Tag Archives: Gareth Williams

Review, Her Ffilm Fer, Hansh, S4C by Gareth Williams

The old adage that the two most difficult genres to write are comedy and horror seemed to have bypassed the ears of some of Wales’ top producers. The likes of Ed Thomas (Hinterland) and Euros Lyn (Doctor Who) decided to devilishly choose the latter for a short film challenge put on by S4C’s Hansh (of which they were judges). To raise the stakes even further, the films were required to be made within 48 hours, which under lockdown conditions, seems like a pretty tall order. But I guess that’s where creativity can either flourish or flounder, producing a fight-or-flight response which, for those of the former persuasion, led to some pretty professional-looking and eye-catching pieces.

The variety of films that were sent in made it difficult for the judges to compare them. But they managed, in the end, to narrow it down to a shortlist, before announcing a couple that were deserving of special merit; that came very close to the standards of the overall winner. Of the three runners-up, Martha a’r fantell ddu was my personal favourite. It contained a lovely, light humour which, in typical horror fashion, slowly turns sour as strange things begin to occur in the life of the protagonist. Much like other entries Dilynwyr and Y Glesni, it uses the prevalence of digital technology to create a familiar experience which, like The Blair Witch Project and Unfriended, is then brilliantly skewed to generate unease, concern, and, finally, terror. But it is the performance of the actor who plays Mari (the film’s producer, Erin?) that makes Martha a’r fantell ddu stand out from the crowd. The effervescence she brings to the role perfectly encapsulates that of the enthusiastic YouTuber. Yet as things get weird, her increasing paranoia is displayed not only in her facial expressions but in the nuanced delivery of her dialogue. She succeeds in taking us on a journey through a narrative that is character-driven, leading us to be entertained, concerned and fearful for her, as we are drawn into her experience to really emotive effect.

The overall winner takes a somewhat more conventional line. There are no livestreams or Zoom calls here. 03YB is a clever, playful and absorbing film that takes familiar tropes from the horror genre and executes them incredibly well. There is enough originality and fresh impetus in the plotline though to test your expectations, as the creators use skilful editing to keep you guessing throughout. The ear piercing music is largely effective, grating only slightly at points, whilst the costume is utilised brilliantly. More specifically, the ears on the hood of the protagonist’s onesie become a fantastically devious signifier for blood at one point, representing the kind of deceitful intentions that the film’s creators look to insert at almost every turn. 03YB reminds me of the kind of visceral scenes at the start of many contemporary Welsh television dramas, posing just as much mystery as them too. It leaves you with enough questions to want to enquire further. It has the makings of a full-length episode, if not series. It is a well-deserved winner.

It appears that there is plenty of talent in Wales when it comes to the creation of original, suspenseful, and entertaining shorts. Thomas, Lyn, et al, clearly sussed that setting such a hard challenge would lead to some excellent entries. I wonder if it did leave them surprised however by the quality of the filmmaking. Given the lockdown restrictions, alongside the competition’s time constraint, I would say the films were of a remarkably professional standard. If they are representative of Wales’ young creative talent, then the current generation can rest assured that the future looks to be in very safe hands. I just hope that the opportunities come for these young filmmakers to grow and develop in their creative potential. Without investment in the arts at all levels, but particularly at the grassroots, going forward, the worry is that their chances will be severely curtailed.

You can watch all 42 films that were entered into the competition here.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Series Review, 35 Diwrnod: Parti Plu, S4c, by Gareth Williams

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

There is nothing like a dining table to expose a series of lies and untold truths. Many would point to Mike Bartlett’s terrific 2015 drama Doctor Foster as the epitome of that. Yet there is a scene in the latest series of 35 Diwrnod that comes close. After four episodes cranking up the tension, this moment represents the point at which the bomb, slowly ticking away since the opening scene, truly starts to go off. It is an extraordinarily gripping scene, full of revelation, as the incalculable web of mystery and intrigue that writer Fflur Dafydd has spun begins to quickly unravel. True to her style however, she leaves enough enigmatic plot points to keep the viewer on tenterhooks to the final moment of the final episode.

