Glorious Green Man returned once again on 17-20th August, encouraging us to shed our urban, citydwelling ways and replace them with more earthy, simple pleasures. Said pleasures cover an epic range. You could unearth new blissed-out folky (or not so folky) music emanating from any of the five main stages dotted around the site, feed your brain listening to the talks, interviews and discussions happening at the Babbling Tongues stage and discover your new favourite local ale (take a punt on any of the 100 or so different Welsh ales on sale). There was surprisingly good grub too: an array of globally influenced eats that grabbed your palette’s attention like a stranger firing gun-shots in the air. And then let’s not forget the workshops, facilitators and activities housed on-site that were there to inspire, influence and have you leaving Green Man a better person.
Oh, did I mention the live music? PJ Harvey, Future Islands and Ryan Adams were the big names chosen to help celebrate the festival’s 15th year – with the former two’s performances especially memorable experiences thanks to the unique setting and backdrop afforded by the Mountain Stage. It seems to have the power to eek out an extra 10% from some performers - British Sea Power and Hurray for the Riff Raff included – the latter’s front-woman Alynda Segarra bewitching and mesmerising despite the dreary mountain drizzle. Mix all that up in a cauldron that includes Sleaford Mods, Julian Cope, Kate Tempest, Oh Sees, the unforgiving and unpredictable Beacons weather, the Green Man aflame, loads and loads and loads of families with toddlers and babies…and hot tubs - and you start to get an idea of how other-worldly it can all seem living there in a tent for the duration. Talking of ‘duration’, ‘families’ and ‘tent’ – The Settlement is a full seven-day stay in the run-up to the Festival that guarantees epic outdoor adventure, designed so that you and loved ones can explore everything from workshops (think bow-making, qigong, yoga, bat walks, beatboxing and much more) to Welsh language classes, discussions and talks, live music, entertainment, late-night comedy, iron-age sports days, pub quizzes and BBQ’s. Rest-up, stay a while, leave inspired. This is way more than a festival.
Mike Dennis, Gwdihw, Cardiff
Regular contributor to Cardiff ’s Grassroots music
scene Mike Dennis returns to the capital as part of his
‘Junction 19’ EP launch tour.
Beginning with an organic beat overlaid with violin
segments played and then recorded live, Dennis
loops each new segment over the last adding further
layers to create a rich, hypnotic soundscape. Once
the atmosphere is fully formed he then raps over the
music creating his own highly individual brand of hip
hop, which he calls ‘Violinica’. It’s a technique that’s
been crafted and polished to a fine art and is incredibly
Highlights of the show include ‘Men with Guns’, a
crowd pleaser that allows him to show off his more
comedic side. Snappy, quick-fire rhymes combine
with a political edge and razor sharp humour. By way
of contrast he slows things down with ‘Undo’ a more
melodic track that showcases his softer side with its
smooth groove and lyrics.
Dennis is an artist in the truest sense of the word. I’ve
seen him play several times and I have never seen him
make a mistake or have to start a track over. Perfection.
With Cardiff a regular haunt keep an eye out for his
next gig, or if you can’t wait for that, check out his EP,
you won’t regret it.
Jane ‘Jukebox’ Williams,The Bootlegger, Cardiff
In addition to Bootlegger’s usual repertoire of swing,
blues, soul, jazz and 50’s/60’s rock’n’roll they’re
prepared to chance their arm with something a little
different once in a while. So it was with Jukebox Jane.
An intimate affair with a relaxed atmosphere and,
with ukulele in hand, her powerful yet melodic voice
resonated throughout the venue. She performed a
variety of eclectic covers, including songs from E.L.O.,
Joni Mitchell and Fair Ground Attraction. All of
which were reworked for ukulele and voice only - the
structure and melodies remained but stripped to the
bare bones - but she still managed to get across the
emotion of the originals.
