliffs and sloping green fields seem to represent her music too.

Opening track ‘Something Good’ oozes intimacy. There is something about those ambling guitar loops and sauntering vocals, carried over from her debut album ‘Sheelah’, that transfix, and traverse the line between light and shade that defines her work. Unvarnished truth-telling mixes with splashes of colour that speak of hope, not only on a personal level but a political one too. ‘Polidics’ is a well-versed dig at those in power. The pounding beats as Rona speaks of the privileged “men in jackets sit[ting] importantly… pouring port in front of me” contribute to a deeply-held frustration at the way the country is currently run. Add into the mix a damning critique of consumerism, with its “money wrapped in lights so take it”, and you get a sense of the raw honesty and unbounded personality of this quietly-countercultural artist.

‘Polidics’ does not remain in a state of anger. Rather, it is a song of two halves, the second of which moves on “to where they cannot find me”, amidst “the flowers and the grasses”, from which “we’ll rise, a bunch of honest creatures fill the skies”. Combined with a more free-flowing alt-pop sound, it makes for a track that is ultimately casting toward a better, brighter vision of the world. On a more practical level, it also prepares the way for the softer sound of ‘The Road to Your House’. Here, the usual shimmering soundscape is stilled by the clarity of the acoustic guitar. Suddenly, we are witness to a beautifully-told story through folk music that feels miles away from the frustration of a few minutes ago. Sadness and regret still seep into its reflection but there is also a sprightliness contained within. The guitar solo in the middle echoes such sentiment, and is easy to get lost in. ‘Smoke’ has a similar ruminating quality. It reminds me a lot of Georgia Ruth’s album ‘Mai’: soothing and affecting; complex, even in its simplicity.

*contains strong language

Final track ‘Paper’ has the same two-toned substance as ‘Polidics’. On the one hand a love-letter, on the other a seething criticism, it mixes alt-pop beats with acoustic reflection padded with the sound of waves. Similar to ‘Carageen’ by Jodie Marie, it suggests that Rona Mac’s Pembrokeshire location offers a kind of grounding, a place to which she escapes as well as from where she writes her songs. It certainly seems to have offered her the freedom to not be bound by conventions. ‘Shades of Ham’ continues to showcase this genre-fusing approach. It is a record that is undeniably Rona Mac. May she never compromise on that.

Follow Rona Mac on Instagram/Twitter @RonaMac_Music

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review, In My Skin, Series 2, BBC3, by Gareth Williams

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The second series of In My Skin has really got under my skin these past few days. Content simply to watch at first, I’ve found myself itching to write something in response after a final episode in which the emotional pull of this award-winning drama really tugged at the heartstrings. I laughed. I cried. I smiled at the poignancy and hope with which this coming-of-age story signed off. Writer Kayleigh Llewelyn has really captured something special with this semi-autobiographical series. And actor Gabrielle Creevy and crew have brought it beautifully to life.

Kayleigh Llewelyn

From the continued subtlety with which sexuality is explored and presented, to its unashamed yet understated presentation of Welshness, the second series of In My Skin matches the achievements of the first. It does come across as much more arthouse in both pace and aesthetic than its predecessor. Yet this slow burn, highly-polished look only gives it a gravitas that adds to the verisimilitude which made it so relatable and ruinous to begin with. Bethan (Creevy) is still living out a compartmentalised existence, where her efforts to keep family and friends separate are increasingly tested this time around. Her mum Trina (Jo Hartley), in recovery from bipolar, is found to be working at the bingo by best friends Travis (James Wilbraham) and Lydia (Poppy Lee Friar). Her father (Rhod Meilir), still an abusive alcoholic, becomes the subject of taunts by class clown Priest (Aled ap Steffan) after his devastating actions toward his wife’s secret lover are found out. Meanwhile, her blossoming relationship with Cam (Rebekah Murrell) sees the roots of shame surfacing from beneath her steely exterior. All this forces Bethan to face up to who she is and where she comes from.

