Monday, 13 February 2012

Exploring The Underground: The Swansea Hard Rock Scene

 I recently had the pleasure of getting to chat with Gethin Woolcock, the frontman of Swansea stoner rockers Prosperina, whose debut album Faith In Sleep is an album of undeniable brilliance with great passion put into their performance and as stoner grooves and frantic grunge riffing comes together to create adrenaline fueled rock songs and slower songs with a greater sense of grandness and beauty. When listening to this album, it made me realise that if stoner rock is the music of the underground, then I'd have to try and dwell there more often.
 So, Gethin and I recently became friends on Facebook and chatted a bit, before I was informed that Prosperina's residence of Swansea is full of similar bands with a similar style all with an underground dwelling. Needless to say, I had to know more, because when you listen to Faith In Sleep, it's pretty obvious that the band performing are going to know a thing or two about playing in the underground music scene and the other bands that play there, so we had a chat about such matters. Who the best bands are, what it's like to play to a devoted following of Swansea residents and thoughts on the music industry and the state of mainstream rock music. As we chat Gethin is waiting for Prosperina's first music video for their adrenaline packed Trees Have Eyes to be uploaded and giving me some bands to check out but suggests that we do a question-and-answer style chat so I can find out about life in the Swansea Hard Rock Underground Scene. And thus, what happens next is something that resembles the very first Ramblings of a Rock Fan interview.

You seem to know your way around the Swansea underground music scene pretty well. Would you say that Prosperina have become giants of the scene?

Gethin Woolcock: "Swansea seems to have a track record with hard rock, metal and doom bands and I could go into my opinions on why that is but I'll spare you! There were many that came before us, many alongside us and there's also a shed load of great bands coming up through the ranks. A list of some of the great bands the city has produced in fairly recent history might read in no particular order like this: Sigiryia, Goatboy, Taint, Tabularasa, Acrimony, Suns of Thunder, Lethargy (although they're technically from Neath down the road!) TOTSO, Bomb the Sun, Dead Wolves, .... Shall I go on?? There's just too many and I'll kick myself cos I've probably forgotten to include about 5 or 6! So in conclusion, Giants? No, I think we're just doing our own thing and working hard at it - There's a Welsh saying 'Dyfal donc a dyr y garreg' which basically translates to 'repeated smashing breaks the rock'... Prosperina has been through quite a lot of ups and downs in recent times but has managed to pull through somehow!"

Sounds really cool actually. So you clearly know the whole life of playing the underground scene. It can't always be fun and games though...

Gethin: "Any musician will tell you that it's never that much fun lugging 4x12 cabs around in the rain but the buzz I get from the show is so huge though that it beats any of the downers that go along with it! We're rocking a killer line up right now - it's very raw and aggressive on stage as opposed to the old line up which was a bit more layered and ethereal sounding - we're peddling more adrenaline nowadays!"

I noticed a truly ethereal and adrenaline-filled sound when listening to Prosperina's album. That must be amazing to play onstage at shows...

Gethin: "Yeah, it's getting better with every show too, Owen [Street, bass] and Yo Yo [Walsh, drums] are phenomenal. They've just both absolutely got it when it comes to ability. Owen pulls out every last ounce of aggression on stage and Yo Yo seems to have never-ending energy reserves which suits me cos I have to sing which means I'm glued to the mic stand for a fair bit of the set."

 At this point Gethin sends me a link to some music by fellow Swansea rockers Tabularasa. So I visit their Facebook page and check out Valley Run, so we talk a little about the music...

Me: Valley Run is awesome. It makes me thin of a lot of modern grunge bands only actually enjoyable. It's just really good hard rock!

Gethin: "Yeah Valley run is cool as fuck man- I think Devil woods is my favourite - Killer turnaround for the chorus - Undeniable!"

Some mad riffing in the song. I bet it's fucking killer live! Also their about section "RIFFAGE" is epic! Pretty much sums things up.

Gethin: "Riffage indeed! Yeah - they're great live. Super tight, I always joke that we're crossbred cos there's been loads of two-ing and fro-ing between us over the years with members leaving rasa for prosps and then vice versa."

Oh, cool. So that must mean there's no love lost between members if there's any kind of split...

Gethin: "We're all mates so it's fine..."

So does that mean that in the underground scene there's a real sense of togetherness, where everyone knows each other, just like in the kinda stereotypical image of the underground scene?

