Kevin Brennan is MP for West Cardiff – something of a first for us – and has chaired the Parliamentary All Party Folk Music group so in theory he knows something about the music. As his solo album, The Clown & The Cigarette Girl, demonstrates, he knows quite a bit in practice too. His modus operandi is singer-songwriter-guitarist, also playing mandolin, piano and harmonica, but this isn’t any quick knock-off to enhance his political reputation. Far from it. Producing the record and providing his multi-instrumental talents is Gerry Diver with Pete Flood on drums and percussion and Glen Matlock on bass.
The title track, which is the opening track, references the cover photograph and, as well as telling its story, the song suggests that all of life is a masquerade. In its way it states the themes of the record; history and humanity. The next two songs delve into history. The single, ‘Tabernacle Lane’, tells of the last execution carried out in Cardiff – a miscarriage of justice as it happens – in 1954 and ‘The Wrecker Of Wick’ goes even further back. I didn’t realise that there were wreckers in the Vale of Glamorgan but what links these two songs is unhappy endings.
‘Night And Morning’, based on a translation of an old Welsh lyric, demonstrates the difference between good narrative songwriting and poetry. It’s a simple song, just two verses, but it makes its point beautifully and concisely. I suspect that ‘The Island’ is at least semi-autobiographical and reminds me a little of The Saw Doctors. That’s a compliment, the way. ‘Turn It Around’ revisits the nostalgia of the title track with a strange background drone that may be treated fiddle. Certainly Gerry takes a break before the repeat of the final verse. ‘Welcome Song’ may be about immigration or it may be a plea for a moment of peace and quiet in the modern world. It works both ways.
We return to the history of South Wales with ‘Believe’ recounting, as it does, the massacre of Chartist marchers at Newport in 1839. ‘The Ballad Of Johnny And Lupe’ is about a Welsh boxer who died after being knocked out in the ring. This song has a happy ending as Lupe Pintor, the man who beat him, and Johnny’s family were reconciled. ‘On Canton Bridge’ tells of a tragedy that resulted from marital double-dealing and ‘Solva Bay’ is about Welsh emigration to America, something else I didn’t know about.
Looking back at what I have written, there seems to a great deal of tragedy in The Clown & The Cigarette Girl but history is like that. To balance the tragedy there is sufficient optimism and a faith in the resilience of human beings – the penultimate track, ‘Courageous Blood’, looks admiringly at that spirit.
Artist’s website (not the parliamentary one): https://revolverrecords.com/kevin-brennan-the-clown-the-cigarette-girl/