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.
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…
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
Considering they had never played together before, Gareth Bonello, Georgia Ruth and Toby Hay seemed like a long-established trio. Their first gig as a three-piece was certainly an enjoyable one. Coming together from Cardiff, Ceredigion, and Rhayader respectively, these three folk musicians brought real warmth to what was a pretty wet night in Bangor. With songs inspired by land, place and people, this concert, as part of Pontio’s Cabaret series, was a gently inspiring, fairly lucid affair. Transforming Theatr Bryn Terfel into a downtown night club, the ambient lighting and tight staging made this a really intimate experience. It felt refreshing, relaxed, and played well to a hushed and attentive audience.
Taking the form of a songwriters round, the evening began
with Bonello, who performed a straight-up folk number before handing over to
Hay. The highly-accomplished guitarist began with a short piece, inspired by
home, before providing us with a wonderfully atmospheric version of his song ‘Starlings’.
Hitting such high, soft and delicate notes on the guitar, the addition of Ruth’s
harp and Bonello on the harmonium created an incredibly visual sound that hung
in the air long after the last note was played. It was then over to Ruth for a
performance of her song ‘Terracotta’. Its hauntingly beautiful tones struck me as
being very reminiscent of 9Bach’s ‘Anian’,
and was just as good. It was then the turn of Bonello again for a performance
of his song ‘Pen Draw’r Byd’ before we returned to Ruth for what was, for me,
one of the highlights of the night. Watching Ruth’s fingers gliding gracefully
across the strings of the harp during ‘Clychai Aberdyfi’ was mesmerising. And
with Bonello keeping a steady beat on duitara and then double bass respectively,
and Hay strumming gently on the guitar, it made this a song to savour, both
visually and aurally. To finish the first half, Bonello played a song written
as a tribute to his grandmother, who used to pick cockles down by the local
river. The low notes of the double bass and deep echo of the electric guitar,
along with the yellow lighting, created a truly evocative scene of a river at
sunset. It made ‘Merch y Morfa’ a beautiful tune with which to close before the
The second half opened up with Bonello performing ‘Y Deryn Pûr’
before handing over to Hay for another double header. Asked by his fellow
singers to choose a traditional folk song from his home county to perform, a
lack of forthcoming material meant that we were treated to two originals by Hay
himself instead, both inspired by his local landscape. The first, ‘Radner Lily’,
was gorgeously performed under glowing lightbulbs hung from the ceiling. The
gentle grace of the electric guitar and accompanying harp led to a delightful
skip into the second song, ‘Water Breaks Its Neck’, from Hay’s forthcoming
album. Ruth then performed ‘Week of Pines’ from her latest album to rapturous
applause and cheering from the audience – a clear fan favourite. Bonello then
treated us to two tunes written specially as part of his PhD on the duitara.
This Indian folk instrument proved a fascinating listen on both ‘Maid Marian’
and ‘Diamonds’, the former’s medieval associations really evoked by the sound
of this four-stringed cousin of the guitar. It was then back to Hay for a
performance of an as-yet-untitled song that I recognised from his recent gig at
Focus Wales. It was excellent then, and with the addition of the double bass
here, it was by far another standout moment of the night.
To finish, Bonello, Ruth and Hay took to the forefront of
the stage to perform off mic. With only the harmonium for company, once Bonello
had found the right vocal range, the three performed a gorgeous final number
that was received extremely well by the audience. It rounded off an impressive
night. They left the audience wanting more. Any nerves they may have been
feeling did not show. There was no sense of awkwardness or any hint that this
was their first time performing together. And after such a positive reaction,
my guess is that it won’t be the last. Keep your eye out for future dates. I’d
be surprised if there isn’t more to come.
Focus Wales in one of the nation’s premier music showcase festivals. Held in Wrexham, it brings together some of the best people in the music industry for three days of talks, meetings, and, of course, musical sets. The best of both emerging and more established talent from Wales and beyond featured on various stages around the town centre. Headliners on Friday night, 9Bach were excellent, as per usual. But apart from these giants of the Welsh folk scene, who else stood out? Here are my personal ‘ones to watch’ from this year’s festival:
Hailing from Snowdonia and currently studying in Leeds,
Hannah Willwood and her band created the most incredible sound during their
set. Blending jazz, folk and indie, her music is at once familiar yet fresh and
unique. With resonances of an earlier era, it is a sound that intrigues,
mesmerises, and captivates. This girl is going places.
