‘Did I fight in the punk wars for this’ was a song strummed by ex-Yachts and The Christians mainstay, Henry Priestman at Bangor Museum this evening at the ‘press’ opening of the Punk Forever exhibition; a gallery of artwork collected by the very humbling Gerrion Jones from Merthyr Tydfil for all us old twats to reminisce and the youngsters to look at in awe. What struck more of a chord with myself was the private collection of Peter Telfer also on display. Black and white photos of a burgeoning Welsh punk scene in the mid-80s and (almost with a hint of irony) scenes of the old oppressed Eastern Europe.
With ’45RPM’ performed by The Alarm’s Mike Peters and some excellent tales of yore from himself and Anhrefn’s Rhys Mwyn, it was the perfect start to an evening of music. Music that owes so much to the opening chords of ‘Anarchy In The UK’, music that opened doors for millions of people and changed their lives forever.
And in a sense, despite our woes over the mainstream sugar-coated karaoke bullshit the population are force fed in their living rooms, Simon Cowell is our saving grace. He is the catalyst of our woes, the reason the peasants will once again revolt and react to that awful rubbish thinly disguised as music. To look back a few years and find industry refined punk bands in our charts and on our screens, it was evident they had taken our identity away and turned it into a cash cow. Granted, the Sex Pistols were ultimately nothing more than a money making machine, which is an unfortunate by-product of success and a necessity of the society we live in, but they also scared people, provoked people and shaped a generation. It was (almost) anarchy in the UK as society quite literally shit itself.
That will never happen again, the shackles of Christianity, the fear of God and the fear of authority have long been cast aside. You are very unlikely to shock anyone anymore in the name of entertainment, but what you can do is inspire people, whether through your lyrics, your music, your art or by simply being there; standing up and being counted.
Which quite fittingly moves us twenty minutes further west from Bangor to Caernarfon; the Morgan Lloyd on the town square to be precise, where many of us stood up and got counted and were inspired by what we saw and heard before us. There were a few gigs on tonight across North Wales, which may be the reason only Llyr Ifans was here from that Punk Forever Exhibition; perhaps the rest of the luvvies had gone onto another show, but it’s a safe bet they retired to their warm homes; after all, Celebrity Big Brother starts at 9pm.
In 1989 I was still arced over an antique typewriter, spouting out childish rantings (nothing’s changed eh!) and publishing them in the form of the fanzine Crud. The fanzine culture was in a sense the MySpace of its day; although almost strictly punk, or at least alternative. It was a network, it brought people together, we swapped gigs across the country and swapped fanzines and ideas and ideals. It was our sub-culture.
In the farmlands of Pandy Tudur, high above the plains of Abergele, errant schoolboy Alun Evans produced his own fanzine Brwas [Brwas is oxo, hot water and bread in a bowl with a spoon – not for the faint-hearted). You knew then that anyone at high school age with the drive and inspiration to write a reactionary fanzine will more than likely be a mainstay within the scene. There are those who shine bright then fade away, and those who wear the badge until a different one is given to them, but Alun was in it for the duration. He added a H to the end of his name (as in Alun Evansh) and formed a band in 1990 called Boff Frank Bough. Taking the chaotic elements of early Jesus & Mary Chain as their template, they trod the boards of the Welsh language scene until Alun jumped on a ferry to Ireland and, it seemed, never to return.
He did however re-appear in 2004 as the folk singer Alun Tan Lan, released albums, picked up awards dished out by the Welsh music industry and carved a nice little niche for himself within the principality. So when I heard Y Niwl (on Cloud Sounds radio) and learnt that it was Alun’s band, it was almost evident that this was his release from the serenity of rubbing shoulders with Dan Amor and the other folkies.
As a youngster, to walk downstairs into a cellar style venue with matt black walls and hear cool music and see cool people is awe inspiring. I’ll rephrase that and take away the ‘as a youngster’ bit. Reminiscent of Liverpool’s Planet X, it’s our own exclusive club and the perfect setting for (probably) Wales’ first Welsh punk-surf band Y Niwl. A thirty minute set of toe-tapping, head nodding instrumentals (all played in Welsh) and typical of Alun in the sense of swimming against the tide. The easy option to increase your income from BBC Radio Cymru and S4C is to sing in Welsh; once published, Y Niwl will pick up royalty cheques from those institutions simply by their name and song titles. Not that they’re playing the Welsh ticket, as many bands so blatantly do, but by being Welsh, and more power to them too.
