Welsh surf-rock. It sounds like a stray punchline to an unfunny joke. Or a creative caption dreamt up to grab press attention. It is in fact a refreshingly honest and accurate description of the music Y Niwl make. Across these ten instrumental tracks on their debut self-titled album the four-piece deliver a wonderful homage to a timeless and universal sound that is inextricably linked to late fifties and early sixties California. Even when played by a quartet of Welshmen from chilly Snowdonia: Alun Evans (guitar), Peter Richardson (drums), Sion Glyn (bass) and Gruff ab Arwel (organ and guitar).
The opening pair of songs ‘Undegpump’ and ‘Chwech’ are picture-perfect pieces of early 60s surf instrumentals as made famous by Dick Dale or The Ventures. The lead guitar on ‘Pedwar’ is a touch more raw, recalling Duane Eddy or even Link Wray; ‘Wyth’ sounds closer to the smooth tremelo guitar work of The Shadows but on these songs and throughout Y Niwl add a touch of garage-rock fuzz at the edges. ‘Deg’ and ‘Saith’ are propelled along by scuzzy Farfisa organ – very Question Mark and the Mysterians.
“Y Niwl” could easily be a one-trick pony. A nostalgic tribute delivering a dull re-tread of a familiar formula. Instead it is refreshing, inventive and repays repeated listens, especially at a lean 28 minutes in duration; like me you’ll probably just want to keep hitting ‘repeat’ at the end of the final track. Why does it work so well? The genre is a well-worn path but the neo-garage revival of the 80s and 90s tended to push surf music into blasts of loud, over-driven, primal punk (actually this started as early as 1963 with The Trashmen’s ‘Surfin’ Bird’).
Or worse it was treated with mockery and disdain. Y Niwl faithfully capture the innocence, vibrancy and fun of surf without ever being docile, retro or tame. And whether the beaches you are used to are in California or Conwy, this is music of escape and freedom, joyous and vital. The album also has freshness and immediacy being recorded live to tape with no overdubs. The Welsh language titles give an added aura of mystery and allure. Finding out that these titles are in fact the numbers one to ten in Welsh is the only disappointing aspect to this record.
“Y Niwl” comes out in the first week of December on Aderyn Papur. A winter release date for surf-rock? Why not – it sounds good in any season and listening to Y Niwl's spirited instrumental volleys might just make your year end with a swing and a splash.
Y Niwl play in support of the release of the album in Cardiff, Blaenau FFestiniog, Bristol and on 10 Dec at the Cloud Sounds and Red Deer Club Xmas Bash at Fuel Cafe in Manchester. Catch a wave.
Y Niwl by FollyOfYouth
Y Niwl [BUY or BUY]