In July the Wales Millennium Centre finally re-opened its doors for business, almost sixteen months after being forced to close them. Over the summer live music makes its return to the venue as part of their Cabaret series, celebrating music, theatre, cabaret and burlesque. Emma Schofield went along to see Welsh art-rock group, HMS Morris, playing the Weston Studio, supported by Green Man Rising 2021 winner, Teddy Hunter.
I can’t actually remember precisely the last time I was at the Wales Millennium Centre, it would almost certainly have been at some point in late 2019, back when things like going to a gig were just everyday events that we pretty much all took for granted. Returning to the Centre after all this time should have felt strange, and in some ways it did, but mainly it felt right. Yes, the chairs were spaced out and the masks were still on for moving about, but apart from that, it felt weirdly like stepping back in time to that pre-pandemic era.
However odd it felt being back, it must have been even more strange for HMS Morris, playing their first in-person gig since early 2020 and clearly delighted to be back on the stage and in front of a real audience. The band have been operating as a two piece since the departure of their drummer before the pandemic, so the night was an opportunity for them to showcase a re-worked version of some of their songs. The lockdown may have brought a temporary halt to their face-to-face performances, but it clearly hasn’t taken any of the energy away from the band. There is still a frenetic pace to the staging and performance of songs such as ‘Corff’, which slides effortlessly between dreamy electro-beats and upbeat pop.
As ever, Heledd Watkins’ stage presence ramped up the energy levels, while the relaxed interplay between Watkins and her counterpart, Sam Roberts, lent the evening a celebratory feel. The band had spoken in advance about wanting the gig to have a party vibe and revisiting songs such as ‘Interior Design’ and ‘Mother’ definitely set the tone for a night which had a distinctly triumphant undercurrent. In the socially-distanced space of the Weston Studio, the combination of synthesizers and visual art worked together to create an almost psychedelic atmosphere at times; eerie and laden with meaning.
The re-adjustment to being back in front of an audience didn’t seem to take long for the duo who are clearly in their element when fully absorbed in their performance. It’s difficult to resist being drawn into their commitment and obvious enjoyment of the sound they create. For all the changes they may have made as they transitioned to a two piece, the band have retained their characteristic spontaneity, creativity and playfulness. The fun is clearly still there; as the set drew to a close, Watkins piggy-backed Roberts off the stage and out of the studio as the music gradually faded out and the lights darkened. No doubt that sense of fun will remain as HMS Morris moves towards a new chapter in its evolution, becoming a four piece group from later this month.
Setting the pitch for the evening was accomplished support act, Teddy Hunter. Having recently been announced as the Rising 2021 winner ahead of this year’s Green Man Festival, Hunter performed a selection of her songs which showcased the strength of her voice, as well as her ability to capture, and hold, the attention of a room. Hearing Hunter play live it’s impossible not to be struck by both the dreamlike quality of her sound and the way it builds to a crescendo which manages to be both powerful and soothing at the same time. A well-chosen act to support HMS Morris, Hunter’s set proved an effective opener for an evening which was as much about the visual and sensory experience of sound, as the music itself.
If the starting pistol has been fired for live Welsh music to make its long-awaited return, there is no better reminder of what makes music from Wales so unique. Experimental, full of life, passion and with a healthy dose of hedonism thrown in, the combined forces of HMS Morris and Teddy Hunter are the ideal example of a Welsh music scene which has spent the pandemic waiting impatiently in the wings and is now ready to make a buoyant return to centre stage.
HMS Morris and Teddy Hunter | Wales Millennium Centre