What I love most about the writing of Fflur Dafydd is her attention to detail. The series may set up Beth (Gwenllian Higginson) as the main character, whose impending marriage to Dylan (Geraint Todd) provides the focal point, but the interlocking narratives of every single character and the gradual exposure of their secret links to one another means that, in the end, it becomes an ensemble drama. We as viewers become invested in every single person because Dafydd herself has gone to great lengths to make each of them complete and fully rounded characters in their own right. It means that there is no let up; no subplot that exists simply to give the viewer a break from the main focus of the drama. Instead, it is a constant stream of deliberate action, in which every interaction, however mundane on the surface, becomes a point of information that feeds into the wider narrative. The viewer gets drip fed little details, sometimes through dialogue, sometimes via a cleverly crafted camera shot, which act as tantalising threads that keep us hooked. It is a visual guessing game that springs surprises and often plays with our expectations. Dafydd is without doubt one of Britain’s best screenwriters.

This latest series of 35 Diwrnod also features some of Wales’ best acting talent, with Sion Ifan (Efan) and Rhodri Meilir (Bill) starring alongside some inspiring new faces, none more so than Emmy Stonelake (Angharad). Indeed, Meilir and Stonelake are excellent as a married couple whose relationship becomes increasingly fractious due to the former’s controlling behaviour. The calm and calculated persona that Meilir adopts in Bill’s attempts to isolate Angharad from her friends helps achieve a verisimilitude that offers a welcome contrast to some of the more outlandish content in this drama. Stonelake portrays the emotional effects of Bill’s behaviour on Angharad with such obvious subtlety that though it may not grab you by the scruff of the neck like in series two of Bang, this domestic abuse storyline still resonates with a quiet power. Dafydd handles it with great sensitivity, just as she seems to with transgenderism. The inclusion of a character in the process of transitioning may be used as a plot twist, but the emotional impact on them and their family strikes me as sympathetic and considerate in its portrayal. Dafydd balances high-octane scenes with delicate moments really well. 35 Diwrnod: Parti Plu is an emotional rollercoaster for the viewer as much as it is for its characters.

I am always fascinated by the exploration of memory and perception that is a feature of all Fflur Dafydd dramas. In this series of 35 Diwrnod we witness the mental traumas that some characters carry, the mental anguish that others feel, as well as the mind games that a few play. Viewers are frequently challenged in their perception of what is happening onscreen, the many surprises and twists throughout providing plenty of mental stimulation that causes us to think twice about our own theories and assumptions as we engage with this incredibly intricate world of Dafydd’s own imagination. I did think that I had her writing figured out. But as my early expectations failed to match with the outcomes onscreen, I realised that it was facetious to even entertain the notion that I could second guess her every move. 35 Diwrnod has deservedly returned for another series with critical acclaim. It further cements Fflur Dafydd’s reputation as a master storyteller.

Watch the series on S4C’s Clic here.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Hers, A Short Film by Alexa Morden (with Katie Elin-Salt), Reviewed by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

In Alexa Morden and Katie Elin-Salt are two actors determined to change the industry. Through their excellent podcast ‘The 98%’, they give a warts-and-all account of what the #actorslife is truly like. It is an insight that will prove particularly valuable to recent graduates; and for other creative types like me there is plenty to learn from and to relate to. More than anything, it brings a new-found respect for those pursuing this most fraught and fragile of “career” paths.

The creation of Hers by Alexa Morden springs in part from the difficulties of the jobbing actor. For anyone already familiar with their podcast, the idea of acting as a full-time profession is a distant dream for most. Thus, in response (and to quote Morden), ‘When the industry isn’t giving you lemons… grow your own oranges’. The result is this short film that is fresh, fragrant and ripe for watching.