Rebekah Murrell (Cam) and Gabrielle Creevy (Bethan)
(C) Expectation – Photographer: Huw John

This emergence and gradual acceptance of personal identity is both beautiful and heartrending to watch. The scenes between Bethan and Cam become increasingly delicate as their relationship develops. More artistic shots, close-ups, movements, and softer conversations bring to mind the craftsmanship of Normal People. They help to convey a vulnerability in Bethan that has so far been hidden but that Cam gently draws into the light. Such tender compassion is matched only by Trina, whose fragility may lead to a relapse in the wake of husband Dylan’s actions, but is also a source of strength in her daughter’s time of need. In one of the most grace-filled scenes of dialogue, in the final episode, within the space of a few minutes, I found myself reduced to tears as she responds to Bethan’s brokenness with a touching recollection of love, failure, and hope. Creevy and Hartley are simply sublime in this incredible mother-daughter exchange. Their conversation is painted onto the camera lens with such gentle brushstrokes as to form the most exquisite piece of sacrificial art. It begins a chain of events which, though numerous and rich enough to warrant a further episode, nevertheless see Bethan find her wings and set off via coach for a new life in London town. The look-to-camera right at the end, complete with a modest, appreciative smile, only adds to the positive vitality which imbues these final moments of a series that will be sorely missed but has ended on a high.

Gabrielle Creevy

In My Skin is an extraordinary piece of television. It has made stars of Gabrielle Creevy and Jo Hartley. Kayleigh Llewelyn has brought something magical to the screen. I thought I’d said everything that there was to say about this wonderful drama. Turns out, in light of series two, I needed to say a little bit more.

Click here to watch the full series.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review, A Merry Eleri Christmas, Eleri Angharad by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Welsh singer-songwriter Eleri Angharad is ending a successful 2021 on a suitably festive note. A Merry Eleri Christmas is a pleasant four-track EP that returns to her folk roots whilst retaining an element of that experimental pop that worked so well on her debut EP, Nightclub Floor.

Opening track ‘Homemade Christmas’ certainly evokes the feel of her 2019 album Earthbound, with a ballad-like piano and subtle sleigh bells contributing to a romantic story told with Eleri’s soft and harmonious vocals front and centre. The stripped back nature of her music means that her cover of Justin Bieber’s ‘Mistletoe’ is much slower, less boppier than the original. The effect is a version suitably forged in rural Wales rather urban Tennessee. Not that Celtic folk defines this EP.

‘Santa’s Little Helper’ retains the sultry pop of ‘New Sin’, speaking to an independence that is the opposite of the first track. There is an appropriately bluesy guitar in the bridge that adds to an overall sense of self-empowerment, expressed perfectly in the lyrics “Santa’s little helper I was never gonna be/ or a pretty little angel sitting on your Christmas tree”. The production here is far from that found on final track ‘Santa Baby’. It is surprisingly acoustic, offering none of the seductiveness found in some other versions; instead, returning to the playfulness of Eartha Kitt’s original but with much more innocence infused into the fun.

It ends an EP that is sweetly festive without being too sickly; is easy listening but not saccharine.

Review by
Gareth Williams

Series Review, On the Edge, Channel 4/BlackLight Television by Gareth Williams

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

It is a clique to say that I laughed and cried at Channel 4’s anthology series, On the Edge, but it’s true. The three films, devised by new and emerging writers, are stirring, disturbing, entertaining and gripping. Each of them explores the impact of mental health in families through parent-child relationships in ways that are innovative, empowering, and unapologetic. They make for exceptional viewing in their own right; shown together, they become an unmissable 90-minutes of superb drama. I devoured them in a single sitting.

