Keith Goldhanger is still in Wales watching bands he’s already been writing about on this site recently whist still managing to find some new acts to keep him busy for the foreseeable future.
It may be time for one or two of us to go into hibernation for the rest of the year after this. By the end of December we may actually be in a position to simply cross out the title of this article and replace it with the words ‘Review of the year 2019’ and hope that no one notices.
As bizarre as it may sound after the previous days shenanigans (ten gigs) we have always been expecting Sunday (day 3) of Cardiff’s Sŵn Festival to be the best day. Before our breakfast has been digested we could be retiring back to our beds to catch up on lost sleep just as satisfied as we have been over any other weekend of the year. This isn’t the kind of behavior we are accustomed to though so we stay, holding on tight to a bottle of water and realising as the day goes on that we are actually feeling just as healthy as we do on any other Sunday afternoon after a heavy night.
We learn from today that if bands can cram themselves into cars and vans and play four or five shows over three or four days (any combination) then we too can keep going and continue to seek out new life, new civilisation and boldly go where everyone else with a wristband would also like to be.
RAF RUNDELL, aka half of dance outfit The 2 Bears, opens up the morning (OK then, 2pm) and after a solo song with a guitar around his neck he is joined by a drum machine operator/bass player who treats the early arrivals with a superb stripped-down version of the track we fell in love with after his Insecure Men support back in 2018, Early Morning. Some very welcome calm and beautiful pieces of music follow for the next half an hour that our ears are certainly not going to argue with. Those in attendance, whether standing upright or still slouched in any one of the many comfy sofas in the room that they cannot get up from, will leave knowing that anyone still in their beds have missed the first absolute treat of the day.
This great start is followed by our longest walk of the day (about ten minutes) to The Old Market Tavern to have a look at POZI, a trio consisting of a brilliant violin player who we’re told is not allowed to sing any more, and a bass player and drummer who throw in more than a great shift of vocals between them during their half hour show. Take away the violin and vocals and Sleaford Mods could have some new backing tracks (KCTMO). Take away the violin and add guitars and we’d have something to play alongside Wire’s I Am The Fly. Don’t change anything and we have one of the most glorious trios making heart-pumping, knee-knocking music that has the listener punching the early afternoon air with pure delight. The sparse line up frees up a lot of space for the listener to appreciate each drum roll, violin pluck and catchy lyric. We get to hear our first Christmas tune of the year and learn that the bass player is called Tom Jones. This small fact had to be included just this once. In one word, brilliant. A band we’ll see again for sure and you should too.
We’re not getting our breath back until bedtime tonight therefore it’s around the corner to appreciate the delightful Florence from DRY CLEANING (Top pic) sound checking with nothing but chatter from the bar to accompany her. She stands alone and stares into the blank space in front of her and talks us through the words to Goodnight and Megan, which freaks the daylight out of anyone else watching with no knowledge of what this band will sound like once the drums and guitars arrive. Once accompanied by the rest of the band, the question those here must be wondering is how can four people like this suddenly find themselves in the same band consisting of a narrative-driven, carefully executed set of songs that are played so well. There’s very little chance of any audience being able to sing along and join in any choruses to with this band which makes a change, and we’re sure this band will keep gaining momentum for a while yet as we wait for a debut album to reflect what a great year 2019 has been for these people. Dry Cleaning are one of our bands of the year playing at one of our favourite festivals of the year and any new songs we’re hearing still include the odd surprise.
Time for a rest if this was any other day, but SCALPING (right)are due on in the basement of Kongs in St Mary Street. This electronic techno outfit from Bristol have been seen more than any other band we’ve seen this year. If Dry Cleaning have the songs we listen to in the bath then Scalping have the tunes that have made us require one in the first place. Every bass drum gets our arms in the air, every tune blends into each other, the band’s audience is growing by the week, tongues are wagging, everyone who ever spends time in dark rooms watching up and coming bands are trying to find gaps in their diaries to witness this and everyone leaves deliriously happy with what they’ve heard.