Morden stars as Beth, a young woman who happens upon kindred spirit Laura (played by Elin-Salt) in the bathroom of a house party. They hit it off immediately through a conversation about online dating apps, soon finding themselves acquainted with one another on the tiled floor. What follows is a wonderfully frank scene, featuring full frontal dialogue that is smart, witty and well-polished. Some may consider the so-called ‘X-rated’ content here as being too much. Some would argue that it has been pulled straight from the Fleabag Scriptures. In either case, Hers feels fresh and raw (in spite of the ordinariness of its characters and its mundane setting) suggesting that such explicit conversation around women’s sexual experiences remains rare onscreen.

I would expect nothing less from its two stars however, who to some extent play versions of themselves here. Their no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is approach to their podcast is reflected here in the casual flow with which this duologue is delivered. The film benefits greatly from their off-screen chemistry, which makes the friendship that blossoms between their characters onscreen all the more believable. They are well-suited, with Elin-Salt’s strong South Walian phrasing and expressive movement providing a nicely-balanced contrast to Morden’s softer tone and sharply defined actions. They have the makings of a very entertaining partnership. In the real world, of course, this is already a reality. But there is also something about these two characters that, at the end of the film, makes you want more of their company.

This may be a one-off piece. But Hers has the potential to be something much bigger.

Click here to watch the film*.

To find out more about The 98% podcast, click here.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

*contains strong language and adult themes

Series Review, In My Skin, BBC3 by Gareth Williams

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Don’t get me wrong. The first two episodes of Normal People were beautifully-crafted, and I am looking forward to watching the rest of the series. From this initial glimpse, I can see why it has received such high praise from critics and viewers alike. Whilst this show has been taking all the plaudits however, another BBC3 commission has been quietly going about its business. In My Skin may not have been given a privileged primetime slot on BBC1, but I would argue that its voice has been no less powerful than that of its highly-acclaimed stablemate. The series has just come to an end, hanging on a somewhat explosive cliffhanger that suggests a second series is already confirmed. If so, it is hugely deserved.

In My Skin has been misunderstood in some quarters as being about popularity. I don’t believe that to be the case. In the main character of Bethan (Gabrielle Creevy), I found someone not wanting fame or even attention. In my eyes, she simply wants to be liked. As a result, she spins a web of lies surrounding her family in order to paint her life as an alternate reality wherein everything is “normal” and she is “ordinary”. She tells these lies to Poppy (Zadeiah Campbell-Davies), an archetypal Miss Popular, not because she desires to be with the in-crowd. It is not status that Bethan seeks but a relationship. She fancies Poppy. Part of this coming-of-age drama is the exploration of one’s sexuality. This is done with such gentle understatement as to capture a truth very rarely seen in fictional portrayals. The heterosexist narrative that presents same-sex attraction primarily (only) in terms of the closet is instead replaced here with a delicate acknowledgement of her sexual orientation. It is neither a problem nor a revelation; a source of pride nor of shame. It just is. And there is something quite beautiful and refreshing about that.

Some people may sigh at the thought of another teen-focused drama. Yet In My Skin places a spotlight on a corner of the world still underrepresented on television. Writer Kayleigh Llewelyn has talked about ‘wanting to recreate accurately the Wales we knew’. She has praised the likes of Ruth Jones (Gavin & Stacey, Stella) for capturing the ‘warm, broad characters’ of her homeland whilst taking this further, into the realm of traditional kitchen-sink drama, presenting ‘the grittier side’ found in the nation’s working-class communities. For all that I have delighted in the TV dramas emerging from Wales over the last decade, I must concede that most of these shows have been middle-class in nature. In My Skin takes us to the coalface, as it were; to life on a typical semi-urban street on a Welsh council estate. It doesn’t shy away from the challenges of Bethan’s home life, but it is also shot through with plenty of humour. Her dad (Rhodri Meilir) is an alcoholic; her mum (Jo Hartley) bipolar. In her Nan, played wonderfully by Di Botcher, Bethan finds a warm, witty and supportive companion. Hers is a world that is very rarely seen, yet represents for many an everyday reality. This is what the BBC, when it works, does best. We take it for granted at our peril.

