Meilyr Jones – Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff – 11th / 12th February 2016
I don’t know much about how to recognise a work of art but I know what I like. I like Meilyr Jones very much.
It’s 2pm on a bright Thursday afternoon in February and Meilyr is playing a low-key afternoon piano gig in Stwidio Seligman at the excellent Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff.
A film of the single “How To Recognise A Work Of Art” plays on a white screen in an art studio setting.
In one corner, an installation of what looks like part of a 1950s bedroom with pinups and magazines and a Dansette record player with Elvis Presley’s Golden Hits on the turntable.
Next to this, part of a dressing-room with Meilyr’s red costume from the video draped carelessly over the rail.
The piano is in one corner with a white sheet over it. Next to it, a selection of one-of-a-kind sleeves for the single designed by artists There will be 100 limited handmade 7″ sleeves to go with the single of the song by the artists Ruth Jen Evans, Pato Bosich and Gavan Lee along with different events during the week. on sale for £25-£30 a pop. Or you can if you wish design your own sleeve – crayons are provided – and take away the single for £8.
This could definitely be a Work of Art.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Meilyr Jones’ proper band gig the following evening as part of the From Now On festival. There’s one heck of a lineup this evening with Meilyr’s set in the Stwidio sandwiched between the excellent Laura J Martin and headliner Julia Holter in the adjoining Theatre.
In a superb dramatic opening, the band amble onto the stage, take their positions and without so much as a “hello”, Meilyr’s right foot comes crashing down and we’re straight into “How To Recognise A Work Of Art”, the current single with its yelping, strangled, angelic vocal over a Motown beat.
This isn’t the last time the stage will take a pounding from Meilyr’s size nines.
I remember reading that when the The Beatles used to play the Star Club in Hamburg there was a competition between them and Rory Storm & The Hurricanes to see who could break the stage with repeated foot-pounding.
Meilyr seems intent on wrecking the Stwidio’s makeshift raised stage, although as the artist in residence at the Chapter Arts Centre he’d probably cop some flak if that happened. Or maybe they’d be tolerant of their resident genius and figure it’s just a stage he’s going through.
The band is flawlessly tight and well-drilled. Bass player Emma Smith resorts to sax and violin and keyboard player Rich Jones plays a viola (his primary instrument) for a couple of songs, so we are basically listening to a string quartet with drums. Current single “Featured Artist” is a highlight.
Musically there are hints of Dexys Midnight Runners, Talking Heads, The Beatles (specifically Paul), Prefab Sprout, Noughties singer-songwriter Jeremy Warmsley, Deep Purple (oh yes!) and David Bowie (of course)
I don’t know if its just that the man is still upmost in all our thoughts but there’s more than merely musical Bowie reference points in Meilyr Jones – the art, the desire to provide something a little bit different, the theatrical stage moves, the high-waisted trousers, even the surname…
… and then as if to prove the point the band break into the riff from “Rebel Rebel”.
The album is out in a couple of weeks. Even having only heard about half of it live, I reckon it’s already a candidate for album of the year.
Meilyr Jones is touring the UK in April and May stopping off at Ramsgate, London, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow, Wrexham, Cardiff again and a few festervals in the summer. Go see him while its still relatively cheap.
A few days later I’m still buzzing from this gig. I keep going back to one particularly fine theatrical touch where he takes a vinyl LP from its sleeve, smashes it to pieces and flings them, mock-petulantly, into the audience.
The album was “Elvis Presley’s Golden Hits”. I know cos I retrieved a piece of it. I’m hoping it will be worth a fortune by association in about ten years’ time when Meilyr is justly famous world-wide.
MEILYR JONES “How To Recognise A Work Of Art” (from the forthcoming album “2013”)
Meilyr Jones is a pretty unique talent. He formed Radio Luxembourg while still at school, that band morphing into the Race Horses. Collaborations include Gruff Rhys, Stealing Sheep and Euros Childs.
But frankly all of that, fine though it is, pales into insignificance next to his solo work. “How To Recognise A Work Of Art” hits you firmly in the sonic solar plexus with its Motown beat set behind those oddly ethereal vocals.
Check out his recent session for Marc Riley on BBC 6 Music before it disappears from the site – as well as a great version of “Work Of Art” it also includes “Strange Emotional” and “Featured Artist”, both from the new album, confusingly titled “2013” since that’s when the songs were written.
HINDS “Warts” (from the album “Leave Me Alone”)
I’m scratching my head to think of too many Spanish bands that have made any sort of a splash in the English-speaking indie world.
