John Cale at Llais

October 30, 2022 by

Our second day at Llais festival was a bit of a special one, as it surely would have been for anyone who has been for a while a devotee of classic rock – having grown up with the likes of Lou Reed and David Bowie steadily in my headphones, and owing much of my love of music to the deep roots of that scene, it was an absolute privilege to be able to witness the legendary John Cale live in a special event celebrating his 80th birthday and his long and eventful artistic career. Joining him on stage was an array of the best Welsh music has to offer – from the unmistakable voice of Cate Le Bon to the Manics’ own James Dean Bradfield, to the unique charm of Gruff Rhys’ voice and guitar, not forgetting Symphonia Cymru and the House Gospel Choir, which provided the musical backbone to an overall outstanding evening.

Taking a step back, however, the day had been thick with interesting events, with another packed programme demonstrating once more the breadth of scope this year’s Llais has to offer. Visitors to the Weston studio enjoyed the privilege of witnessing Pussy Riot’s Riot Days, a work that is even more relevant now in light of the recent international news from an artist collective that has been one of the loudest and most challenging voices at the intersection of music and politics. Starting in the mid-afternoon, another stand-out event was the selection of up-and-coming artists brought to the stage by Race Council Cymru, in a free event championing some of the best in Black Welsh music. Artists including Afro Cluster, Ify Iwobi, and Anwar Siziba demonstrated the huge range of talent Black Welsh musicians have to offer, evoking a sound landscape which ranged from RnB to soul, from calypso to Afrobeat and giving a poignant snapshot of how much the future of music lies at the intersection of cultures and contaminations. Walking a little earlier into the WMC before the evening’s event will also have offered visitors a chance to witness the Cardiff Music History: City of Sound exhibition, which is sure to prove of great interest to anyone who is interested in the history of music as culture and culture through music. The exhibition summons an image of Cardiff past and present through the medium of the music events which have been woven into the tapestry of the city’s cultural life, through authentic objects like flyers, tickets, records, and photos from live events, and will remain available to see until November 23rd.

Then it was time to step into the final event of the day, a night of music that was much, much more than a simple exercise in reminiscence over the past glories of classic rock. John Cale has a musician’s charisma and a tongue-in-cheek charm that he effortlessly infuses into every track he plays, be it a classic from the Velvet Underground repertoire (I am sure I am not the only one whose heart skipped a beat in hearing the opening bars of Waiting for My Man) or one of the excellent new tracks included in the setlist, which coupled classic chords with the kind of experimentation and innovation which is projected into the future even more than the present. More than simply a celebration of the man – whose voice and stage presence remain unmistakably familiar, and who breezed effortlessly through a two-hour set which would have proved daunting to many a young artist – the evening turned out to be a true celebration of music as a whole, a joyous convergence of voices across generations showing the depth of connections built by rock music through time and its deeper nature as a whole cultural environment, capable of generating and preserving emotions, of bringing people together, of linking the old and the new, of summoning pictures and feelings which are timeless because they are ever relevant. Aided by atmospheric visuals and carried by the heartfelt enjoyment of all artists involved, the show was one of the most heartening experiences a music lover could hope for: well beyond the classic statement of ‘rock is not dead’, it was definitive proof that rock is a deep-rooted plant continuously sprouting new blooms, which is sure to bear more, much-needed fruit in the near future.


Image by Polly Thomas


Other Llais reviews:

Les Amazones d’Afrique and Vieux Farka Touré at Llais Festival

A day at Llais Festival

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