Kayleigh Llewelyn

The relationship between Bethan and her mum is the pivot on which the series rests. Hartley is astronomical in her representation of bipolar disorder, giving a performance of such magnitude as to believe she was the real deal. It shows in the accuracy and detail of her portrayal that she has taken on board everything that Llewelyn sought to put across of her own experience. For her part, Creevy presents an inner strength to Bethan that both masks an underlying fear and grows out of a persistent love for her mother. She reflects the vulnerability of her character at the same time as drawing out a steely determination within her. In their relationship, we see the pain, joy, frustration, anger, humour, and love that bind them. It is harrowing, heart-rending, and inspiring. It is what makes the series tick. But like many of its fellow comic-noirs (Fleabag chief among them), its supporting cast are so well-rounded as to add pungency to the show’s centripetal force.

In My Skin is a complete and utter triumph. It deserves major plaudits too.

Click here to watch the full series.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

My Top 5 Showcase: Theatr Clwyd Shows

In the third part of my showcase series for Get the Chance, I thought I’d share five of my favourite Theatr Clwyd shows in conjunction with their #TCTogether project.

Under Milk Wood

I have this production by Terry Hands to thank for falling in love with theatre in the first place. On a cold February night in 2014, I sat on the end seat in the front row of the Anthony Hopkins theatre and was transported to the wonderful world of Dylan Thomas’ famous drama. It featured an excellent cast of Welsh actors whose delivery of the language created a very vivid experience. I can still see the character of Polly Garter (Katie Elin-Salt) under intense spotlight, transfixed by her plaintive tones as she sang of lost love. A true ‘conversion’ experience for me.

Junkyard: A New Musical

Writer Jack Thorne has gone on to critically-acclaimed success with TV dramas like The Accident. This play came hot on the heels of the first in his National Treasure trilogy, and was every bit as good. Set in an adventure playground, it featured a rowdy group of teenagers led by the outspoken Fiz (Erin Doherty). Doherty led the company brilliantly, giving a pitch-perfect performance in a production that used lighting and music to brilliant effect. Emotive and funny, it shone a light on the overlooked corner of an urban landscape.

The Importance of Being Earnest

Anyone who has witnessed the annual Rock ‘n’ Roll pantomime will know that the costume department at Clwyd are a talented bunch. They excelled themselves with this production however, with costumes that were every bit as colourful as the spectacularly rich scenery. Oscar Wilde’s already witty script was brought to life hilariously by the physicality of actors Matt Jessup and Nick Harris in particular. Brilliantly funny, I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun in a theatre.

Home, I’m Darling

Deservedly winning awards (Best Comedy among them), Laura Wade’s critique of nostalgia and domestication was a beautifully-constructed, well-acted and aesthetically-glorious piece. The bold and impressive scenery – effectively a life-size doll’s house – would have been enough to bowl you over. Thankfully, the acting talents of Katherine Parkinson and Richard Harrington, clearly in their element, brought plenty of humour and vulnerability to their lead characters. It made for a highly original, thoroughly enjoyable play.

Pavilion

I loved this play. Playwright Emily White’s debut is a modern Under Milk Wood, casting a sharp, satirical and dark eye on life in small town Wales. It featured an incredible array of performances from established actors and upcoming talent alike. The true genius of this production was in its realism; the way that White created drama out of the everyday and mundane. The cast brought it to life superbly. I cannot wait for it to be revived for the stage again already.

What are your favourites? Share them using the hashtag #TCTogether, where you’ll also find lots of creative ideas to do during lockdown @clwydtweets.

Written by Gareth Williams

My Top 5 Showcase: Welsh TV Drama: 2010-2019

Continuing this series for Get the Chance, here I select my top five Welsh TV dramas of the last decade. They are not necessarily chosen on the basis of popular appeal or critical acclaim. Instead, this is a personal list from which you are free to agree or disagree entirely. Let me know your thoughts…

Baker Boys

Broadcast in 2011, this series was my first proper encounter with Welsh TV drama. Set in a tight-knit community in the South Wales Valleys, it focused on the impact of the economic recession on its population, many of whom suddenly find themselves unemployed when the local bakery goes bust. Timely and relevant, Gary Owen & Helen Raynor’s series featured a who’s-who of Welsh acting talent, with Eve Myles (Sarah) and Gareth Jewell (Owen) heading up efforts to save the company and make it work as a co-operative.

