I thought I’d cheer myself up and remind myself of last week’s holiday spent in Pembrokeshire today because after two days back at work my serenity is fading fast; if only I had an LP named after one of the beautiful beaches we spent most of our time at. If only that were the case readers, if only (sighs mournfully).
Sorry? what’s that my magic record shelves? such a beast does exist and it’s an exquisite bilingual, slightly melancholy, psychedelic-tinged pastoral masterpiece? of course, it simply has to be Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci Barafundle, pretty much my favourite LP from 1997.
The wonderfully named Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci* hailed from my hometown of Carmarthen in west Wales, although only after I left there – not that I was suppressing them or anything. I was introduced to them by my brother who was the same age as them and who once pointed out one of them in the street to me; I’m a little unclear which one, I wasn’t paying attention properly. Their early, wilder unpolished releases led to one of my favourite LPs 1995’s Bwyd Time (literally ‘food time’, or time to eat), after which they were signed up to Fontana and released Barafundle.
Barafundle is a much more polished affair, some of the oft-times jarring sound clashes of yesteryear were jettisoned in favour of a little more melody and coherence, but this is not a watered-down affair at all, just more focused. The band who were totally bilingual, sing in either English or Welsh, or sometimes both in the same song, governed solely by whichever language sounded better for the tune, which I have always thought was damn cool. Gorky’s always used interesting instrumentation, not many bands feature a violinist as part of their core line-up, but on this LP they went for broke – I have never knowingly encountered a shawm before, or two crumhorn players on a single track (‘Cursed, Coined & Crucified’, since you ask), or a track featuring four separate musicians playing a gas tank. But, this is more than an instrument zoo – it all meshes beautifully. This is down to the sheer quality of songwriting and playing, the core members Euros Childs, Richard James, Megan Childs, Euros Rowlands and John Lawrence are just brilliant; Euros Childs in particular having a particularly great ear for a melody.
You want a deceptively low-key beginning? then check out ‘Diamond Dew’, quietly shuffling, almost bashfully into view via excellent use of the Jew’s harp, it suddenly soars into a banjo-fuelled** chorus about the ‘giant sun soaring high’ – ‘Enter Sandman’ this ain’t. ‘Barafundle Bumbler’ is next up, it’s lyrics dealing with a lonely beach voyeur ‘Couples are best / When they start to caress / One finger here / One fing-‘, the music stroppy and uptight to begin with, relaxes into a pastoral idyll at the end as the watcher sings of the beauty of the water and sun. The lovely, romantic ‘Starmoonsun’ is up next (‘When you cry – there is no sky’), which I dig for the brilliant medieval interlude about halfway through when the shawms kick in and kick ass. The ‘big’ single on the LP, ‘Patio Song’ has grown on me over the years, I always thought it a bit saccharine before, is a love song of sorts, albeit with lyrics about a sun-soaked patio being on fire, halfway through the language switches to Welsh as the rain begins and the mood changes. Neat.
How much you like this LP will primarily depend on your tolerance levels for acoustic guitar / organ / violin – fuelled whimsy; Mrs 1537 has so little that I can employ Barafundle as a particularly effective wife scarer, a damned useful tool in any married gentleman’s armoury.
My favourite tracks here are the gentle, upbeat ‘Heywood Lane’ – which will be my theme music when I get my own TV show, I love the lyric, ‘Auntie Clancy and Uncle Gifford / May I see the way you differ?’, it makes me chuckle every time. The discordant guitar and violins of ‘Meirion Wyllt’ (Wild Meirion), hit the spot perfectly, stopping things from getting too comfortable – Megan Childs violin playing is particularly great on this track. The Bond-movie horns of ‘Miniature Kingdoms’ works for me every time too. My favourite track today is the gorgeous ‘Dark Night’ (nope, not a misspelt song about Batman, sadly) but a beautiful, stately tune about, hey! a dark night until Euros Childs starts to sing,
But what is all this liquid,
All inside my brain
Swooping around like indoor rain
… and it gets stranger from there on in, via woozy rhythms and a strange interlude, or two. The production by Gorwel Owen and the band themselves is flawless throughout.
Overall Barafundle sounds exactly like the area it was written about, this is good rural product containing almost constant references to the sea and the weather but still far too odd to sound twee and of course it was far too odd to resonate with the majority of folks out there, which is fine by me. Gorky’s pull off the rather neat trick of never sounding self-consciously odd, or wacky though, which I just instinctively hate whenever I hear it in a record, instead you get the sense that this was just them, where they were and where they were at when they produced this.
And there you have it, Barafundle in all it’s glory. And as this is my 200th post, here am I in all my glory on Barafundle Bay – I know, I know, the ancient wisdom of the elders dictates that only one man this good-looking can be born to any generation (sort of like a Highlander-type thing), it’s a cross I’ve had to bear all my days.
P.S – Barafundle Bay was once voted one of the best 12 beaches in the world, I sort of stole this photo from Wikipedia by mistake.
*apparently they deliberately went for the worst name they could think up one day at school, ‘zygotic’ taken from a biology text-book and ‘mynci’ a mispronunciation of ‘monkey’ – although from vague recollection it rings a bell as a Welsh slang word for hippy – I’d need to check that out.
** no banjo listed in the credits, sneaky.