Her rendition of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ was wistful,
melancholic and uplifting, a wonderfully different take
on an iconic 90’s song. I’m a sucker for classic rock and
Jane’s take on Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ was a pleasure to behold,
so much so that I found myself involuntarily singing
along with glee. Nor was she afraid to turn her hand to
more modern music. Her performance of Rag’n’Bone
Man’s ‘Human’ was deeply soulful, her voice suited to
this style of music.
Jane performs mainly in Wales and the South West on
a regular basis solo and as part of ‘Omega Two’ where
she performs alongside Pete Mathison. She has also
rehearsed and recorded with Sir Van Morrison. High
praise indeed but no surprise once you’ve heard her. A
must see and a cool venue.
SCENE AND HEARD
“He is one of the best in the business at rapid-fire one-liners ”
Summer has been and gone in Wales so it’s time to stoke out the BBQ, don a thicker jacket and get your backside out of the house for some cultural offerings. Let me take you through some highlights running from November through to the New Year and beyond.
What’s hot in theatre land?
This publication is all about being honest (if nothing else), so let me be straight with you. I’m going to recommend an excellent musical called Sunny Afternoon (Wales Millennium Centre, January 17 - 21, 2017, from £19) and not just because my elder sibling is acting in it (hi Rob!). Be transported back to the swinging sixties and the sound of The Kinks in this nostalgic romp through some of the band’s best tunes. I saw it in London earlier this year and loved it (no, I wasn’t forced to say that).
OK, enough of the nepotism, let’s move on and keep the feel-good musical vibe going. The Commitments (Wales Millennium Centre, April 10 - 15, 2017, from £19) is the classic story of how one music-mad Irishman got his mates in order and formed one of Dublin’s sweetest soul bands. You’d have to have a heart made of polystyrene not to want to sing along to Mustang Sally. Come on, you know you want to.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Wonderman (Wales Millennium Centre, December 9 - 24, £12), flying into the Welsh capital this Christmas. Theatre company GaggleBabble have given Roald Dahl’s short stories for adults a healthy injection of twisted, dark humour. Throw in an awesome live score and some larger than life characters and you’ve got a top evening in store (well, unless you booked for the matinee, which we suspect is just as good). If you enjoyed City of the Unexpected in Cardiff back in September, a gargantuan celebration of Dahl’s centenary year, and want another fix of the wordsmith’s genius, this is your solution (maybe best leave the small people at home though, yeah?)
Game for a laugh
As the nights draw in and days get colder, we all need a good laugh to warm the cockles (and not the forced ones you’ll have to make with your boss at the works’ Christmas party). Everyone’s favourite posh stand-up Jack Whitehall (St David’s Hall, January 9, 2017, from £25.50) is back with a new show in the New Year called At Large. Details were scare at the time of press, but Whitehall’s style is much less classic bantz (a la A League of Their Own) and more finely tuned when he hits the road.
However, if you are looking for some Grade-A bantz (sorry, I’ll stop now), then look no further than the lad-tastic Lee Nelson (St David’s Hall, March 12, 2017, £20). He can be somewhat of a marmite comedian with his sprayed-on chav caricatures not to everyone’s taste. However, if you embrace his daft comic leanings he is one of the best in the business at rapid-fire one-liners and killer audience put-downs.
Let’s get back to much calmer surroundings and hail one of UK stand-ups’ most underrated talents, Stephen K Amos (St David’s Hall, January 26, 2017, £16). The feel-good funny man has been clocking up the air miles of late with gigs in New Zealand, Estonia,
“These two records are a timely reminder of where that freewheeling pop spirit first began”
the Seychelles... anyone that will have him! We look forward to his arrival in Wales in the New Year.
Autumnal tunes and Winter beats
Let’s kick this section off with some bonafide legends. Step forward alt-rock gods The Pixies (Motorpoint Arena Cardiff, December 7, from £38.50). OK, Kim Deal was back in the fray and left again but don’t let the shuffling line-up put you off. At the time of press, tickets were still available. Seriously, get some booked up before they’re all gone.
