British Ballads by Cardiff singer-songwriter and author Anthony Reynolds
Anthony Reynolds has his roots in Cardiff
Anthony Reynolds comes from Tremorfa, a suburb in Cardiff and that's where I know him from. But you can hear him doing his version of Bruce Springsteen's Streets of Philadelphia as Streets of Tremorfa on his Myspace site (link provided at the end of this article).
We were both part of the large number of struggling Welsh bands and singers who were looking for that elusive break in the world of music. We got to play the same venues and hang out with the same people. We got to share the same sort of hopes and dreams.
We often got to work with the same musicians too - Anthony and I have both performed our songs with two of the same guitarists. One of these, by name of Matthew Scott became a songwriting partner with Anthony and, by a quirk of fate, was rehearsing and playing gigs with me just before I moved abroad. The other is Glyn Kerry Groves, who by another twist of fate is back in Cardiff now just like Anthony. Glyn played on some of my recordings in the past.
Gypsy Blues Live in Paris 2002 by Anthony Reynolds
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Anthony Reynolds moves to London
But Anthony was one of the only musicians I knew from that time back in the early '90s that did get the break he was looking for, but it wasn't in Wales - Anthony moved to London and got signed and I admired him for that. He knew what he wanted and went out and got it.
You see, I had known loads of musicians with high hopes and seen plenty of bands hailed locally as the "next big thing" end up giving up a few months later or contenting themselves with playing for a pittance and encouragement from their girlfriends and best buddies. Very few take it to the next step of getting released on a proper label and getting their music out to the world. But Anthony achieved that and I wasn't surprised he was signed because he had the talent and the charisma and his band Jack played and recorded some brilliant material.
This was after the demise of his Cardiff bands Boy and Misery and I had a demo cassette of some of Anthony's old songs of that time. There was one song I recall with the title Why Do Girls Always Choose The Worst Boy? - something I myself had often wondered. And another I think was called Bottle Green Blues . Anthony is known for liking a drink as you might gather from the Io Bevo video included here.
I don't know where that cassette went but I remember watching Misery in Chapter Arts centre's downstairs bar, a venue I used to play in too. It was small and the sound quality often wasn't that good but it was a live music venue in Cardiff and for that we were thankful. Chapter Bar gave local acts a stage they could air their songs and music on.
The Mean Fiddler
And I remember going up in a minibus to London with his band when they had a gig at the Mean Fiddler. I could see then that Anthony Reynolds meant business and was determined to succeed, so I was delighted to hear that he finally had done so when he signed with Too Pure.
Miserable names for bands were quite common in South Wales in those days and some of these acts also went on to much greater things - eg Tragic Love Company became The Stereophonics and were signed to Virgin by Sir Richard Branson in person, and the Manic Street Preachers were to become one of the best known bands of that decade. But it was with the simple one word name Jack that Anthony found fame. His next band was the same name but in French, so it was Jacques. Tipping his hat in acknowledgement to Brel I would think.
There is a very strong link with continental Europe in the work of Anthony Reynolds, with France, Spain, Italy and Portugal, and not surprisingly he has toured in these countries and built up a strong following there. Anthony has also worked with bands from Italy and Spain and the result of his recent recording with Italy's Hollow Blue can be seen on the video I have included.
By now you'll perhaps be wondering what sort of songs Anthony writes. His influences are various and many, but there's a strong Scott Walker of the Walker Brothers influence on his deep crooning vocals and arrangements, in part a Jacques Brel lyrical style and the emotional depths of Leonard Cohen, the seriousness of Morrissey and The Smiths, the orchestrated melancholy of The Verve, and the continental passion and controversy of Serge Gainsbourg. David Sylvian is another artist Anthony has a lot respect for too and has helped inspire his songs, songs which cross genre boundaries. And perhaps experimental touches of the Velvet Underground?
Speaking of Cohen, Anthony actually got to meet the great man and is also the author now of the book: The Remarkable Life of Leonard Cohen.
There's nothing American or Canadian about Anthony's songs - they are all very British - the darker and world weary side of Brit pop but at the same time, especially the earlier ones and at times, enthused with an optimism and eagerness for rebellion, for sex and drugs and rock and roll.
Anthony Reynolds' music career has been a long one and has involved many bands and projects and several labels.There is an excellent biography of Jack published on Anthony's current label Spinney Records, which released his new British Ballads . Lately he has been working with singer and musician Charlotte Greig and for British Ballads he called upon a whole cast of special guests including author and philosopher Colin Wilson, and singers Dot Allison and Vashti Bunyan.
British Ballads contains a song with the title The Disappointed . It is a song that Anthony is very proud of and has said he thinks it is possibly his best ever. I would be very proud of it too. For me it has that mournful and haunting quality of Procol Harum's Salty Dog and I loved that band. It has strings by Fiona Brice, whom Anthony has worked with on many occasions and as a band member. It has the opening lyrics:
There is a sad sad song in the sound of a ship's horn blowing, and it don't matter if that ship is coming or going
We the disappointed, wings bound by cotton, dreams are sorry that we dreamed them, promised and forgotten...
Anthony Reynolds approach is eclectic so for him to have his guest Colin Wilson reading the words of poet Rupert Brooke's The Hill is an important part of British Ballads and the only part that Anthony didn't write himself.
The Walker Brothers
Anthony Reynolds is much more than a talented singer, musician and composer because he is also an author, a published poet and a photographer with an eye for the unusual and often with a lot of humour in his work. He has a book on the Walker Brothers called The Impossible Dream: the Story of Scott Walker and the Walker Brothers and he is currently completing another book for autumn publication about the late great Jeff Buckley with the title: Jeff Buckley: Mystery White Boy Blues .
Anthony has travelled widely in his career but he has returned to live and work again in Cardiff. He has performed again several times at Chapter Arts Centre after all these years, and at one of these concerts he was partnered by Charlotte Grieg with whom he recorded the new Bees Dream of Flowers EP.
Anthony Reynolds has come full circle in returning to Cardiff and the venue he once played in many years ago with his first bands. But he has just bought himself a new guitar with the intent of writing some new songs. Perhaps there will one day be a second volume of British Ballads . I'd like to think so.
This has been a brief introduction to the songs and writing of my friend Anthony Reynolds, who is an artist in every sense of the word, and if you would like to find out more about him please see his official site here:
Io Bevo by Hollow Blue and Anthony Reynolds
© 2008 Steve Andrews