New Sensations

Melin Melyn: ‘This is a fantastic pre-midlife crisis’

The Welsh band have just released their new EP, ‘Happy Gathering’. Frontman Gruff Glyn and guitarist Garmon Rhys speak with Roisin O’Connor about the reaction to their Welsh-language songs, being left broken-hearted by call-centre workers, and why they’re glad they formed the band ‘later in life’

Sunday 02 October 2022 06:30 BST
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The six-piece are figureheads for a new wave of Welsh artists dubbed by some as ‘Cool Cymru 2.0’
The six-piece are figureheads for a new wave of Welsh artists dubbed by some as ‘Cool Cymru 2.0’ (Press image)

What do wizards, blancmange and cat killers have in common? They’re all subjects of songs by Melin Melyn, of course.

Since forming in 2019, the eccentric six-piece have become figureheads for a new wave of Welsh artists dubbed by some as “Cool Cymru 2.0”. It’s not a term they’re particularly comfortable with. “There have been times where people have said this is a revival, like we’re doing something unique,” frontman Gruff Glyn says. “But we’re not doing anything, by singing in Welsh, that hasn’t been done before, and it will be done for many more centuries to come.”

Melin Melyn’s music is a hearty cawl (Welsh broth) of surfer psych-pop, folk, and the kind of surrealist comedy you’d typically find in The Mighty Boosh or The League of Gentlemen. They went down a treat at Green Man festival this summer, where they were joined onstage by eccentric characters including a man in a giant blackbird costume. “One of the things we hear most is how great it is to see a band having so much fun,” Glyn tells me. He and his bandmate, guitarist Garmon Rhys, are drinking pints under the outdoor shelter of a bar in King’s Cross, while the rain and wind batters commuters wrestling with umbrellas. “I’m so glad I get to go onstage now and play the music we play,” the 32-year-old says. “We do take it incredibly seriously though – it’s not like a stag-do.”

The Cardiff-born Glyn formed the band with Rhys, guitarist Will Barratt and drummer Cai Dyfan; they were later joined by Rhodri Brooks on pedal steel and Dylan Morgan on keys. Glyn and Rhys are both professional actors who trained at the prestigious drama schools Rada and Lamda respectively: Glyn has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company and has credits in shows including Doctor Who and Poldark. Melin Melyn was conceived, in part, as something that would stop them waiting by the phone for news of their next role: “We answer to no one but ourselves and our own creative whims,” Rhys says.

Their new EP, the four-track Happy Gathering – released last Friday –encapsulates that ethos. Opening track “Hold the Line” was written while Glyn was on hold with an energy company. “I was having a lovely conversation with this lady, who sounded like a good egg,” he explains. “She said, ‘I promise I’ll call you right back.’ So I was on hold, and I started writing.” He came up with a noodling guitar line and some early lyrics – Lisa, of course, never did return his call. “She broke my heart,” Glyn, who’s worked in call centres himself, says. “I still can’t believe it, to be honest.”

Since their inception, Melin Melyn have released a relatively even split of English and Welsh-language songs. This includes last year’s excellent EP, Blomonj (the Welsh word for the gelatinous dessert), with tracks such as the whimsical “Dewin Dwl” (“silly wizard”) sitting comfortably alongside the more sinister “Little Man”, written by Rhys, about a “creepy kid in high school” who grows up to become a cat killer. “He was an ever-shrinking failure of a man,” Glyn sings, over mournful whines of slide guitar and jangly percussion.

“It would be disingenuous for us as artists if we weren’t writing and performing in both English and Welsh,” Rhys says. He and Glyn are fluent in both, while other members of the band are studying – at one point, Barratt was apparently ranked No 15 on Duolingo’s Welsh language course. “He was just checking the songs weren’t about him,” Glyn says with a grin. For the most part, English-speaking fans seem enamoured by the lilting cadence of Melin Melyn’s music: “A couple of people have had a problem with it,” Glyn says. “Someone might come up to us after a gig and ask, ‘Why don’t you sing in English?’ But that’s extremely rare.”

‘We feel less impressionable when it comes to what people expect of us'
‘We feel less impressionable when it comes to what people expect of us' (Press image)

On Happy Gathering’s “What Was That”, he references a man with a smile “like a Cheshire feline”. Despite the nonchalant tone of the slide guitar and Glyn’s leisurely delivery, all rolling “Rs” and rise-fall cadence, he calls it a “really angry song” about someone in power misbehaving.

They eye-roll over the national frenzy of mourning for the late Queen: “I had someone come into the cafe [where I work] the other day and say his partner can’t get chemo,” Glyn says. Rhys, meanwhile, had a friend whose Edinburgh wedding was cancelled “because a certain person was lying in the building next door…” As for the newly appointed Prince of Wales: “I think it’s ludicrous,” Glyn says. “I don’t know the guy, but it’s not been voted for. Even [Welsh first minister Mark] Drakeford wasn’t asked about it. When this is happening in today’s age, you’d have thought the prince thing was a little bit dated and they’d have learnt from it.”

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Meanwhile, Melin Melyn are hoping to continue updating their already elaborate shows, perhaps with bigger bird costumes and a squadron of jets, as opposed to the one that swooped over their Green Man performance. “There’s something nice about starting a band so much later in life,” Rhys says. “We’ve grown into our own tastes now – I feel less impressionable when it comes to what people expect of us.” Glyn agrees: “I might have responded to it differently if I was in my early twenties, but this is a fantastic pre-midlife crisis.”

‘Happy Gathering’ is out now

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