After soundtracking our football summer in France with the infectious krautrock of Bing Bong, Super Furry Animals (Motorpoint Arena Cardiff, December 17, from £30) play the nostalgia card with a gig devoted to their first two albums, Fuzzy Logic and Radiator. Over the past two decades, they’ve churned out some top-notch tunes, but these two records are a timely reminder of where that freewheeling pop spirit first began.
A classy Christmas
OK, let’s try and wrap up Scene & Heard without mentioning pantomimes. Oi, don’t boo and hiss at me! Of course there’s room for some frivolous fun over the festive period, but let’s turn our attention to something a little more classy.
Nothing says Christmas quite like The Nutcracker (St David’s Hall, December 22 - 28, from £7.50). Get swept away in this magical ballet as Mouse King and the Nutcracker Prince battle it out (with some nifty moves thrown in for good measure).
See the world beneath the floorboards with The Burrowers (Sherman Theatre, November 25 - December 31, from £8) as they journey over ground into unknown dangers. Small in stature but big on family fun (sorry, I couldn’t help myself), this is smart theatre with some musical sparkle.
From beneath the floorboards to high in the sky, the domestic goddess with the plum voice and umbrella-assisted aviation skills Mary Poppins (Wales Millennium Centre, 14 December - January 14, from £22.50) glides into Cardiff Bay for the festive season.
It’s got the lot; tongue-twisting tunes, hip-wiggling choreography and a timeless narrative guaranteed to bring effervescent festive cheer.
OK, before I’m accused of acting like The Grinch, let’s give some mad props to panto land and more specifically Peter Pan (New Theatre, December 10 - January 8) which stars, oh yes, David Hasslehoff as the dastardly Captain Hook. ‘The Hoff ’ will be kept in check by Welsh comedian Mike Doyle who plays Mrs Smee. Expect flying effects, barrels of laughter and, with some luck, Kit from Knight Rider. OK, we can’t guarantee Kit will be there, but you won’t know for certain unless you bag yourself a ticket.
Until next time, friends.
Green Man Festival
Glanusk Estate, Crickhowell
In 2003, around 300 people descended on Craig-y-Nos Castle as Green Man Festival made its debut. Twelve years on, it now welcomes around 20,000 festival goers to the stunning surroundings of the Glanusk Estate in the Brecon Beacons. Green Man’s swift evolution into one of Wales’ biggest music festivals is impressive, but what’s more admirable is, despite ever-increasing numbers, its ability to maintain an independent, family-friendly cosiness.
The picture postcard backdrop is a bonus, but like all festivals, the punters come for the line-up. Those eager to pitch up on Thursday evening are treated to Leftfield at the Far Out Stage.
Friday’s highlights come from the Mountain Stage as Atomic Bomb, despite missing Talking Heads’ David Byrne, shake up the Estate with a wonderful fusion of funk and afrobeat. Headliners Hot Chip are also in fine form as their set of slinky house keeps revellers loose limbed throughout.
Come Saturday, it’s time for the Welsh to take over. H. Hawkline delivers one-liners like a veteran stand-up, musing bilingually between songs and making the crowd whistle the theme to The Great Escape whilst he tunes up. The laughs are coupled with great songs; short, sharp indie-pop gems that barely scrape the two-minute mark.
By late-afternoon, the heavens open but that does little to dampen an awesome set from Songhoy Blues. Their shiny African beats are juxtaposed against the sheets of rain bouncing off the Far Out Tent. Super group Toy and Bat for Lashes (combined to create Sexwitch) are anything but. Natasha Khan, often so mesmerising with Bat For Lashes, wails over some buzzing guitars from Toy. It doesn’t work at all.
Normal service resumes later on at the Mountain Stage. American veterans Television unleash their fabulous debut, Marque Moon. Headliners Super Furry Animals are in experimental mood. No change there, but their set does lack some punch.