Hinds hail from Madrid. They’ve gained attention over the last couple of years for their carefree, jangly guitar sound and their infectiously upbeat live shows.
Their debut album “Leave Me Alone”, however, shows a more multifaceted music – there’s a more downbeat approach to songs like “Warts” and the last single “Garden” which to my mind is a smart move – you don’t want to be TOO cheerful to sell records to indie / emo kids.
From the accompanying press release :
“These songs try to represent the 12 faces of love we’ve experienced.“
“It’s funny ’cause we thought this album would be all party and cheerfulness, but – SURPRISE – it’s not!!!!! haha. Feelings are more balanced, like in life. So suddenly we had a more sober – or even sad – album than we expected. Please don’t think we’ve turned into depressive people or something, we’ve always been humans, it’s just we’re now showing it to you.”
Fair enough, I’d say.
NOVELIST “Street Politician”
Kojo Kankam, aka Novelist, co-founded The Square grime crew (whose members have appeared on the Beat City podcast before) but left in late 2015 to push on with his solo career.
Artistically this looks like a very smart move indeed. December saw the release of the “David Cameron riddim” (lost in the pre-Xmas rush, a theme throughout these sleeve notes incidentally!)
and now Novelist has dropped the absolute killer track “Street Politician”, which actually samples our dear leader Mr Cam.
The best thing I’ve heard all year by some distance – why aren’t more people making records like this? It deserve to be a massive hit but I can’t see it getting too much airplay despite not having any bad words on it.
(see the final entry in the show for a further example of protest in current music, also featuring David Cameron)
SUMMER TWINS “Ouija” (from the album “Limbo”)
Summer Twins are sisters Chelsea (guitar, vocals) and Justine Brown (drums, vocals). They write dreamy rock ‘n roll songs with a touch of California sun. Born and raised in Riverside, Ca, they formed Summer Twins in 2008, with a focus on singing pop harmonies atop garage rock inspired by the ’50s and ’60s. Summer Twins play live with Michael Rey Villavicencio on bass and Andy Moran on guitar.
Their debut album “Limbo” came out in October 2015 – here’s another track from it.
LIZZO “My Skin” (from the album ….. “Big GRRRL Small World”)
Lizzo has this to say about this track :
“This is a summoning of bodies: all shapes, sizes and shades to unite in their pride, and wear their skin like the gift it is”
VILLAGERS – “Memoirs” (from the album “Where Have You Been All My Life?”)
The new Villagers album is a collection of new recordings of songs from the last few albums. Always a potentially dodgy exercise but they really come through, not least on this superb, moody reading of a ‘Memoir’, which Conor O’Brien wrote for Charlotte Gainsbourg; it can be found on her 2011 album Stage Whisper, but has never before been recorded by Villagers until now. Here’s the Gainsbourg version.
Looking forward to seeing them perform the new arrangements on their forthcoming tour of Europe. See you dahn the front!
COUSIN STIZZ “Dirty Bands” (from the album “Suffolk County”)
Brilliant 13-track mixtape from Boston’s Cousin Stizz, making serious waves further afield. Not a dodgy track on it – check out this one for size.
BEATY HEART “FLORA” (from the forthcoming album)
Here in Beat City we took Peckham popsters Beaty Heart’s debut album “Mixed Blessings” right to the core of our (beaty) hearts.
It contained some wonderful summery beats into an indie wrapper with some really messed-up lyrics sung with a jaunty bounce that made it easy to forget the often very dark subject matter.
The lead track for the second album has just been given the accolade of Huw Stephens’ single of the week on Radio One, which is excellent news 8=)
The album is produced by David Wrench, who has worked with Caribou, Jungle and FKA Twigs. Presumably the band are aiming for a wider audience, which is no bad thing, just as long as they don’t lose their quirkiness along the way – basically David, make it less Jungle and more FKA Twigs / Caribou, would you? Just play “Lekka Freakout” loud if you feel its all getting a bit too commercial. Ta.
MECHANIMAL “Radio On”
Mechanimal is an industrial audio-visual unit hailing from Athens, Greece, led by Giannis Papaioannou as main producer, songwriter and keyboardist, solely responsible for the direction of the band.
Mechanimal’s musical language can be interpreted through a wide range of genres, featuring male and female vocals on mechanical repetitive beats, shoegazing guitar drones and pulsating sequencers.
Their first album, simply titled “Mechanimal”, was released in 2012 by Inner Ear featuting Freddie Faulkenberry on vocals and Tassos Nikogiannis on guitars. On stage, Mechanimal employed video visual elements created by Angelica Vrettou.
