John Lavin casts a critical eye over Meilyr Jones’ performance from the Now On Festival at the Chapter Arts Centre.
Meilyr Jones‘ new incarnation as a dandified solo artist continues to be a must-see event as this homecoming performance at Chapter amply demonstrated. A recent, well received tour with Richard Hawley has leant his excellent band (which features Euan Hinshelwood of Younghusband and Emmy the Great on guitar), a leaner, more honed sound, while Meilyr himself is growing into the role of a bona fide, capital S Star with each performance. He had been artist-in-residence at Chapter in the run up to this gig, collaborating with Welsh artists to create limited edition 7-inch sleeves as well as a series of artworks that hung from the walls of Stwdio Seligman while he performed. And then, halfway through the brilliant, ‘Rebel Rebel’-referencing, ‘Strange Emotional’, he entered the crowd and made over to a huge painting of himself by Pato Bosich and began tearing it to pieces while the music built into a psychedelic frenzy around him.
It is, in part, this awareness of the importance of spectacle that marks Meilyr Jones out as such a singular talent. ‘I’m an actor recalling my previous lines, now Hamlet, now Macbeth… come and see me tonight…’ he sings, as though deliberately donning the Cracked Actor-esque mantle of a very British kind of art rock star.
For while Meilyr Jones’ music has an undeniable undertone of Welsh psychedelia to it – in the tradition of Gorky’s, SFA and, of course, his own former band, Race Horses – there is also a very English art school sensibility at work here, something which is perhaps rare in the Welsh indie aesthetic. And it is this unusual combination which makes Meilyr Jones such an idiosyncratic and beguiling songwriter. A piece like ‘Olivia’, for instance, begins with an almost Gorkys Zygotic Mynci-like sensibility, all Welsh pastoralism and keening, Euros Childs-isms, before breaking into a raucous sea shanty adorned by wild trumpets, the vocal turning more Morrissey by the minute: ‘So turn the page, Olivia… No, I cannot be employed, Olivia’.
Current single ‘Featured Artist’, with it’s deft, delightfully wry lyrics – i.e. ‘I am the face of the Observer’s free magazine’ – continues this trend, with Meilyr Jones declaring in a shrill, increasingly out of control falsetto: ‘To rehearse, rehearse, rehearse and rehearse/ No! I will never rehearse!’
As when I’ve seen him live previously, I’m left thinking, how long is it since there has been a convincing British rock star in the art school tradition of Bowie, Bush, Rowland, Morrissey and Anderson? The answer to that is in the question, of course, because there hasn’t been anyone for years. But in this critic’s opinion you can add Meilyr Jones to that list as of now, simply because, asides from his considerable brilliance as a performer, he also has the songs. He has the songs in spades. His debut album, 2013, is due out next month and it’s difficult to imagine how it can fail because, as this performance proved time and time again, Jones doesn’t have a single song that is anything less than spectacular.
To find out about upcoming performances and events at the Chapter Arts Centre visit their website.
John Lavin is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.