Reviews

Welsh GeoffWelsh Geoff
Album: Crug Mawr
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 10
Website: http://www.welshgeoff.co.uk

Welsh Geoff is a singer-songwriter based just south of Sheffield, who can legitimately be termed unique, with a performing style that, once heard, is pretty unmistakable - and not just because he happens to sound exactly as you might imagine from his stage name! Yes, his name really is Geoff, and he does hail from Wales: South Wales in fact, and proud of it, for his songs openly celebrate that region's heritage. The twist here (and the mark of his individuality) is that his method is to companionably and almost confidentially share with the listener what amounts to almost a parallel-universe version of his native region of South Wales, one that exists despite the familiar, even stereotyped preconceptions and images of the area, one which is conveyed through Geoff's own upbringing, perceptions and wry observations. This is South Wales, its essence and its history as viewed through the lens of its peculiar social micro-climate and actually quite esoteric sub-culture, for Geoff presents an affectionate, frequently amusing and at times slightly surreal take on regional and/or parochial local legends, ostensibly tall tales which more often than not are filtered through the experiences and attitudes of local "characters".

Crug Mawr is Geoff's fourth CD, forming a worthy sequel to The Tregaron Nuclear Disaster & Other Stories, Cwmdonkin Park and Rock & Frigidaire, in demonstrating the ongoing development of Geoff's craft, the quality of his wordplay and the consistency of his invention. His modus operandi is to carry forward the songwriting tradition in his own special manner, (whether consciously or not) taking as his role-models the established master-songmakers, from Woody Guthrie to Ewan MacColl and Ray Hearne, Richard Thompson to Bob Dylan, and even Jake Thackray to Tom Lehrer. Just like these figures, Geoff brings to his songs knowing resonances of classic traditional folk and popular song (which now includes rock'n'roll, blues and country of course), slyly (and accessibly) evoking aspects of the musical culture that's at the heart of our collective experience; he then places them within the framework of the socio-historical and geographical specifics of his native South Wales, to absolutely irresistible effect. In other words, although Geoff's stock-in-trade is subject matter which can be unashamedly in-joke by its very nature, he manages to share it in such an appealing way by enabling ready identification with the listener, building an instant rapport through the use of familiar idioms and naggingly-not-quite-recalled melodies or structures. Geoff's also a more than adept self-accompanist (either on melody-driven guitar or, on four of the songs, Seeger-esque banjo), with an appealing and listenable style.

The casual or first-time listener is likely to remark that Geoff's songs can be roughly divided into categories. First, there's those based on biker-lore, like the hilarious anecdote-filled Dunvant & Byghyfred (chronicling the adventures and personalities of the "Done & Buggered MCC") and the "Chuckin' Berry"-rhythmed Chicken Run (which potently captures the fear and glory of the 60s motorcycle age in Swansea in recounting an incident that allegedly took place on the city's first, notorious by-pass). Then there's songs where Geoff retells local legends in his own inimitable way: St. Cenydd, ostensibly the story of the (locally) famous 9th century Gower Peninsula saint (which manages to bring in some cheeky embellishments in the form of appropriately "doddery" references); and the CD's avowedly epic closing track Crug Mawr, which tells of a 12th century battle at which Welsh ruler Gryffydd ap Rhys subdued a large number of Norman knights. (Some very occasional instances of phrase repetition in the lyrics of the last track may engender a mild sense of déja-vu, but these prove no barrier to our enjoyment of the whole in due context.)

Some of the songs are more deliberately "proper-folksong-like" - forebitter-style The Cantre'r Gwaelod rather recalls Across The Western Ocean, whereas the wistful King Of The Salty Sea has much of the feel (and structure) of Maid On The Shore. And then there's what might be termed Geoff's comparatively serious side, here in evidence on songs like Albert Cratchley (a heartfelt tribute to Geoff's great-uncle, a violinist in London whose lungs were damaged when he was gassed in France during the First World War) and rousing album opener The Collier Kings, a reflection on the ascendance of the working man that's triggered by Geoff's childhood memory of a rag-tag miners' band marching around the Rhondda's terraced streets in the evenings. Several of the strands of Geoff's songwriting are brought together on the disc's gently majestic centrepiece Taliesin, which among other things serves to illustrate his central thesis that "South Wales is more than coalfields and has a future as well as a past".

Finally, I should also highlight the honest and unassumingly as-live nature of the recording itself; there's no frills or gimmicks, for Geoff doesn't need to hide behind such devices to convince us of his talent. Crug Mawr can be classed a gig-purchase CD, sure, but it's one of those rare exceptions to that breed in that you'll be wanting often to revisit these songs in these entertaining studio renditions that are far from being a sterile replica of the essential live presence of Welsh Geoff, his genial humour, generous humanity and the integrity of his personal vision.

David Kidman