We are heading on a road trip to Wales and more pertinently Saundersfoot and Tenby. Some of my most precious memories are from Pembrokeshire having had family holidays there as a child and then as the father of my child. My grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and closest friends have all contributed to some beautiful times in the area.
In particular, there’s a particular place on Coppet Sands that will always be close to my heart. It is our spot where we had family barbecues, where I remember my grandparents at their happiest and where my daughter has rock pooled, played boules and built sand castles. I’ve got a photograph of my grandfather on the beach on the one time during the summer that he was well enough to go on holiday after my nan died. It is one of the only times that I remember him smiling in the eighteen or so months that he was with us after that sad time. I’ve even got the global grid references on a bracelet which has never left my wrist since it was given to me by my other half and daughter. It is a combination of sun trap and shelter, a little piece of heaven. The cover image captures the view looking to Monkstone Point and beyond that, Tenby.
I’ve been thrilled in recent years by the rise in prominence of Welsh music. No longer is Wales seen as some musical outpost. What is apparent from much of Welsh music is a sense of otherness. This is none more so than in the music of the Super Furry Animals (SFA).
When my daughter was little we had very little cash to splash. We were living in London, away from friends and family. There was a certain sense of “us against the world”. The SFA LPs are generally pretty optimistic affairs and I had bought “Phantom Power” on Ebay for a couple of quid. It ended up on repeat in the car and my daughter (who must have been only a couple of years old at the time) always responded to the calming opening vocals that sounded like something from “In The Night Garden”. I loved “In The Night Garden” and I always looked forward to getting home from work, having a cup of peppermint tea and listening to Derek Jacobi tell tales of Iggle Piggle and their friends. For some reason it really helped me decompress from the horrible job that I had at the time. It was around the time of the 2008 crash and working in the construction industry, I was especially vulnerable to the turmoil that the world was going through.
The beautiful introduction was sampled from “By The Sea” by Wendy and Bonnie. This is a gorgeous breathy folk track, two female voices harmonising like waves breaking on the shore. Their LP “Genesis” features a stellar line up of musicians including Jim Keltner, Larry Carlton and Mike Melvoin, father of Wendy Melvin, Prince’s keyboard player and one half of Wendy and Lisa (no doubt taking the inspiration from the name of this sixties duo). Wendy and Bonnie Flower were sisters and after the use by SFA, they enjoyed something of a renaissance with Wendy even joining the band on stage to perform the song in San Francisco, an apt location.
The band’s melody and chorus kick straight in and are immediately almost uplifting – “Hello Sunshine, come into my life”. I would turn around and see my daughter beaming in her car seat. And at face value, the overwhelming sweetness remains. But the second refrain kicks in.
I’m a minger, you’re a minger too. Come on minger, I want to ming with you.
In our little Skoda capsule, we were safe and together as a family. We had flaws but loved each other because of them. We were “mingers” but we were in this together. There was a sadness and a sense of resignation to the lyrics but there’s optimism too. It is the contradictions that make such a wonderful song.
In honesty it’s been a while
Since we had reason left to smile
Come into my life
I love “Phantom Power”. There is a sentimental attachment undoubtedly but it has some of SFA’s strongest songs – “Golden Retriever”, “Slow Life”, “The Undefeated”. But “Hello Sunshine” has a special place in our hearts. I’m even prouder now that I know that the band turned down a seven figure sum from Coca Cola for licensing the song.
We’ve enjoyed pretty much all of the SFA’s work. We’re thrilled to see them back and working again and are looking forward to going to see (as a family) them perform there first two LPs in December. For me, SFA are seriously undervalued. Whenever those “who’s the best British band since the Beatles?” conversations start on social media, the band never get a look-in. I would concur that their albums don’t have that iconic status but often that is an external judgement applied to an LP for some reason of social significance. Give me any of SFA’s albums over “The Stone Roses” any day of the week. They are chock full of inventiveness and musical quality.
And they’re back playing “Hello Sunshine” again. Here’s a radio session from earlier in the year.
So we’re back in Pembrokeshire. The weather forecast is lousy but I’m sure we’ll all be fine.