‘I’ve fallen in love with the Welsh’

Bangor Mail - - NEWS - Da­mon Al­barn plans to tour in North Wales

BEST known as the lead singer of Brit­pop band Blur, Da­mon Al­barn is back with a new mu­si­cal ven­ture – and for this one, he’s had a lit­tle help from North Wales.

Hot on the heels of a re­cent tour with The Go­ril­laz, Al­barn has turned his at­ten­tion to record­ing an al­bum with his side-pro­ject, indie rock su­per group The Good, The Bad And The Queen, made up of Al­barn, ex-Clash bassist Paul Si­monon, Tony Allen and Si­mon Tong.

And the 50-year-old Park­life singer has ex­clu­sively re­vealed to our sis­ter pa­per the Daily Post how he recorded one of the tracks of the band’s new al­bum at his­toric Pen­rhyn Cas­tle near Ban­gor – and how the whole ex­pe­ri­ence changed the way he now feels about the Welsh.

“I’ve al­ways felt, as an English­man com­ing into Wales, es­pe­cially as a mu­si­cian, it’s quite her­metic (closed off ) in many ways, the Welsh cul­ture,” said Al­barn.

“I’ve never re­ally felt like there was an open door for me, ex­cept this time, where there was this re­ally warm, re­spect­ful ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I feel com­pletely dif­fer­ent about the Welsh as a re­sult of it. Not that I felt in any way bad about them, just I didn’t re­ally know any Welsh.”

By his own ad­mis­sion, Al­barn knew lit­tle of the re­gion and its quar­ry­ing cul­ture when he vis­ited for the record­ing.

How­ever, hav­ing spent just a few days in the Og­wen Val­ley, he was left cap­ti­vated by the area, the peo­ple who live here and its rich in­dus­trial his­tory – not to men­tion the breath­tak­ing set­ting of Pen­rhyn Cas­tle. “It’s a beau­ti­ful place,” he said. “At first, I thought: ‘fan­tas­tic, we’re record­ing in a cas­tle’ but then it was ex­plained that it wasn’t this fairy­tale me­dieval build­ing, but a much more mod­ern re­cre­ation.

“It’s such a mag­nif­i­cent build­ing but, when you strip away at its his­tory, you see it is built from the (pro­ceeds of the) Ja­maican plan­ta­tions and the quar­ry­men.

“But it’s like they were obliv­i­ous to the suf­fer­ing that en­abled them to live in such grandeur.

“I’ve fallen in love with the Welsh but (while record­ing there) there was a feel­ing in the pit of my stom­ach that there’s ter­ri­ble im­bal­ance in the world be­tween those that have and those that haven’t.

“A place like that re­ally ham­mers that nail home.

“I mean, it’s a beau­ti­ful build­ing, but can you imag­ine how much it would cost these days?

“Imag­ine one fam­ily hav­ing that much money?”

The track’s North Wales links don’t end with Pen­rhyn Cas­tle.

The band also en­listed the help of a male voice choir from Bethesda to pro­vide back­ing vo­cals on the song.

It was Su­per Furry An­i­mals front­man Gruff Rhys, a close friend of Al­barn, who pointed him and his band in the right di­rec­tion.

One of Bethesda’s most fa­mous sons, Gruff passed on the de­tails of Cor Y Pen­rhyn to Al­barn when he be­gan scout­ing record­ing lo­ca­tions.

“It was through Gruff I found the choir.

“I rang him up to see if he had any rec­om­men­da­tions for a choir for me and he put me straight through to these guys, who came from the same vil­lage he grew up in.” he said.

“It was ac­tu­ally the choir who sug­gested we record in the cas­tle. It’s com­pli­cated but I think I lot of them had his­tory with the cas­tle – rel­a­tives who were quar­ry­men.”

For Al­barn, the com­bi­na­tion of the choir’s heart and hall’s his­tory was a mu­si­cal match made in heaven.

In fact, the singer can vividly re­call hear­ing “this beau­ti­ful sound fill­ing all the hall­ways and Gothic stair­ways and the nooks and cran­nies of the cas­tle” by the “won­der­ful” choir.

“It was a re­ally mag­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence with the choir.

“The song ended up be­ing in­spired by the cas­tle.” That’s no ex­ag­ger­a­tion. Al­barn wrote the words to the track, called Lady Bos­ton, af­ter see­ing a paint­ing in the main hall.

“There’s a big Vic­to­rian photo out­side of a hunt­ing party and there was one per­son who looked slightly out of place,” he ex­plains.

“It had all the names along the bot­tom and she was listed as Lady Bos­ton, but I haven’t been able to find out any­thing else about her.

“So I wrote this song about her, based on ev­ery­thing that was go­ing through my head af­ter I had vis­ited the cas­tle.”

So, will Da­mon Al­barn be back? Def­i­nitely, he says. Tour dates have yet to be con­firmed, but he is adamant he and the band will per­form in North Wales: “We’re per­form­ing in Black­pool, and Glas­gow, and we’ll be warm­ing up in some work­ing clubs on the East coast and then, next year, I want to do a proper tour of the British Isles.

“I’ve def­i­nitely got to come to North Wales though.

“The choir are com­ing up to Black­pool in a bus, but I’m def­i­nitely go­ing to play there. I want to play ev­ery­where that in­spired the record. It would be wrong not to. Don’t worry, we’ll be up.”

Lady Bos­ton will fea­ture on The Good, The Bad and The Queen’s new al­bum Mer­rie Land, re­leased on Novem­ber 16.

Pen­rhyn Cas­tle, where Da­mon Al­barn recorded one of the tracks from his new al­bum with band, The Good, The Bad And The Queen

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