'This was not an earthquake. This was the work of men.'
No earthquake but the work of men.
There is nothing left.
Imagine that :
destroyed in seconds.
The Israeli tanks
circling in the distance
like carrion crows.
The Red Crescent diggers
uncover bodies days decomposed.
The same species
have done this :
every man, woman, child
they dub a terrorist.
Searching for a reaching hand
movement among the wreckage,
small gesture of future
in Devastation Desert.
always the possibility
of a telling noise
sound of a jet,
a missile's threat.
Hide and seek
on the beach,
the broken down
buildings of fishing
Scrap metal gatherers
shards of once was,
scrabbling a living,
both family and friends ;
shouting out, playing.
Arrived from the sky
and nowhere to hide,
the only count-down
a pilot's machine ;
shield with arms
over their eyes.
Four boys found
not by the chase
or outstretched hands
or laughing tease.
Instead, seek and kill :
broken scatterings, like shells.
You can place bets
on everything else.
Who's going to score first,
who will Suarez bite next!
So why not the chances
of a Palestinian being killed
to an Israeli citizen?
You can weigh it up
in column inches,
or so-called balanced reporting.
Boys on a beach playing games,
children on a rooftop
or lying in hospital.
Described as 'shields'
by spokesperson from Israel,
placed there deliberately
by the evil Hamas.
Decide then : who's the bully
and who's the victim
and place your wager.
The odds are widening daily.
His signature song was 'Barry Lamp-posts'
It was the period between the end of hippiedom and the onset of punk and Barry's 'local leg.' singer-songwriter Rod Tolchock was the star of the folk club then, the Railway.
On the face of it, Tolchock was a hippie hanger-on, a peace and love merchant ; after all, he wore a woolly teapot cosy hat and kaftan (though his climbing boots didn't quite fit that).
Yet he took his nom de song from Anthony Burgess's 'A Clockwork Orange', the 'tolchock' meaning an attack on someone......hardly a hippie sentiment!
With his anarchist philosophy and insistence on writing about the locality, he wasn't your typical James Taylor impersonator.
His anarchism was never the screaming of 'Destroy!' of Johnny Rotten however and he always espoused setting up alternatives within society rather than simply trying to drop out.
Some of his songs were definitely influenced by his taking of various substances, which placed him closer to the psychedelic strain of Syd Barrett and Beefheart.
He was wild and unpredictable : sometimes dreadful and inspired in the same set . He often punctuated songs with his thoughts about poetry, revolution and green politics (he was ahead of his time in that respect).
There were a fair share of other exciting acts visiting the club : single performers who could imitate brass bands with their mouths, or do amazing things with one harmonica.
I believe most were astounded that Rod hadn't made it Big Time.
Today, he'd be a hit on You-Tube and I have no doubt and his singalong 'Barry Lamp-posts' would be the perfect antidote to Gavin & Stacey cliches.
I never got close to him, despite the fact that it was my job to do the write-ups for the 'Barry & District News'.
Rod smelt pungently of dope and cats, but it wasn't that which distanced me and my best mate Dave. We wanted to keep him as a mystery.
When friends reported back to us that the local record shop Christopher's never stocked anything by him, we'd just reply - ' Can't understand it! Not even recognised in his own town!'
Also, Rod always seemed to have a woman nearby and more often than not it was Debbie ,who sat at the front and was his unofficial Fan Club.
She was small, blonde and feisty. If she thought you were mocking his work she'd become very protective and a series of expletives would machine-gun from her gob, making Vanessa's insults positively charming.
Rod, like Van the Man, was impossible to interview as well.
I once attempted a short one for the paper ,but gave up after the second question.
'Just lissen to the fuckin songs, man......' he dismissed me, combining punk venom with hippie phrasing.
I wish now I'd recorded some of those crazy nights at the Railway, or down Porthkerry Park where we'd follow Rod like children behind the Pied Piper, for beach parties in summer.
