Before I moved to Cardiff, I grew up and lived in West Wales. One of the reasons I left was that very few bands visited either Carmarthen (where I grew up) or Aberystwyth (where I lived for the best part of a decade), with the notable exceptions of both Adequate 7 and Billy Bragg.
Fortunately some steps have been taken in Carmarthen’s case to push live music, with the Parrot (a local venue that has since opened and has been named in the Observer’s 10 best British independent record shops) being a fantastic resource for the town.
The fact that few large bands made it to these respective places meant that local bands had to step up and fill the vacuum with their own vibrant DIY music scenes. I had the chance to reflect on that this week when I fortunately ended up with two chances to celebrate my time in both towns.
I was lucky enough to be invited to France for the wedding of Tom Payne to his lovely wife Becky. Tom sings for the Silver Rocket Club, a crazy concept band who veer closest to Ziggy Stardust era Bowie with a tinge of folk and added sax for good measure. After the ceremony I watched members of Silver Rocket Club, FUOD and the Hittites play some beautiful acoustic numbers, and I felt bloody lucky to have been part of that scene.
When I came back from France I headed straight off to Carmarthen for Thirty and Forever, which was a gig to celebrate the life of Emrys Davies and what would have been his thirtieth birthday. I was fortunate enough to know Emrys and play in a band with him – he was a massively creative guy who wrote some fantastic tunes (my personal favourite being Mayday from his time in Hay Barns on Fire), and above all an absolute legend.
A gig (which was deftly organised by his wife Ruth) was the perfect way to celebrate his life, with each band being connected to his life and his role in Carmarthen’s scene. From Ziggy, who played in the States (who were pushing the boundaries of the scene with some great organic grunge just as I was leaving), to Nikolai (a rock band who were the town’s best-loved band because of their massive melodies), who reformed just for the gig with the aid of Rhodri of Conductors. Nikolai’s Way off the Mark sits proudly in my record collection amongst and above bands who had the breaks that somehow eluded them. And whilst it’s easy to get nostalgic for what has been, former Nikolai frontman Colin Greer’s new band Three Smiles Wide are picking up where his old band left off with some unreal songs and a great rhythm section.
Any music scene is only as strong as the people who are among it. Fortunately there are some great people in West Wales.