The green-bearded Bard of Ely talks about his songs
Early songwriting influences
I have found out that it is OK for me to indulge in some blatant self-publicity for my songs and songwriting skills so here goes - I will endeavour to tell you a bit about my musical and lyrical creations.
First of all I'd like to explain how I got started. It was probably as long ago as 1964 when I was 11 and The Beatles and Merseybeat were really happening. I remember having childish dreams shared with some of my school friends of being a pop singer one day. It was from that age on that I was getting to really enjoy popular music and soon discovered that I loved the Rolling Stones much more than The Beatles. I also got into soul and Tamla Motown and ska music. The first LP I bought was You're All I Need by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell and my first singles were Chuck Berry's No Particular Place To Go and Desmond Dekker's Israelites.
Then around 1966 and '67 onwards besides getting to enjoy Bob Dylan and the other protest singer-songwriters I got totally into the songs of the sixties and the psychedelic pop and rock. Bands I loved in the late sixties included Jethro Tull, Procol Harum, Canned Heat, Tyrannosaurus Rex, The Move, the Beach Boys, Incredible String Band, Roxy Music, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, and singer-songwriters Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison, David Bowie,Cat Stevens, Roy Harper, Joni Mitchell, Melanie, Donovan and many more.
Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell Ain't no Mountain High Enough
Bard of Ely photos
Welsh Wizard (Crum's mix) by Bard of Ely
Welsh Wizard on Amazon
Festivals and my favourites at the age of 16
By the age of 16 I was going to gigs and pop/rock festivals and listening to John Peel's Top Gear where I discovered Edgar Broughton Band, Kevin Ayers, The Idle Race, Bridget St John and many more acts that were not mainstream but that I became a big fan of.
I got a cheap Spanish guitar around the age of 16 I think it was and started to learn to play. I had already been writing poems so to move on to songwriting came naturally enough and by the time I left school in 1971 I had a few songs of my own and had started playing support spots locally in folk clubs and open mic sessions.
I had dreams of becoming a famous singer-songwriter but I hadn't a clue how to go about it. I expected it just to happen and it never did. I also was disappointed to discover that audiences far preferred humorous songs and ones with silly lyrics than my serious material.
I had a song entitled Extracting the Latex from a Rubber Ducky (now shortened to Rubber Ducky) that had an almost cult following. I had a real rubber duck that I would squeak and would be helped out by friends who fancied a bit of fun on stage.
I also was backed for a while by a brilliant classically trained guitarist called Simon Goss and with his help I would do different versions of the song. "This week we are doing the blues version," I would say and Simon would immediately come up with a great blues backing for the ditty.
Droid at Windsor Free Festival
At that stage of my life I was known as "Droid", from my surname Andrews. When I went on stage it was "Droid and Friends."
In 1973 I managed to convince them to let me on between acts at Windsor Free Festival and ended up getting an encore for this song aided and abetted by two friends who squeaked the ducky and blew a kazoo, and with me on vocals and a beat-up guitar. The crowd went wild for this but it actually depressed me that this was the sort of trashy song they wanted.
So I never realised what an opportunity I had then. Nowadays I would jump at such a chance but I was young and foolish!
Van Morrison at the Rainbow Theatre
And my fame from this song was spreading. I went to London once to see Van Morrison at the Rainbow Theatre and had gone in a pub at the end of a terraced street for a pint beforehand. I was amazed to find that I had some guy shaking my hand and raving on - "Oh wow- you're the guy from Wales that does the Rubber Ducky song. All my mates have heard about it and you've got to come over and meet them," he said excitedly.
Chapter Arts Centre
So my fame had travelled all the way to London from Cardiff but it didn't translate into a record deal or anything and depressed me that a song I thought was stupid was getting all this attention. I decided to kill the Rubber Ducky and did so at Chapter Arts Centre in a specially rehearsed new and final version of the song. We (Droid and Friends) had a shoe-box coffin and a coffin-bearer and my friend Adrian playing the funeral march on a snake-charming flute. After that I got nicknamed DRD, which stood not for Droid but for Dead Rubber Ducky and people kept saying when are you going to resurrect him?
I did many years later in the '90s when a recording of the song actually got included first on the limited edition plum-coloured vinyl EP Mask on Pink Lemon from Germany and again on a Various Artists compilation, Take it to the Bridge. My song even made it into being used in the S4C Welsh TV channel's drama Y Ty (The House.) And CJ Stone wrote about Rubber Ducky in his column in The Guardian and in The Last of the Hippies book.
That lengthy gap in my music career was caused by a combination of factors including drug problems and also becoming a single parent in the late '70s. I got back into performing after getting into Scientology in 1986 and by '89 I had a song entitled Jungle Love included on the Various Artists vinyl LP compilation Meltdown The Album. It even got my name in Q magazine where Paul Davies called my song "swamp rock" and said it was a "highlight" of the album.
