Make no mistake, 2020 has been utterly utterly terrible. Disgustingly bad. It’s been horrific beyond words…so I’m not going to continue trying.
At this time of year I would normally (ok, once) make a compilation of and celebrate my favourite tracks to come out of South Wales in the last 12 months and although I may still get around to doing this, I thought I would publish something a little different.
This year has forced artists, venues, labels and festivals to really think outside of the box. They’ve worked hard to keep us engaged and helped pass the time. Let’s face it, life has been a little sedate for the bulk of the year and would have been even worse without them. Luckily for us, creatives tend to get itchy feet if quiet for prolonged periods.
Here are a bunch of things that I have loved in an otherwise pretty bleak year:
Mike Dennis – Clock Face
Rapping violinist Mike Dennis can never be accused of stagnating, always looking for ways to explore his remarkable talent. This interactive video is next level stuff, pushing boundaries and engaging with the viewer in ways that wouldn’t be possible in a live situation.
It’s difficult to describe “Clock Face” without giving too much away and therefore spoiling a truly unique experience, but if you’re a fan of music, ingenuity and Black Mirror then “Clock Face” will certainly be up your street! Click HERE (not the still below) and get involved!
SWND are a new independent record label based in South West Wales, releasing music from Welsh artists that they love. Although still relatively new, having formed little more than a year ago, they have hit the ground running with an eclectic mix of releases in 2020 including Mahouts, dunkie, The Cosmic Array and We’ve Come To Steal Your Energy, all artists we love here at About Sound. With this year fading fast they have already announced their first release of 2021, as they join forces with alt rock band “Feverjaw” for the bands debut EP.
They also publish a self-titled quarterly magazine and have just printed their latest edition. The magazine will more than likely be available in your local independent record store, but check out their Facebook page to find out how you can get your hands on a copy and to check out their past and future releases!
The Bug Club – Adverts
Who doesn’t love an advert? Well, me for a start, probably you and pretty much everyone else. Ahh but the John Lewis advert is just like sooooo…Leave it out!
The Bug Club, two thirds Caldicot and one third Kidderminster, have been one of my favourite bands since I saw them play an acoustic set in a pub on Christmas Eve 5 or 6 years ago and although it’s been a quiet year for them (this probably isn’t the best time to release a debut album as good as I’m sure theirs is), they have kept me, my girlfriend and their fans entertained with these brilliant catchy *unofficial* commercials.
From Lemsip and Yankee Candle to Heinz Ketchup and Vaseline, it is The Bug Club in a nutshell; imaginative, whimsical and a whole lot of fun. Honestly, if all adverts were this good I’d be the first to subscribe to an advert channel!
Rusty Shackle – 10th birthday at The Gate
Gigs, you remember them? Of course you do and although we can’t wait to get back out there, it’s going to feel strange!
The last gig I attended pre COVID was a memorable one, not just because it was the last gig I attended pre COVID, but because it was the 10th birthday celebrations of Caldicot folk ‘n’ rollers Rusty Shackle.
I first saw the Shackle 9 or 10 years ago when they were first starting out. Back then they were nothing but a talented bunch of musicians having fun doing something they loved, but the journey they have been on in the last decade is one of dreams. Four albums, two tours of America and a hometown castle sell out gig are amongst the highlights on their CV. This gig, in the glorious Gate in Cardiff was a special one to attend and was all the more memorable for its timing. Here’s my full review of the gig all the way back in February!
Photos by Nadine Ballantyne
The Westgate Sessions
If I can’t promote my own ventures on my own blog then where can I?
During lockdown one our social media feeds were filled with live streams of musicians doing what they love, playing to an audience, albeit an invisible and silent one. As endearing as streaming was, it did seem to lose its lustre after a while. Be it the one dimensional recording, poor overall quality (due to being filmed on mobile phones) or dodgy internet connections, although filling a void, it left viewers yearning to see artists perform with the benefit of better quality.
With Jack Henry of Wide Island Films and Jon Greening (sound) on board, we guaranteed that the visual and sound quality would do our six artists the justice that their music deserves. The artists we approached were all young, gifted musicians from Newport to Chepstow; Joe Kelly, The Honest Poet, Katielou, Ruby Kelly, Ollie P and Selena in the Chapel. From a personal perspective, it was an absolute honour to witness the most intimate of settings having been starved of live music for six months.
All of the published sessions to date are available on the Westgate YouTube channel. Why not start with “1994” by The Honest Poet, a particularly poignant song considering the Black Lives Matter movement that gained momentum back in May and June.
Jimbob from Pizzatramp
Jimbob is a punk and epitomises everything that a true punk should. He plays loud, he sings with an unmistakably punk snarl and loves a sesh. He is also a top bloke with a heart of gold and probably the funniest person on the internet to boot!
At the start of lockdown, with gigging and recording taken away from him and his band Pizzatramp and not wanting to upset his neighbour by plugging in his guitar (see, what a guy!), he provided us with these two brilliant poems. Although slightly removed from his usual persona, that beautiful punk spirit that Jim Bob embodies with such passion was still on show.
Taking aim at the government, the panic buying public and well, society in general, it was a no holds barred, scathing account of a country spiralling into a state of disorder. In the months since, this way of living has become normalised and although things aren’t exactly dandy now, it’s worth a re-watch of these poems as a reminder of just how fucked up things were back in March!
Even before COVID-19 popped up, it has never been more difficult for independent artists to make the money required to support their musical ambitions, let alone earn a decent living from their talent.
With digital music services used by a high proportion of the music listening population and the distribution being an absolute mockery, it is very much a double edged sword. On the one hand, why would you sell your music for such a pitiful amount, but simultaneously, how is anyone that isn’t already listening to your music going to find out about you if you don’t conform? I don’t know what the answer is.
What many artists/labels have realised is that they are no longer selling the music per se. Yes the music has to be good, in fact better than ever in order to compete in a highly competitive industry, but the fans often want something more than a CD which they are never going to play and can already listen to on Spotify (many fans are skint too remember!).
Between The Trees Festival Sessions
I’ve never been to Between The Trees Festival. It looks incredible, the acts they book are always brilliant and their ethos of embracing, protecting and preserving nature is one that I can get on board with, but for one reason or another, rather regrettably, I haven’t been able to make it.
With their festival cancelled due to a certain pandemic, they invited a host of wonderful acts to their festival site and recorded a series of glorious sessions, capturing the magic of the festival.
The best track to start with is this most magical rendition of “Guys Like You & Me” by Joe Kelly & The Royal Pharmacy, featuring Bryony Sier (who recorded a session of her own). I’ve listened to this song dozens of times in many different settings, but given the moment, given the year, is in my opinion the most definitive version of a great song. It’s also the perfect way to end this article!