Hinterland (Y Gwyll)

Starring Richard Harrington and Mali Harries, this crime drama was one of the first to find broad appeal outside of its nation’s borders. Running for a mere twelve episodes, Harrington played DCI Tom Mathias, a man whose troubled soul was reflected in the bleak and desolate landscape of its setting. In fact, the wild and mountainous terrain of Ceredigion was such that Hinterland/Y Gwyll was labelled as the original ‘Welsh noir’ (after Nordic counterparts The Killing and The Bridge).

Keeping Faith (Un Bore Mercher)

When I sat down to watch Un Bore Mercher on S4C in 2017, I could not have imagined how big it would become. After its English-language version Keeping Faith was subsequently broadcast on BBC Wales, it became such a hit on iPlayer that it landed a prime-time slot on BBC1. The reason for its immense popularity was largely down to the juggernaut of a performance given by Eve Myles. She put in an emotionally-raw turn as lawyer Faith Howells, whose husband Evan goes missing, leading to the uncovering of a host of secrets that cast doubt on how well she really knew him. Myles deservedly won a BAFTA for her immersive portrayal.

Parch

Ok, so maybe I’m being a bit biased here, but despite the fact that I have a soft spot for TV vicars, this surrealist drama was still a hugely enjoyable and well-written series. I may have tuned in initially to follow the crazy and chaotic life of the show’s protagonist, the Reverend Myfanwy Elfed (played wonderfully by Carys Eleri), but I stayed because of the strength of the supporting cast. Writer Fflur Dafydd is masterful in creating well-rounded, fully formed characters, the effect here being a show that was full of heart.

Hidden (Craith)

Series one of this crime series featured standout performances from Rhodri Meilir (Dylan) and Gwyneth Keyworth (Megan). Series two brought us another excellent performance from rising star Annes Elwy (Mia). Holding it all together are Sian Reese-Williams and Sion Alun Davies, who play detectives Cadi John and Owen Vaughan respectively. They are chief investigators in storylines that reveal the killer early on. But this makes Hidden/Craith no less gripping, perhaps because of its intense focus on the personal lives of all its characters.

And I haven’t even mentioned Bang, 35 Diwrnod/35 Awr, Gwaith/Cartref, Alys…. Are there any others you can think of? What are your favourites?

Written by Gareth Williams

My Top 5 Showcase: Welsh Country Music Artists

Here at Get the Chance, with opportunities to respond to live cultural events curtailed by the current crisis, it presents an opportunity to showcase talent instead. As country music is one of my greatest loves, here’s my shout-out to five Welsh artists who are worth checking out…

Rosey Cale

To many, Rosey may be more familiar as a musical theatre actress, having starred most notably in Theatr na Nog’s production ‘Eye of the Storm’. However, she is also a talented songwriter, having released a series of singles which have all been very well received. What marks her music out is the vulnerability and honesty in the lyrics, which are often surrounded with an infectious pop-inspired sound. Her ‘Sunday Covers’ on YouTube are well worth checking out, with this one being a particular favourite of mine:

Eleri Angharad

On her website, Eleri’s biography states that she ‘blends traditional country music storytelling with catchy pop melodies’. Listening to her debut album ‘Earthbound’ though, I would say that she has also been influenced (whether consciously or not) by the folk music of her homeland too. It is the eclectic nature of her sound which makes the Swansea-based artist stand out from the crowd. Her single ‘Smokey Steel Lights’ is a case-in-point:

Megan Lee

For someone so young, Megan Lee has achieved an awful lot. Despite still being in school, this Wrexham-based artist is somewhat of a veteran musician, having already released a number of records as part of her family band Blue Genes. Now branching out as a solo artist, this girl has a very bright future ahead of her. Inspired by the likes of Alison Krauss and Cam, this original song is evidence of her burgeoning talent:

