Tramshed, Cardiff, Fri 15 Feb
The only problem with the mouthwateringly packed bill that Cian Ciáran has assembled for tonight’s Yes Is More! show – the first in a series of cultural events aimed at galvanising the pro-independence movement in Wales – is that the evening has to start so early. So it is that I arrive just in time to hear Los Blancos playing the very last notes of Cadi. Safe to assume they were gwych, though.
Thankfully, it’s only a short wait until Boy Azooga take to the stage. Last year’s winners of the Welsh Music Prize make an uncharacteristically slow start, even with Face Behind Her Cigarette second, but the set gradually gathers momentum, accelerating through Upside Down and their cover of The Table’s Do The Standing Still to finish with a frantic Loner Boogie. The smiles on their faces as they enjoy every moment are as infectious as the songs. Roll on album number two.
Goldie Lookin Chain aren’t ones to pass up a pro-Wales pissup just down the M4, and sure enough a three-man delegation arrives from Newport to pump up the crowd, ramble about “80s telethons” and introduce Astroid Boys. Benji Wild, the band’s sole original member, is still buzzing from a backstage hug from Charlotte Church and, in what feels like a Spinal Tap outtake, finds himself engaged in a personal battle for independence from his own coat. He’s significantly better at rapping than he is at disrobing, though his request for some reverb during the slow jam Sticky “to make it sound like I can sing” is understandable. At their best (Check, for instance), Astroid Boys are like Rage Against The Machine gone grime, but at their worst there’s a distinct pong of Limp Bizkit. As this is their last ever show, though, let’s err on the side of charity.
Gwenno‘n’Gruff Rhys’ anti-fascist disco DJ set kicks off magnificently with Stereolab’s French Disko (chorus: “La resistance!”) and the pair laugh and goof their way through half an hour of tracks from around the world, unfazed by the soundchecking going on around them. However, there’s nothing that can quite prepare you for the voice of an angel singing “I want to fuck you like an animal”. I pinch myself but yes, Charlotte Church really is opening with Nine Inch Nails’ Closer – though it soon mutates breathtakingly through Missy Elliott’s Get Ur Freak On, Black Sabbath’s War Pigs and Destiny’s Child’s Survivor, arriving finally at Paranoid Android. There are no doubt many others performing Friday night fancy-dress karaoke not far from here on St Mary’s Street, but it won’t be anything like this.
Church – “DANK DUNGEON BITCH”, according to her T-shirt – is obviously the star but happily steps aside to allow her talented backing singers to take a turn in the limelight. En Vogue’s Don’t Let Go blurs brilliantly into King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man; Killing In The Name collides spectacularly with Bootylicious. All too soon Church is announcing “This is our last song, but don’t worry – it goes on a bit cos we’re medley as fuck”, after which a stirring rendition of the national anthem has the whole room in full voice.
So, what of the cause? As a music writer, and an English one at that, I hesitate to pass comment on the merits of or prospects for Welsh independence. It’ll take a lot more than a few rousing quotes from Che Guevara and Plato to free Wales from the British/English yoke, to be sure, but then this evening is merely a conversation starter, and the vision – internationalist rather than nationalist, outward-looking and inclusive rather than inward-looking and exclusive, socially just rather than socially unequal – is certainly worth pursuing. Church admits she’s unsure whether Yes Is More! is a question or a statement; the resounding response of tonight’s crowd suggest it’s actually an exclamation. And her Late Night Pop Dungeon are living proof that anything is possible.
words BEN WOOLHEAD photos EMYR YOUNG