Our man Simon Tucker was recently invited to be a guest at the gala opening of the inaugural Festival of Voice in Cardiff. Featuring performances by Gwenno and the iconic John Cale left with his head spinning and his heart singing.
Festival of Voice is a new arts festival taking place across various venues in my capital city Cardiff from the 3rd – 12th June and features a whole array of special sounding performances. I was lucky enough to have been invited to the opening night which featured Gwenno and the incomparable John Cale. To say I was excited about seeing Cale in the grand settings of St David’s Hall would be an understatement. Let’s face it, he has been a part of, and responsible for some of the finest and thought provoking music of the last forty+ years and his influence seeps through my record collection. As important as The Beatles, as uncompromising as Throbbing Gristle, Cale has haunted my dreams and excited my mind since I was a teenager so yeah you could say I was looking forward to this.
Before John however we got a performance by Gwenno who bewitched and entranced us with kaleidoscopic kraut-pop which was politically charged yet full of dancing melody. Gwenno’s mixture of high-concept and infectious melodic lines is a thrilling live prospect and one which everyone should check out if you get the chance.
After a brief intermission (apparently that’s what these theatre types call it) we were ushered back in to the hall for the main event and by god were we not disappointed. This was a show stripped of frills and “show-business”. This was a show where we were led through Cale’s solo output (with only a jaw-dropping beautiful rendition of Sunday Morning coming from his acclaimed work with The Velvet Underground).
The show was smothered in deep electronics, warping and bending tunes into a new form (Cale’s love of electonica is well documented with him even proclaiming his love for Pharrell and Snoop’s Drop It Like It’s Hot). With minimalist backing which sometimes swelled with the addition of a choir who kept coming on and off again at various points plus a string section that also came and went adding drama to the deep sound.
The show was already smothering you in alchemy and black magic but when actor and activist Michael Sheen came on for a performance of Dylan Thomas’ Death Shall Have No Domain the show shot for the stars. Hearing these words being delivered in a bombastic and precise fashion whilst Cale and his band added a bed of deep tones and snap percussion was a moment I will never forget and you could feel the sense of wonder flowing through the audience.
Another guest would appear in the shape of singer/activist Charlotte Church whose voice is as wonderful as ever and inspired Cale himself to reach heights not heard in the show up until this point.
Throughout the show Cale hardly ever acknowledges the crowd, even when a lady next to me shouts out “Talk to us John” we only get a polite “Hi” back. Cale is not hear to razzle dazzle and spout stories, he is here to work and transform us and when you have a catalogue as strong as his you don’t need pleasantries.
This was a show that will stick with me for a long long time. It was difficult, grandiose, minimal, and transformative. Thank you to all involved and thank you Festival of Voice I wish you all the success in the world and can’t wait for the next one.