Bryony Sier

A prolific guitar picker, an inspired songwriter, and a versatile musician, Bryony is fast drawing the attention of many in the music industry. I loved her early stuff, infused with old-school Cash-inspired gospel, but her recent pop-produced singles retain an acute lyrical honesty that still manages to hit the spot. Check out her latest single ‘Merry Go Round’ to see what I mean:

Shannon Hynes

This Flintshire-born singer-songwriter already has a prolific track record when it comes to UK Country Music #1s. Her talent was recognised most recently at the ‘UK Country Music Spotlight Awards‘ when her single ‘Off Guard’ was nominated for ‘Song of the Year’. Blending traditional and modern country sounds, she may no longer be based in Wales, but she is certainly flying the flag for Welsh country music talent.

Written by Gareth Williams

Series 2 Review, Bang, S4C by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

After its acclaimed debut on S4C in 2017, it was surely only a matter of time before Bang returned to our screens. Over two years have passed since the first series, with writer Roger Williams wasting no time in getting down to business. A visceral opening scene throws us straight in at the deep end, posing plenty of intrigue. What follows is a well-plotted second season that melds the development of returning characters’ stories with those of brand-new faces.

There is no sign of second series syndrome, with Williams developing a strong central crime narrative that works perfectly well as a stand-alone. This means that there is no overreliance on the likes of Sam (Jacob Ifan) and Gina (Catrin Stewart), the brother and sister who were central to the show’s original run. Instead, the continuation of their storyline is just one of a number of other narrative strands – each fully rounded and complete – that tie together nicely. It is the tightly-crafted way that Williams weaves these strands and slowly draws them into a collective whole that makes Bang such a satisfying watch.

The gun remains a potent symbol in series two, though its appearance is much more sporadic. It has shifted from being the singular obsession of one to being the shared object of many. Its presence is felt, but always underneath the surface in this latest six-episode run. The ramifications of its use, however, are potently displayed in the character of Sam. Still trying to come to terms with the death of his father by such a weapon in series one, we find him grappling with PTSD. Ifan does an excellent job of conveying Sam’s mental state; in fact, it is one of the most genuine onscreen portrayals I have ever seen. Most make clear what they are trying to do. Yet here, through a combination of fine acting, clever editing, choice camera angles, and pervasive music, the producers of Bang manage to capture Sam’s struggles so powerfully that I couldn’t help but be emotionally moved.

The domestic abuse by DI Morgan Riley (Dyfan Dwyfor) on wife Caryn (Hedydd Dylan) is no less affecting. Williams captures the subtle manipulation and invasive cruelty of the husband really well, causing me to turn away from the screen several times such was my discomfort in the face of his underhand brutality. In fact, this subplot became more absorbing than the central storyline, involving a serial killer enacting revenge for the rape of Marissa Clarke (Sophie Melville) ten years earlier. The bloodbath that ensues across the course of six episodes is fairly graphic. Yet it was the unseen mental and emotional scars inflicted on the show’s characters that had me reaching for the remote in distress.

Writer Roger Williams has not returned to Port Talbot in a hurry. This second series of Bang feels as much a labour of love as its first. It is another compelling story full of well-defined characters dealing with pressing issues. Returning fans will not be disappointed. And for those who haven’t yet seen it, I would recommend adding it to your isolation watch-list.

You can watch the full series on Clic here.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Review, Handstand, BBC Wales by Gareth Williams

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The first original TV drama of 2020 to emerge from Wales is a short one-off piece called Handstand. It may be quirky and slightly clichéd on the surface, but there is a dark underbelly that gradually reveals itself over the course of half an hour. Director Peter Watkins-Hughes has chosen to shine a spotlight on domestic abuse through what is essentially a love story between the hardworking and compassionate Luke (Darren Evans) and his new neighbour Sarah (Mabli Jen Eustace).

