Live : Meilir24 August 2019, Future Yard [Birkenhead]
The part-ruin of Birkenhead Priory lies on the edge of docklands, tightly clamped between a scuffed industrial estate and Cammell Laird's shipyard. Founded in 1150, it is a remnant of the time before the overwhelming momentum of the industrial revolution reached the Mersey.
Sunshine, historical juxtaposition and its own ancient ambience made the priory a perfect open air stage for Future Yard, a new two-day music festival intent on art-fully re-imagining Birkenhead itself.
On a blissful Saturday afternoon curated by FOCUS Wales, three Welsh acts used the priory platform Future Yard afforded them to present a vivid fragment of their homeland's creativity and spirit; collectively Meilir, Ani Glass and HMS Morris fashioned a resonant showcase, heavy on synthesisers, electronic beats and experimentation.
Defying the similarity in instrumentation, it was two hours of contrast in mood and effect. Ani Glass brought shimmering autobahn pop, HMS Morris served sublime psyched-up art rock, energised by Heledd Watkins' on stage charisma, and Meilir provided simple hypnotic fascination.
The last was not unexpected, as Meilir has convincing form.
For an intermittent series of EPs (three so far in a decade) he has recorded songs that are experimental, fragile and dense with emotional honesty; music that, as noted with last year's Glasshouse, can completely take your attention, and then reward it with stillness.
I watched his half hour set absorbed by it, and spoke to him soon afterwards.
Starting with a clarion call in the form of a repeating electronic melody, live Meilir is a compelling solo performer.
As in the studio he weaves electronica, organic instruments and found sound from commonplace objects with vocals that softly define 'otherness'. The songs are necessarily more muscular through a PA than a home stereo, but remain in essence intimate and affecting.
Physically expressing the creative flow of his set, he swaps stage sides often to alternate playing keyboard and acoustic guitar. One piece was performed centrally using a typewriter and gravel - the latter deployed as percussive 'instruments', similarly used in an unaffected, intuitive way in his recorded work and originally incorporated for prosaic reasons, as he was happy to explain when we spoke,
'It's because I can't play drums, that was the initial drive with it. Drums are one of the few natural instruments I don't play. So I use what is to hand or found - a piano stool in Bydd Wych, and an old chair for Glasshouse and the typewriter elsewhere."
"A lot of it is chance. The typewriter I bought as I thought it would help me write different lyrics. Literally thinking that if I sit down at a typewriter, it might change how I write structurally rather than using a pen."
"But as soon as I started typing I thought, 'I like the sound of that!'"
"I am not the first - there is at least one classical piece written for a typewriter. The gravel - that came when I was at work, when I used to smoke, I was outside on a break, stepping backwards and forwards, and again I thought - 'I can use that!'"
"It's chance - I have gone through so many things that don’t work. Stuff I wish would work, but that fails.”
"Using everyday objects on stage - that provides some interest, but that was never the first thought, it is always just the sound."
He closed his Birkenhead stage-time with the song that opened his first EP in 2009, Bydd Wych (the title translates from Welsh as 'Be great' or 'Be as good as you can'), its ethereal vocal drifting over timeworn sandstone walls into the vastness of the Mersey.
Watching Meilir perform on the Future Yard stage, with a priory wall behind it, seemed apt; there is something monkish in his songs. They have the impact and detail of illuminated script, an intensity in their composition that explains the long delay between releases - as he underlined in conversation after the show,
"The 'Meilir' stuff is so personal - the songs are a soundtrack to my life and I am expressing something of myself. I want to get that right."
"Working on another electronic project with a friend, that isn't so close, and it is much quicker."
Meilir has a debut album out early in 2020, preceded by two singles later this year. He has worked on the new recordings, as he did for his first two EPs, with Charlie Francis (who has a hugely impressive discography here) in Cardiff,
"I have been writing new stuff, but some songs (on the album) are quite old. Altogether there is a story, a straight line through Bydd Wych and Cellar Songs to the new recordings. They have all had a long time to develop - for example the opener has probably had ten different versions of the piano (part)."
"My writing has progressed - everything is in more detail, and the process is slower, but the result is maturer, more developed music."
After a long gestation, Meilir's first LP should be eagerly anticipated. The new song from the album that he played mid set was one of his finest yet; the unreleased single, due out this October, that was his penultimate offering, was a mesmeric, rhythmic soundscape with an almost wordless incanted vocal.
The existing songs and the new album will still be by most measures a sparse body of work, but, as his Birkenhead performance confirmed, Meilir's music is an enchanting world all of its, or his, own.