Y Niwl (or “The Fog” - see end of interview for a pronunciation guide) are an instrumental band from Gwynedd in North Wales who formed in 2009. They comprise Alun Evans (guitar), Sion Glyn (bass), Gruff ab Arwel (organ) and Llyr Parry (drums). The band’s self-titled debut album was released in November 2010 on the Aderyn Papur label while the track ‘Undegpedwar’ ("Fourteen" in Welsh) was used as the theme to BBC1’s Football Focus.
The band are busy people, backing Gruff Rhys live, and Sion Glyn has also played in Cate le Bon’s band. Alun Evans has a separate solo existence as Welsh-language singer-songwriter Alun Tan Lan. He’s released three albums – Aderyn Papur (Rasal, 2004), Y Distawrwydd (Rasal, 2005) and Yr Aflonydd (Aderyn Papur, 2007). In 2005 he received BBC Radio Cymru awards for Best Male Artist and Best Composer and he won the Cân i Gymru competition (and a £10,000 prize) in 2010.
We interviewed the band in April 2012 before the SXP BBQ, where they played a storming 6.30pm set before shooting off to Brighton to play at British Sea Power’s Krankenhaus club night at 11pm. Diolch!
SXP: I’m sure that you get asked this a lot – are you aficionados of surf music?
Alun: We like it but we’re not nuts into it.
Sion: I don’t think we were massive fans before we started. We’ve become fans by people telling us that we’re similar to them. It’s a known kind of sound that we’ve found.
Alun: There’s more people doing it - it’s bizarre. Once it was just us, or not many in the UK. Really it’s the simplest form because you don’t need a PA, we can turn up and it’s pretty instant music.
SXP: Is it easier to write instrumentals? Is that part of the attraction?
Sion: It’s not about the composing, it’s just about having fun, making sounds together. All of the songs tend to come out of jamming. It’s not something we thought about. We definitely didn’t say “we’re not going to have a vocalist”. It’s just none of us could be bothered to sing, I think!
SXP: How do you write songs? Is it a collective effort is does someone bring in a song to work on?
Sion: Most of the songs have been collectively composed from jams. Then one or two of us maybe has a guitar line, and all of us combine to add to that sound.
SXP: There are loads of excellent Welsh bands. Is this a particularly good time to be a musician in Wales?
Alun: There’s not a scene as such really. Obviously everyone’s going to say “oh Cardiff” but we live 200 miles away! It’s probably quicker for us to come to London for a night – it’s about the same, time-wise, to go to Cardiff as it is to go to London.
Sion: Wales is such a small place, you tend to know musicians. The same musicians quite often do the same gigs and they tend to know each other.
SXP: With your name and song titles in Welsh, are you trying to promote the Welsh language? And if so, why do you do instrumentals?!
Alun: The more I think about it now, we should go to the Welsh Language Board and get them to sponsor us to teach people to count in Welsh! *Laughter* Basically, we started off and called the first song “Un”, second song “Dau”, third song “Tri”. By the time we got to the fourth we just thought: keep it! It was more from being practical really.
Sion: Our first language is Welsh so it would be kind of weird for us to call something in English to each other – it’s like you speaking Spanish to your mates!
Alun: The best thing I saw recently was Raymond Blanc doing a cooking programme in his home town. He went to a friend of his who’s a wine producer and they were talking English to each other and you could see his friend was just squirming. It’s just like that!
SXP: Why did you choose numbers for song titles?
Sion: They’re the easiest things. It kind of evolved - we’ve got two [songs] so why not call them “one” and “two”?
Alun: The first few gigs that we did we only had 6 songs so we just kept [titles] like that. We’ve never really sat back and thought of it.
SXP: Surf music doesn’t tend to have vocals. Does that mean none of you can sing?
Sion: It’s weird, because Alun here is a solo artist, he’s done three or four albums himself and he sings. And we’ve all sung in bands, but that’s the kind of music we have so much fun playing. We managed to compose enough songs to go out and gig with it. There was no intention when we came together to play surf music at all, it was just the type of music that was easiest to do without a vocalist, and the most fun thing to do. I think we’d all be quite bored just to play songs without any kind of singing, so it had to be that certain type of music, which is very exciting to play ‘cause it keeps you on your toes.
SXP: How did you come to play with Gruff Rhys?
Alun: We kind of know him, he just came to see us play and he sent us an email asking if we were doing anything.
SXP: You’ve been incredibly busy.
Sion: But we’re musicians and that’s what we want to do. It’s like work – if you want to work you have to go to work.
Alun: It’s quite daunting as well, but an exciting thing to know we’ve got an EP recorded, and we need to write more songs. We never know what’s going to happen next - that’s the best thing about it.
Sion: We don’t have any big major company behind us. So it’s all us in every way.
Alun: We do everything ourselves. We have no manager or anything. But it’s worked so it is possible.
SXP: We watched YouTube footage of you playing the last day of Cob Records in Bangor. Are you from that area?
Alun: From there, right near Cob Records. That’s the shop we would have gone to, all of us.
Sion: I didn’t go to college but that’s where I got all my education. He had to close because music is so available now, you can buy it in your own house or download it, and - it’s a bad thing to say - there’s no need for an independent shop. But what they miss out on is the knowledge of the people who work there, who guided you to certain places.
Alun: Obviously with the internet you can check stuff out but it’s not the same. You need interaction.
Sion: I’ve never been able to get into the download thing because I always like the physical thing in my hand and the artwork, and the journey of putting the vinyl on and taking it off, for me it’s all part of buying. It’s so easy to get hold of music. Ten years ago, with Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, I used to wait two months for Cob to get the actual single in!
SXP: As an independent band, did it help having a song on Football Focus?
Sion: It’s good exposure.
Alun: It’d be nice to get something else now but at the time I went *excitable voice*: oh my God! Then you see it two or three times and you’re like *laidback voice*: OK. The third programme of the series they had Pele introducing it, and he said “it’s 12:15 and it’s time for Football Focus” and it’s like *satisfied tone*: yeah, that’s good!
SXP: You’ve got another record coming out?
Alun: Yeah, yeah, I finished recording it about two years ago and that’s definitely going to come out soon. *laughter* I keep saying that but it’s definitely…it’s got 19 songs so it’s a double album. I’ve got a load of new songs as well that are ready to roll. And I’ve got to write more songs for the band. There’s loads to do.
SXP: Finally, for all of us non-Welsh speakers, what’s the definitive way to pronounce Y Niwl?
Alun: “Ur” and it’s like “mule” with an “n”.
SXP: And how were you announced last night?
Alun: *laughing* “Why newie”! That’s class! “Why newie” sounds like a beach!
(Photo courtesy of James.)