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Freak out!

Rheinallt H Rowlands: funny name, no joke.
There has always been a place in pop for the driven outsider: the writer or performer spurred on by their own personal bob-a-job scout pack of demons to create sounds and songs the like of which have never been heard before. Those with time on their hands can often be found tracing a tormented family line through Joe Meek, Phil Spector and Brian Wilson to Climate Of Hunter-era Scott Walker and the great Jim Steinman. To this illustrious list, another name must now be added. That name is Rheinallt H Rowlands.

Rowlands' forthcoming album Bukowski is one of the most extraordinary releases of this (or any) year. Its 10 tracks feature a series of opulent orchestrations - lavish strings and sprightly harpsichord, crashing timpani, courtly harp and ominous glockenspiel - crowned with the fullest and most mellifluous voice this side of Bryn Terfel. The Celtic connection does not end there: the bulk of the record is sung in Welsh.

Rheinallt H Rowlands, it turns out, is not one individual but two. Burly, intense Owain "Oz" Wright has the voice, and demure, bespectacled Dewi Evans does the orchestration. The "long and boring" story behind Rheinallt's birth goes roughly as follows.

Miffed at not being asked to contribute to an official compilation album of songs by obscure Seventies taff-rock legend Geraint Jarman, Welsh underground godfather Alan Holmes decided to create an unofficial answer record, featuring 10 bands of his own and Dewi Evans's devising. Wright was the first of a series of guest vocalists, and when the track they recorded as Rheinallt H Rowlands secured them a session on Radio Cymru, a life story was concoted to go with the name.

This tragic saga of quarry closures, broth and one man's love for the voice of Ian Curtis took on its own momentum through a second radio session and a cassette-only album release, to become a fully-fledged alter ego. "It's a bit of a Frankenstein situation really," Wright admits. "It started off as a toy that we played with, but we've been doing it so long now that it's become part of us."

Anyone who has had the privilege of watching the duo perform can have no doubt that they are in deadly earnest. Observing the bemusement of those who have never seen them before gradually fading into beatific smiles is a huge treat.

The great thing about Rheinallt H Rowlands is their intensity. For all their juxtaposition of disparate musical forms - Seventies disco, Beach Boys harmonies, Johnny Cash guitar riffs and Morricone hoof-noises are just a few stylistic staples - there is never a hint of pastiche about them. "We don't want people to think we're a novelty band," Wright insists. "We're trying to do something that has a sense of humour but isn't a joke - there's nothing more ridiculous than people, especially musicians, who take themselves absolutely seriously"n

`Bukowski' (Ankst CD / LP) is released on 4 Nov. Rheinallt H Rowlands play the Swallow Falls Hotel, Betws y Coed, tonight, and Upstairs at the Garage, London, on 14 Nov

Ben Thompson