can-i-gymru

My views on ‘Can i Gymru’ are well known, I must have written highly critical pieces for my Welsh Language column in Yr Herald Gymraeg several times over the years and I have certainly contributed to debates on BBC Radio Cymru’s Taro Post at least twice on this very subject. The challenge here is to try and review the programme in a balanced and un-biased way. I will fail.

First up ar Hud formerly Creision Hud  from Caernarfon. I once organised a gig for them in Bar Medi in Caernarfon when they were definitely under age and definitely known as Creision Hud and it was one of those gigs where giving a local school band the support would ensure an audience. Unfortunately for all of us, they were promptly thrown out by the manager for fear of losing his licence, we lost 99% of our audience and we ended up with about two people listening to whoever it was that was sharing the bill that night.
So they are now going to have two reasons to cross me off their Christmas card list. As ‘Can i Gymru’ goes, it must be admitted that this is an improvement, they are young, reasonably well dressed, cool even compared to the usual Can i Gymru menu of overweight balding  teachers who have decided they want to be Elton and on second hearing “Bywyd Sydun” is certainly a grower.

The performance however is lacklustre, the idea of getting the kid from Swnami to guest on vocals makes no real impact or difference, nice gesture and all that, a bit of unity in the scene but for disappointingly, an “indie” band, it’s probably Hud that give the weakest performance of the night. It’s pleasant enough, non-threatening enough but then they had just claimed in their interview that they wanted to shake things up a bit.

I guess for your standard S4C audience who don’t really do Pop Music, this is probably very hip and young. I wanted more from this band ……. more energy and better vocal performances. Siomedig as we say, not bad just a bit siomedig.

The programme is hosted by former winner Elin Fflur, she is very glam, very good on telly, obviously her career was given a huge boost by winning the competition back in 2002 I believe. She is the ideal host because she has absolutely no bias and smiles a lot despite the absurdity of the competition which is not a view she would share with myself of course. Dafydd Du on the other hand looks a bit out of place, he has no real involvement with Pop music beyond presenting the Radio Cymru Breakfast Show, why is he here – I suspect a question which he must have asked himself. Told you I would fail.

Next up is Catrin Herbert, she’s very young and very bubbly and has written a song “Ein Tir na nog ein Hunnan” about first love or the first crush. Her enthusiasm shines, she is a proper singer songwriter, in the traditional sense. She reminds me very much of a young Amy Wadge. This is by far the best crafted song in the whole competition, if any song could be produced properly and turned into a “hit” this is the one. It jangles along brilliantly but needs tightening up, as I watch I want to call one of my many producer friends and tell them to come and re-record this track.

Herbert looks the part, she’s got her lucky Cowboy Boots and a floral dress in a Maria Mackee style – I liked this, she’s young enough for the potential to develop and she obviously realises that tune and catchy are the songwriters best tools.

Lisa Gwilym, DJ and presenter is on the panel of judges. Gwilym is a rare thing in the Welsh Language Cultural World, she is effortlessly cool, she just looks sooo good on telly and she is the only one on the whole programme who talks with any real authority and knowledge of pop culture. Lisa is a true pro, an irony not lost given the fact that BBC Radio Cymru actually cut her programme down to one night a week last year.

Gwilym is our very own Janice Long or Annie Nightingale, you do believe her, in a better world Lisa would probably have the Breakfast Show or the Drivetime show on BBC Radio Cymru. I have long given up any hope that the commissioning editors have any measure of, or idea of what constitutes real talent, they really should get out more.

Gwilym’s co-judge is a bloke who writes for Y Selar magazine, I missed his name. He has no authority whatsoever and even less to contribute to the programme. Who is this guy, why is he here ? Answer Y Selar have obviously done a deal with S4C as some of their award winners are also featured on Can i Gymru. Failed again.

Next up are “the geeks” or they should have called themselves that. They are animation makers from Manchester, how radical for Can i Gymru. I instantly like the bloke from Prestatyn because again for primetime S4C this is cutting edge, Prestatyn does not get much more non-Cymraeg and it’s great that someone from Prestatyn is involved in a Welsh Language act. You know maybe this will inspire him to make sure his kids learn Welsh when the time comes ….

The song is performed by Dyfrig Topper, a man of immense talent, former front person of the legendary Topper but a man also not averse to prostituting himself in competitions like this. I remain a huge Topper fan. I remain unconvinced why Dyfrig is here. He has presence for sure. What we really need from him is a new Topper album.

