Tag Archives: Music

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, 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

Madam Butterfly, review by eva marloes

WNO Madam Butterfly – photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Under the direction of Lindy Hume, the Welsh National Opera’s Madam Butterfly is set in an imaginary dystopic future to convey the cruelty of imperialism. The opera is no longer set in Japan but in an exotic oasis for the pleasure of wealthy American men. It reminded me of the 1964 Russian propaganda film I Am Cuba by Mikhail Kalatozov. In the film, Cuba is the seductive playground of rich Americans, a country turned prostitute by Batista. Although too propagandistic in narrative, the unorthodox cinematography of I Am Cuba, with its extreme wide-angles and complex tracking-shots, made the film unsettling and powerful. Alas, Lindy Hume’s anti-colonial vision for Madam Butterfly loses force by decontextualising the drama.  

The opera begins with women in white short tulle dresses and tall pink wigs. Among them is Cio-cio-sa/Butterfly, who is to wed American soldier Pinkerton. The action takes place in and around a two-storey rotating white cube. Hume sought to emphasise the exploitation of Butterfly who is sold as trophy bride and quickly discarded. Butterfly is a victim of a misogynistic colonial society. Yet, by erasing Japan from Madam Butterfly, the colonial othering of Cio-cio-sa is lost. Relationships of power are all dependent on context. They cannot be abstracted. Cio-cio-san is the trophy bride because she is a Japanese young girl to be collected like a colourful butterfly. 

WNO Madam Butterfly Alexia Voulgaridou Cio Cio San Peter Auty Pinkerton photo credit Richard Hubert Smith 

In addition, there is a lot more to Cio-cio-san than Hume’s direction implies. She is here painted as a victim, disregarding how 15-year-old Cio-cio-san, notwithstanding being still a child, escapes her family and clan. She goes against her home society to affirm her own will. She stays loyal to her American husband and to his country to the very end. The tragedy lies in the fact that she finds her downfall in her loyalty and shame. Alexia Voulgaridou gives a rounded performance making one forget the awkward futuristic setting designed by Isabella Bywater. 

Voulgaridou gives an impeccable performance as Cio-cio-san. Her voice is powerful and agile; it develops in intensity as the tragedy unfolds. Her interpretation is subtle and convincing. Kezia Bienek, as Suzuki, is also noteworthy. She conveys the melancholy of her role as Cio-cio-san’s sister perfectly. Together, Voulgaridou and Bienek deliver a beautiful duet full of warmth.  

Julian Boyce as Imperial Commissioner and Tom Randle as Goro give solid and sophisticated performances, less impressive is Peter Auty’s Pinkerton. Excellent is the orchestra conducted with fervour and depth by Carlo Rizzi. The impressive performances, the orchestra, and Puccini’s music make one forget the contrived setting. 

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

An Interview with singer-songwriter Eleri Angharad, conducted by Gareth Williams

In this latest interview, Get the Chance member Gareth Williams chats to singer-songwriter Eleri Angharad. Their chat takes place in the form of a podcast, the third in a trial series in conversation with Welsh creatives. Eleri talks about her new EP, Nightclub Floor, as well as Swansea’s music scene, songwriting, her creative journey as a musician, and Welsh identity.

Click here to listen to the interview.

To find out more about Eleri, visit her website here, or follow her on social media @ImEleriAngharad.

You can purchase Nightclub Floor on her website, or stream it here.

Get the Chance supports volunteer critics like Gareth to access a world of cultural provision. We receive no ongoing, external funding. If you can support our work please donate here. Thanks.

Review, The Answer, Jodie Marie by Gareth Williams

Muscle Shoals comes to Pembrokeshire as singer-songwriter Jodie Marie releases her latest genre-defying album ‘The Answer’.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Welsh singer-songwriter Jodie Marie is an artist who refuses to play by the music industry rules. Her latest album The Answer is an exemplary response to those who would wish to classify her sound under a single heading. For though there is a blues thread that runs soulfully through this 12-track collection, the genre-blending that goes on both within and between each song makes this a musical tapestry of the highest quality. It is rich with meaning, drawing on inspiration from the past and mixing it with a contemporary sound to create something that is both reminiscent yet highly original. The result is a sublime record that makes for a captivating listen.