Gethin "Sometimes - it depends on how frequent the gigs are - a few years ago we used to play out loads together, there was a core of bands who were always out and about together - if my memory serves me it was always Us, Bomb the Sun, Suns of Thunder, Buffalo kings, Tabularasa, Lethargy, Dead Wolves and sometimes Screamin Eagle. It's kinda died off a bit lately but there's always hope for another spark to fly out of the fire and ignite it again. There's also lots of newer good bands (some of which contain members of some of the bands in our peer group) coming through like Buffalo Summer, TOTSO, 3 Piece Freaks and Nucleus (who are prob the youngest at around 17-18). Everybody knows everyone else, we usually frequent the same pubs so yeah I guess there is togetherness in a way."

So, as I hoped to hear from you the Swansea Underground scene is booming. When you said a lot of big Welsh bands suck at the moment [Something that we discussed before entering "official interview territory"] do you think that manages to put a lot of people off the Welsh scene at the moment?
In the same way that there's never really been that in-depth a look into the Scottish Underground scene because all we ever seem to do now is produce indie bands that sound the same.

Gethin: "I just think that the music infrastructure down here in Wales seems to have only really got as far as Cardiff which makes it tough for bands in Swansea and further West to get shows and progress in terms of getting their music out there and creating a buzz - there aren't many promoters and precious little venues that want to put on original hard rock - the ones that could do it are either too scared to take on the risk of having an empty venue if nobody turns up or they are busy touting the latest pre-packaged tour sewn up with the bigger agents. Not many of the locals bands would be that arsed about playing with any of the higher profile bands that get to Swansea because most of them are on a different wavelength to what's going on around here. You do get the odd one or two - we were lucky to bag hometown supports with Russian Circles (whilst they were on a UK tour with Tool) and Oceansize. They were nights to remember - the Oceansize one was the first ever Prosperina gig and I am a really big fan of them so it was a pretty good memory for me! The Swansea underground scene has some of the most talented individuals (I'm talking multi-instrumentalist guys with great taste and ideas etc) but it could really do with a little leg up somehow.. I think there's a despondency that develops from not being able to get decent shows. It's no secret that the music industry is totally fucked right now and while 'broken Britain' may be the perfect breeding ground for new and original talent it eventually needs some help to get out of the petri dish and into the playground."

  And with that, the interview was wrapped up. I really took in Gethin's words about life playing in an underground scene. About the kind of friendships made, the ups and downs of touring and performing and the hardships for musicians with a really genuine talent for creating very real hard rock with a genuine sense of soul and some recognition would really help to make things take off for them and get people more into the underground scene that has been hopelessly ignored. So, I decided my best choice was to take a look at some of the bands Gethin mentioned and see just how awesome the Swansea Underground hard rock scene really is. The answer? Extremely awesome. I found myself exposed to musicians with incredible talent making music that is essentially hard rock and stoner rock perfection. So here are some of the best. Some are still active, others are split up, all are worth checking out right now. Here are some of the best underground hard rock bands from Swansea:

Acrimony - Stoner doom sounding at it's most earthly, Acrimony are probably the best known groups out of the range of groups I listened to, having been nominated by Kerrang! for best newcomer award during the 90's stoner rock explosion and gaining something of a cult following. They deal specifically in epic, drawn out stoner grooves filled with spaced out grandeur with devilish riffs with influences from Tony Iommi and Brant Bjork identified all over the place, seen best on 1996's Tumuli Shroomaroom, it is truly the sound of stoner rock come to life. When they split in 2001, it was to the dismay of many fans, but these rockers were far from done, there was more that they could do together...

Sigiriya - ... And in 2009, members of Acrimony did just that by coming back together to make a new group. Named after the ancient rock fortress in Sri Lanka which is hailed the 8th wonder of the world, Sigiriya couldn't have come up with a more accurate moniker. The play with the monolithic force and heaviness of the ancient structure with as guitarist Stu O' Hara delivers pounding stoner grooves with an unforgiving force with wailing sonic guitars with a mission to deliver their relentless blasting as their astonishing sound is accepted as a true wonder of the world. Check out their 2011 album Return to Earth.

Goatboy - Though they split up some nine years ago, it's no excuse for Goatboy's eclectic mixture of blues, hip-hop, drum n' bass, soul and stoner rock to be ignored. Their debut Superlube and 2002 mini-album Dook of Oil displayed this mix of styles outstandingly. When asked to describe their sound, one unnamed pundit simply stated: "Goatboy sound like the Beastie Boys fucking Elvis in the ass with James Brown and The Propellerheads wanking in the corner." Not the most charming of reviews but accurate enough for us to settle with.

Taint: With their fiery explosion of the best of classic rock and the best of vigorous punk rock fusing together, Taint became dynamite on the early 90's D.I.Y scene across Britain. They may have split last year, but left an immense legacy on other underground acts in Swansea that had hardcore flowing through their roots as their two albums, 2005's The Ruin of Nova Roma, 2007's Secrets And Lies and final release All Bees To the Sea showed the group maintaining their hardcore integrity whilst venturing into more progressive territory. The combination is truly breathtaking.

