Gwenno – Newtown Social Club, Sydney 13th of October 2016


Sales had been slow for this gig, but on the night Gwenno said it reminded her of the Welsh Club in Cardiff, there were so many Welsh people here, if not Welsh speakers, and she even identified one Cornish person. Support act was Shoeb Ahmad, to whom Gwenno gave ‘humungous’ props, a drone-based Bangladeshi electronic musician based in Canberra, who is wearing a dress tonight, and runs helloSquare recordings, and uses instruments such as percussive bells, a small harmonium-like box instrument and other instruments from traditional folk bands acquired from trips to Bangladesh, along with samplers, pedals and a laptop. He has performed with people such as Mike Cooper, and tonight plays an extensive drone set which reaps applause.

Gwenno opened with ‘Patriarchaeth’, which she says ‘means the same rubbish in any language’, from her debut album Y Dydd Olaf (The Final Day), based on Welsh writer Owain Owain’s 1976 science fiction novel, which is about a dystopian future where humans are enslaved by robots, and being rapidly turned into clones but the protagonist, Mark, averts this by keeping a diary in Welsh, although he eventually goes mad, repeating the same words, ‘Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki’ over and over again, encouraging people to ‘Come and dance in the sunset to songs which are trivial and alarming’. Patriarchy’s lyrics translate to ‘Patriarchy and your soul is under siege/The sack is heavy, the road is steep/your humanity is still up for sale’. ‘Stwff expresses Gwenno’s point of view: ‘Young and ambitious in a minority culture/I joined the middle but it didn’t really impress me’. The title track expresses the robots’ point of view: ‘let us rejoice in the continuing success of our glorious tyrants/Is this is the last day that reminds you of the first?’ Another song, ‘Chwyldro‘ (Revolution) states ‘don’t forget that your heart is in the revolution’, although Gwenno says they’re usually pretty bloody and unpleasant.

Sisial y Môr (The Whispering Sea) is a song about Cardiff Bay, and expresses how much Gwenno hates Cardiff Council, for what they’ve done to it, when it could be such a beautiful place: ‘The angry rain is slapping, slapping our faces/whilst we insist on having/ a peek at the scenery/trying to remember an old museum/but we’re none the wiser as to what was there first’. Calon Peiriant (The Heart of the Machine) asks ‘Is the body decaying?/is the technology in the hands/of those who are irresponsible?/or those who are reasonable?’ to a backdrop of a Cardiff cityscape. Amser (Time) the one final song in Cornish, is based on a poem by her father, Tim Saunders, about how time slips away from us, but nature continues: ‘The trees have not stopped growing, they have not stopped/the stream has not stopped flowing, it has not stopped’.

The set is less than an hour, but full of substance and heavenly pop reminiscent of Broadcast, Stereolab, and other synth pop favourites. Gwenno was accompanied by her partner and Peski records label boss, Rhys Edwards, on guitar, complete with violin bow on the opening track, and electronics. She commented that she had spent the day in Sydney community radio stations, and was very impressed, ‘so hats off to you!’.


About Author

Tony Mitchell is an honoraray research associate at the University of Technology, Sydney. He has edited a number of books: on global hip hop (Global Noise, 2001), on Australian Popular Music (Sounds of Then, Sounds of Now, 2008), and New Zealand Music (Home Land and Sea, 2011). He is currently co-editing a book about Icelandic music.