If I had to pick a winner for Best Performance at this
year’s festival, I would award it to Katie Mac. The singer-songwriter from
Huyton played an absolute blinder from start to finish. She delivered such an
enthralling set that I became completely absorbed in the experience. Here was a
prime example of quality songwriting overlaid with some incredibly accomplished
He proved popular with the Old Bar No.7 crowd. And it wasn’t
just his interaction with the audience that made this performer standout. Take
a listen to Albert Jones and you will find a vocal that is incredibly soulful and
wonderfully versatile. Comparisons with James Morrison are inevitable. But to
try and pin down his sound is much more difficult. Whether blues, country, folk
or pop, it seems that Jones can turn his hand to anything. A really engaging
What a stonker of a set from The Dunwells. Full of energy, enthusiasm and real excitement, every
song seemed to be a crowd-pleasing anthem. They not only succeeded in winning
over a raucous, increasingly drink-fuelled crowd. They managed to encourage
some well-judged audience participation that only added to the feel-good
factor, rounding off the festival (for me at least) in style.
If God Were a Woman / Beta Test
The inaugural Focus Wales Short Film Festival had an excellent shortlist of eight films. All independent, all made to a high standard, my personal front-runners were If God Were a Woman and Beta Test. The former is a provocative and thought-provoking spoken word from Evrah Rose, made all the more so by the choice of director Joe Edwards to film in a derelict Church. The latter is an American production that is very much in the mould of Black Mirror. It sees Eric Holt enter into a simulated world to relive some of his favourite memories. But then a glitch in the programme leaves him facing much darker stuff.
Laurie Black is sick of humankind and decides to take us on her journey to be the first woman on the moon. A contemporary cabaret show that showcases Black’s musical and comedy abilities through her quirky, green alter-ego (who might not be an alter-ego).
Black takes us on her journey
escaping Earth and encountering David Bowie’s alien spaceship (yes) before
landing on the moon. The journey, which takes three-days but feels like an hour,
is a fairly simple one as far as plot goes but exists to give context and thematic
links to the main event of comedy and music.
Black’s music is a varied mix of genre that, for the most part, has a somewhat futuristic feel. She exploits the sounds of synths, piano and a small drum machine well on stage. But, it is Black’s enthralling voice which captures the audience the most. Not relying solely on her voice however, Black is also a great songwriter using witty pop culture references, the occasional political statement and comedic wordplay.
Mostly original music,
there are some covers of popular songs in Space
Cadette. Starman by David Bowie stands out as a strong point where the
audience are encouraged to sing along with the “la, la, la”s. There are also covers
of Radiohead, Muse and Leonard Cohen as well as a funny reference to The
The comedy and storytelling that comes between the songs was usually good. Nothing to make you belly-laugh, but enough to keep you interested. It is fair to say also, that the comedy suffered due to the low turnout on the night. Some jokes are sleepers which will have you chuckling two-hours after the show as you walk home in the rain – which Black correctly predicts.
The stage set-up is simple.
For the most part it’s just a microphone stand and a piano. This worried me at
first, but as the show goes on, it isn’t an issue as Black keeps the attention
on her. Except for one moment when she gets out her mini-moon that she passes
around the audience.
There’s a lot of frustration in the show that gets channelled into humour and songs. On Black’s journey to the moon, we see further into her persona and whilst the outer-shell is hard, by the end we can tell she secretly loves us. There’s no particular agenda to the piece but an overriding theme of frustration at the current state of the world.
Space Cadette is part of The Other Room’s ‘Spring Fringe’ curated spring season. One of eight shows coming to Cardiff’s only pub theatre over the next eight weeks. Tickets can be found for Space Cadette and other Spring Fringe shows HERE, with an ever-growing discount for the more shows you book. If you can’t make the show, but like the sound of Laurie Black, you can find her music on most streaming services online.