The Answer opens with the smooth funk and soul of ‘You are my Life’. It is characteristic of much of the album insofar as it transports you back some fifty years whilst remaining firmly rooted in the present. ‘Ain’t No Doubt about It’ echoes this same feeling, with a gorgeous arrangement that soaks you in the sounds of Motown whilst being resonant of the music of people as eclectic as Amy Winehouse, Paolo Nutini and CeeLo Green. It demonstrates an altogether playful approach to music making as Jodie mixes and matches various flavours to compose songs that are replete with nods to the past. In doing so, she does not just pay homage to the music she grew up listening to but, on songs such as ‘A Whole Lot of Loving’, she breathes new life into these timeless sounds. Nowhere is this more evident than on ‘Don’t Go Telling Me (That It’s Over)’, a ludicrously enjoyable song that combines classic doo-wop with electric guitar blues to create an incredibly moreish track.

Even when she strips things back to produce moments of acoustic tenderness, Jodie’s sound remains impossible to clinically define. ‘Carageen’ washes over you like the gentle crashing of waves on a shore. Its central metaphor seems to represent a kind of spiritual grounding for Jodie: a place that centres her and from which her music, in all its eclectic glory, therapeutically flows. ‘Saving Grace’ offers up a beautifully intimate picture of love that requires deep listening. It is storytelling in the vein of a Nashville Songwriter’s Round yet one cannot claim it as pure country. Just as ‘Kiss These Tears Away’ cannot simply be a ballad of the blues. Instead, Jodie manages to weave enough elements into each track so as they become wonderfully ambiguous. This is most true in the title track. ‘The Answer’ contains hints of modern country, ‘60s rock, and Welsh electro-pop, undercut with a blues vibe and layered with pure soul. The result is a raw and rousing sound of real emotion and depth.

‘Hanging by a String’ is like an audio illustration of the kind of building blocks that go into making Jodie Marie’s overall sound. From its humble intro, Jodie stacks brick upon brick of musical instrumentation to construct a track that is perfectly-formed and insulated with solid soul. ‘This House’ is built on the blues and is kitted out with the best of classic rock. Such rock is infused with pop to create a catchy refrain on ‘Curse the Day’ that sparks with electricity. The Answer is brought to life by such commingling of genres which, one cannot help but feel, reflects the beating heart of Jodie herself. This is what makes the album so special. She has not compromised or standardised on anything. Instead, she has made a record that is truly her. And that authenticity shines through. Jodie Marie is a champion of artistic vision over and above what the industry demands. The Answer is the answer to anyone who thinks otherwise.

Click here to listen to the album on Spotify.

To find out more about Jodie Marie and/or purchase the album, visit her website here.

Review by
Gareth Williams

Boogie On Up with Bonnie & the Bonnettes. Interview by Eva Marloes

Get ready for a good night out in your living room with Boogie On Up, a series of digital drag performances by Bonnie & the Bonnettes. The exuberant musical trio, made of Hattie Eason, Cameron Sharp, and Rebecca Glendenning, wants to inject fun into our lockdown lives with sequins-embroidered masks and a repertoire full of classic hits, feel-good ‘gay anthems’, some rock, some pop, and a new song by Newcastle-based artist MXYM.

Last year, Bonnie & the Bonnettes succeeded in fusing moving theatre with comedy and music with And She (see review). The pandemic made them want to go back to drag, which they did when they started off, and give the audience a “cracking night out,” as Hattie put it.

Rebecca said: “We wanted to offer our audience something to keep them going and give them a similar feeling to that of when they come to see us live.”

The performances are geared to make people sing and dance in their homes. That’s why the trio went back to their origin of drag performance.