The whistling bit is really annoying. The song builds up. This is interesting. The geeks are right – Dyfrig is a good choice to sing. I take it back (failed again) he is not a prostitute. (remember that song by the Pop Group after all “We are all prostitutes” on Y Records – check it out).

This one is a grower. It’s not a standard pop song, it’s more like a soundtrack. It can’t possibly win but good on ‘em. They should write soundtracks – get a new soundtrack for Pobol y Cwm for God’s sake ? Give em a job ! Dyfrig looks like a cross between David Beckham and Gary Barlow I conclude.

The other judges are former winner Gai Toms and Yr Ods frontman Griff Lynch. I like “Cofia fi yn yr Ysgol” by Ods – one of the best tunes on the Welsh Scene of recent years. Griff is intelligent and obvioulsly a good pundit. He has authority but is also very diplomatic, maybe he is a nice bloke, but none of these judges are challenging the acts at all so far ……. Things could be livened up with a loose cannon, if there is one out there.

S4C have decided to broadcast twitter feeds during the programme just to show they have embraced the Digital Age. Some of the comments are far more interesting than those of the judges.

I’m still watching. I am truly surprised. The Welsh Language “trydarati” had been tweeting that Can i Cymru would be better this year. Well obviously being worse is impossible but I do think that ditching the Elton clones seem’s to be working.

Alun Tan Lan is our next competitor with “Breuddwydion Ceffylau Gwyn”. Now Alun is well known as a member of Y Niwl, our very own Welsh Language instrumentalists, darlings of the press, the trydarati and your Andy Votel born-again- Welsh types. The guitar jingles, the chorus is catchy but Tan Lan should have grabbed Dyfrig Topper and asked him to remain on stage and sing the song. This is why Y Niwl are instrumentalists, Alun is not a vocalist.

The tune however is really really good, in fact it’s very Lightning Seeds and Broudie is another great songwriter who can’t sing. This could be a winner, and along with Herbert’s track it’s easily one of the best crafted songs in this year’s competition. The only bit I didn’t like was the Niwl style guitar solo – again given the right production and a decent singer this is a total total hit. Alun is another competitor with past Can i Gymru history, again all a bit strange why they want to take part in something like this. (here we go Failed again).

Next up is certainly the most unusual song and the most unusual performer  in the competition. “Aur ac Arian” by El Parisa. She has the vocal strengths of someone like Duffy,  this is well radical for Can i Gymru, she is a performer for sure but it’s also obvious that this is raw talent and I would have probably suggested a year or two of gigging and a lot more writing before you jump into something like this. You sense that there may well be something here but this is unfocused and a case of on the telly far too soon.

You can see that S4C have gone for the more interesting stuff, I would rather watch this act than the Elton piano bashers of yesteryear. Lisa Gwilym calls this “pop budur”, true. It’s raw, it may be real talent even  but this is definitely a case of watch this space – they will not win. They will have to work hard and stick at it.

Elin Fflur contributes to the debate at this point. Let’s be honest El Parisa is not that radical compared to Florence or Bats for Lashes but this is S4C we’re looking at here, a few years behind the fashion and times. Interesting for sure. The stuff about mastering in New York or whatever is just irrelevant – that means nothing at all.

Now there are three types of comedians. Firstly ones that are funny. Secondly ones that are not. And thirdly the ones that are “taking the piss”. The next act are in the latter category. Despite this they probably come up with the best song title of the competition “Mynd i Gorwen Gyda Alice” but it’s a real shame that they genuinely do seem to be taking the piss. This is the weakest effort, at best a poor man’s blues jam with a piss poor Elvis impressionist. This is the worst of pub rock. This is time to get out, find another pub, drink up and get out fast ……

Fuck me – they win the competition ! Told you I would fail at this game. This programme was actually saved by the other competitors and at the final hurdle Elvis and the Piss Takers win. God help us – we will have to suffer this song on BBC Radio Cymru for years to come. The problem with joke bands is that they may be funny first time (not), they will certainly not be funny the second time and by the third spin you will want to punch these guys.

Someone once reviewed an album by my band Anhrefn as “total and utter shit” in Select magazine – what a great quote to re-use, This is shit, total shit and utter shit. I was willing to give this a go, I tried hard to be objective but we did not fight in the punk wars for this that’s for sure !

I would add that Catrin Herbert will probably have a career, she was the real song writing talent this year and as is always the case the winners always  end up on the dole before the runners up.

You can watch the programme on  CLIC / S4C,
http://s4ci.com/clic/e_level2.shtml?programme_id=510928094