Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Welsh Wednesday #9: Under Dubwood

This week marks the centenary of the birth of one of Wales’ most revered and famous sons – Dylan Thomas. There’s a whole host of events marking the occasion across the country, but centred particularly on his birthplace and hometown of Swansea.

Cerys Matthews has released a new double album of Dylan Thomas-inspired material, but I’m not posting anything from that as it’s brand new and you should buy it anyway, if only because it’s Cerys! No, instead I’m posting one of the most unusual yet utterly delightful records to have been released in the last couple of years. And I’m not sure it even strictly qualifies as Welsh…

One of Dylan Thomas’ most well-known works was the play ‘Under Milk Wood’. It is, essentially, one of the great works of Welsh literature (although it wasn’t written in the Welsh language). In a nutshell, it is a study of village life in Wales, set in the fictional village of Llareggub (which is ‘bugger all’ backwards!)[1] More specifically, it concentrates on the hopes and dreams of the residents in a touching, but frequently humourous way. Of course, I’m always going to align myself with Organ Morgan, the music-obsessed church organist.

The role of narrator is most closely associated with Richard Burton, himself born in the South Wales valleys near Swansea. He starred as the narrator in four adaptations of Under Milk Wood; three BBC radio versions – the last of them posthumously in 2003 – and the 1972 movie which also starred his then-wife Elizabeth Taylor and numerous other notables such as Peter O’Toole, Victor Spinetti and Ruth Madoc.

And so to today’s track. Now I have absolutely no idea who Dubwood Allstars are or where they’re from. That’s a complete mystery. However, in 2012, a 7” split-single was released on the Rivertones label. On one side, it featured a track called Under Dubwood by The Dubwood Allstars.[2] In essence it is a mash-up of Richard Burton reading a segment of ‘Under Milk Wood’ set to a blissful dub reggae backing track by King Tubby. It’s bizarre, yet completely charming.

So the quandary I had was: does Under Dubwood qualify as a Welsh Wednesday entry? I don’t have a clue if the Dubwood Allstars – whoever they are – are Welsh, and King Tubby certainly isn’t. But little says “WALES” more passionately than Richard Burton reading Dylan Thomas (although surely that new Cerys album comes pretty darn close!), so for that reason alone it makes it. My series, my rules, right?

‘Under Milk Wood’ continues to be loved by generation after generation who are equally inspired by its charm and wit. A 2014 TV adaptation made by the BBC (who else!) starred a plethora of Welsh talent including singers Tom Jones, Charlotte Church, Katherine Jenkins and Bryn Terfel, plus acclaimed Welsh actors Jonathan Pryce, Michael Sheen, Ioan Gruffudd and Eve Miles (best known as Gwen Cooper in Torchwood).

If you’ve never seen, heard or read ‘Under Milk Wood’, you should try to do so this week as a salute to arguably the greatest Welsh scribe in modern history.

    [1] Terry Pratchett fans may be aware that the country Llamedos in the Discworld novels is ‘sod ‘em all’ backwards, a direct nod to Thomas.
    [2] On the other side was an act calling themselves The Time And Space Machine with the track River Theme, a “reconstruction” of a song called The River by psychedelic rock band Octopus from their 1971 album ‘Restless Night’.

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