Mr Huw – for those of you who don’t know is a band / person from the darkest depths of North Wales. We was once a third of Kentucky AFC; the ‘quiet one’ on bass. I think I once described him as the character Richie Gecko from the film Dusk til Dawn – the one who kills people and eats them (or vice versa).
For a good couple of years Kentucky AFC were the darlings of the Welsh Music Industry; their cowpunk foot stomping songs and blistering live shows earned them accolades and gongs from all quarters. They were considered the next big thing and Boobytrap Records (basically a Singles Club label) took the step to release an album. A follow up album was quickly recorded, but for whatever reasons, Boobytrap sat on it for two years.
That’s when it all went quiet,
‘I Suppose we took it as far as we wanted to really,’ explains Huw. ‘We’d been going at it hard for a long time before putting out an album. So I think when the time came to put out the album, we were maybe a little bored of the songs. Thinking back that’s the way I kind of remember it. The music did start to change a bit towards the end. When we did our last radio session for Huw Stephens the last couple of songs we wrote had changed a bit. But it wasn’t a factor. The decision had been made before then.’
During the hiatus, drummer Gethin had started up Welsh hip-hop nutters Genod Droog, and Huw began morphing into Mr Huw,
‘I started recording some lo-fi stuff on my 8 Track in 2004 if I remember correctly. Just faffing around in my bedroom with a drum machine, tambourines, a keyboard I had (and still have and use) since I was 8 years old, an acoustic guitar, one microphone and a shitty drum kit made up of bits from other peoples shitty drum kits. And so it began. Just me on my own.
KAFC vocalist Endaf took the option of travelling the world while Gethin is now a dad and has his own show on Radio Cymru, along with presenting slots on S4C TV, ‘Proper Mr Showbiz!’ as Huw calls him.
Bala based fanzine, Ffwdanu gave away 100 free CDs of Mr Huw’s first ten track demo in 2005. This was a platform, ‘I started gigging just me by myself. With a minidisc backing track, a guitar, my keyboard and a cymbal.’
He continues, ‘Then after being asked by Label Copa if they could release my songs (and call it an album), I put a band together. They were my mates from playing gigs with Kentucky AFC over the years. They played in Winabego. So they were well used to playing together, getting drunk together, fighting each other and whatever else bands get up to. So really I joined them in a weird kind of way.’
I love music, I love diversity, I can happily listen to Dr Aids screaming the living daylights on a track off their ‘Shit Fucking Shit’ album, followed by Mr Huw’s simplistic, yet extremely catchy Ein Budreddi off his latest and mighty fine album ‘Cariad Afiach.’
I’ve long given up trying to decipher some of Mr Huw’s lyrics. It was too arduous a task. So here was my opportunity to ask what makes Mr Huw tick?
‘Lots of things really. But not from a normal, logical or morally correct angle most times.’
‘Mortality plays a big part in my songs. I have a strange way of looking at things I suppose. True stories, personal experiences allsorts. It’s not often that I’ll make stuff up for the sake of a song.
‘Nice lyrics don’t do much for me. I like the contradiction between catchy melodies, music with lyrics that might not sit well with everyone. I’m a big fan of playing with words.’
So what got you into music Huw? Is there someone to blame? First gig you saw?
‘My sister for buying ‘Appetite For Destruction’ and helping me find the music I like(ed). Then I got into buying my own cassettes. Metal mainly. Then I met Endaf on a school trip and we exchanged cassettes to play on our Walkman on the bus. The first record I wanted and got was from my Mam was ‘This Ole House’ by the Welsh Elvis – Shakin Stevens! But the first one I bought with my own money was ‘Trash’ by Alice Cooper. One of the first gigs I saw was at Y Ganolfan in Porthmadog, featuring Y Cyrff, Ffa Coffi Pawb and Datblygu if my memory serves me right. What a gig!’
And what about now?
‘Now I listen to all sorts. Neutral Milk Hotel, The Black Lips, The Oh Sees, Fuck Buttons, Adam Green, Black Angels, Blasted Canyons, Mogwai, Future Of The Left, Damien Jurado, Ikara Colt, Liars, King Khan & The Shrines, The Warlocks, The Walkmen. And just got into St Pierre Snake Invasion… I could go on for days Neil. How long have I got?’
When you’re involved in a local scene; whether playing in a band, promoting gigs or just attending shows, your knowledge and admiration at this level is always a good conversation.
We agree that, ‘Radio Rhydd are mental, which I really like,’
‘Geth Vaughan I like a lot. I’ve been listening to Memory Clinic lately too, a really good and talented bunch of musicians! I’m a big fan of Sen Segur, I’ve been recording them quite a bit over the last couple of years and they just get better and better every time I see them.’