The first, ‘Mincemeat’, by Samantha O’Rourke, is a funny and moving tale starring Aimee Lou Wood. Jane is fresh out of school, working in a shoe shop, trying her best to be a good daughter to her controlling mum (Rosie Cavaliero). When she meets Nish, a boy she had a crush on in school, a sweet romance blossoms between them. However, the far-right views of Jane’s mum cause an irreparable rift that sees the lovers separate but, ultimately, leads Jane to find a sense of purpose. Nikhil Palmer (Nish) and Wood are perfectly suited, portraying the social awkwardness, first-kiss innocence, and gentle encouragement of a developing relationship with rich plausibility. Palmer’s kindness is in direct contrast to the harshness of Cavaliero, who plays Jane’s mother with a good deal of unconscious irony whilst injecting a slight empathy that reveals the pain behind much of her behaviour. She uses the death of her husband, Jane’s father, to guilt trip her children when it suits her, creating a distorted view of him that is blown apart in a moment of revelation that brings Jane freedom. What O’Rourke manages to do so deftly is to work through the underlying issues and motivations behind these characters with a delightful touch of humour. It ensures their humanity is not lost to a dark political underbelly that can otherwise lead to simplistic caricatures. The soundtrack only contributes to the wealth of emotion that exudes through the screen.

The emotion is no less pronounced in the second film, ‘Cradled’, by Nessah Muthy. Here, it is the extraordinary performance of Ellora Torchia as new mum Maia that makes for a compelling watch. She has a seemingly comfortable and ideal life. However, underneath the surface, something more sinister is stirring. She begins to hear a voice, and thinks her baby is in danger. What is witnessed over an enthralling and gut-wrenching half-hour is a descent into mental illness that creates real fear. That fear is so palpably felt through the screen that the tension becomes unbearable at times. Torchia really does embody her character, achieving a verisimilitude that causes genuine terror for its audience. It is not so much the effective horror tropes used in the telling of this story that contribute to this real anxiety as the fact that it involves a little child who appears to be actually at risk such is Torchia’s ability in conveying the awful experience of Maia. Muthy writes in such a way as to give her protagonist a sense of agency whilst simultaneously losing some of that agency to darker forces. The supporting characters are all culpable to some degree of ignoring or belittling her awareness that something is not right. The drama thus becomes a kind of rallying cry to all of us to take mental health seriously. It is, in part, a depiction of the consequences of failing to do so adequately. I breathed a huge sigh of relief at the optimism of its final scenes.

Optimism also marks the final film, ‘Superdad’, by Daniel Rusteau. Not before an incredible amount of nerves have been shredded however. When Keon (Martin McCann) turns up at his ex-partner’s house to wish his son a happy birthday, he gets the door slammed shut in his face. He is determined to make Wesley’s day special though, so he waits until he is walking to school to take him on a road trip that, slowly but surely, is not all it’s crept up to be. Rusteau drip-feeds information that gradually causes unease both for the viewer and Wesley (Joseph Obasohan). First about the car; then a quick dash away from a café; and then, finally, a confrontation at a petrol station. The interaction between the characters at this final point cause the façade of Keon to fall to such an extent as to give rise to worry. Obasohan is so adept at portraying the doubt clearly arising in his character’s mind that, coupled with the juddery movements of the handheld camera accompanying McCann, it is difficult not to be immersed in the tension of the situation. Similarly, his strength at resisting his dad’s calls to get back in the car when he realises the facile nature of his explanations is deeply felt. It conveys a maturity that, like Wood’s Jane, surpasses that of the adult parent, revealing a wisdom and thirst for emotional honesty in young people that can too often be ignored or go unappreciated by their elders. It is the recognition of this at the film’s end that makes it all the more beautiful and heartfelt.

Together, these films express the effects of mental health within modern British families. They are stories told with sensitivity; thrilling yet heartfelt. Filmed across Wales, and made with the support of Creative Wales, they offer the opportunity for new and emerging talent both on and off camera to gain experience working on a production that is on the cutting-edge of storytelling and broadcast on a mainstream channel. This is what public-service broadcasting is for. The three writers that have had the opportunity to showcase their work on such a platform are all deserving of further commissions. If their future stories are as veracious and enjoyable as these half-hourly instalments have been then their future looks bright. Go check them out if you haven’t already. They are simply excellent.

