John Lawrence: Spillers Records, Four Bars @ Dempsey’s, Cardiff – live review
Cardiff, Four Bars @ Dempsey’s
10th October 2015
Ex Gorky’s and Infinity Chimps’ John Lawrence makes a rare appearance in Cardiff to promote his great new album ‘Songs From The Precipice’. He plays an in-store gig first at Spiller’s Records before headlining a showcase of bands later in the evening. Ioan Humphreys was there (just about!) to witness his long awaited return.
It’s Saturday night and Cardiff city centre is full to the rafters with rugby and football fans. The pubs have started closing their doors due to capacity and no one is allowed a glass for their pints. It could to be an interesting one later. My destination tonight is the Four Bars at Dempsey’s. Local promoters Fizzi Events and Timeless Promotions have a showcase of up and coming welsh music lined up, headlined by ex Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Infinity Chimp founder John Lawrence. Lawrence has recently released an astonishingly good album “Songs From the Precipice” (Welsh Music Prize nomination please?!) that infuses good old fashioned songwriting, with Jazz, Psychedelia, a refreshing sense of humour and Lawrence’s own brand of blissed out weirdness.
But before the main event, he is doing a stripped down acoustic set in the legendary Spiller’s Records. With just a guitar and a small pa system, Lawrence looks vulnerable and alone, surrounded by the mountains of vinyl and CDs. By his own admission, he doesn’t get out much and lives a quiet life in Snowdonia (sounds bloody lovely to me), however as soon as he starts playing, there is nothing vulnerable about this guy. He is a fantastic guitar player for a start. Very inventive and he is in no way a three chord strummer. With every song he takes us somewhere new. Intricate finger picking, a bit of jazz fusion, the occasional rock flourish and that’s just in one song. He re-tunes after every song, giving us such a broad range of styles including a traditional folk/celtic tuning “you can’t go wrong with DADGAD” he informs us.
His cover of Richard Thompson’s Painted Ladies is a fantastic slow burning, smoke filled room jazz epic and beautifully sung in his soft lilting Welsh accent. His between song banter is dry and self effacing. But he is in good spirits and clearly glad to be here. Songs off the new album, such as Aeroplane Wings have the same impact acoustically as they do with all the sonic twiddling they get on the album. It is his protest letter to his local MP whom he informs us is a “massive collector of vinyl, as well as being an arms dealer”. With lyrics mentioning austerity and the government, Lawrence seems to have timed his new record (and this rare live outing) perfectly. A broken sting brings this early set to a close. Everyone is a little shell-shocked, but have massive grins on their faces. It’s good to have such humour, mixed with a little bit of bile in these times. It’s cathartic. It’s (sadly) needed. John, you need to get out more.
First up for the main evening gig is young singer/guitarist Josh Evans. He has a very soulful voice and is very much one with his guitar. He is from the valleys and his songs reflect that. One of them is a love letter to his hometown, and as with all people from small Welsh valley towns and villages, it’s very much tinged with a love hate relationship of growing up in one. Another song has a direct link to the now retired (I am being polite) mining industry. It is this that brings out some Billy Bragg intensity in Josh which suddenly has everyone’s ears pricked up and the chatter subsides. To have this emotion from such a young man shows the lasting effects that the black gold has had in these parts. It’s poignant and he gets it across perfectly. Josh is a great troubadour, but I think he needs to be bolstered by a band like Frank Turner does. He’s got big songs that need to be heard and shoved down throats.
Up next is another young lad from Carmarthen. Multi-instrumentalist Jaffro is 17 (what the hell do they put in the water in Wales?) and is playing only his third ever live gig. Two months ago he supported the lovely Gwenno in Carmarthen’s ’The Parrot’ and he made a lasting impression on tonight’s promoter. Jaffro is alone on stage, but has his instruments for company. He is sat behind a keyboard and laid out on the floor next to him is a guitar, a mandolin, a ukulele and a violin. And he plays all these??!! The keyboards start up and a backing track soon joins in. Jaffro has a lovely soft voice that suits his songs perfectly. He is so confident onstage too, but he has no reason not to be. He has obviously played and crafted these songs to death and the quick change overs are seamless. The mixtures of instruments make sense too. He has equally beautiful songs for the guitar and the ukulele. Two of his keyboard led songs that have violin and intricate backing tracks over them turn into absolute epics that are reminiscent of Godspeed you! Black emperor. But with just one person playing? Come on? Jaffro is undeniably talented and needs to be seen to be believed. Good stuff!
The train times from Cardiff make no sense at all (11.05??) and with the knowledge that my last train goes 15 minutes after John Lawrence takes to the stage to headline, I realise that I will miss his set tonight. But thank god I caught him in Spillers earlier. Next time John!
So the penultimate act is The Dharma Violets. These guys have been making noises around here for a while now, and having seen some recent Facebook chatter about this five piece, I was intrigued. First impressions are good, simply because they are LOUD! They give you a warm fuzzy sonic battering that is very enjoyable! Secondly, (lazy comparisons alert) their influences are plain as day to see, but they wear them plainly on their sleeves and that is fine with me. OASISesque song titles like ‘High Resolution’, ‘Ride on’. And ‘As Far As The Eye Can See’ (The Who). But unlike the aforementioned possible influences, they do take their songs to another level which start to remind me of early Spiritualised (and Ride?) with their sprawling sea of noise. And that is what I like about them. They are loud, yet melodic. And this brings me to my final lazy comparison. Now these guys aren’t young like the two before them, but they know how to rock and this reminds me of the great Guided By Voices. And like them, they have the ability to create big tunes, big melodies, a ting of psychedelia and aren’t ashamed of their influences. Oh and boy do they look like they could party like GBV too! Mine’s a pint! Overall a great night of Welsh music. The future looks bright. Now where have I put my shades…
All words by Ioan Humphreys. More writing by Ioan Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.