However that seems to be it for Huw, ‘Nothing else around here does it for me to be honest. It was a sad day when Jen Jeniro split, but all good things and all that. Y Pencadlys is one of my favourites too. Can’t wait for an album of his. I don’t really have a worst band (boring answer I know). I rather just ignore what doesn’t do it for me.’
Being a dirty teenage punk and discovering Anhrefn, a Welsh language punk band really had a profound affect on my life. Mr Huw text me last month looking for help in getting gigs to stretch further afield than Cymru Bach (Little Wales).
Y Cyrff and Ffa Coffi Pawb found themselves big fishes in the small pond, playing the same places, seeing the same faces and took the steps to become international superstars as Catatonia and Super Furry Animals – but they also had to compromise their language.
Anhrefn beforehand, stuck to their guns, and although to the detriment of their pockets, they achieved so much by reaching out across the border to find legions of non-Welsh speakers willing and eager to learn more about this Welsh language punk band.
They tore down the walls of the Welsh ‘them and us’ closed-mentality that existed within a sad and very sorry scene.
Twenty years on and (this is only my opinion) the Welsh Club; the Mutual Appreciation Society seems to have emerged again (albeit with much better bands), and the groups and artists endlessly play the Cymru Bach circuit, the Closed Shop circuit. Heroes in their own village halls, and a look at the countless Welsh language festivals that happen each year displays the same line up… It’s not healthy… It was good however to see a few Welsh language acts (Yr Ods, Sen Segur, Georgia Ruth, Mr Phormula) on the bill at the recent Focus Wales Festival in Wrexham.
The next and most important step is to see some local non-Welsh language bands on at Gwyl Gardd Goll, Gwyl Gwydir Festivals etc..
It will only benefit both scenes and the Welsh language – it’s called networking, it’s education – simple really.
Mr Huw’s take on the scene is that, ‘It’s plodding along. But it’s far from what it used to be. There are lots of bands starting out and that’s amazing, and they’re singing in Welsh. Not so many gigs as there was. There used to be a bigger sense of community between bands in my opinion. Years ago when I started out with Mr Huw and in the Kentucky AFC days we played a shit load of gigs every year. With Kentucky we hit between 50 and 100 gigs a year. Doesn’t seem that bands in the scene hit anywhere like that figure any more. But it did get going when Derwyddon got everyone dancing a few years back. These things happen in waves I suppose. It’ll get busy again.’
We laughed about a fateful evening in Bar Blu in Rhyl when KAFC played with local rockabilly rebels The Lonesome Boys, ‘They were shit faced on arrival. Spent their gig money on a bottle of Jack Daniels. Started their set and had a fight on stage within the first few songs. The fight resulted in a broken nose for one of them. Blood everywhere. Classic!’
He continues, ‘Playing the same places is bound to happen in a scene as small as this. But I love going to new places to play. Be it to one lunatic in the bar who gets it because he’s hammered. Or to a load of people who will stare blankly and wonder what the fuck I’m singing about. It’s all a challenge that I’ll happily take on and enjoy anywhere. Finding those new places is not so easy sometimes.’
We also discuss the language, as I always prefer Huw’s Welsh language releases as opposed to his English ones. The question I posed is, what determines your choice of recording language?
‘I dabbled with English on ‘Gogleddwyr Budur / Dirty North Walians’ just because I wanted to try something different. But it didn’t really do anything for me. So I’m with you all the way on that one. I don’t plan on doing it again. I reckon I sound like a bit of a spanner singing in English. Plus it’s not a language I think in. So anything I have done in my second language feels forced to a certain extent. It was easier to write in English when I was in Kentucky AFC for some reason. Maybe because we wrote together. I don’t know. So a full on English Mr Huw triple LP is not likely to happen.’
‘Ffwdanu’ Free CD (2005)
‘Gwyneb Dod / Morgi Mawr Gwyn 7” (Label AM 2006)
‘Llond Lle O Hwrs A Lladron’ (Copa 2007)
‘Frind Gora Marw’ single (2009)
‘Hud A Llefrith’ (Copa 2009)
‘Gogleddwyr Budur / Dirty North Walians’ (self release 2011)
‘EP I’r Afiechydon’ (Ltd edition self release 2012)
‘Cariad Afiach’ (Recordiau Cae Gwyn 2013)
‘I’ve just finished recording a 5 track EP. So that has just gone to be mixed. I can’t wait to start playing those songs live. And I’m working on a couple of other things. Be they a product of Mr Huw or not. I’m not 100% on that one. I’m not very good at sitting still. If there is time in the day. I’ll probably be recording or writing something. So onwaaaaaaaaads!’