Gagging orders, whistleblowing, blacklisting… in the Information Age it’s not surprising that information – who has it, who wants it, and who’d like to bury it in a very deep pit – is a hot topic. Information, and its silencing, can be bought, and those who resist this exchange can pay a high price.
Alison Taylor, a senior social worker in 1980s north Wales, paid with her career when she refused to keep quiet about child abuse in the region’s care homes.1 Suspended for a ‘breakdown of professional communications’, she was offered a termination agreement by the council subject to her signing a ‘confidentiality agreement’. She refused to sign the gagging order, and was dismissed. Ungagged, Taylor took her allegations to the local and national media, prompting Clwyd County Council to commission an inquiry in the 1990s. Although the resulting Jillings Report found a child-care system rife with beatings, bullying, indecent assault and rape, it wasn’t published, and it wasn’t published because the council’s insurers were concerned about potential court cases and compensation claims.
‘Wazoo’, the first song on Kid McCoy, the new Threatmantics album, starts with a beat which incongruously segues into a viola drone followed by a guitar sound in the style of Link Wray (the genius who wrote, among other things, the Batman TV theme tune). The vocals of Heddwyn Davies and Taliesyn Källström jar with each other, and sound like they’re calling to each other from far apart. The vocals are melodic, but aren’t allowed to dominate the songs – it’s the instruments that do that – leading while the voices support. The balance between the voices works beautifully, with unusual harmonies – no simple ‘girl sings high, boy sings low’ formula. They flick-flack between Welsh and English as they always have, with witty, sharp lyrics – no explanation for the code-switching offered or needed.
Cries spill across the Ceredigion landscape – their tone, form and language unfamiliar to these parts. Korean Ku-eum, literally ‘mouth-sound’, a singing tradition imitating traditional Korean instruments, and Gaelic Sean Nós furl about each other like smoke. It is a keening, a lamentation, a meeting of two diverse vocal traditions, part of an international encounter initiated by theatre director Phillip Zarrilli in his west Wales studio during an intense week researching and developing [Playing] The Maids.
[Playing] The Maids is a collaboration between three companies and nine artists from four countries: South Korea (Theatre P’Yut), Ireland (Gaitkrash), Wales (The Llanarth Group) and Singapore. The common denominator in this international gathering is Phillip Zarrilli, as all five female performers have been directed by and trained with him, although never before in this conjunction.
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