Cameron said: “Drag is something we’ve always done and that we always like to do. I think that’s what people need right now, some relief from tension.” Hattie adds that she was feeling a little nostalgic about being in a theatre and “the rush of excitement, which the audience also feels. It’s the feel of a goodnight out.”

Cameron also tells me: “For us it’s important to give people that sense of community and togetherness. Drag comes from the Queer community. That community now with lockdown can’t happen. So this is our little way of making that community visible and present in people’s lives.”

Hattie said: it’s a way for us to reach people through the universal language of music. I remember a lady coming to me after a show and telling me of an amazing and euphoric night out of when she was a teenager. That’s why we have included 1980s songs. I’d like the songs to bring back great memories for people.’

Rebecca said: ‘in our drag performance we can go places that we might not get to otherwise. We can do some hilarious comedy that it’s just there to make people laugh. You can do it at a very high standard. The whole point is to have an absolute scream!’

Without the energy of a live audience, Rebecca, Hattie, and Cameron encouraged one another during recording and fill the performance with so much energy to get across to the audience. They’d like to see people dancing and singing and posting their videos online with the hashtag #boogieonup

Your boogie nights start in March with two videos to be followed by two videos every month on Bonnie & The Bonnettes YouTube Channel.

Boogie On Up is in association with Northern Stage and Live Theatre in Newcastle. The eight videos were made by TJMov. The original song is by Newcastle-based songwriter MXYM.


Interview with Welsh singer-songwriter Jodie Marie, as part of BBC Horizons’ ‘Tour of Wales’ 2021

Throughout the past week, BBC Horizons have been touring the nation, stopping off at some of Wales’ most treasured independent music venues to bring us a series of live sessions from some of the country’s top, upcoming musicians. From the mountain top venue of Neuadd Ogwen in Bethesda, to the Queen’s Hall in Narberth on the west coast, to the inner city hub of Le Pub in Newport, across seven days we have seen and heard the crucial role that Grassroots Music Venues (GMVs) play both in their local communities and in fostering the next generation of musical talent.

Artists who have performed across the week have included emerging artists from a wide range of genres: from hip-hop artist Mace the Great to rock band Those Damn Crows; stripped-back sessions from Ifan Pritchard and Rona Mac; and alt-pop from female duo Body Water and solo artist Malan. You can check out all the sessions here.

Here at Get the Chance, we caught up with singer-songwriter Jodie Marie, another of the artists who performed as part of this special project in association with Independent Venues Week. She chatted to us about the importance of the Queen’s Hall both as a music venue and community hub, the vital role that Horizons and BBC Radio Wales play in supporting home-grown talent, and the artists that have influenced her unique sound. She also reveals what we can expect from her upcoming new album, as well as what she’s been up to in lockdown.

To find out more about Jodie Marie and/or to pre-order her new album The Answer, released February 12th, click here.

To check out the full week of sessions, visit the Horizons website, or follow them on social media, where the team would love to hear your stories and experiences of GMVs, especially those in Wales.

The ‘Tour of Wales’ has been supported by Creative Wales and BBC Introducing, and is championed by the likes of BBC Radio Wales’ Adam Walton and Bethan Elfyn.

Review, The Goat Roper Rodeo Band, Theatr Clwyd, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Or so it seems. The arts sector is not out of the woods yet by any means. But there is a glimmer of hope. Like the neon bulbs dangling across the stage at my first live gig since March, there are rays of optimism breaking through the darkness. As the sun set on the magnificent red brick building towering over us, aglow with rainbow-coloured light, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of joy and relief that I am back. That I have been able to come back. That my theatre, unlike others, still stands.

It never stopped, of course. It innovated; collaborated; diverted its resources; sought creative solutions. And now, it is slowly returning to a sense of the old normal. Not indoors, mind, but out. On a grassy field marked with white boxes and filled with makeshift chairs of all shapes and sizes. A tapestry of camping and outdoor furniture laid out before a plain black stage, simply lit and acoustically sound. Onto it step three lads with three instruments ready to entertain the throngs that have ventured out on this Friday evening. And entertain us they most certainly do, with a barnstorming hour of country, blues, and alternative folk.