All three films can be viewed on 4OD here.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review, Road to Ruin, Dan Jordan & The Warbirds, by Gareth Williams

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Dan Jordan and The Warbirds evade categorisation. They are poetry. They are music. They are outlaw country. They are moody blues. They are folk storytelling. They are heavy metal vocals. The only seminal thread that runs through their latest album, Road to Ruin, is main man Dan’s clear connection to the music of Bob Dylan. He may not readily admit to such an influence being a conscious thing, but it is apparent that his time spent with Dylan over the course of his first album has had a lasting effect. His vocal delivery may not be to everyone’s taste, but one should at least be able to appreciate the hard-felt poetry that emanates from it.

Opening track Slow Burn may get off to a slow start but its first few moments of silence create a real sense of anticipation. A whirring cymbal then comes spinning into existence before being knocked sideways by the hard keys of a piano. It introduces the heavy beat which symbolises much of the album’s dark veneer, Jordan’s own smoky Dylan-esque vocals then coming in to add further shade. There is a sultry otherworldliness to the piano and electric guitar which gives it a certain intrigue and stops it descending into a black hole. The various mixing of genres, from the Latinized Country of Rider to the Metalized Blues of Run, have a similar effect, the poetic nature of Jordan’s lyrics also contributing to this sense of fascination which surrounds much of the album.

Each track is greeted with surprise. Each offers something slightly different from the rest. Ain’t Got Nothin’ may have a classic Blues structure but Matts White and Taylor bring some wonderful organ and electric guitar respectively to give it an added dimension. The soft and delicate composition on Seven Deaths of You creates a beautifully light atmosphere which allows deeper access into Jordan’s poetry. There is a real slice of folk storytelling here, delivered rather nicely through a deep voice that contains the faint presence of delicacy and vulnerability. Sweet City Ruin manages to uncover this further in lines like “stumbling through the city like a spectre” and “all you want is for the world to know that you were here” even as they are hidden behind the up-tempo, western swing style music.

There is a mythical quality to Elena which could be said to draw on folk tradition. The track that follows, Nightingale,certainly seems to suggest a strong folk influence upon Jordan’s work. His always gritty and grave delivery never allows for the same cadences that one might find among the typical folk singer however, meaning the loss of emotionality to some degree. What is lost here though is made up for in another unexpected musical addition, this time the introduction of pop elements followed by a sudden flurry of different instruments that take the album in a completely different direction. It means that, even as Jordan’s vocal starts to feel staid, there is enough originality to keep you listening right to the end.

Final track This Land has No Name is definitely worth sticking around for. On its musical surface is a wild west evoking landscape, complete with tolling bell and front porch guitar. It is the country music of the outlaws, reclaiming their rural roots from the urbanisation of an earlier sound. Dig a little deeper into the lyrics, and you begin to see the parallels. Yet this song speaks not of a place across the pond but a land much closer to home. Those “structures… crooked… battered” are the stone houses dotted across the countryside. The “roofs made of tin” are the barns stood in fields “still breathing [though] barely alive”. The bar, “as dry as a bone” and “the shops, boarded up” represent the communities who have lost their amenities to the forces of globalisation and capitalism. It is a depiction of Wales that is keenly felt and of which Dan Jordan seems acutely aware, no doubt garnered from his own geographical movement across the nation’s map. It is a protest song, if you will, inspired, whether conscious or not, by folk pioneers such as Bob Dylan, with a contemporary resonance that ensures Road to Ruin finishes with a political bang.

