Welsh music has had quite a rich history in recent decades with the likes of Super Furry Animals, Manic Street Preachers and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. Both Gwenno and H. Hawkline are both Cardiff born and shortlisted for this year’s Welsh Music Prize for albums they released this year. Their respective efforts were received well by critics, with Gwenno’s in particular gaining plenty of attention during the summer months. Both artists are also signed to Heavenly Recordings which is celebrating its 25th birthday, with their co-headlining tour a big part of those celebrations.
The birthday tour recently stopped off at Manchester’s Soup Kitchen and on this occasion it was Gwenno who was up first. The former keyboardist and vocalist with The Pipettes played a set consisting solely of tracks from “Y Dydd Olaf,” a predominantly Welsh language album (with one song also in Cornish) the title of which translates into “The Final Day.” It’s a political concept album inspired by a Welsh language dystopian sci-fi novel published by Owain Owain in 1976. Using this as her framework, Gwenno covers topics including revolution, media manipulation, patriarchy and the decline of minority languages.
She played tracks including “Chwyldro,” one of the coolest calls for political revolution you’re likely to hear, and “Patriarchaeth,” which in Gwenno’s own words is about “how shit patriarchy is.” Her vocals were sweet but also quite sombre, and her layered blend of melodic 80’s pop with sci-fi tinged psychedelia came across like a mix of Cocteau Twins and Human League with a large dose of Delia Derbyshire. It was a spellbinding but ultimately short performance. But she can be forgiven due to the fact that she’s eight months pregnant. Not only was her music mesmerising but she was too in her sparkling evening dress which stood out even more in the dingy basement room where she performed.
By contrast, H. Hawkline sang in English, although he has been known to sing in his native language on some of his earlier material. He currently resides in L.A. with his partner and producer Cat Le Bon, another Welsh musician who has gained attention in recent years. You can certainly hear an element of her influence alongside a large dose of L.A. in H. Hawkline’s sound. The focus was predominantly on songs from his latest album ‘In the Pink of Condition,’ his third full-length album to date. Tracks covered included two of its lead numbers, ‘Everybody’s on the Line’ with its laidback, groove and the wiry strut of “Moons In My Mirror,” featuring lines like “I never open my post/ I’m a moronic morose.”
His sound was much less futuristic than Gwenno’s but certainly no less “out there,” focussing heavily on the psychedelic. The multi-coloured projector effects of pinks, oranges and red worked well with H. Hawkline’s laidback weirdness, adding to the already trippy, wonky sound. His particular brand of “strange pop” largely features melodic, catchy choruses with surreal lyrics delivered in a sing-speak style and sharp, jangly guitars that often feel like they’re about to go off on their own little adventure. You could describe it as Ariel Pink meets Syd Barrett with a Welsh twist and perhaps even a small hint of the stranger, rougher edges of MGMT. Whatever you choose to call it, it went down a treat.