Matthew E White delights in the welcome Sunday sunshine. His set concludes with a makeshift choir and dance troupe assembled from Green Man attendees. Despite the last minute collaboration, it works surprisingly well.
After their excellent debut at the Walled Garden in 2013, Public Service Broadcasting set the bar even higher at the larger capacity Far Out Tent. Their set, mostly centred on their latest album The Race For Space, is awash with superb visuals and awesome, widescreen soundscapes.
The weekend concludes with St Vincent. Her set is every bit as bonkers as you’d expect, making reference to Greggs steak bakes whilst slicing through some face-melting riffs. Another vintage year.
Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff
‘I keep looking around and thinking where the **** is everyone?’ Midway through his set at Clwb Ifor Bach, Gaz Coombes is clearly out of his comfort zone. The former Supergrass frontman was a teenager when he gleefully rode around on his Chopper in the video for Alright. Twenty years later and on the brink of his 40s, this is the sound of a man in more reflective mood but still up for new challenges.
This is Coombes’ first tour without his band so he’s stripped back and raw with only a handful of guitars, a mellotron and looping pedals to keep him company onstage. The songs from his latest album, the Mercury Prize-nominated Matador, sound fantastic.
Buffalo has Coombes screaming down the house through each bellowed chorus but he can play the tender card too. Detroit is a sweet strum; a thankful nod to his other half for pulling him through the tough times on the road.
Coombes is here to push the solo stuff but the crowd is clearly hankering for an injection of nostalgia. They get what they want as former Supergrass single Moving does just what you’d expect it to as the crowd shuffles happily and is hearty in voice on every chorus.
There’s also room for some of Coombes’ first solo album, Here Come the Bombs. The dreamlike White Noise is wonderful. Despite being shorn of its fancy production it maintains its melodic potency with just a guitar and voice.
The encore allows for another Supergrass favourite and Coombes switches from acoustic to electric on Caught by the Fuzz which issues another rousing sing-along from the crowd. This year marks the 20th anniversary since the release of I Should Coco - the debut album from Supergrass. It would be so easy for the band to reform and pick up a quick buck, but Coombes is plotting a new adventure and a great sounding one at that.
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
Sweeney Todd along with I Puritani and Orlando complete the WNO’s triptych of productions based on the theme of madness for their autumn 2015 season. It is encouraging to see a true cross-section of society at a full-to-the-brim Wales Millennium Centre for opening night – dispelling the old ‘elitist’ cliché of opera.
Picking up the cut-throat razor as Sweeny Todd for this run is David Arnsperger (Phantom of the Opera, Jekyll and Hyde) whilst Janis Kelly (Albert Herring, Nixon in China) dons Mrs Lovett’s apron. Playing the role of Beadle Bamford is Wales’s own Aled Hall – who plays the role of Todd’s bullying, nasty secondary antagonist with aplomb – though the way his West Walian lilt seeps through his porous ‘cockerney’ accent stops his character from ever being truly menacing, is in-keeping with the production as a whole.
Director James Brining has managed a perfect equilibrium here between horror and comedy, marrying what are admittedly pretty scary themes, ideas and acts with a levity that allows the story to be palatable to all tastes, lets the production flow and keeps the audience engaged throughout. Though modernised and set in what looks like the late 70’s that the play was conceived and created in, it manages to keep that sinister Victorian feel that it was originally set in – with the asylum, throat-slashing and human-flesh pie eating scenes adding a gothic grotesqueness to proceedings.
Arnsperger’s slightly over-the-top portrayal of Todd achieves a queasy, uncomfortable feeling to complement the gothic-horror theme, leaving no-one under any illusions that the slings and arrows endured throughout his life (and mainly orchestrated by the evil Judge Turpin) have not sent him truly and terrifyingly mad. Whilst unquestionably a ‘proper’ opera, this production’s moments of musical theatre along with its fantastically lavish and gorgeous set make it ‘accessible’ to fans of all genre of theatre, arts, music and performance.
Wales Goes Pop!
