It’s Richard Dawson’s birthday, we won’t ask which one, and so his Hen Ogledd harpist bandmate Rhodri Davies asks the spartan attendees of tonight’s show to begin the proceedings with a rousing sing song. We oblige and Dawson blushes and thanks us for venturing into this somewhat baroque cave, instead of going out into the sudden sunshine that floods the capital.
They open with the chugging synth heavy Dyma Fy Robot (it means “This is my Robot” in Welsh, thank you Google Translate) from their recent third album. The song’s Krautrock performed by forest goblins aesthetic showcases perfectly captures Dawson’s intensely rocking bass skills as well as Sally Pilkington’s pure vocals. That voice will trick us and surprise all evening, refracting through vocoders and other effects to conjure mischievous sprites and depressed automatons.
Dawson informs us that the brilliant Problem Child stems from playing too many video games, the lyrics referencing graphics, machines and brainwaves and neon. His youthful falsetto on the song’s chorus showing the apparent joy he’s found working with this unit. The lyric from Problem Child where Dawson observes “On the blinking horizon I see / Wales, Wales / The hands of my wristwatch / A long time ago” encapsulates their desire to honour the mystical heritage of this sceptred Isle as well as look forward to our transcendental futures.
Harpist Davies excels on the radiant Love Time Feel, his deft finger work generating sprays of kitsch languor, as the whole band find the harmonies buried within the substrate of electronic dissonance. He also performs album highlight Gwae Reged O Heddiw (sorry, Google Translate couldn’t help much with that one), albeit minus the studio versions guest vocalist.
Recent recruit to the band, Dawn Bothwell carries her own on the blistering First Date, a song about the potentiality of online stalking and information accumulation in twenty first century same sex romantic encounters. The song doesn’t take a cynical stance, the band instead choosing to revel in the opportunities and fallacies of the modern age.
On the track Etheldreda Pilkington assumes the character of a robot constructing an environ based on human experience, over a melody inspired by colliery bands and church choirs. It may be about mechanical and emotional detachment but with its parting coda of “I don’t feel anything”, it’s hard not to feel genuine pathos in the moment.
Pilkington asks the crowd to sing along if they know the words of recent single Tiny Witch Hunter, her helium infused sonnet to modern sciences and it’s a shame the song wasn’t released twenty years earlier or it would have been a top 10 hit for sure.
The final song of the night is Transport And Travel, their ode to the modes of transport that have evolved over the last few hundred years, with Bothwell’s crisp Scots wordplay adding profane Shakespearian overtones, and Davies grunts out the phrase “Mogic”. The word is an Ogledd creation, a portmanteau of magic and logic. When the industrial revolution hit the North, naysayers feared it would destroy culture and now as the digital revolution shifts the focus from coal mining to data mining, Hen Ogledd are ready to embrace that future.
There’s no encore tonight, with the only song from the album not played being the closer Welcome To Hell, their ominous cover of infamous ’70s Geordie rockers Venom. The crowd chants for more but are denied. We forgive them for not taking us into that particular inferno, because instead we’ve let them conjure us up a technological heaven.