He left Barry after suffering some kind of breakdown and I still look out for him on the streets of Cardiff, listening for every busker just in case I hear that refrain.
He could have been, but never was.
Now he only exists in the memories of people like myself and Dave : titles of songs, snatches of strange choruses and , above all, that vision of Rod on stage, peculiar and unique, out of his age.
I did manage to scribble down a few of his phrases for my reports and some resonate today , like -
'Every song should be a small revolution.....changing people's views forever with its groove.'
'Rod Tolchock' wasn't his real name, of course ;
I never did discover what it was.
'It's here inside my 'at, mate!'
he gave his tea-cosy a point.
Someone claimed he was John Toshack's cousin
and didn't want to be a hanger-on.
His tea-cosy was the only heirloom
he inherited from his Nan when she passed on.
He once supported Roy Harper (so he said).
Before his Memo gig he dropped acid ;
shouted at Security to catch the snakes
he saw writhing around in the audience.
He was the best and worst performer at the Railway :
mad, sad, funny, sometimes burbling away.
In the late 70s he went missing.
Rumours had him in India searching
for a guru, or chanting in Cardiff centre
doing the Hari Krishna.
Rod would come out with his philosophy
like others burp or sneeze.
Once he told us - ' Nothing will be achieved
till people learn to think like trees!'
Briar makes an O,
porthole to waves of wild rye,
Bindweed trumpets raised :
fanfare for strangle-tangle ;
green throat of hedgerow.
Ancient garden oak,
two arms open to embrace
the house should it fall.
Cat quick catch claw-climbs
up bark chasing fret of flies :
dark side of moon eyes.
Rock cactus garage,
roots in the spongy spread moss :
white petals of tiles.
You'd think concept albums were things purely for proggy rock followers of Pink Floyd or Rick Wakeman. A phenomenon of those pompous days before punk spat on all of them!
What place for them in this century, the age of the download, shuffle and individual song?
Yet - and this is a huge YET - I maintain the 21st century has actually produced the most captivating by a long way.
The greatest singer-songwriter of all time Tom Waits even released two in the same year, 2002.
Both 'Alice' and 'Blood Money' were written for theatre, in a similar way to The Who's rock operas made into films.
Although the play was produced in 1992, 'Alice' wasn't out till much later and, like the other, Waits' wife Kathleen Brennan was integral to the song-writing.
The imagery and language of both Carroll's Alice books is prevalent and music suitably strange and atmospheric, ranging from balladry to angular jazz, with an often melancholic mood.
Characters such as 'Poor Edward' and 'Table Top Joe' certainly belong in a modern underworld.
Like 'Blood Money' and his earlier 'The Black Rider' Waits develops the music of Kurt Weill.
'Blood Money' comprises songs for the play 'Woyzeck' by Georg Buchner, premiered in Copenhagen in 2002.
As a concept, it's held together not by language and character, but by the feelings of the protagonist and some of the darkest lyrics are set off against the most pacy sounds.
Though it's more disparate than 'Alice', it's also more personal :listen to 'All The World is Green', such a sensitive love song.
The fact that he released them simultaneously is remarkable.
If you're put off by his growling, gritty vocals then you're missing one of the genuine geniuses of contemporary music.
Along with Loudon Wainwright and Tom Russell, Waits has continued to produce music to excite and challenge.
Tom Russell? Is the usual reaction to the singer-songwriter that Beat Poet Ferlinghetti once described as America's finest.
His concept album 'Hotwalker' came out in 2005 and is a remarkable collage of songs, narratives and samples, with readings by Kerouac and Bukowski and a snatch of comedian Lennie Bruce.
It's primarily a celebration of the work of Charles Bukowski and his influence on others, Russell included, when he grew up in LA.
The only track which stands outside this is his tribute to Dave Van Ronk 'the Pope of Greenwich Village', a very moving spoken narrative with musical accompaniment which contrasts the Coen Bros film 'Inside Llewyn Davies', supposedly based on Van Ronk's life.