The Gate, Cardiff
Now in its third year, Wales Goes Pop! serves a veritable feast of exciting new music together with some more established indie favourites between two stages over the Easter weekend.
Good Friday is anything but as traffic chaos means I miss out on a number of the earlier acts on the first day. However, when I do arrive, Californian Jen Schande, new wave trio Feature and the clever quirky punk of The Lovely Eggs lift my spirits. Indie veterans The Pooh Sticks deliver an energetic and joyously raucous performance that brings Friday to a close.
Echo Lake kick off proceedings on Saturday; a mixture of dreampop and heady electronica. Slightly hampered by a lack of a sound check, the later, heavier part of the set, whilst great, is perhaps a little too sonically challenging for some as they hot foot it to the café to catch Tigercats who, unable to fulfil their main stage slot earlier in the day due to car trouble (I can sympathise), play a blistering, if somewhat truncated, hit and run set.
The revelation of the day is Oscar. It’s the band’s live debut in Wales and they clearly revel in their set with most recent single Daffodil Days introduced as ‘their most Welsh song’. These are well-crafted, infectiously sharp and hook-filled tunes that get the crowd shape shifting.
PINS are an engaging, visceral and an edgy ensemble that makethe occasional foray into the crowd. When they invite everyone onto the stage for their final number, most are happy to oblige.
Frontman Gordon McIntyre of Saturday headliners Ballboy is just as interactive with his audience, chatting heartily throughout the set. The songs are at times both wistful and anthemic with rousing opener I Hate Scotland evoking half forgotten teenage memories of first hearing the band on John Peel’s radio show.
Sunday is more suitably subdued but no less impressive. Catchy Swedish duo Alpaca Sports play an uplifting set in the café as do indie-pop trio Colour Me Wednesday. The main stage plays host to French folk chanteuse Freschard whose mellifluous tones are beautifully
augmented by guitarist Stanley Brinks.
American artist Jessica Pratt is as equally captivating. Whilst the performance is introspective and audience interaction minimal, it’s impossible not to be overwhelmed by the subtle haunting vocals and delicate guitar interplay at work.
Thomas Truax’s anti-folk performance is downright bonkers but great fun. He traverses most of the pews, exits through one door, appears at another and then races back onto the stage (all mid-song, of course). His ‘backing band’ consists of home-made instruments such as the brilliantly titled Cadillac Beatspinner Wheel and the Hornicator.Wonderful stuff.
Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff
After a litany of cancellations and endless hearsay about his current health, it’s good to see Morrissey back on stage. Dare I say it, he seems to be enjoying it too with comedy club banter (‘Did I just hear somebody boo? I demand an explanation!’) and chat about a ‘burger van’ that only deals in nachos.
Opener The Queen Is Dead sends the diehards at the front into raptures as their hero parades the stage with authority, cracking his vocal lead like a lion tamer. One classic is swiftly followed by another as Morrissey’s vocals shine bright on the brilliant Suedehead.
Then comes the new material. Of course, it’s to be expected, but his latest album, World Peace is None of Your Business, takes up a hulking nine songs in a set that’s barely double that. Of the new material, Istanbul is the most captivating whereas the rest mostly glides through unnoticed. Another Smiths classic perks up the mood as Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before is dedicated to the late Andy Fraser of Free (and also reminds you how downright awful Mark Ronson’s cover version is).
Fronted by a stomach-churning animal cruelty video, Meat is Murder is Morrissey’s relentless diatribe to all the carnivores out there. The sloganeering stops for a moment to savoir Everyday is Like Sunday; one of Morrissey’s finest solo moments as the crowd sing heartily in unison with him. A few more new songs are paraded and then Morrissey briefly departs only to return for a one-song encore of First of the Gang to Die. The music stops and Morrissey rips off his shirt to reveal the only meat on show this evening. It’s great to see Morrissey back but this could’ve been so much more. The problem is it’s always on his terms, and always will be, which is the most frustrating thing.