Space Cadette is
an enchanting, funny cabaret show from Adelaide Fringe 2018 winner, Laurie
Black. An exploration to the moon that has so much to say about Earth.
If there was ever a time we needed a WOW festival, it’s in 2018. Women of the World celebrates women and girls and takes a frank and at times challenging look at the obstacles faced by women.
It’s a global movement akin to the ‘V Day’ celebrations I have been lucky enough to be a part of elsewhere in the globe. This would be the first ‘full-blown’ version of the festival to take place in Wales (between 24th-25th November) and the first bilingual version of the festival. Both V Day and Women of the World celebrations aren’t purely about one topic, one issue – this year’s WOW Fest held everything from workshops on fixing bicycles to polemical clowning and talks/workshops on homelessness, self-care, black women’s hair, boxing, movement and storytelling.
This is very much about helping women to discover something new, finding solutions and new ideas to tackle problems old and new. It’s not a conference or a symposium, but a place you come to meet, connect with others and be inspired to take part.
Founded in 2010 by Southbank Centre’s Artistic Director, Jude Kelly CBE, it’s the biggest gathering of women and girls around the globe, reaching over 2 million people in 20 cities across 5 continents. It cooks up a series of varied, entertaining and challenging talks, debates, live music and performance, activism and comedy, along with mentoring and pop up events to create an eclectic and localised version of the larger global movement.
The 2018 WOW experience in Wales took place at Chapter Arts Centre, a smaller but perhaps more homely venue than a previous version of the festival was held in 2016 – at the Wales Millennium Centre. This year’s version featured a line up including Gwenno Saunders, Charlotte Church, Sian Evans, Lula Mehbratu (The Digital Migrant), Sahar Al-Faifi, Sian James former MP, Gemma Price (Boxing Pretty), Anna Hursey, Shahien Taj OBE, Lucy Owen (BBC Wales) and LayFullStop.
The staff handling the festival were wonderful, everyone from the lively chap checking me in, despite my apparent lack of ability to talk and articulate sentences that day, the ‘caped crusader’ volunteers donning glittery WOW capes, who brought so much pep and joy to the proceedings and helping headless chicken types like me navigate their way around. Then of course the regular Chapter staff who do so much to make everyone feel welcome.
It’s a lovely open space, but intimate enough not to feel intimidating unlike the labyrinth-like WMC, in which even the most regular of customers can still feel a bit lost and overwhelmed. Due to my Thanksgiving celebrations that weekend (perhaps this had something to do with my not being able to speak when I arrived), I unfortunately missed the majority of the festival and arrived towards the end of the final day, around 3.30pm.
There was still lots to see, lots going on and there was no sign of anyone’s enthusiasm waning. There was a lively, energetic atmosphere in Chapter’s Café Bar and members of the ‘Only Menopause Allowed’ choir were getting ready to perform. I caught the majority of the moving accounts of women affected by the Grenfell and Aberfan disasters during a panel discussion in Chapter’s Cinema 1 space.
Hosted by festival founder Jude Kelly, this was a sensitive but ultimately eye-opening account of the experiences of the women at the centre of both tragedies. We heard the terrible story of a panelist’s sibling whose family were torn apart by the death of her sister who went to school on the last day of term over 50 years ago and never came home.
Her father had been Chair of the Aberfan Memorial Site and spent his entire life fighting for justice for families in Aberfan after the NCB decided that £500 was a sufficient amount to compensate for the lost life of a child. To add insult to injury, the victims were forced to pay from their own fundraising fund for the NCB to remove the slurry and waste that had killed and injured so many.
This was a sobering account of both tragedies, where the guest speakers spoke with grace, real compassion for the other panelists and determination to see justice for the victims. They were not giving up the fight – and 52 years later, the daughter of the Chair of the Aberfan Memorial site had taken up the baton from her father and continues to campaign.
The Grenfell representatives who’d come down from London to tell their story spoke of being side-lined by local authorities, abandoned by the Government and belittled by large global charities. Theirs was a story of women the world over – organisers, do-ers, campaigners, nurturers – being rendered voiceless by individuals and organisations that assumed they knew better.
