So we’re at a thing. And the thing is in Cardigan, and the sun is shining. And Jeff insists that we should go and see Meilyr Jones. Except that it’s less of an invite and more of an order, and since Jeff has just bought us all beers and is the same man who had the mercurial foresight to take a giddy punt on ‘Motown Junk’, ‘Weekender’ and ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ (and is an extremely persuasive man) we go and see Meilyr Jones.
And Jeff is right, because Meilyr proves to be a life-affirming revelation, a glorious blaze of theatre and orchestral art pop. And as one we’re pinching ourselves, to ensure that it’s not just because we’re on holiday, and it’s not just because we’ve had too much to drink (though both of these factors are admittedly in play); it’s simply down to the exquisite cross-pollination of ingenuity and spectacle that seems to exist only in this one perfect moment. A long-forgotten sensation that you’d love to be able to distil, and bottle, and savour in tiny sips over a period of years because you remember all too clearly how you’d previously given up on ever tasting anything of its kind ever again. A sense of wonder that reminds you, almost too acutely, of what it felt like to be sixteen years of age and untainted by the uninvited accumulation of things.
And then three months pass in the blink of an eye, and it’s raining, and you’re in the centre of Bristol on a Monday night, and you’re anxious about seeing Meilyr again because you can’t imagine that it could in any way compete with the time that you saw him at the thing in Cardigan. And you’re questioning yourself because you’ve almost certainly exaggerated how good he was in the first place, and that you’re ultimately destined to shroud yourself in disappointment once again because Meilyr couldn’t possibly be aware of the impact he’d had upon you in the heart of Ceredigion and is therefore manifestly incapable of sealing the legend that exists entirely within your own head.
And then a fragile-looking man-child quietly takes to the stage and strikes up the opening notes of ‘Refugees’, a song whose power is derived almost solely from its delicacy. A skinny man in awkward trousers and funeral socks and slip-on shoes, a man with the look of a pop evacuee, but one who radiates the aura of an idol-in-waiting. And in a moment everything is right with the world once again. Because you instantly realise that you weren’t mistaken after all, and that it wasn’t just the ale, or the sunshine, or the camaraderie that made you feel like this at the thing in Cardigan. It was almost solely down to the same skinny man in the awkward trousers and slip-on shoes. That it was him.
Having put his former band Race Horses out to stud and having re-emerged in a form entirely of his own creation Jones stares out at a sea of expectant faces, emanating the perfect star combination of small-town swagger and big-time aspiration. A man who evidently declines to draw from the stagnant well of macho posture, at turns he is Billy MacKenzie, Lee Hazlewood, Jarvis Cocker. And via a pattern of theatrical yelps and ticks, a young and rambunctious Kevin Rowland, the heavy vinyl covers that cloak the main act’s equipment acting as ambitious provocation for an artist who knows that his time has surely come.
The shadowy baroque pop of ‘Don Juan’ – ‘For love is a weakness that I can’t get through’ – rekindles the notion of the noble outsider in magnificent fashion, the ingenuity of a man not afraid to covertly acknowledge his influences, the artistic majesty of what’s gone before: ‘Now girls can’t help me, boys can’t help me, there’s a band on the radio singing politely… and everybody knows that this is nowhere’. It’s the timelessly plaintive refrain of the incurably arch observer, the man who would be king. A man who tonight gleefully reveals his unguarded elation at treading the same boards as Buddy Holly, perhaps pop music’s inaugural interloper.
Thirty minutes pass in a blur of intensity and spectacle and as a newly converted throng of acolytes rise to their feet in bewildered reverence I cling to the comfort of all of my questions having been determinedly answered. Except perhaps, maybe one.
The fear of there never being perfectly formed outsider pop music ever again? Well maybe the rumours of its death have been greatly exaggerated after all.
Live images: Craig Austin