Race Horses also skit around the Welsh language, it’s their medium of communication, but the Anhrefn days of English-not through the medium of song have long gone. Although at grass roots level Anhrefn were a huge success, the wankers at the NME simply didn’t understand the lingo and therefore gave it a wide berth.
To the punks elbowing the ribs off each other in audiences across the UK and Europe, it didn’t matter to them if Anhrefn sang in Estonian backwards. What mattered was the vibe, the belonging, the being there. You were part of something exciting and it didn’t matter what language the songs were sung in, and Anhrefn undoubtedly inspired (that word again) countless young punks to learn Welsh, brush up on it, or at least make them aware it wasn’t a language made up of English words spoke in a Welsh accent with ‘yio’ on the end of each sentence.
Welsh became cool, but it also had to evolve, it had to open its doors to the ‘old enemy’ across the border, yes, to some, Anhrefn were a novelty band – a punk band that sang in Welsh, but once seen, forever smitten. The novelty wore off when the realisation hit home that this was a seriously good band.
Rhys and Sion, like so many were inspired by the Sex Pistols, they formed Anhrefn. Inspired by Anhrefn, Wales sprouted a whole generation of bands performing in their own medium. Sick of the garbage vomited on them by the Welsh media, and just like the punk movement, a network of bands and activists formed their own subculture. With the huge international successes of Anhrefn inspired bands like Catatonia and Super Furries the Welsh media capitulated and young bands, normally only pushed by John Peel on night-time Radio One, began hearing themselves on Welsh radio and on Welsh TV.
Bilingual is the norm today, and has been for a while. We, as in the younger generation (as in under 50!) no longer see language as a barrier, or something that is our own and nobody else’s – so when Race Horses communicate with the crowd in Caernarfon entirely in Welsh, yet sing almost entirely in English, no one walks out in disgust, no one sprays a green arrow on Meilyr’s face, no one bats an eyelid. We are no longer of the ‘we are oppressed’ mentality, a lot of the oppression came from our own paranoia and the ignorance of those who didn’t understand – that still goes on, but the generations that spawned into the punk culture and beyond have changed attitudes. We don’t sit in cafes and pubs and talk in Welsh when English speakers walk in, no, we sing about them in our songs instead ha ha..!!
Take the psychedelia of the sixties, the prog-rock of the seventies and the C86 indie of the eighties and what do you get? Well, you’re getting close to the Race Horses, but you’ll have to see them to truly get it. I caught them in Chester a few months ago, and due to the evil drink, I had a quite hazy memory of what was an extremely enjoyable experience. So I was determined to witness them with a clear head and clear my head they did.
I left the venue uplifted, I felt as if I was leaving Anfield on the back of a Liverpool victory (file under: rare occurrence). I had just witnessed a band who achieve where others fail, a band who cram the dynamisms of 3 or 4 songs into one tune without turning it into a grey progged out blur. Just as you think you’ve got the structure of a song and might feel compelled to pretend you know the words or at least tap out the drum beat with your foot, Race Horses gallop off in the opposite direction, twisting and turning, gurning and yearning through a colourful maze of musical mirth and merriment.
Beforehand, I bought a copy of their debut album Goodbye Falkenburg, lead singer/bassist Meilyr Jones is a very polite and reserved chap, and was a bit perplexed when I asked why they changed their name from The Poppies, but he carried on the conversation without correcting me that they were of course Radio Luxembourg in a previous life. Put a semi-acoustic bass guitar around his neck and a microphone before Meilyr and he becomes this charismatic, edgy, and slightly psychotic showman. He sprays those close enough with his lyrics as the band sail their musical boat through calm waters, down rapids, through ravines, over waterfalls and on top of tidal waves, to leave us all washed up on the shores of a utopic lake of Race Horse bliss. Check ‘em out, you will love them…
Punk Forever runs until February 20th –
Race Horses album is out 25.01.10 –
Y Niwl can be found at myspace –
Learn more about Yr Anhrefn –