Like Aberfan, the fundraising efforts in Grenfell were mishandled by outside forces. Donations which had poured in from the public disappeared without trace, no explanation given about their whereabouts. Families struggled to gain access to funds and slowly – another community lost faith in those who were meant to protect them, more than 50 years after this happened to a community over 200 miles away.
The kinship these survivors and campaigners showed on stage was clear and their dignity and fortitude was incredibly moving. After leaving the Cinema/discussion, it was clear that the content of the talk had clearly affected some audience members, who left the Cinema weeping or being comforted by friends and relatives.
With limited time remaining, I decided to explore upstairs in the hopes of catching an act which had caught my attention in the programme. LayFullStop (I’d never heard of her before) is a female hip-hop/soul artist from Manchester via Birmingham. Accompanied on Stage by Woddy Green, who she has collaborated with on a number of tracks, I was surprised that such a small and unassuming young girl could possess such an incredible sultry voice and ferocious bars.
She’s been honing her talents with well-known collectives Cul De Sac and Roots Raddix and has built a cult following since 2016. It’s been a while since I have been in the loop when it comes to music and musical trends and probably more than 20 years (or more!) since I actively bought hip-hop music or read about it in ‘The Source.’ Apart from attending a Biggie Smalls Memorial Concert in my late teens and listening to Snoop Dog on Spotify now and again, that’s about as far as my knowledge goes these days.
LayFullStop amazed me, I had only intended to pop in for a quick listen but watched her entire set from start to finish. If you’ve ever had a passing appreciation for Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill or Lil Kim, you will love her. This was an utterly refreshing musical style and approach for those who like me find the ‘style over substance’ direction of hip-hop and music in general, a bit distasteful, fake or even tiresome. Her sound is slick – and far from the blingy, flashy humble (or not-so-humble) bragging which tends to dominate hip-hop performed by men, LayFullStop lets the music do the talking, rather than her style.
Her tracks are a sweet fusion of silky jazz, nostalgic soul and UK hip-hop, delivered with wit and panache from a small but fierce Mancunian. It’s rare for artists to skip so effortlessly from punchy hip-hop to sweet singing voice, but more than that – her lyrics are gold, focusing not on the more material and shallow aspects you tend to find in popular culture, but of the life-enhancing elements we can all identify with: finding your inner voice and power, enjoying touch and sensual experiences as a woman, growing intellectually and spiritually.
This to me is true influence and I felt richer for being part of it…she’s been on repeat on Soundcloud since the weekend. Women: I urge you to listen to this phenomenal woman from Manchester.
When you listen to her singing ‘Intact (Cradle Me)’, ‘Kansas’ and ‘Bohemian Queen’ you will be fixing your crown and sitting up a little straighter before facing the world.
Even in such a small snippet, this festival was a tonic for the sisterly soul. Thank you LayFullStop and WOW Fest for giving me some courage and hope on a rainy, grey weekend – if this is what the future looks like, then we’re in good hands.
On a cold Autumn evening, I ventured through the country lanes of North East Wales to the village of Gwaenysgor. It seems a very innocuous place to attend a gig with one of folk music’s brightest upcoming stars. Yet the small village hall, nestled in a corner just off the main road, was the perfect setting for an evening with Kitty MacFarlane. No sound system. No microphone. No fancy stage lighting. This was just Kitty and her acoustic guitar.
Hosted by the Record Journal Live, this wasn’t your average concert. In many ways, this was the epitome of a gig organised and run by people who are passionate about bringing live music to the local community. There’s something quite special about wandering in and finding your name written on a piece of paper, ready to be ticked off; being handed a cup of tea in a random mug that’s been poured out of a stainless steel teapot; entering into a hall whose tables and chairs have had to be laid out beforehand. No technology. No paid bar staff. Just a warm and friendly atmosphere into which MacFarlane’s gentle vocals and whimsical guitar chords beautifully contribute.
