Tuesday, September 20, 2011

D3C Playlist - An Ugly, Lovely Town

When Dylan Thomas referred to the area of Wales where he grew up as "an ugly, lovely town" in "Reminisces of Childhood" he both set a future tone and gave perfect voice to a long held belief (at least in the rest of the UK): Wales is a beautiful country populated by hard people.

Welsh popular music then, is an interesting thing. Its two most well known exports are:

Two of the biggest voices out there. Beautiful and booming. Nary a rough edge to be seen. Odd, since the Welsh accent is considered quite harsh (given the overload of consonants).

Even when we move into the Punk, Post-Punk, and Indie Rock eras, the sweetness remains. Even when the lyrics are about death:

If the person filming this had widened the shot a bit, you'd absolutely see me standing in the audience, stage right, jumping around like a buffoon. So, I remain thankful that he/she stayed focused on Jon Langford. Langford, a newport boy and one of the greatest, most prolific musicians to come out of the first wave of UK Punk (seriously, I refer you to the Mekons, The Waco Brothers, The Three Johns, The Pine Valley Cosmonauts, and his solo stuff, unreservedly. I have seen him play NY, in various incarnations, 4 times in the last 3 years, and I already have my Mekons ticket for next month) is the patron saint of this play. His book about growing up in Wales, Skull Orchard, provided every detail I needed.

The Ugly/Lovely balance is evident in Langford's lyrics about his working class upbringing conveyed in a rich, melodic vocal, in the same way the "soul of the Sex Pistols in the body of Guns N' Roses' body" dynamic works for Wales's favorite sons, The Manic Street Preachers.

which is the loveliest Brit Pop song to ever begin with words as despairing as:

"Culture sucks down words
Itemise loathing and feed yourself smiles
Organise your safe tribal war
Hurt maim kill and enslave the ghetto.."

The contribution of Wales to UK Pop seems to be giving it a knife edge, an act never more brilliantly realized than by the latest Welsh band to inspire devotion, Los Campesinos. 

"We are Beautiful; We are Doomed", a distinctly Welsh concept born in an "ugly, lovely town", complete with a gang chorus/pub singalong: 

"Oh, we kid ourselves, there's future in the fuckingBut there is no fucking future..." 

All of these artists were played constantly during the (relatively short) writing process because in the space of just over ten pages I wanted to get at this dichotomy: this love and indifference toward the same place. (Thomas was later quoted as saying "Wales is the land of my fathers, and my fathers can have it." which, in structure, is both a searing indictment and wistful rememberance) 

In the play, "An Ugly, Lovely Town", there is no fucking, but there's love and indifference, there's a romantic past and a bleak future and a protagonist who's willing to love both equally. 

- Stephen 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

September 22nd's D3C - If I Never Look Upon This Land Again & An Ugly, Lovely Town

During the talk back for last month’s D3C, I spoke a bit about why someone named “Gracia” would be writing a bloody family drama about the last days of the New York Irish mob. My reasoning was that my mother’s family is Irish, and those are the relatives I know and love. My father’s Spanish side is an unknown element.
Of course, that’s not the full family history. My maternal grandmother’s family came from county Down, and she was every bit an Irish women (in “Absolute Beginners” there’s a story about a character’s mom being unable to stay in the apartment when the downstairs Italian neighbors were cooking with garlic and onion and basil, and that was my grandma, through and through), but my grandfather’s family had been sailing back and forth from England to the colonies since the Mayflower.
The most recent branch of that particular tree seems to reach from somewhere in Wales to Bristol, which is where my great-grandfather emigrated from. 
I was fortunate enough to visit Bristol during the summer of 2010, and while there, I spent the afternoon walking through the SS Great Britain (which has been turned into a museum), and while there, I read the story of Captain Gray: a beloved captain who disappeared from the Britain mid-voyage.
This, I thought, would be an interesting play. After we left the museum, I made my notes while sitting with my wife and her friends, drinking authentic Bristol alcoholic cider (a local specialty that, unlike the American variety, is not carbonated, not sweet and has a distinctly bile-like consistency when you start in on a pint, but, also unlike the sickly-sweet American cider, really does improve once you get used to it.) I originally thought the play would focus on Captain Gray: his life aboard the ship and his reasons for suicide (I had decided to treat the disappearance as suicide). Soon, a second act was planned that focused on the wife that was waiting for him on the dock…then it was his wife in a tavern by the docks, and soon, Gray was removed from the play all together and the focus shifted to those waiting for the Britain and what that ship meant to them.
In the end, “If I Never Look Upon This Land Again” is only about those who are left behind, those looking for a second (or third) chance, and those who are “redeemed by faith alone.”
This Dialogue with Three Chords is the most Punk Rock one so far, which seems strange to say about a play that takes place during the Victorian era, but this is a one-take and hit the stage night. “If I never Look Upon This Land Again” and the curtain raiser “An Ugly, Lovely Town” are brand new and will be rehearsed/workshop for two nights prior. These pieces will find their legs in front of an audience.
“An Ugly, Lovely Town” is set in present day South Wales, in a town called, Newport. Specifically, in Pillgwenlly, a spot under a transporter bridge that straddles the river Usk.  It’s about a bar called “The Wild Hunt”, a young man and woman meeting for the first time, and a dead place named for a redeemed pirate saint.
It’s set in Wales because it’s close to Bristol, and because the people of that region, to quote Raymond Williams, “talked about ‘the English’ who were not us, and also ‘the Welsh’ who were not us.”