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 

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