Floating about with other spectres at the Secret Garden Soundsystem Halloweengig a few weeks back, and a flyer pops into my hand from a zombie. Not longlater, and I’m back, cap in hand, at The Point, Cardiff Bay, ponderingwhether to take a place on the balcony or give my soul to the throng.
On stage are a Welsh folk outfit called Sild, and a meeting withold pals reveals a simmering hostility towards our musical heritage. How canone feel such negativity towards a gentle two-piece that use the bowed-harplike it was brought up with them as a child? Reason escapes me, but then Ithink that’s the general idea of the recent upsurge in exotic events featuringthe burgeoning No Fit State Circus.
Sild turn out to be an immaculate treasurefrom times long gone, playing their songs with a rural serenity that makesperfect sense amidst the crazy and sublime images that speckle the venue. Up nextto the imaginary sound of giant gong is a hula-hoopist named ByronyBlack, and as she writhes up and down on a mango-coloured rope, I think backto the sensual parties held by Hann in Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon.
The regal voice of Julie Murphy could steady seas for imperilledships, so her band Fernhill are naturally happy to be mere background to theperfect sail, yet maybe we need the turbulence that could be provided by thatmutant trumpet I see being carried across the venue with outlandish intent.Murphy’s kind of folk is brave and lonesome, but The Howling Sleepersare shot from the monkey-arse of the craziest baboon, and unleashed on theparty like a tribe of chiselled loonies.
Banjo, violin, bald head, an enormous mouth organ and retro tank topproceed to render a folk party to die for; melodies twisting and ebullient,thundering into our heads in bacchanalian grandeur. Howling Sleepers give way todeservedly ample applause as the haunting strains of Johnny Cash’s IHung My Head invite the rope artist D’Angle up his maritime cord. Hesways and falls like a balletic demon as Cash does the same, and this is asentrancing a performance as you’ll get, visceral music mixed with visual grace.
Kosheen were always a more linear blend specialising in post drum’n’ bass balladry, and tonight Sian Evans and her band writhe withpulsating passion yet fail to connect. It’s not for a lack of trying, butthere’s a rope walker here and an androgynous green hulk there on stilts, and whocan be bothered? Maybe this is the night for The Victorian EnglishGentleman’s Club.
Murmers have been heard about this particular Club in relation to styleover substance, and singer Adam Taylor doesn’t seem to be fond of thepink-Mohawk-headed acrobat balancing for his life at stage-front and band-heightduring their first few songs. It makes for some scene though, and the suspensekind of matches what they are trying to do musically. The acrobat, SimonD’Ville, sticks to his guns, crossing back and forth again and again,oblivious to Taylor’s seething glances, and the band seem to respond to thebizarreness, increasingly finding their feet with a sound of hellish allure.
Co-vocalist and bassist Louise Mason has the glamour and sensuality ofex-JJ72 femme fatale Hilary Woods, and as she grins, groans andpostures devilishly, the best is brought out in Taylor and drummer Emma Daman,the crowd increasingly enthralled by their compressed and punchy, artsyindie darkness. Tonight the Gentleman’s Club is not too-cool-for-school, andutterly fantastic for it.
Naughty’s Meg is like the mushroom foliage of a Rhododendron tree, andfantastically, her music matches her colour. Art-punk had earlier looked good on the exotic bill, and this is fare ofthe jazziest kind. Meg, hugging stage-front with manic intent, alternatesbetween saxaphone and vocals at the devil’s demand, songs that hit like hot andcold waves temperamentally refreshing the crowd for an extra hour of feast,provided by Captain Paranoid and the Delusions, who’s insane mixture ofblues, rock, folk, tribal rhythms and musical theatre similarly defies anynotions of cool.
It’s three o’clock by the time it ends, and zeniths have been reachedagain and again. Someone has taken a straw to a fishbowl, and we’re ushered outof the venue by stick-legged, multi-coloured giants. Meltdown and No FitState have always been merited organisations, so here’s to them and their artistspushing the boat out for the next twenty years. Cardiff has never had itso… weird.