To find out more about Dan Jordan & The Warbirds, click here. To listen to album on Spotify, click here.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review, Curtain Up, Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Curtain Up is a celebration. It is a celebration of creativity, imagination and Welsh talent. Over three fun-filled weeks, it has been the setting for a series of short plays that have all taken the notion of play to heart. And where better to host this menagerie of pure ingenuity than Theatr Clwyd. It has certainly delivered on its aim to make the world a happier place one moment at a time. Coming out of conversations with creative freelancers, Curtain Up has given writers the time and space to write again, actors the chance to perform on stage once more; and allowed stage managers, lighting technicians, and sound operators, to name but three, to return to what they do best. It is a reminder to all of us of the power and wonder of live theatre.

Oat Jenner’s smile said it all. It was the widest of smiles among the 10 actors taking part in the final week of plays. It seemed that he couldn’t contain his delight during both Normal Day and Seen, expressing the same euphoria felt by so many after so long. No wonder the excitement in the room was palpable. The opportunity presented to the audience at the start of the night, to choose which props would feature and who would play who, only heightened the sense of anticipation*. And with each week’s performance, the cast and crew delivered. It may not always have worked – the Cadbury’s Milk Tray in Kristian Phillips’ Trwsio: Repair was ripe for comic exploitation but came over rather dead in what was an otherwise touching story – but when it did, it produced chaos aplenty (see Sion Pritchard’s inventive use of a skipping rope in Just Another Blue Marble and the hilarious water spray face-off in In the End). Such fun.

There were moments of real depth alongside the humour. I found The Order of the Object by Lisa Parry to be a fascinating critique of both the religious and the secular; Jennifer Lunn’s Stop the Drop a deftly comic analysis of political power and influence, steeped in contemporary irony; and the symbol of a child’s pink and flowery wellington boot to be a potent symbol of subversive oppression in Alun Saunders’ Beginnings/Dechreuadau. It was left to Thieves by Mali Ann Rees to reduce me to tears, in a moving story of love, friendship and loss that was brilliantly written and wonderfully acted by Catrin Mai Edwards and Miriam O’Brien. Meanwhile, David Bower’s performance in Seen by Katherine Chandler was utterly mesmerising. What a storyteller he is, working his magic alongside Chloe Clarke in a tale of online dating, belonging, and love. And the improvisation of Sian Reese-Williams and John Carter in Life 2.0 was a masterclass, making it seem as though the prop chosen by the audience had been theirs to rehearse with all along.

To choose a favourite among this smorgasbord of 15 plays would be like picking your favourite child. They were all so very different, ranging from the virtual (The Ongoing Eternal Search for ‘Da’) to the real (Letting Go). The inclusion of the Welsh language in and amongst them was great to see, the surtitles accessible and undistracting. The way that they were weaved into Mari Izzard’s The Ongoing Eternal Search for ‘Da’ was cleverly done; and they held extra poignancy in Beginnings/Dechreuadau whilst adding superbly to the realism of Trwsio: Repair. If there was one play that really struck me though, it was Nine Point Two Minutes by Ming Ho. It shone a spotlight on some of the pressures of the healthcare system and its effect on both doctors and patients. It was so effective that the sense of injustice apparent in Ho’s narrative, pressed home through the fragility and passion of Llŷr Evans and Anita Reynolds in their roles respectively, was impossible to miss. It was but one of many highlights over the three weeks of Curtain Up.

Curtain Up has been the perfect opportunity to revisit the theatre safely again after lockdown. It has been an enjoyable pilgrimage to Theatr Clwyd every Wednesday night for the past couple of weeks for a fabulous evening of entertainment in the company of some of Wales’ finest. Its success must surely pave the way for similar shows in future, if only to continue supporting the very best in the nation’s emerging talent both on stage and off. I will miss this weekly trip to the theatre on a hill. But I am grateful to director Tamara Harvey et al for making it a return to savour. The words from Finding Your Feet by Samantha O’Rourke feel like the most fitting to end with here. They seem to sum up what has been the overwhelming response to Curtain Up from both creatives and audiences alike: “Thanks for being here. Thanks for listening. It means a lot”.

*This review is written in response to the Wednesday night performances over the production’s three-week period. Therefore, references to certain props and actors are made accordingly.

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams