Today I will begin a series of blogs on the subject of music from Wales, where I grew up. Being proud of homegrown talent is a huge part of the culture of Wales and mindset of Welsh people and this is my excuse for shining an entirely biased spotlight on some of this great nation’s great tunes. Welsh music has a particular feel to it – you can hear the influence of the ragged landscape and gritty former mining towns of South Wales, and the rolling hills and pronounced isolation of the west of the country have been a rich source of inspiration for many Welsh artists. I could run through the history of Welsh music to date, or I could just dive into it and piece it together as I go along. I’ll opt for the latter.
Let’s start with one of the country’s most recent great white hopes Race Horses…
Race Horses – A guide to throwing it all away
Race Horses were a band based in the Welsh capital of Cardiff and originally from the seaside town of Aberystwyth in West Wales. Forming in 2005, the band went under the moniker Radio Luxembourg and were favourites on the Cardiff music scene. They released their debut album ‘Goodbye Falkenburg’ after changing their name to Race Horses in 2009, but it wasn’t until 2012’s excellent follow-up ‘Furniture‘ that it was clear they’d hit a rich seam of pop gold.
Let’s be clear about this – Furniture is one of the best records made this side of the new millennium. It’s a collection of 10 immaculately written songs, free from clutter and played with real energy and pace. It’s crisp pop music, captured live in the studio and brimming with a thousand ideas. These guys were very good. The songwriting maturity displayed on this album is stunning and these guys were ahead of the game by a country mile. I believe the band members all attended various music schools and perhaps this is where their deft approach to songwriting comes from. They certainly could sing beautiful 5-part harmonies and each member played several instruments. Never mind, together these guys made magical music.
Style-wise, Furniture gives rather a large nod to 80s pop music, but it’s far from a pastiche of the kind of horrible synth-heavy production many bands of that era were afflicted by. Rather, it uses the kind of exciting pop style of that decade as a kind of starting point for much of the album’s music. The album’s energy can be put down to the fact that the album had to be knocked out in just a few days. The band received word of a London studio with an unexpected gap in their schedule and immediately piled down to England’s capital in their van. There are very few overdubs and you can hear the excited electricity of a band racing against the clock.
Tunes. Where to start? My personal favourite is track 3 - ‘Nobody’s Son’. It’s incredibly simple and features just 3 chords – this is where the magic lies – Race Horses are a band who found gems in simplest of places. This song was often played with just a harp as backing during live shows, and singer Meilyr Jones would often join the crowd – this is one of the reason’s why the band was so special live. ‘Sisters’ is another classic, as is the album’s other single ‘My Year Abroad‘.
I discovered the band a few months prior to Furniture‘s release and I remember avidly listening to a Welsh radio live session where they debuted some of the new songs – for me, there was a certain mystery surrounding the music as there was no other way of hearing the new songs. I remember eagerly anticipating this album.
What happened then? It felt as if the band were on the cusp of some very real success. It’s not often a band as young, good looking and gifted as these guys come along, and there was a real sense of exciting amongst those who had been following the band. Here was a Welsh band good enough to rival any other group currently active. Influential people in the music industry clearly thought the same and wangled them headline shows in London and support slots for influential musicians including Bat For Lashes. But just months before a string of dates supporting The Kaiser Chiefs, the band announced that they were disbanding. Understandably, given the amount of help and goodwill sent the band’s way by their supporters, this move provoked a fair amount of anger. Why, oh why, does this have to happen to our band? Without going into much detail, the break-up was messy and we’ll probably never hear these guys perform together again. This is very sad.
I was lucky enough to see them perform 2 shows and an in-store acoustic performance at Cardiff’s legendary Spillers Records. For those of us who were there at the time, let’s console ourselves in the fact that one day, people will look at us enviously when we mention our Race Horses connection. These guys have left a huge gap in the Welsh music scene. Enjoy the album.
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