Hail Cale

The grandaddy of Welsh rock showed age is no barrier to brilliance.

John Cale won’t be going gently into the good night on this evidence – he’s a peroxide blond at 70 (to fit in with the surfers in LA where he lives perhaps?) – and he’s a leading a testosterone-fuelled monster of band.

Manic Street Preacher James Dean Bradfield was among the audience at the Coal Exchange to witness what evolved into a startlingly good show.

With Cale on keyboards, the four-piece band – the rest of the group were half his age – started slowly with new numbers from the album Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood being interesting rather than compelling.

It got a lot more exciting when he switched to guitar and a spellbinding rendition of Helen of Troy swirled us on to a different planet. It howled with fury, an absolute tour de force.

From that moment you forgot that this guy – the genius whose work with Lou Reed made the not-very-popular-at-the-time Velvet Underground in the 60s influenced thousands of bands – could be drawing a UK pension.

The band grew in confidence, the pace was relentless and tracks like Whaddya Mean By That and Perfection were perfectly pitched. Hard and loud, but melodic.

By the end Grandad John, who, let’s be honest, doesn’t smile too easily, was grinning. He was dripping in sweat – his cotton jacket was soaked through after a tough 90 minutes. There was no gasping for breath or concession to advancing years. I bet this uncompromising, peroxided pensioner even fancied a bit of crowd-surfing. It was an absolutely astounding performance and homecoming.

He may not have had a hit record you can name, or an easily recognisable public persona. But he is one of Wales’s national treasures.

The boy from Carmarthenshire, whose mother tongue was Welsh, signed off with – nice touch – ‘Nos da’.

‘Nos da’ wasn’t the half of it, this was very, very good night indeed.


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