Friday, July 08, 2011


Race Horses played a Marc Riley session tonight (listen again here) and I suspect once booked for that a Manchester gig was wanted or needed to go alongside it. Hence they were added to this bill with the dreadfully-named Babeshadow who were already scheduled to be playing The Castle Hotel. Whatever the reasons or sequence of events that led to this, seeing the Welsh psyche-popsters in the intimate setting of The Castle was a dead cert even if did mean having to buy tickets for Babeshadow and hope it wasn’t an expensive mistake.

To kick off the evening, a pitiful eight people watched Gabriel Minnikin (not listed anywhere in advance) open for both bands. Damn shame: he and his steel guitar player (and trumpet player for final song) deserved better. Then the numbers did swell as 9pm arrived and as Race Horses started to set up. Now I had heard there had been a line-up change for Race Horses – and it turned out to be an addition: a fifth person on keyboards but also taking up guitar and bass too. And this brought a extra dimension to this set of largely new songs – the expanded Race Horses had the additional hands to engage in some imaginative instrument swapping and extra roles. So for some songs we got two drummers, for others twin keyboard players and so on.

On the first listen some of these new songs appeared to smooth out the erratic kinks, time signature changes and music-hall motley throw-the-kitchen-sink-in approach of first album “Goodbye Falkenburg” (shame) but they also retained the playfulness, energy and great, great melodies. What was also added was a stomping Glitter Band back-beat, a distinctly Pulp-esque feel to ‘Sisters’, a double dose of new wave keyboards and unless I’m mistaken a new song about mince.

Out of a ten song set, all but three (‘Pony’ segued into a furious ‘Grangetown 02920’; the finale ‘Marged Weni Blino’) were new but this did not lead to any disappointment. Race Horses delivered this new material as though they had been playing it for years: the five-piece played as a tightly drilled machine but also made it feel loose and fun and easily able to indulge in some distinctly noisy wig-outs too. It all augurs well for their second album but crucially shows what an excellent live band Race Horses are. After those intense noisy passages the final, lengthy ‘Marged Wedi Blino’ concluded with just Meilyr Jones singing in Welsh over solitary organ. God it was beautiful: rousing, humbling, monumental. For a moment it felt like this sweaty pub venue was transformed and we were witnessing the birth of a new national anthem for Wales.

OK the cask ale may have led to a flight of fancy there but it was a special performance. Once over, the packed and heated room emptied swiftly. Feeling generous I stayed to see Babeshadow. I nearly didn’t get passed the haircuts (I’m so petty) and then the sound-check was a strong signal to leave but somehow I stuck to my rule of giving any band the benefit of doubt over two songs. I didn’t get to the end of the second one. Babeshadow have major label backing and clearly have eyes on the “big time” (and I suspect some of the heavily female audience for them tonight was paid/lured/groomed by said label). Earlier Meilyr had joked that one of their new songs was played with a backing track. “We were semi-pro. This takes us to pro”. But the backing track failed tonight so “we’ll always be semi-pro” he joked. Sorry Race Horses: you always been pro in my eyes and tonight you showed everyone, including the nominal headliner, why.

1 comment:

JVy said...

Nice footage and fresh songs. I miss the dynamics of Race Horses with Alun Gaffey but looking forward to everything anew. Shows what I'm missing here in California.