Their blistering set was much needed to get the toes tapping; to counter the cold wind blowing across the site. The audience applauded in enthusiastic appreciation throughout, determined to enjoy an hour of music after the dearth of live performance over the past few months. The Goat Roper Rodeo Band certainly offered plenty of enjoyment and more besides, an eclectic sound keeping things fresh and lively, with no let-up in their high-octane delivery. Even in the slow, ballad-like songs such as Toss and Turn and Old Joanna, there was intensity in their presentation, perhaps caused by the welcome release that this post-lockdown opportunity presented for them. Whatever the case, it only added to the brilliance of the evening. With a carefully-crafted back-catalogue of wonderfully-catchy songs – reminiscent of Mumford & Sons one minute, sounding like a 1950s WSM Radio broadcast the next – The Goat Roper Rodeo Band certainly left their mark on proceedings in an hour that went by way too fast.

It was a very different experience of Theatr Clwyd to the one that I am used to. But it is moments like these that weave themselves into our memories. They are the unexpected surprises that make our relationship to a place so rich with meaning. They crystallise into a particular instance on our timeline that helps us tell the story of our lives to those that come after, when we recall how this theatre and its work has impacted us down the years. It may appear to the one looking in and gazing upon the photographs that this was just another outdoor gig. But to those who were there, or to me at least, this show marked the occasion when the arts began to breathe again, as the tightly-bound corset of Covid-19 restrictions was loosened enough to allow for such a socially-distanced gathering to take place.

There will be many bumps in the road to come. We are not out of the woods yet. But beyond the many trees still to wind past to get to the edge of what can seem an overwhelmingly-bleak scene, there is a light that shines. It will not be the same one we left behind. And neither should it be. Lockdown has been an opportunity to view and do things differently. Live performance as we knew it will return I’m sure. But the arts sector must also move forward. Change must be embraced.

Click here to find out more about The Goat Roper Rodeo Band.

Click here to find out what’s coming up at Theatr Clwyd.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

Review, Bryony Sier, Personal Monster EP, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

It is hard to categorise Bryony Sier. The Welsh singer-songwriter has a rather eclectic sound. There are bits of blues, flecks of folk, glimpses of gospel. She is cut through with country, with a slice of soul, lightly packaged in pop. Her new EP Personal Monster displays an exciting mix of all of these various sounds, sown together to create a mottled tapestry from a thematic thread of personal identity. Despite the deeply personal nature of this record however, its musings on mental health in particular speak to a universal experience which make it highly relatable.

The title track is one on which the disruptive and destructive nature of anxiety is expertly exposed by Sier. It makes for a rather sharp sword that penetrated right through to my own heart, all-too-familiar, as it is, with those tall tales telling me ‘I’m not worthy’ and ‘if I jump it will be my biggest mistake’. The song’s infectious rhythm belies its lyrical darkness, the sort of paradox that seems to mark much of Bryony’s music. Merry Go Round, for instance, exudes a form of pessimism that actually feels remarkably reassuring. Its tune is shot through with a melancholic hope that put me a wonderfully pensive mood. Meanwhile, Hurricane combines the whimsical movement of a Celtic folk song with the darkened sky of a gritty Johnny Cash number. The musical arrangement goes off on some unusual and unexpected tangents, producing a mystical quality that ends the EP on a rather intriguing note. I went back to listen to it again straight away, such was my fascination with Sier’s honest exploration of her own inner world as well as the astute observations of those around her.

Personal Monster represents a broad horizon of musical sounds upon which Bryony Sier feels free to explore. She borrows from here and there, constructing a multi-coloured road of sound along which she travels into the dark recesses of her anxious mind. It is a record that makes one feel less alone, and provides reassurance that the monster within us is perhaps not as personal as we might think.

Click here to listen to Personal Monster on Spotify.

Click here to find out more about Bryony Sier.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams