The year of the dragon.
Where do you go after Gorky's Zygotic Mynci? Jude Rogers talks to former frontman Euros Childs about how glad he is to be Welsh
Friday August 24, 2007
As the most restless musician in Wales bounds on to the stage at the Green Man festival, the sun dips behind the Brecon Beacons apologetically. It dips for someone whose music predated the psychedelic folk revival by over a decade, and who, next week, is about to release his third album in 18 months. Tonight Euros Childs is playing at home. And at 32, 16 years after his career began with the recently departed Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, his mission is still relentless. In nine words from behind his clompy keyboard: "More pop music for all of you - in Welsh!"
Euros (pronounced Eye-ross) Childs was born in Freshwater East in Pembrokeshire ("a tiny, very English-speaking seaside village with no shops, only pubs") in 1975. There were no local record shops, but local charity outlets were full of old classics and obscurities at pocket money prices, and the curiosity of the teenaged Childs gave him an unconventional pop education. "I feel bad for kids brought up being fed the Beatles, I really do," he says. "Because when we started making music in 1991, we were hearing them for the first time. And we were writing stuff fresh after that buzz of excitement."
Gorky's recorded their first Radio Cymru session, released their first cassette, Allumette ("20 copies, £25 in the bank") and did a set for S4C, in that order, in the year they formed, 1991. The next year, they signed to Welsh label Ankst. "All the supportive networks were there if you were a good Welsh-language band." By this stage, they were listening to John Peel, getting into older bands like Soft Machine and Faust, and Peel duly gave them their own session in January 1993.
How did that attention feel at 18? "It was brilliant - more than anything because it was exciting to know we could get that when our stuff was going against the grain." In the last days of grunge, when alternative music was about fuzzing Fenders and three-chord doomalongs, Gorky's were writing crazy folk songs about talking sheep, oil spills and peanut dispensers on acoustic guitars and analogue synthesisers, cramming as many ideas and time signatures as possible into two-minute songs - much better versions of the stuff Devendra Banhart would be garlanded for 10 years later. They released 1994's Tatay and 1995's Bwyd Time (it means Food Time) very quickly; inevitably, they were big in Japan briefly. And as the 90s wound to a close, they were signed to a major label, Mercury, and suddenly Welsh music was booming. Super Furry Animals had a top 10 album with Welsh language compilation Mwng (Mane), and Catatonia had a bilingual triple platinum No 1 album with International Velvet. Its title track's chorus ran: "Every day that I wake up/ I thank the Lord I'm Welsh."
Looking back, was this separatism helpful, or did it make Welsh a novelty? "I'm not sure. But you do get a sense now that people outside Wales know about the Welsh language because of the success of the Furries - our Celtic comrades in the cause of siarad cymraeg [speaking Welsh]." Gorky's, too, were on the brink of commercial success when their 1998 single, Patio Song, was made Simon Mayo's Radio 1 record of the week. But it stalled at No 41, and Gorky's went on to set a record for having the most top 75 singles in the charts (eight) without ever making the top 40.
Given your ambition, do you wish it had made it? Or do you wish you had changed things? "No, not at all. Our first rule when we started was to not let anyone change what we were doing. Even when we were 16, people tried to mess about with us, and we said no. Because what's the point in watering down what you're doing? There's plenty of people who don't want to hear music that's copying other stuff - and this way makes you much happier. It's obvious, really."
Gorky's later albums were more nostalgic and reflective, until last summer, a few months after Euros Childs and bassist Richard James released their first solo albums, the band split up. "In a weird way, it was in keeping with our spirit for the band to finish and the solo stuff to star, rather than to die a slow death." Why was that so important? "Because a band should be a band. They shouldn't make a record, do a tour, not see each other for three years, then regroup, make a record, do a tour ... a band should be full-on, making stuff all the time, not worrying about pension plans, not wanting to dilute things."
Since the break, Childs' work-rate has soared. He has made three albums in 18 months - Chops, Bore Da (Good Morning) and The Miracle Inn, "because the songs just kept coming" - and has worked with others. His songwriting also became jauntier: The Miracle Inn's title track, a six-part suite about his teenage years, sits alongside a melodic, adolescent love letter, Over You, and a cheeky glam-rocker, Horseriding, which sounds like the work of a perky, pubescent Chas and Dave.
But given he is now in his 30s, isn't it natural to think about those pensions plans occasionally - or even about growing up? Childs shakes his head energetically. "Oh, no. I just enjoy working on a loop - the next album, the next album, the next - then it all starts again." He laughs. "That's full-on!"
· The Miracle Inn is out on Wichita on August 27
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007