Evans and Eustace demonstrate a wonderful onscreen chemistry from the get-go, their characters’ first meeting being the perfect mix of socially awkward and humorously sweet. The telling camera angles and silently knowing looks to one another add to the sexual tension between them, whilst the synth-pop soundtrack and cinema setting coat their relationship in youthful possibility and nostalgic innocence respectively. It is this portrait of young love that makes the turning point in the story all the more dramatic and affecting, as Luke hears the raised voice of Sarah’s father, Alan, resonate angrily through the ‘shockingly thin’ walls of his bedroom. What follows is a moral dilemma centred on the public and private dichotomy, where the question of intervention is explored rather well, given the drama’s brief running time. Christian Patterson is excellent as the two-faced Alan, whose jolly exterior slowly slips away to reveal a manipulative man whose obsession with power and control is ultimately his undoing.

As a stand-alone piece, Watkins-Hughes has created something that is both entertaining and informative. It is also educational insofar as it deals with the subject of domestic violence, thereby reflecting the three Reithian ideals that the BBC was founded on. I believe that this is important to highlight as the BBC and its licence fee comes under increased scrutiny and ever sharper criticism. There is no doubt a conversation to be had about its future funding model, but I believe Handstand is an example of what publicly-funded broadcasting does best, supporting projects that have no commercial value but nevertheless tell important stories that need to be heard. It is also why public service broadcasting is needed, because without it, I fear that the voices wanting to tell such stories in Wales may be bereft of opportunities to do so in a media marketplace driven solely by profit.

Click here to watch Handstand.

gareth
Gareth Williams

Review, Trials of Cato with Tant, Pontio Arts Centre by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

You know you’ve hit on something good when the support act is as good as the headliner. It may have been The Trials of Cato that we had come to see, but it was the five-piece female band Tant that we went away talking about. Running slightly late, we wandered into the theatre at Pontio Arts Centre and were immediately transfixed by their magical and melodic tones. They proceeded through a half hour set that traversed the boundaries of folk and pop with tremendous subtlety, producing a sound that felt highly original and resultantly captivating. All are clearly talented musicians, whether on harp or guitar, but it was their combined vocals that really struck me. Performing acapella on the song ‘Gwydyr Glas’, their voices played together like wind chimes, singing in beautiful harmony whilst also producing distinct tonalities that made this a really fascinating piece to listen to.

At the end of their set, Tant were wildly applauded off stage. Recognising their popularity, The Trials of Cato twice paid tribute to them during their own set, where the praise was again handed out, and deservedly so. It was clearly an inspired choice to have them open. Only the best could follow. The Trials of Cato are certainly that, having already scooped up Best Album at the Folk Awards in spite of their relatively short career. Opening with an instrumental piece before going straight into ‘Tom Paine’s Bones’, these early numbers demonstrated the toe-tappingly catchy rhythms that make their music such a joy to listen to. ‘Haf’ added a lightness of touch to proceedings before ‘Cân John Williams’ was given a Lebanese vibe thanks to a particularly strong instrumental section at its end. The only slight melancholy in the evening came courtesy of ‘My Love’s in Germany’, but even here the performance was more rousing than depressing.

We were then treated to some new material in the form of ‘Dog Valley’, from an album that should be out later this year. It was a track to sit back and enjoy, reminiscent of freestyle jazz and showcasing their skills as truly accomplished musicians. This and ‘Gawain’ are highly recommended for first-time listeners, the latter their “prog rock” offering, which turned this intimate venue into a few thousand seater stadium through excellent lighting and amplified sound. Two favourites in ‘Aberdaron’ and ‘Gloria’ then followed before they closed out with an excellent rendition of ‘Kadisha’. So good was this final number that there was no need for an encore. Indeed, in hindsight, there should not have been one, for it was hijacked by a woman intent on playing tambourine with them on stage. The intervention of security a few moments later meant that any chance of the band making the best of this unexpected entrance was lost. A chorus of boos followed, and the subsequent final song fell a bit flat. It was a disappointing end, but the only blot on what was an otherwise incredible night of Welsh folk music. The strength of and sheer originality on the national scene at the moment is inspiring. The Trials of Cato most definitely reflect that, and after their performance here, Tant are undoubtedly doing the same.

Click here to visit The Trials of Cato’ website.

You can watch Tant perform their song ‘I Ni’ here.

gareth
Gareth Williams