Beginning with ‘Only Human’, MacFarlane proceeded with a delectable mixture of stories and songs. It was a fascinating insight into both her songwriting process as well as her wider world. From it, I sensed a deep affinity with nature. There was clearly a deep connection to her local area too – the Somerset Levels. To be given a context to songs like ‘Man, Friendship’, written in response to the 2014 floods, a picture of which adorns the cover of her debut album, gave them an extra dimension. Told with light humour and gentle passion by MacFarlane meant that they became ever more compelling too. Such light humour peppered most of her anecdotes. Her passion was especially evident when it came to ‘Glass Eels’. Introducing the song, she recounted how she’d spent a day with some wildlife conservationists, studying these fascinating creatures. Such an experience clearly left its mark on her, her continuing interest in eels all too evident and somewhat infectious too. It gave a real insight into the careful crafting that has gone into each of her songs. Every one featured in this set had a tale to tell, and was sung with tender conviction.
One of the most captivating moments in this set came during her rendition of David Francey’s ‘Saints and Sinners’. With the guitar placed to one side, this was Kitty MacFarlane truly unplugged. If it wasn’t enough to enjoy the sole sound of her melodious voice, once the familiarity of the chorus had been claimed by the audience, they joined in with her to create a finish to the song that was truly transcendental and awe-inspiring. It perfectly encapsulated the emotion of the whole evening.
Kitty MacFarlane is as warm and welcoming offstage as she is on. She has received huge commendations for her debut album Namer of Clouds, and rightly so. It is a superb record that deserves your listening ear. In some respects, the twee surroundings of a local community hall is exactly where you expect her to be. To hear her live is a real treat. To be in such an intimate environment when you do is a bonus. The Record Journal has tapped into something here. They’ve kept it sweet and simple. On this occasion, it suited MacFarlane’s performance perfectly. Stripped back and laid bare, this was folk at its finest. A concert that was well worth attending.
Seeing Laurie Black: Live was so much fun. Straight away it was easy to tell it was a show perfect for me. Though I could sit quietly in the background and mind my business, I still felt lovingly included and seen. It began relatable and topical and brilliantly on my wavelength.
Her songs had a very specific feel to them. An almost gothic or witchy vibe (which I personally find a lot of fun; I’ve always enjoyed those kinds of aesthetics although I haven’t really lived them) that also rang with a lot of emotion I didn’t expect to find but was glad I was shown, anyway. I kept an interest in them overnight (I’ve found only really good shows do that to me. Sometimes they just end, sometimes I just go home. Other times I keep it in a corner of my mind, look it up online for a little bit longer, dedicated a little more time to finding things out about this. With this show I looked up some other music, I saw the kinds of things sold in the merch store, and I thought ‘yep. This show’s the winner’.). I’m happy to say I’ve found some new songs to listen to.
The participants portion of the show was good! I’m glad I didn’t have to do it myself and I was glad I felt alright blending into the background and just having the opportunity to watch on and see what other people thought, which was really nice! That and, it was more enjoyable watching other people have fun on stage.
The make up was great. It was glow in the dark. Which I didn’t expect to adore, but I did. I thought it was a really nice touch with the rest of the flashing lights and the way the windows of AJ’s Coffee House were blocked out. For an apocalypse show, I thought it was a nice and extravagant detail; the kind of extra mile you definitely couldn’t go if the world was really ending unless you really, really tried.
Laurie Black herself was affable and fun, definitely undeterred in her show, unstoppable in how she created laughs, a supportive and laid back atmosphere, and unquestionably a wonderful performer. It’s always nice to watch people just be themselves on stage, unafraid to swear or mess up or anything else. It was almost cathartic to watch; I wish I could have related. Although I definitely related to some other points during the show – I think those were enough.
This event was the one to mark the end of the fringe festival, so I’m pleased to say I attended to watch it go out with a bang. I’ve had an immensely wonderful time seeing all these different kinds of shows and going to all these different kinds of events. I wait with bated breath to find out what’s coming next year, and I hope I get to experience the same wonderment and awe for my third year in a row. These last two really have been something special; I’ve had fun with the people I’ve gone with and I’ve been able to see shows I wouldn’t have otherwise ever known existed.