Though Russell directs the whole affair, his compere is the incomparable Little Jack Horton a 'circus midget' and one-time friend of Bukowski.
Unlike the Waits albums, it's essential to listen to this as a whole to appreciate the energy and vitality of its protagonist. Though the music is primarily country and folk, Russell uses other forms - such as jazz and folk songs of that era - to add authenticity.
This is a concept album like no other : a celebration of lost voices, reborn through both story and song.
Another American musician who stands alone and has influenced a number of important contemporary artists like Ireland's Villagers, is Sufjan Stevens.
Like Waits he has brought out two concept albums, the first being 'Michigan', and the second 'Come on feel the Illinoise!'
It was Stevens' mad plan to bring out an album for every state in the US, but he stopped after two!
'Illinoise!' is the masterpiece of the two : so ridiculously ambitious you'd think he'd have done a Wakeman and descended into pretension.
Not so, because it's so quirky and visionary and also because for every intense orchestral piece there's a spare, banjo-accompanied song.
It's all tied together by the state itself and especially Chicago.
However, this is no travelogue or simple observation.
There are UFOs, Zombies, sympathy for a serial killer, the ghost of poet Carl Sandburg and a homage to a skyscraper.
Like 'Hotwalker' it's full of eulogies. Like the poetry of Whitman it embraces the spirit of an America of openness and discovery, yet with a mysticism stemming from Stevens' own unique form of Christianity.
Shifting to England, where Robb Johnson's 'Gentle Men' was released earlier this year and is very much an alternative commemoration of the !st World War.
For anyone unfamiliar with him, he is a seasoned activist, still a Primary teacher and England's most under-rated singer-songwriter over many years.
He is to contemporary folk what Ken Loach is to film : witty, compassionate and never afraid to share his left-wing opinions.
'Gentle Men' is an extraordinary exploration of the lives of Johnson's grandfathers, who both fought in that war.
Like 'Hotwalker' it's interspersed with music from that era, though the sense of time is often created by using brass bands and Music Hall-styles.
Apart from the great song-writing, it's vital listening because of the interplay of the three main vocalists : Johnson, Roy Bailey and Barb Jung.
The movement between present and past is constant and there is a prevailing critique of class divisions and how war heightens them.
This is Johnson's most ambitious project to date and all his characteristic humour, satire and indignation are there, but above all he pays tribute to the lives of his two relatives.
There is much cultural ado about the 1st World War, but this is the most enlightening anti-war creation I've experienced : never pontificating, always speaking through the people involved.
One of the best concept albums of the last century was Geraint Jarman's 'Mabinogi', composed initially for a multi-media show in Cardiff Castle.
So, it's fitting I should make Gruff Rhys's 'American Interior' my final selection.
Film, book, stage show (and probably t-shirt!) this album tells of Rhys's retracing the steps of his infamous ancestor, the eccentric 18th century explorer John Evans, who journeyed across America in search of a tribe of Welsh-speaking 'Red Indians'.
In typically original fashion, Rhys even imagines his ancestor accessing emails in '100 Unread Messages'.
The exploration is better appreciated after seeing Rhys's hilarious live set.
The album's an allegory for any voyage of discovery : although Evans's intention would seem rather pointless , he actually achieved a great deal on the way, such as mapping the wilderness.
Rhys brings it off brilliantly through his sheer variety of musical approaches and ever-catchy tunes. He makes Evens come alive as his experiences merge with Rhys's own on songs like 'The Whether (Or Not)'.
John Evans sets out to find a tribe and ends up finding himself.
The word 'genius' is bandied about by the likes of Jools Holland, but in Gruff Rhys's case it's a definite .
Amazingly, I haven't even mentioned those two concept albums which deal so superbly with the effects of the economic crisis on the States, namely Springsteen's 'Wrecking Ball' and Loudon Wainwright's 'Songs for a New Depression' and, above all , the greatest songwriting team since Lennon- McCartney, i.e. Scott-Yeats in The Waterboys' 'An Appointment With Mr Yeats'.
