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The Joy Formidable at Solus
   'Oh,don't miss The Turnaround'
        (The Joy Formidable)

   I wasn't sure if I'd be allowed in; whether someone on security checking bags would come across my bus-pass and declare -
'Ey oldie! No way you rockin' here!'
   So I searched the crowd for other old members of the pack, heartened by a few balding, greying senior wolves.
   Here I was at Cardiff Uni. , where I'd once seen Bowie , Beefheart and Bragg and a few not beginning with 'b', such as Kevin Coyne.
   Here to witness the night on which Welsh music had its renaissance.....well, to see The Joy Formidable.
   The rock band from Y Wyddgrug have been described as 'pop-metal' in a negative  Sunday Times review and as 'post-grunge-style indie' in the Guardian's guide section. The latter is closer, but still not quite there, as with any label.
   Beforehand, someone commented on their name -
   'Ow naff can yew get, eh?'
   'Well, ow about the Stereophonics, tha's the pits!'
   I wanted to say I liked the name, as it has echoes of the French 'formidable'. I wanted to defend the spirit of bands like this one and Future of the Left, who represent a fresh and increasingly confident Cymru, as opposed to the gloom of the Lostprophets and Funeral for a Friend.
   But I was unusually reticent, knowing that only two of our group were true fans and the others would  be persuaded by the music, or not!
   Solus was 'eavin' and the band were greeted by a very enthusiastic audience. Wales awakening , at last, to their latest musical phenomenon.
   It's a venue a bit like the old Capitol in Queen Street, all standing with bar at the back; notwithstanding some annoying columns blocking vision for some.
   The Joy Formidable were a real presence on stage, with bassist Rhydian Dafydd to the left and drummer Matt Thomas to the right, laying down prowling , menacing rhythms ; the centre stage taken  by Ritzy Bryan in gold-spangled attire staring with wild yet innocent wolf-eyes as she sang and played lead.
   Their live performance relied very much on their sheer energy and also the clipped delivery and tantalising mystery of songs like 'Cholla' and 'Heavy Abacus' (once, amazingly, played in full on tv's 'Waterloo Road' ).
   Though the focus is inevitably on Ritzy - with her power-chord style and ability to carry a melody where others might resort to being 'shouty' - Rhydian and Matt are hardly content to sit in the shade or simply run with the pack.
   I have no problems with their use of back-tracks - which gave some songs a fuller sound - simply because here were a band clearly relishing playing live and engaging with the crowd from the start.
   They actually played more material from the first album 'The Big Roar' than the latest 'Wolf's Law' and I was a little disappointed they didn't do two of the best tracks from the latter, 'The Turnaround' and 'Forest Serenade'.
   My one problem is the volume. To a band where lyrics are obviously so vital and where this and harmonies single them out, it's frustrating that most songs' words couldn't be heard distinctly. They could learn from Springsteen and still play at huge venues (presumably their ambition), without losing clarity.
   However, despite being 'Dud of the week' in the Sunday Times, 'Wolf's Law'  is an album which rewards the more you listen. I keep hearing Eastern  influences, as well as heark-backs to the likes of The Pixies.
   Above all, Ritzy's voice is emotional and powerful enough to bring off acoustic numbers like the atypical 'Silent Treatment', just as she did with their version of Roy Orbison's 'It's Over' on the e.p. 'The Big More'.
   The influence I didn't hear was Muse, though a comment afterwards by one of the sceptics was - 'They were the Welsh Muse!' 
   Sure, they were occasionally bombastic, as with the 'Maw Maw Song' and the rhythm-driven riffs were dominant, yet with such a loud and proud female singer (who shares songwriting with Rhydian) and leader of the pack, they are undoubtedly different.
   Like Cymru itself, they're only beginning to find their way. I can imagine future albums exploring the balladry suggested in two songs on the album ; and more duetting between Ritzy and Rhydian.
   Possibly, like the Super Furries, they'll have the confidence to include Welsh language tracks.
   But, for now, there are so many possibilities.
   Marianne Faithfull recently said,  'All pop music today is shite!'......I don't think she's heard The Joy Formidable.



                             BUS-PASS   ROCKER

May've been the oldest at Solus
but I wasn't the baldest.
Shook my hair to the blast
(well....all one of them) ;
a bus-pass rocker,
but no-one checking.


My ears full of giant bees,
my plastic glass vibrating
so I thought I'd got the shakes.


And here they were
to a howl and lit-up wolf sign,
whirling,twirling,buzzing, whirring :
trio yet sounding
like a roarchestra.


And even though the words
riddling paths through a forest,
were too often lost under cut trees,
they were a territory new-born :
pacing their spaces,together and alone.
                    

 


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