by Jessica Heap
To start the evening we were treated to H. Hawkline, a Welsh singer-songwriter not dissimilar to Rhys himself and from my seat, almost identical bar a maroon shirt. Perfectly timed, Hawkline delivered multiple songs with no introductions to fit as many in as possible, including 3 whose lyrics were written that morning. As a solo act, Hawkline offered a different sound to what we were going to get from Rhys. Beautiful acoustic melodies with no frills attached.
Following on we were greeted by Rhys himself, stating that he would perform his encore before the main event as it is “difficult to follow a 70 piece orchestra”. The classics were covered, accompanied by two backing singers, a pianist, bassist and drummer. My personal highlight was when the pianist produced the humble, primary school recorder to play during one of his songs. Although I am not a strong believer in a seated concert, there was still enough energy within the room of Gruff Rhys’ gig to compensate for it. Rhys demanded our attention, and we were happy to oblige. We were promised the first live hearing of his new album ‘Babelsberg’ and Rhys delivered. However, during the (pre)encore, the lighting of a few of the tracks were epilepsy inducing (a positive for a stand-up event, not so great for a seated affair).
As the orchestra enter the stage, Rhys showed us his method to view both the conductor and sit at the front of the stage – a wing mirror removed from a moped. With everyone seated comfortably, the main event began and the room fell to a silent state of awe. Rhys performed the album as it would appear on the record, starting at track one and mentioning in the middle to turn to side two. The album is a work of art, with Rhys’ dirge lyrics perfectly complemented by the strings and harps as well as a surprise xylophone. Upon the first listen to the album, the lyrics are not so important but when sung live, the songs have a stronger force and the lyrics become far more important to hear and understand.
Hearing the album in a live setting was magical and I strongly urge you to try and see this event live. His next UK dates are in early November onwards starting in Hove on the 9th. Even if there is no live orchestra, just to hear Babelsberg in person will be worth every penny. If you are also able to attend any of the other Festival of Voice events (or have been to some already), the energy within the Wales Millennium Centre and the surrounding Cardiff Bay area is like none other. Watching music and culture collide in a creative space on this level is worth experiencing even if it’s just to grab food and a drink in the Hub.
Photography by: Joe Singh from Snaprockandpop (top) and Janire Najera from 4 Pi Productions (bottom).