I’m voting for Laurie Black: Live for my favourite show, this year. A close second was Camp Be Yourself. Although it will forever remain that the Open Mic Poetry Night is my all time favourite free fringe event, Laurie Black: Live was most definitely my favourite show this year. None of them left quite the lasting effect as this one had.
The Festival of Voice is a biennial international arts festival, described as an opportunity to “hear and be heard”. Featuring events scattered all over the capital city, the main hub of the festival takes place at the Wales Millennium Centre, featuring a hugely diverse program of events. These range from rock and pop music, to cabaret and musicals to live art. The aim, according to artistic director Greame Farrow, is for the “Festival to become internationally renowned and on a similar scale to Edinburgh. I would love to close the streets of Cardiff for the weekend and fill them with voices for free,”. It was with great pleasure that I was invited to attend the opening night of the festival which featured Billy Bragg and Nadine Shah in an event called Voices of Protest.
At this point I have a slight confession – I had never heard of Nadine Shah before this point, and was only vaguely familiar with Bragg’s work through his Left Field Stage at Glastonbury. That being said, I felt this was an excellent opportunity to go into an event with a completely open mind and no presuppositions. Between collecting my tickets from the box office and the main event, I had a chance to explore the rest of the Festival of Voice hub. The main foyer of the WMC has been given a bit of a makeover, with a live DJ playing, and interactive art works strewn around. Outside the building, sandwiched between the WMC and the Piermaster building was a collection of delicious looking street food stalls. These included a Wood Fired Pizza stall, Fresh Pasta, a coffee kiosk and a bar, as well as a pop up Kitchen ran by Oasis, the refugee and asylum seeker organisation. Eventually I settled on a Turkish inspired stall called Murray May’s Rolling Kitchen which was selling proper charcoal grilled kebabs served in pittas. This was absolutely delicious – if you get a chance to get down to the hub I can’t recommend their food enough.
Enough about the food – on to the music. Settling down in the beautiful surroundings of the Donald Gordon Theatre, I honestly had no idea what to expect. Slightly later than billed (since when to musicians take to the stage on time anyway), Nadine and her band arrived and launched right into things. Brooding and dark, Shah’s voice is undeniably excellent. Rich and soulful, she has a unique tone which is likely in part to her strong North-Eastern accent which she doesn’t attempt to disguise or Americanize when singing. Featuring the traditional rock lineup of guitar, bass and drums, Shah’s band also included a keyboardist and saxophonist which contributed to the full tone of the outfit.
In an event called Voices of Protest, it is clear why Shah’s blend of music hits the mark – the content of her songs range tackling fascism and Islamophobia to refugee and immigrant rights. As a self confessed second generation immigrant (born in South Tyneside to a Pakistani Father and part Norwegian Mother), Shah stops her set at one point to remind the audience of the valuable contribution that immigrants can and have made to this country. And yet while the content of her songs is intelligent, powerful and provocative, Shah is clearly happier to let her songs do the talking – at one point she confesses that shes “rubbish at this talking stuff”, and will leave that to Bragg.
After a brief interval in which sets are changed, Billy Bragg takes to the stage to rapturous applause. Aged 60, Bragg is clearly still full of energy and passion for politics. Despite claiming in his most famous song that “I don’t wanna change the world”, his songs have a clear message to people – get involved, educate yourselves and campaign for what you believe in. In comparison to Shah’s rich full sound, Bragg stands alone on an almost bare stage with just his guitar and the occasional backing by colleague CJ on electric or slide guitar. Yet Bragg’s enthusiasm and warmth manage to fill the auditorium, and as he discusses the meaning behind each song it is clear that the majority of the audience are becoming more and more alert to the messages behind what he’s saying. Highlights include Handyman Blues, an ode to men accepting that they don’t have to adhere to stereotypical notions of masculinity, a cover of Bob Dylans The Times They Are A Changin (Back) but with the words re-written after Trump’s inauguration, and of course his final encore song New England.