Nobody listens to albums any more , do they?
Well, if that's the truth then they're missing out on so much.
ROD TOLCHOCK AND BARRY LAMP-POSTS
for Dave Evans
1975, a damp dark November evening
in Barry town (but not from Steely Dan),
local singer-songwriter Rod Tolchock
announced his master-plan.
Doing the Railway, the folk club
as he always did,
he usually sang his memorable
ode to the area's lamp-posts ;
and we would all sing along
except a few trad-folkies
waiting for the inevitable finale
of 'Goodnight Irene'.
Rod, in his tea-cosy hat
(literally, complete with stains),
his pig-tail sticking out the spout
like a pour of silvery-brown.
Rod, in his colourful kaftan
and his powerful aroma
we had an inkling
(the youthful girls inhaled him).
Rod, who we expected
to do a Shane MacGowan
(before The Pogues, of course)
and fall into the audience.
Rod, who announced his concept album
'Barry Bus-shelters' that wet night
and claimed he'd do a tour
and perform in each one.
Rod,who sang about the one opposite
and some bloke who'd told him
he'd seen a whale off The Knap
and would he like to buy acid?
Max Boyce was all the rage at the time
and Rod was like a visitor from another planet ;
I wrote something like that in my report
for the 'Barry & District', but they never published it.
It was the beginning and end of his concept
and his grand tour never even started.
He returned to that raucous chorus :
'Barry lamp-posts light up my life!'
for Pete & Elaine
A blue boat speeds into the harbour
and we too have been trawling
all evening, but in the car,
spreading our nets to catch
any quick-slipping memories.
In streets, houses and rooms
so familiar yet so changed
we are seeking out creatures
of long ago, our former selves
seeming a different species.
Lights of the windows, aquariums
where students bend over computers,
while we strain for elusive shapes,
dark movements on walls and ceilings
and snatches of voices and songs.
On the brink of a stone jetty
we feed the outgoing tide
with ashes of the last generation :
powdery dust of two lives
and below, the shoals unseen.
A remarkable couple of weeks for many different reasons!
Beginning with the viewing of the rough cuts of a documentary 'After Coal'. Directed by Tom Hansell and produced by Patricia Beaver of Appalachian State University, it goes back and fore between the coalfields of south Wales and Appalachian Mountains showing the parallels and divergences and focusing on vital cultural exchanges.
Also, it draws attention to the ways in which those two communities are coping with the aftermath of coal-mining.
It's an ambitious project and is still a way from being finished. I'm personally delighted that the music of Huw Pudner and Chris Hastings is included, after Tom attended one of our Open Mic nights in Merthyr and heard them there.
After the showing there was some constructive criticism and an interesting point from one of the students there, who knew little about the strike in Wales and was fascinated to find out.
I argued the case that the title is a misnomer, because we are very much living with the effects of coal today, in terms of vast opencast mines and private companies who ignore the wishes of many communities.
Tom agreed and told us that strip-mining (the American term) was an equally contentious issue in that area, but was far more divisive with more people seeing it as a job-provider.
It was fitting that a week later I went to the 'Death of the valley' demo outside the Senedd in Cardiff, organised by the anti-opencast group United Valleys Action.
Here a sombre and suitably attired procession, complete with coffin,fake vicar, bearers and Grim Reaper (da iawn Tog!) proclaimed the death of the Valleys, murdered by opencast.
A petition was handed to the Petitions Committee and it seemed like almost everyone did a speech or poem. The corpse was most eloquent!
Bethan Jenkins AM (I declare an interest here) called for an all-Wales group to fight the scourge of opencasting and this seems essential.
One man began the call for our local AM , shouting 'We want Huw! We want Huw!'........but no show, as always.
He's probably doing an impersonation of our past MP Ted Rowlands, who always managed to keep a foot on both sides of the fence : against it on the west, in favour on the eastern slopes!
Back to Merthyr and following the film we all went down High Street to the New Crown Inn for a jazz evening.