Their second album, titled “Secret Science”, was released in 2014 by Inner Ear featuring the same vocalist and Kostas Matiatos on guitars.
For the recordings of their third album Giannis Papaioannou assembled a new line-up featuring both past guitarists, but female vocals by Eleni Tzavara. This third album, symbolically entitled by the acronym “Delta Pi Delta” will include 10 tracks and will be released by Inner Ear at the beginning of 2016.
The touring band for the new album features a revolving line-up (with Eleni Tzavara on vocals, Tassos Nikogiannis on guitars, Giannis Papaioannou on keyboards, Antonis Charalambidis on drums), that often rearranges songs to fit in this new live setting which is always accompanied by the video fragments projected on stage by Angelica Vrettou.
This is also from “Delta Pi Delta”:
SEA PINKS Ordinary Daze (from the album “Soft Days”)
Sea Pinks have been around for a while, starting out as the one-man project of singer/guitarist Neil Brogan, who made three bedroom albums on which he played everything himself before expanding the line-up for 2014’s “Dreaming Tracks” to the classic indie band lineup of guitar,bass,drums and – erm – cello (anyone remember the Grammatics? No? Just me, then)
“Soft Days” sees them stripped down to a three-piece and I think Brogan has achieved his aim for “a tighter, more cohesive record”.
This is the opening track from the album if you need further convincing:
BEAR GHOST “Funkle Phil”
From Phoenix Arizona, Bear Ghost beg the question on this single “How much Queen is too much Queen?”
Bear Ghost know the answer, as the Darkness did before them, is to go for it “full Freddy”.
If that was all there was to this band, though, they’d quickly become tired (as the Darkness did) but that is certainly not the case. Check out Necromancin’ Dancin’, available from bandcamp on a pay what you like, its superb.
ENNIO MORRICONE “Overture” (from “The Hateful Eight” soundtrack)
We’re not huge fans of Tarantino movies post-Jackie Brown here in Beat City, but each to their own.
On the matter of music, however, you can generally trust Quentin, and he’s surpassed himself by persuading legendary film music composer Ennio Morricone to write the score for “The Hateful Eight” (in fact as I write this I’ve just seen that he’s won the Golden Globe for best score. He has to be a good bet for the Oscar next month, surely? .
Unbelievably he wasn’t even nominated until 1979 and has only ever received an honorary one, in 2007, which I’ve always thought was a bit of a “whoops, sorry, we missed you out all those times, you’re going to die soon, have an award”.
It would be a fitting and well-deserved end to a great career if he were to win now.
This is one of Morricone’s best known themes:
LIZZO “Betcha” (from the album “Big GRRRL Small World”)
A more typical track from Lizzo’s excellent album which sneaked out at the end of 2015.
STEVE MASON “Planet Sizes” (from the forthcoming album “Meet The Humans”)
Inspired by his relocation from the London city to the Brighton sea, Planet Sizes is taken from his new album, Meet The Humans, which is out on Double Six on 26 February. While its uncluttered leading track gradually unfurls into a celestial acoustic melody, the rest of the album sees the songwriter experiment with dance, pop, folk, dub and deep house influences. Following his “double political concept album” Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time and his debut solo album, Boys Outside, a collection of songs that wrestle with the end of a relationship and his subsequent breakdown, this third album was recorded with Elbow keyboardist and producer Craig Potter, and is a move towards a more simple ethic. It is “an album where each song is a separate entity, where there is no great narrative running through it,” he says.
There’s an excellent animated video accompanying the track, directed by Anna Ginsburg
SQUEEZE “Cradle To The Grave” (live on the Andrew Marr show)
Protest music’s seemingly gone out of fashion, a subject I keep meaning to write about at greater length.
There don’t seem to be too many younger rock bands making any sort of stand, which seems strange at a time when you may reasonably expect a bit more dissent.
On Sunday, seventies popsters Squeeze closed the Andrew Marr political show on BBC1 with their catchy theme to Danny Baker’s sitcom “Cradle To Grave” .
Prime Minister David Cameron was a guest on the show and singer Glen Tilbrook changed the words of the last verse into a pointed attack on his government, with him sitting three feet away on live television.
It may not bring any governments down, but its a start.
“I grew up in council housing
Part of what made Britain great
There are some here who are hell-bent
On the destruction of the Welfare State”
Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this piece and listening to the podcast.
Beat City #63 will be available to download on Sunday 17th January 2015, with the sleeve notes following the next day.