Utter the word Colorama to any serious indie music fan and you’ll get a knowing wink or firm handshake. Why? Because group leader Carwyn Ellis composes, plays and sings some of the most awe inspiring and beautiful songs heard this decade. So why have you not heard of him? Perhaps, because until now he has only really been spoken about with hushed tones by label folk, PR, broadcasters, journalists, fellow musos and festival goers who know a good thing when they see and hear it – but as far as mainstream success goes Colorama are a little known name outside their native Wales.
As an in demand musician Carwyn may have worked with Oasis, Shane MacGowan and Edywn Collins, amongst others, but it’s his own Cardiff based group Colorama that really deserve the most attention. The cover of new album Box may proudly – and loudly – state where the reference points come from musically, but the depth of the performances, musicianship, song writing and production leave all competition standing at the starting line.
It’s been an interesting ride for Carwyn: a nomadic (but happy and content) childhood split between Wrexham, Hereford, the West Midlands and the small Anglesey village Benllech before a move to London, where he plied his trade in many a rock’n’roll band and conversely studied music at The Royal Academy (which he claims was a “stuffy institution… full of upper class kids… I didn’t particularly fit in and I didn’t want to do classical music in the first place.”) A further relocation to Liverpool before a return to Wales may account for more “moves” than the masters playing chess, but then a rolling stone also gathers no moss. A church organ playing mother, an inspirational school music teacher, his inauguration into rock music via the vinyl filled four walls of Cob Records in Bangor, not forgetting legendary characters like Liam Watson at London’s Toe Rag and the support of elder Gallagher brother, Noel, all shaped Carwyn Ellis and his distinctly kaleidoscopic world view.
After playing every respected folky club in the country, having appeared on the BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury, and their fair share of other festivals, word about Colorama is finally starting to get out beyond the Cardiff and Stoke Newington massive. Follow up to mini-LP The Magic Lantern Show (a record that received substantial airplay on Radio 1, Radio 2, 6Music and XFM) Box may be the most rounded effort yet, twinkling with both English and Welsh ditties alike. Gorkys or SFA of course spring to mind, as traces of the psilocybin laced Welsh DNA just cannot be helped, but there’s also forefather Meic Stevens’ cathartic folk, the baroque clarion call of David Crosby (‘Autumnal’ would not have sounded out of place on Younger Than Yesterday), the lush teenage psychedelic commentary of J.K. & Co (‘Etiquette’ could be ‘Fly’s offspring, bettering Radiohead similarly themed attempt at reprising the song) and the whimsy of mid-60s Ray Davies and Blossom Toes (‘Royal Victoria Arcade’). Throw in the odd louche bluesy groove not heard since Sky Saxon fronted The Seeds or Ry Cooder was playing the Strip with The Rising Sons and you have a fully rounded album full of surprises.
At once reminiscent of the best old record shop finds and as deferential and startlingly new as the best Beck, Espers or Coral recordings, Box is a serious music fan and appreciators dream.
If tired by the endless post-punk rewrites and angular young men with little understanding of the greater picture this fire headed, Celtic music man singing sincerely with his Welsh brogue on proud display may well have just written and recorded your favourite album of 2010. The end of year polls beckon.
“Nearly as good as I am on the oscillator” – Mark Riley, 6Music