There was a real mixture of ages, gender and nationalities ; music being the force of togetherness.
Nobody can pretend that the town is always like this: there can be undoubted tensions and UKIP are on the rise in terms of votes. People still find it easier to blame their recently-arrived neighbours than address the true causes of banks,business and bullying politicians.
Yet, for an evening, you could believe.
A young band - made up from Merthyr pop group Moonbirds - took the stage and, though the drummer struggled with jazz, keyboard player and bassist were lively and sometimes adventurous.
They also backed female vocalists Olga and Delyth McClean, who performed enchanting solo slots.
I was just a bit disorientated. This was the very Crown where we used to hold benefits for CND and Anti-Apartheid in the 80s and 90s and also poetry readings. The voices of Ifor Thomas and Ian McMillan came at me from the walls like they were retro speakers of a verse juke-box.
Walls had disappeared since then, just as they did that night between such diverse people. The Crown's a genuine muso pub and it's definitely 'appnin Goj!'
A momentous event for me ( apart from undergoing a gastroscopy) was giving a talk in Welsh to an enthusiastic bunch of advanced learners who are called Cymdeithas Soar.
Previous guests had included the likes of Beti George and Hywel Gwynfryn , so I was 'nerfus iawn iawn'.
Well, I think I managed okay, interspersed with too many 'so's' and 'y'knows', though I especially enjoyed reading a few of my poems in Welsh to them and they were kind and receptive. It was certainly preferable to the medical test anyway!
Here were like-minded people, devoted to our language and culture.....I shall certainly be joining them in future.
CYMYSG O BOBL
Dim byd yn y ‘Western Mail’,
dim byd ar y radio neu teledu,
achos ‘sdim ffrae yna
‘sdim angen i alw’r heddlu.
Dyn y bar o Bortiwgal
mae Chicken Gizzards ar y bwydlen,
cwpl o gariad o Wlad Pwyl
yn yfed seidr o beren.
Merch ddel iawn o’r Wcrain
ei lais yn dansio’r bossa nova,
bachgen sy’n canu’r gitar
fel adar lleuad ym Merthyr.
Dim son yn y papur lleol
ond rhannu dros facebook, twitter hefyd :
jazz yng Nghymraeg, cerddoriaeth Americanaidd,
cymysg o bobl yn y Goron Newydd.
A MIX OF PEOPLE
Not a word in the ‘Western Mail’
or on radio or the television,
because there’s no fighting here
no need to call the policemen.
The barman comes from Portugal
there’s ‘Chicken Gizzards’ on the menu ,
a couple of lovers from Poland
drinking their pear cider brew.
A really pretty girl from Ukraine
whose voice is dancing the bossa nova,
the boy playing guitar with her
is one of the moon-birds from Merthyr.
Not a mention in the local press
yet shared on facebook and twitter,
jazz sung in Welsh and American music
in the New Crown’s people-mixture.
Jamie Bevan, live at The Imp in Merthyr
I've said it before, but this time I'll claim it without trepidation : Welsh music is happening!
I've watched every programme in the last series of Jools Holland and I thoroughly enjoyed it despite the proliferation of very ordinary acts. Imelda May from Ireland may have been retro but was always thrilling and I enjoyed the dark but vibrant country of Hurray For The Riff Raff (a band which unintentionally plugs one of Loach's best films!).
However, not one Welsh act featured, not even regulars the Stereophonics.
Some may say - 'Well, there's not a lot out there, is there?'
Except......there's a plethora of talent!
Like literature and art (everything but world class footie players, in fact) Cymru just doesn't come into it.
But maybe it's time to stop moaning about the London-based media and simply celebrate.
In terms of bands we have three of the very best - like the era of Gorkys, Manics and Supper Furries - these being The Joy Formidable, Future of the Left and Paper Aeroplanes. Like the days of Cwl Cymru, these represent north, south and west of the country.
While average groups on the London scene such as Vampire Weekend and London Grammar gain all the plaudits, these three offer so much diversity and originality.