Despite his earnest and heart-felt political opinions, Bragg never comes across as preachy or condescending. At one point he stops the show to discuss an event that happened at his last gig in Cardiff at the Tramshed, where a heckler asked Bragg why he was drinking from a disposable plastic bottle. Bragg showed us (and indeed that very heckler, in attendance tonight) that he had learnt from this and now uses a Gig Swig reusable bottle while encouraging other musicians to do the same. It is this type of genuine activism and openness to being challenged that makes Bragg an excellent champion of left wing causes. While not the greatest singer or guitar player, Bragg’s strengths lie in his excellent song writing. Poignant lyrics, which open your eyes to the possibility of and need for change, are an excellent way of reminding people what can be done together. Bragg confesses in the gig that music cannot change the world – but what it can do is give you an outlet to inspire others to change things in other ways. The motto of the Bragg curated Left Field at Glastonbury is “recharge your activism”; after this evenings powerful opening to the Festival of Voice it would be difficult not to feel rejuvenated. Inspiring and thought provoking, Voices of Protest is an excellent evening’s entertainment featuring two different but equally galvanizing artists.
Voices of Protest
Donald Gordon Theatre, Wales Millennium Centre
7th June 2018
Billy Bragg & Nadine Shah
Part of the Festival of Voice – more info and tickets here
Following on from the success of The Shires, The Wandering Hearts are surely the next big breakthrough act in the world of British Country Music. On the evidence of their debut album, Wild Silence, it would be hard to argue otherwise. The recipients of the ‘Best Emerging Artist’ at last week’s Americana Awards have produced something of incredible scope. Here are twelve tracks that seamlessly flow into one another – a musical river of harmonies carving its way through a landscape of various genres and musical arrangements. The inclusion of such a vast array of influences into their songs could so easily have gone wrong. Yet far from a cacophony of sounds, here we have an album that triumphs in the audio equivalent of cocktail making. It shakes together a number of musical ingredients to create a drink bursting with flavour. Such a diverse recipe – including folk, rock, pop, country, and bluegrass – in the wrong hands, has the potential to be a disaster. Yet The Wandering Hearts have created something that packs an authentically tasty punch. It is an incredible and delicious sound.
This four-piece group are far from one-trick ponies. The album takes us on a journey through a soundscape that twists and turns at regular intervals. It is not only between each song, but within each song too, that such changing of musical direction and pace takes place. Opening track “Rattle”, for instance, begins with the floating harmonies of Tara Wilcox and Tim Prottey-Jones. Then, with a single drumbeat, the gravelly tones of AJ Dean-Revington are introduced and we are suddenly exposed to heavily-laden rock. The switch from one style to another is unexpected. Yet it is far from disjointed or off-putting. Similarly, “Laid into the Ground” begins as a sea shanty before rising to a crescendo of electronic rock. Again, it is unexpected, but surprising alluring. It seems that The Wandering Hearts have refused to sacrifice their multifarious influences in favour of one over all others. Instead, they have sought to incorporate all of them to one degree or another. As a result, it makes for a hugely enjoyable album that defies categorisation.
An inability to generically label The Wandering Hearts makes it hard to offer up comparisons. However, as I listened to Wild Silence, I couldn’t help thinking of Rend Collective. Both band’s albums are of an eclectic nature, and there is a definite similarity between the vocals of their female leads. There is also an ethereal quality to Wild Silence that is produced in a similar way to that found on the albums of Wildwood Kin and The Pierces. In all of these cases, it is the vocal harmonies of their members that manage to evoke such a transcendent sound. Certainly, during the title track for instance, I found that I was transported out of myself somehow. Not so much ‘our only sound’ as a holy sound.
I cannot speak highly enough of The Wandering Hearts. They have produced a stunning first album that deserves to be lauded with every award going. Wild Silence blends together an assortment of styles to create something that is distinct and hugely enjoyable. It is certainly my new favourite thing. Whether you’re a lover of the great outdoors or someone who loves to party on a Friday night, you are sure to find something that fits your mood here. Wild Silence is a musical selection box, full of tasty treats. I urge you to go and unwrap it now, and experience its beautiful, almost sacred, sounds.