By Matt Jones
February 27, 2013
A Cardiff boy born and bred, I have never thought the Welsh language was ‘cwl’. Uncritically adopting a disdainful sneer towards my land’s mother tongue – which is easily triggered in a teenager forced to complete a GCSE in the language in the English Capital of Wales – I nevertheless find myself as playfully attracted to Trwbador as I am to the Welsh spelling of ‘tacsi’.
Trwbador are an electro-folk duo from Carmarthenshire, who sound like what would happen if someone brought the ‘wonders of technology’ into the city ignoramus’ image of what rural Wales is like. A desire to show-off their Welsh roots musically and lyrically, whilst avoid falling into the stereotypical Welsh artist back-catalogue, is clear in tonight’s debut album (self-titled) launch – and their choice of support. With regard to the latter, tonight it’s solo artist Osian Rhys from the small village of Llanystumdwy. Arriving with a harmonica, acoustic guitar and a voice that changes pitch more than the Welsh weather, the audience is pleasantly surprised that he is much more than a one-man band. Often choir-boy in voice and composure, but more Bon Iver (Gaeaf Da?) than Aled Jones, the audience is captivated by his naïve expertise.
Taking to the stage soon after Osian, it is clear Trwbador have grown from a similarly paradoxical foundation. Ready on stage in a matter of minutes, they are clearly too well prepped to be at the top, yet with the mere words ‘Hi, we’re Trwbador’ are somehow able to pull the whole of the crowd from the bar to the stage with a Moses-like ability. Opening with a short section from debut-album song ‘Red Handkerchiefs’, whose a capella ‘dong-dong-dongs’ at first like a sound check, the subsequent looping of this with other sung, synthed and strummed melodies is the perfect introduction to the band’s style. Throughout the varied set, Trwbador’s ability to take a humble foundation and fold it into something beautiful and playful in its complexity is clear. The development of the band into this musical cat’s cradle is highlighted by the inclusion in the set of songs from the band’s first EP, in which their experimentation with the electronic only slightly peeps through. Indeed, whilst early track ‘Hit The Bricks’ is a slightly 8-bit folk song, its newer follower in the set, ‘Safe’ is an eighties-sounding dance song that singer-synther Angharad Van Rijswijk admits was inspired by several hours playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. It appears that Angharad must have been tuned into ViceCity’s Emotion 98.3, for the influence of Kate Bush on her vocals is clear but welcome when combined with Trwbador’s own, more playful brand of spooky.
Nonetheless, it is true that the venue and audience make this far from Top of the Pops. Both are as humble and sweet as the band itself, but in this very virtue signal that this exciting band are still hatching. Especially in some of the dancier numbers such as ‘Carpet Burns’, it feels as if the band deserve a larger, better kitted-out venue and would benefit from an audience which is less family and friends and more curious musos or even just partygoers. Granted, it is increasingly difficult for relatively obscure bands to attract new, young audiences to their gigs in the contemporary live music scene. But as a duo tapping into the electronic sound which is so popular right now (for better or for worse) in their own unique way, Trwbador are two to watch.
Trwbador’s tour in support of their debut album launch (out March 1, 2013) continues over the coming days in London, Leicester, Liverpool and Chester (rhyme not intended).
Reach Trwbador’s soundcloud here.