GRUFF RHYS, Y NIWL, COWBOIS RHOS BOTWNNOG

(review n pix neil crud)

Pesda Roc this year was in memory of Les Morrison.

Gruff Rhys wrote this on his website last April…

’It’s very difficult to articulate the huge loss of Les Morrison right now, but in the meantime we can safely say that amongst his countless talents he was; a dear husband, father, grandfather, foster carer, songwriter, musician, producer, charity fundraiser, Studio and label boss, director, sound engineer and technician. He was a tireless friend and mentor to countless musicians and producers not only in Bethesda and Wales, but with his exemplary social skills and unflinching spirit of adventure, he befriended and touched peoples’ hearts the world over. Thank you Les, we will never forget.’

les (1)Morrison was at the forefront of the blossoming ‘Bethesda scene’ of the 70s & 80s, where bands like Maffia Mr Huws, Celt & Jecsyn Ffeif emerged.

Les himself was a laid back dude who always rose above the Welsh-English divide, and this was before Anhrefn told everyone it’s cool to embrace both languages. He played in a number of Pesda bands in the 1980’s including Mwg and Offspring; whose EP received airplay from the also great and also late John Peel.
The Studio is now Fitzpatrick’s café, which should have a plaque on the wall in memory of Les. Situated in Bethesda High Street it became a popular haunt for many top Welsh bands in the 80s & throughout the 90s. The likes of Gruff, Y Cyrff, Maffia, Meic Stevens, Celt, Sian James and Super Furry Animals owe so much to him. Not only was he a guitar and sound tech for SFA, touring the world with them, he was, like Gruff said… a friend and a mentor, bringing people together for the love of music. It didn’t matter whether you were Carlos Santana in your all-star dressing room in the Top of The Pops studio, Les would knock on your door, introduce himself and bring you to the SFA dressing room for a few drinks and a hang out before filming.

Before getting into an online bitch fight (it’s a long story – or thread at least!) – Adam Walton enthused, ‘If you’ve never been to a gig in NW Wales, go. GO! They are so much more communal than any other gigs I go to. Is amazing… the atmosphere / the age range / everything… entirely different. Obviously, not every gig. But – in my experience – it’s drunker / friendlier / more up for it / madder / less up itself than anywhere else I’ve been to. As a generalisation.’

And he is damn right… The only thing he got wrong on the night was suggesting I smelt quite nice for a punk, when it was actually Kitty sat next to me.

Rather than being in a field in a tent and on one day – Pesda Roc this year was spread over 4 days and various venues in the area… Tonight was day two and at Neuadd Ogwen, slam in the centre of town.

Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog have been a band I’ve avoided at the last couple of gatherings; the description of ‘Welsh country blues outfit from Penllyn’ is very off-putting in my blotted copybook. And despite initially feeling justified I gradually learnt that preconceptions can be so damningly wrong. Having safely haggled and wrestled an Y Niwl t-shirt off that market trader called Alun Tan Lan, we nestled ourselves comfortably next to a smelly Walton and soaked up the atmos.

I initially wanted to get up on stage and gee-up these Cowbois, whip their horses and yell and holler them into a canter. But they were just playing with us, waiting for the right moment to kick up some dust and create a Floyd-esq subsonic soundscape, shimmering with crazy diamonds and check-shirts. They played for too long (longest set of the night) – but they did save the best til last. Check out their two albums http://www.myspace.com/cowboisrhosbotwnnog (frustratingly they don’t have their own website grrrrrrr…!!)

With the Focus on Football Y Niwl are leaping and bounding across the world (including Eigg Island) – as a band in their own right and with their singer Gruff Rhys. Ok, that’s not entirely true as they are Gruff’s backing band, but even without his celebrity backing, Y Niwl have hit upon a simple, yet highly effective formula. It’s surf music without the Hawaiian shirts, but with a thumping sound, a rack of reverb and no words – lyrics would spoil it, and we’ll leave the wordage to Gruff in a bit. They’ve marketed themselves well and struck a chord across the board, and after reading a review of their album, the editor of Football Focus asked if he could use their track Undegpedwar as the title music for the Saturday morning show. How fucking ace is that!!?? That’s mega fucking ace that is..!!

Gruff Rhys on the other hand is a one man phenomenon – a back catalogue to shame most other artists that just drips with unpretentious maverick talent. Hard to understand in Welsh or English, he paid tribute to the reason we were all here at this old hall in Bethesda – Er cof Les (in memory of Les), with tales of yore about the Carlos Santana story. He started off with a repaired acoustic guitar and that dry sense of humour for a few numbers before summoning Y Niwl to crank up the decibels and get those down the front toe tapping. If it’s conventional it’s not Gruff, he plays the offside rule inside out and gets away with it because he don’t give a fuck… he does really, but perhaps not about what his critics think. A bit like John Lydon during his PiL days, he did what pleased him rather than what pleased the mainstream. The mainstream (lovers of real music) remain pleased.