While 'Wolf's Law', The Formidables second album doesn't quite match the spark of their first , there is still enough to excite. It opens powerfully with 'This Ladder Is Ours', but I was most impressed with the songs which stepped outside their characteristic driving rock. 'Silent Treatment' showed why they chose to cover Roy Orbison's 'It's Over' on a previous e.p. and 'Forest Serenade', 'The Turnaround' and the well-hidden title track, all prove there's so much more to the band, with poignant melodies and ever-intriguing lyrics.
They hail from Y Wyddgrug/Mold and are due to release a series of e.p.'s in Welsh. The cover of one ,' Tynnu Sylw', is to be created by Merthyr artist Gus Payne.......I'm really looking forward to these.
Cardiff's Future of the Left also branched out in their latest offering 'How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident'. While they maintain the bass-powered , raw sound and often surreal humour, there are interesting departures.
The half-spoken, half-sung 'French Lessons' is actually a gentle song and 'Why Aren't I Going To Hell?' packs the spirit of Beefheart.....the most iconoclastic band since Datblygu.
They're unique and very funny and would probably make Jools swallow his immaculate suit and spit it out.
Milford Haven's Paper Aeroplanes reflect the west coast sound, with words about coast and sea just like Gorkys. Based around the harmonies and song-writing ability of Sarah Howells and Richard Llewellyn their latest album 'Little Letters' is full of melancholy and songs about relationships, often failed ones. The exception is 'When The Windows Shook' an environmental song about their home town which manages to understand both sides of the story.
Theirs is a folk-rock to rival the wonderful Thea Gilmore, with mood and tempo varied so subtly and words which are never sentimental.
The Welsh language scene matches the one in English and, as with literature (writers like Jon Gower, Gwyneth Lewis and Graham Davies) some of the acts record bi-lingually.
9Bach have just released their first album on Peter Gabriel's Real World label......Welsh language music becoming 'world', and why not?
Once a straightforward folk band, they now explore an area of trip-folk which really suits the vocals of Lisa Jen. I love their combination of the traditional with echoes of Portishead and Massive Attack.
They have given a re-birth to the harp , as has Aberystwyth's Georgia Ruth. She moves freely from English to Welsh on 'Week of Pines' with traditional and country influences and the imagery of Aber prevalent.
Merthyr alone boasts three Welsh language singer-songwriters , all of whom also sing in English at times. They are very distinctive performers, with Jamie Bevan singing about the town and its characters, Kizzy Crawford (still only 18!) moving more into jazzy interpretations and Delyth McLean with a voice which can soar to mountain top then drop to valley bottom :her new e.p. 'Lost in Sound' promises to show off this wide range.
All this and I haven't even mentioned the astonishing Gruff Rhys with his concept of 'American Interiors' (album, film and book) which shouldn't work, but absolutely does : it's so funny, quirky and moving.
Amazing times for Welsh music........but is anyone listening?
WE CAN SING
All the Big People walk past us
ignoring us on their way somewhere else.
We're on the margins,
busking, selling magazines or juggling.
We can sing or recite a verse
and they might turn heads to listen.
We're glad of a few coins
dropped into our cloth caps.
At night we sleep under bridges,
in empty car-parks, hidden doorways.
We wrap ourselves in the flag,
but it's no woollen blanket.
The Big People meet to discuss
what to do with us :
need us there as a warning;
our questions disturb their success.
Bloody ell I seen im!
I seen im down town agen,
Dress-up Dave bin away frages
an ee wuz wearin a crown.
In-a Works lookin at cheapo books;
not jest any ol crown
but a proper We Three Kings one,
though ee ad is sewt on.
Almos sif ee wuz gettin back
to is ol ways afta time
underground or in Outer Space,
or per'aps an institution.
Not even a placard sayin
'Balthazar Dave' angin,
but with all the glam an glitz
on is fancy ead-gear.
I seen im, Dress-up Dave,
ordinree up to is fore'ead
an then, a nest o jewels.
All ail King o the Presink!