19 October 2010

Sŵn for Beginners (and foreigners): Saturday

Saturday is without doubt the busiest day of this year’s Sŵn festival. With live music lasting for almost 12 hours (11 hours, 45 minutes to be precise, if all runs on time) it’s difficult to find an excuse not to watch at least a few of the bands from the region, especially when there is such strength (and variety) to choose from. Prepare yourselves for an early start though. The above logo is in no way related to the festival, by the way. I'm a joker like that.

One of the first Cardiff bands (but not the first; The Blackout’s Gavin Butler plays Clwb Ifor Bach at 1230 and Mclusky-influenced Exit International play across the road at Y Fuwch Goch at 1300, but these are less to my tastes) to play is H. Hawkline, due to play at the generally un-musical hour of 1345-1430, at The Undertone (below 10FtTall). As well as writing the blurb for this band in this festival’s programme, I also had the absolute pleasure of catching these live a Cardiff Arts Institute not long back – where it dawned on me just how completely wrong said blurb was (for which I, again, must apologise for). In my position of huge power, I said:

“Occasional guitarist for Sweet Baboo, H Hawkline is the work of Welsh musician Huw Evans.”

This much is true (or at least, this much I still haven’t been corrected about). I continued:

“Expect psychedelic and gypsy folk sounds – often largely instrumental and almost always spooky.”

Ah. Hmm. Well… First of all, it certainly was not instrumental. There were definitely vocals. Secondly, it wasn’t spooky (although the almost-violence that followed the gig due to beer downing antics could have turned a little scary). Thirdly, it certainly was not gypsy folk. On this evening, H Hawkline were a three-piece; Huw on guitar and keys duties, Steve (the man behind Sweet Baboo) on bass, and (someone else on) drums. The music was incredibly fun, almost surf-y and psychedelic pop. Much beer was consumed, much on stage dancing was witnessed, but, most importantly, a very good time was had. See these live (but don’t pay attention to my blurb).

Up a mere 30 minutes later also at Undertone (slightly early to start drinking, but with a spare half hour, why not?) is John Mouse. He seems to be a little of a local legend that I am largely unaware of, with Behtan Elfyn describing him as “the Welsh Beck”, Huw Stephens claiming that “John Mouse has released some great records”, and Noel Gardner saying that he “could easily beat up Daniel Johnston and Lou Barlow”, and who am I to argue with them? The music certainly sounds pretty mental.

For those whose eyes were drawn to the words “surf” or “instrumental” in the sentences that precede this one, pay close attention to the next sentence coming up. Y Niwl (although not a Cardiff band; they are from north Wales, but are too good to ignore here) play at Cardiff Arts Institute, 1545-1630. They played Latitude over the summer and were without doubt one of my favourite bands to do so. Their songs are largely laid-back (stress-reducing, but often still fast-paced, curiously), slightly on the psychedelic-side, instrumental ‘surf’ pop - and will without doubt bring a smile to your face. If you don’t believe me, head here and listen to “Undegpedwar”, taken from their (lovely) forthcoming debut album. For those who don’t manage to catch them first time round, head to The Model Inn (a fairly inconspicuous looking pub down the road from Clwb) at 1815 for another performance.

Playing just before Y Niwl finish (1615-1700) are VVOLVES (that’s two v’s, and zero w’s), playing outside of Buffalo Bar as part of FLUX=RAD’s Sŵn festival involvement. Made up of the guy responsible for Zimmermans (who played Sŵn 2009), the bassist for Saturday’s Kids, and some other people who I am less aware of, VVOLVES make fast-paced and heavily-synth’d broadly ‘indie’ music with post-punk leanings, I’d say. To decide for yourself which neat little box their music falls into, download two EP’s completely free of charge from their bandcamp page here.

Booked to play in exactly the same time frame over at Undertone is Mr Huw. Not someone I am overly aware of, again, but music that is enjoyed by some of the Cardiff music-media folk. A quick listen to the MySpace suggests dark, vaguely psych-rock and sometimes folk-y sounds with Welsh-sung vocals. Sounds thoroughly enjoyable, judging from these few listens at very least.

Stripped-back and relaxed folk band The Evening Chorus play Chapter Arts’ theatre at 1900-1930. They’ll be armed with acoustic guitars, bass, maybe the solitary drum and their beautiful voices (mostly male, sometimes female), of course.

Just as they finish, The Gentle Good will be starting up in Chapter Arts’ other room, the studio. Also folk-y (though often less stripped-back); expect acoustic guitars - sometimes played in Jose Gonzalez-typed fashion - as well as occasional luscious violin, and some Welsh lyrics.

The magnificent Cate Le Bon, following a busy year of US-touring, festival-playing, and being bigged-up by numerous esteemed publications, returns to Sŵn festival for the third year in a row – playing (in) Buffalo Bar, 2000-2100. For those who aren’t aware (an increasingly small number of people, I’d guess), Cate Le Bon is the Cardiff-based musician who featured on the Neon Neon (one of Gruff Rhys’ many musical ventures) album. Among these esteemed publications that have said things about her music, words that regularly crop up are: “haunting”, “folk”, and “psychedelic”. The only reasons you need to be there is that it will be a darn good performance (and the fact you’d be mistaken to consciously decide against seeing her live).

Back over at Chapter Arts (and back in the ‘studio’, 2045-2130), find Huw M, another artist featured in this blog post who fits broadly into the category of psych-folk, only with a large dollop of pop on the side. Welsh lyrics are sung in sugar-sweet, often harmonised, fashion, with accompaniment from a range of less-usual instruments (banjo and accordion amongst others).

The School, previously featured on The Guardian’s band of the day and also sound-tracking an oven advert in Japan (I think), play upstairs of Clwb, 2100-2145. Fronted by Liz, who promotes tonnes of great gigs in Cardiff under the moniker ‘Loose’, The School is her platform to recreate pop music of the 60s. She sings songs about love, heartbreak, and everywhere in between; her smooth and sweet vocals surrounded by retro-sounding guitar, violin, tambourine hits, and cymbal crashes.

And in circumstances that’d make a cute and endearing story of a band’s rise to fame if their live shows weren’t so damn energetic and mental, Islet close Sŵn festival 2010 following a year of success helped (in part, at least) by their performance at Sŵn 2009. Anyone with their finger on the pulse will need no educating into this Cardiff band. After lots of press (including a write-up in the NME) about the band’s fantastic live shows, lack of MySpace and general stardom potential, Islet continue to live up to the hype. Debut ‘mini-album’ was a disorientating journey of percussion-heavy noise experimenting drawing comparisons to the likes of Krautrock, and live shows are often described as the best in the UK. A second mini-album will be available at this show, which is most certainly un-missable, and will most certainly be memorable. And it’s the last show of the weekend, so seriously, don’t miss it.

I hope you enjoy Sŵn Festival 2010. And don’t forget to buy John and Huw (pictured below) a pint!

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