Of course this was very exciting and got my hopes up of finally getting somewhere but what followed was several attempts at getting bands together and keeping them going, many small gigs, lots more songs that ended up on cassettes released on underground labels, great reviews in fanzines, some appearances on local TV and radio, but never that elusive "big break."
There were some high points though like getting my song Sound of One included on the Off The Shelf CD Pop Vocals and Instrumentals Vol 3 and from this it ended up being played more than once on the Channel 5 soap Family Affairs. I got to play various festivals through the '90s too including Llanfair Folk Fayre, Newport Jazz Festival, Llanishen Festival and Glastonbury on some of the smaller stages like the Wise Crone.
Glastonbury '98 was a memorable year for me because it was a really wet year and after days of living with mud and water everywhere it was hard to be at your best. However, I had an encore and remember thinking, well, if I can play 45 minutes in conditions like this with just a guitar and my voice as instruments, then I don't need a band much as I would like one.
I have often been compared with Neil Young, although I know this is more because of my voice than musicianship, but I am nevertheless very proud of this comparison. And knowing that Neil often plays solo acoustic sets as well as his rocking ones with Crazy Horse, I liked to think that my Glastonbury '98 performance was such a set.
Another of my rock star "heroes" I am compared with is John Lennon and one of the only covers that became a regular part of my set is Stand By Me, which John also did a version of. I interpret the lyric literally though and ask the audience to come and help me out by standing, singing or dancing by me!
My recordings over the years were made at various cheap studios and also at friends' home recording set-ups. Because I never got to be able to give the songs their best treatment I often dream about redoing all my best ones at a top studio with a top producer!
In 2002 and 2003 I was back at Glastonbury again but this time it was in the role of compere for the Avalon Stage and I also played the Avalon Cafe Stage.
By then I had out the song, which was probably the nearest I got to the kind of publicity needed to get anywhere in the crazy world of music, with the release of You're a Liar, Nicky Wire on the Taffia EP on Crai Records. It even had Phil Moxham from the legendary Young Marble Giants on it. Jah Scouse - a legend around Cardiff - was the other member of Taffia, and he is carrying on with some new musical partners.
Because You're a Liar, Nicky Wire was humorously taking a poke at the Manic Street Preachers and their bass-player it was contraversial enough to get banned from a local record store. That got it a rave review in the NME singles page, while it was still a demo, and featured on the BBC R1 Session in Wales site.
It was all looking good but then the sort of luck you don't need happened because the release on Crai got delayed by something being wrong with the master. By the time the EP was finally out the BBC said it was past its "newsworthiness date" - referring as it did to the Manic Millennium of 1999-2000 - and so they wouldn't play it again. The BBC can make or break a new act and in my case it was break but in the negative way.
Green Man Festival
In 2003 I was compere and performer at the Green Man Festival and dyed my beard green for this and have kept it. My song Real Love and Communication was included on the Green Man Festival CD on Double Snazzy.
I got asked back to do the 2004 festival as well and was able to appear there. December came, however, and I moved to Tenerife where so far my music hasn't been a priority seeing as the situation here is a far cry from what I was used to and it is much harder to get anywhere with original songs.
I have missed out on some great opportunites back in the UK - the Green Man Festival and the Small Nations Festival wanted to book me but I simply can't afford to fly to Britain and back for the sake of one or two gigs, great as they may be.
I also had to leave off working with Crum, a former synth player for Hawkwind, who fronts his own band The Moonloonies, but he managed to remix some of my songs before I went.
As for the future only time will tell! I have some new songs and I think one of them entitled Mañana could be a big hit and it has been recorded and released by DMMG Records which is my new label. An album entitled Welsh Wizard is also out on this label as well as being available from Amazon.
I used to say I'd be happy if I ever made it on to Top of the Pops but I can't say that now because the show has finished. I'd settle for "one-hit wonder" though!
Many of my songs can be heard online at: http://www.reverbnation.com/bardofely
Bard of Ely live at Flicks Bar in Tenerife
Selected discography of the Bard of Ely's music until 2003
Meltdown the Album (VA Chariot Records 1989 vinyl LP)
Pop Vocals and Instrumentals (VA Off the Shelf Music library music CD 1993)
Sound of One (Very Good Records 1997 vinyl LP)
Mask (Pink Lemon Records 1998 plum-coloured vinyl EP)
Take It To The Bridge Vol. 3 (VA Bridge Records 1998 CD)
United World Underground (VA MMATT 2001 CD)
No Apathy/Dim Apathi (VA Dockrad Records 2002 CD)
Taffia EP (Crai Records 2002 CD EP)
Best of the Bard (mp3.com 2003 mp3 CD)
Green Man Festival (VA Double Snazzy 2003 CD)
Bands United (VA Bands United 2003 CD)
Harvest Home by Bard of Ely
© 2008 Steve Andrews