Tabularasa - The ultimate thing that the rise of grunge and stoner rock taught us that if you keep things simple and just rock the fuck out, it normally has the best sound. It's something that Tabularasa have clearly absorbed as they just floor it and it is killer! And the best part is even in this very pure and unrestricted hard rock, they still manage to make music as gripping and atmospheric as any band that may rely on synthesizers or anything of the like. Nah, I'll have the gravelly vocals of Matt Williams and frantic groove riding riffs any day. Check out their latest release "Born in the Barn".

Suns of Thunder - As Oldman Haystacks opens with a mass buildup of spacey sounds before slick basslines of Chris "Bossman" James, fuzzy guitar shredding and grooves and the snarling rough vocals of frontman Greg "Peck" Bombroffe you come to realise this is one of the best combination of heavy metal, blues and pure rock and roll you may ever hear, as the performance of the group sees the venture through varying flowing structures, getting more of an alt metal respectability with thrashy shredding and even the odd breakdown. In terms of stoner metal, Suns of Thunder are the real deal.

Lethargy - Lethargy are sort of the odd ones out here as they reside not in Swansea but instead the small town of Neath, a small town where Admiral Lord Nelson once stayed and where former cricketer Richard Grant and pop star Bonnie Tyler were born. That's the most interesting things good old Wikipedia could tell me. And with a different area comes a different style as Lethargy's music has a much greater kick of adrenaline with a greater influence from traditional heavy metal, used to full throttling force. The talent of their latest album Purification has already been recognised by Classic Rock and Metal Hammer magazines, the latter stating "Lethargy deliver an exciting, emotionally charged performance promising great things to come!" And any publication featuring the mighty Dom Lawson can't be wrong.

Bomb the Sun - Of course, Swansea's music scene isn't without it's attitude of prolonged melancholy and the bluesy belting hard rock of Bomb the Sun provides it effortlessly. Sounding like Queens of the Stone Age on a downer, the group keep their sound chilled out and slow paced and it really characterizes the dirty trippy vibes that the underground stoner rock scene has to offer, even during the funner moments of off-piste jamming. Where can you go wrong?

Dead Wolves - Sadly departed in 2010 with lots of amazing memories behind them, Dead Wolves took everything that made classic heavy metal great, mixed with the ferocious growling that resembles classic black metal and given a psychedelic and doomier turn on it's head to result in a sound truly resembling of musical bleakness and their album Born Dead proves this effortlessly. Well, with their main description being "DOOM CRUNCH DOWNTUNED DRONE" their accuracy and belief in what they do cannot be denied in any way.

T.O.T.S.O. - The group's made up of former members of Tabularasa, Bomb the Sun and Dead Wolves, who were all looking for something to do and came together in their state of being dropped from a band and realised that they were The Ones That Slipped Out of their respective groups. And so, they joined together to use that irresistible stoner groove in a more rapid punk inspired style to deliver more upbeat nature with an influence from the best in mod rock and indie rock today with a result that is truly blissful and celebratory. Their EP Slippin' Out is promised for release soon, until then check out their songs Somthing Kinda Mexican and Wolf Whistle.

 So, what can I say? Listening to the works of underground hard rock and stoner rock bands of Swansea is a musically entrancing and overwhelming experience. These musicians operate professionally in distorted riffs, pounding drums and an ability to create grandness in their playing. I don't know if writing about them like this will bring in new fans to the groups but that would be really awesome for the groups if you did go and check out some of their songs, go like them on Facebook, tell them they're awesome, I don't know stuff like that, because music like this is the real sound of rock and roll, and though I am quite partial to a lot of the more polished mainstream Welsh rock and metal acts, bands like Suns of Thunder and Tabularasa blow them out of the water. So, if you're in an underground band from another region of you have a lot of other fellow bands by your side, let me know, because I always dig getting new bands to listen to.

 Thanks again to Gethin Woolcock of Prosperina for allowing me to interview him, your insights and knowledge and experience of playing in the underground rock scene is truly epic. Make sure you pick up Faith In Sleep which is out now via Maybe Records and be sure to check out what all bands and other bands on the scene have on offer. Keep on rocking Swansea! 


  1. Awesome write up Andy!! Consider yourself an honorary Swansea boy!! Come down sometime!

    Rhodri (from Goatboy and director of "Trees have eyes" video)

  2. Woah! Thank you so much Rhodri!! That's awesome beyond belief! I'm proud to represent Swansea!

  3. Sweet stuff, shame most of those bands aren't around any more

  4. we were dropped!!!??? news to us! ha, cool write up Andy, nice to know someone's taking notice of Swansea. cheers pal THE.O.T.S.O.