No room at the inn for SQUID. We get close to the front of the queue outside Clwb Ifor Bach before pointing out to the front ten people that Lazarus Kane are playing down the road, convince them that the most enjoyable option would be for them to go there and before one can shout “Houseplants” we find ourselves at the front of the queue, up the stairs and into the bar but no further. Everyone seems to want to be in this place today, everyone wants to see Squid – everyone has heard about the experience of standing in the same room as The Murder Capital, and in between all this is a variety of bands playing downstairs. This is the place to be today: SQUID have the packed room dancing and smiling; downstairs we get SOCIAL CONTRACT playing loud furious guitar anthems; and as soon as this is over we cram ourselves back into the large room of the venue, out of earshot of the chatting bar attendees, and watch again as the Irish five-piece tell us how much they love each other, silence the room during On Twisted Ground and climax with raucous abandon as microphones are damaged, band members are in with the audience and people stand stunned knowing they’ve not just been watching a band with some very decent heart-wrenching songs but experiencing and feeling something they may not have felt at any gig they’ve ever been to before. What we’re getting with Murder Capital shows at the moment are newcomers attending to see what all the fuss is about and being won over hands down. There are many people travelling around the country at the moment getting into every show knowing what to expect, just to get another fix before the excitement dies down again. The band looked fucked to be honest. This isn’t surprising. Gigs such as these night after night, day after day; people like us approaching to say hello again before returning a few weeks later still expecting them to have remembered every tiny piece of conversation that has taken place previously; and the knowledge that this feels as though it’s never going to end. Everyone loves The Murder Capital at the moment, it’s plain to see. It takes ten minutes for anyone to acknowledge this once standing in the same room. The venues are going to get bigger soon, the standing room will still be hard to squeeze into and hopefully their next batch of t-shirts will have a back print telling people who can read to shut the fuck up for the duration of one of their gigs. Has anyone left one of their shows yet not wanting to return another day? We think not.
GAFFA TAPE SANDY begin the moment The Murder Capital gig ends, and even though we have some great sharp foot-tapping tunes to contend with, we’re still catching our breath from the previous show upstairs and wondering how much time we have to to leg it back up stairs for SHE DREW THE GUN.
It’s apparent that we’re at the part of the day when we’re all feeling even more weary than ever thanks to a long weekend of thrilling experiences. Elsewhere in the UK this weekend music fans in Norwich, Oxford and Bristol have also been taking advantage of the best new bands the UK have available to us at the present time and that means the bands themselves haven’t had a great deal of time to take stock of what’s going on either. She Drew the Gun seem to have been constantly on the go since we last caught site of them downstairs at this event three years ago. Its a powerful display by Louisa Roach and we get a set of songs that actually have some much needed political content coming through as well as on the screen behind her.
There’s so much more to be seen and so little energy left in our bones by now however a quick peep inside Fuel is enough to decide that whatever is about to go on in here is something we’re not going to miss.
Huge banks of electronic gadgetry, a man in dungarees constantly apologising for the apparent incompetence in his own inability that allows us to hear every little bleep and snare he feels we’re meant to be hearing, and some great songs that end abruptly, apologetically but which are all entertaining. At times a performance by LOOK MUM NO COMPUTER (known to his doctor as Sam Battle) is like attending a stand up show featuring a self-depreciating man with a genius set up he’s made himself (apart from the Korg MS10 that we know is something you can buy). We couldn’t work out when the gig actually started, and he still ran through a bag of leads during the final minute just to locate a particular one to play a song we wouldn’t have ever recognised regardless of whatever that small piece of equipment was there for. Sam seems to have a mailing list of people that all turn up at his gigs, further investigation leads us to a man with a huge presence on YouTube, and it seems that most people in the room tonight seem to know all about him. He’s built some very strange and amazing equipment and is well worth a visit if you’re unaware of his existence. An old face for some and a new face for others.
Sŵn Festival has now completed it’s 13th year and is an important indicator of why we still need small venues in any town to nurture the top notch talent this country continues to produce year after year (and bring a few from outside the UK to display their talents). Stage times were yet again adhered to and apart from the queue to get into Clwb Ifor Bach Sunday afternoon where Squid and The Murder Capital were appearing we didn’t have any trouble navigating through our own carefully-planned schedule. We’ve discovered many new bands and many new names over the weekend. Some of these haven’t even been seen in the flesh yet as we can’t be in more than one place at a time but we can trust other peoples judgement on this one.
Stay tuned as there are a few more bands we’ll be visiting at the next opportunity whose names were on our schedules that we didn’t manage to see. They’re probably still sitting in the same vans at this very moment that were parked outside these Cardiff venues for a few hours and are visiting motorway service stations on a daily basis, eating cheap pies, paprika crisps and only a few hours away from visiting the towns you live in.
Best weekend of the year every year.