Customer Review

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Time it was reissued with the original sleeve design, but still excellent, 9 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Live At Treorchy (Audio CD)
I purchased this CD for my Dad some years ago as he'd owned the vinyl album back in the early 70s when it was first issued. Listening to it one day when at home, I found I enjoyed the album enormously - I knew it would be good to hear it again (I'm one of those people who is unafraid of nostalgia, I think it's a healthy emotion rather than a self-denying one), but I was surprised by how much impact the recording had upon me.

Let me be direct: I am NOT a typical Welshman...or perhaps I should say, I don't fit the clichéd idea of what a Welshman is. I can't stand rugby, hate bad beer, am not very interested in choral singing and so on. I am, however, the grandson of two miners, I was born left wing and I used to be able to sing pretty well. When I was growing up, I found the traditional idea of Welsh identity and culture ever more stultifying the older I got - I despised the way that rugby was more important in my school than academic achievement or artistic ability and being of a creative bent, I rebelled against the clichés of Welshness. Rugby in particular is like a religion in Wales and to be disinterested in it is almost a sin - and I still find this attitude amongst my countrymen irritating in the extreme. I also hated the small-mindedness of many people in Wales regarding culture - you could be the greatest artists in the world, but unless you tackled subjects that fit the bill of 'Welshness', you'd get little or no attention. For example, the greatest living Welshman to me is John Cale (founder member of the Velvet Underground) but instead of being a household name in Wales, most Cymric people have never heard of him.

With this in mind, you'd think Max Boyce would not appeal to me. Dismissed by a friend of mine as a 'professional Welshman' (and I understand what he means), I didn't think I'd enjoy hearing 'Live in Treorchy' again that much.
However, I soon found an excuse to 'borrow' it from my father's CD collection and add it to my own...

Despite my feelings of anathema toward rugby, I enjoyed what was originally side one of the vinyl album. Boyce is a true 'folk artist', reflecting as he did then the pleasures, aspirations and attitudes of the people of his milieu. he creates a feeling of involvement, closeness and warmth, which is too easily interpreted as tribalism or hegemony. It's worth remembering that this album was recorded live at a rugby club near the top of the Rhondda valley, definitive mining country, during a period of great ups and downs for miners. Not suffering the privation of their forefathers, but still seeing their fathers and grandfathers dying slowly of respiratory diseases caused by their labours, Boyce's key audience respond to him with affection. A former miner himself, Boyce understands the love of the common Welshman for his Saturday recreation and deftly translates it into witty song. Boyce is a consummate craftsman here and to understand the pride many Welsh people felt during the glory days of Cymric rugby (which were starting to draw to a close when this album was recorded), you can do no better than listen to these songs.

What affected me even more were the more poetic, tragic folksongs that make up much of side two: numbers about the decline of the mines and the effects of pit closures on communities, the tragedy of the hardness of life as a miner, the gentle black melancholy of the Welsh soul - all rendered sensitively, Romantically (note the large R) and eloquently. It is this darker material that I recalled less, being not so interested in it as a boy as I was in the jokes and the rugby songs. Now, it is clear to me that these more serious songs are Boyce's finest work - and a very neglected part of his oeuvre. It is by these works we should judge him. he may not be as well-versed in shades of irony and bible blackness as either Dylan Thomas or Gwynn Thomas, but his common touch makes his accessibility vitally important as a Welsh icon.

I know this all seems very dour and serious, but the authentic, close atmosphere of this recording -easily one of my favourite live albums (and that's saying something) - will make you smile. But the more reflective material should not be underrated, as it is not just historically important, but does say something about the Cymric soul.

Obviously, this review is subjective. Being Welsh, I cannot judge or imagine how Boyce could be viewed by a thoughtful and perceptive non-Cymric audience and I could understand it if they just felt his work was silly and sentimental Taffy nonsense. Having lived in England for a long time, still finding my homeland small-minded and lacking in aspiration and imagination at times, but loving the warmth and unpretentiousness of many of the people and always in admiration of the harsh, doomy countryside of the nation, I'll admit some objectivity - but not much. My father was born in Cwmparc and I visited Treorchy numerous times as a child and still have relatives there, so naturally I'm biased, even against my will.

As an authentic document of South wales culture, this album is essential, every bit as important as the works of writers like Alun Richards and Gwyn Thomas, though not as profound. I urge all Welsh people to also look beyond the obvious at Welsh rock artists like Cale and the psychedelic band Man, both of whom were almost ignored by traditional audiences in their times (unlike Manic Street Preachers, who broke through to popular Welsh acclaim). But I wish this album would be reissued with the original cover design, which is far better and more iconic than this shoddily packaged and presented CD. The recording itself, however, remains seminal and the best thing Boyce ever did.
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