From Garnant to Lampeter – the rise and fall of the Velvet Underground
The annals of rock history will tell you that The Velvet Underground didn’t sell a lot of records but everyone who bought one formed a band.
The group’s majestic influence ripples through the ages – their DNA runs through the veins of punk, new wave and alternative rock. They created a new sound that changed the world of music, cementing their place as one of rock’n’roll’s most revered bands.
How they became a cultural touchstone creating an expansive rock art ideology is examined in a new documentary released this weekend.
Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Todd Haynes, “The Velvet Underground” features in-depth interviews with leading actors of the era, combined with a treasure trove of never-before-seen performances and a rich collection of recordings, the films of key collaborator Andy Warhol, and experimental art that creates an immersive experience.
The film takes a perfectly idiosyncratic approach to deliver a rock documentary that captures the group as well as its era – the moment of a new cultural uprising in New York City – of filmmakers, painters, writers, poets and musicians fueling an intoxicating artistic explosion.
At its heart is founding member of The Velvet Underground, John Cale.
The Welshman is interviewed at length, exposing his journey as a prodigiously talented classical musician from Garnant to the Amman Valley at the University of London and his arrival in New York via a music scholarship, where he would meet Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker, setting the wheels in motion one of rock music’s most tumultuous tales.
Cale describes the group’s creative philosophy: ‘how to be elegant and how to be brutal’ and their genius but abrasive relationship with Reed, the dynamic catalyst of the group’s pioneering sound most evident on their first two albums – The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967 ) and White LightWhite Heat (1968)
The difficult relationship of these two genius writers, with their own distinct ideas of where bands should go, finally came to an inevitable end when Cale left the band in 1968.
The Welshman was replaced by Doug Yule shortly after. A close friend of the band, he would become an integral part of the band, appearing on The Velvets’ next two albums – their eponymous album titled “The Velvet Underground” from 1969 and “Loaded” from the 1970s.
The harsh and abrasive tendencies on the first two records were almost entirely absent on their third and fourth albums, resulting in a smoother, folk-influenced sound, a premonition of the writing style that would soon form Reed’s solo career.
When Reed left the group in 1970 after their residency in the famous New York venue Max’s Kansas City, disappointed with the group’s lack of progress, they persevered without their leader.
While that moment is the starting point for Todd Haynes’ documentary Velvet Underground, the group will continue for another three years – albeit in ever-smaller original lineup for ever-lower returns.
It would be a sort of ignominious limp to the finish line for a band with such a revered heritage, reduced from pioneering rock art to something approaching a cover band of itself.
Founding member Sterling Morrison left the group on August 21, 1971, after a concert at Liberty Hall, Houston, Texas. When it was time for the group to return to New York, Morrison packed an empty suitcase and walked them to the door of their departing plane, before finally telling them he was staying in Texas and leaving. the group.
Moe Tucker would last another six months with this rapidly disappearing band, touring the UK and the Netherlands in late 1971 – the first time an incarnation of The Velvet Underground had performed outside of the North America.
After the final date of the tour at the Concertzaal Apollo in Groningen on November 21, 1971, she left the band and the music business altogether to start a family.
He left Doug Yule – as the leader of a group that would wrest the last dropouts from what was left of the group. Perversely, this final act in The Velvet Underground history is said to have ties to Wales at every turn.
On the cusp of 1972, the band performed a four-night residency at The Main Point, Bryn Mawr, Pa., January 13-16.
Bryn Mawr is named after an estate near Dolgellau in Wales that belonged to Rowland Ellis, a Welsh Quaker who emigrated in 1686 to Pennsylvania from Dolgellau to escape religious persecution.
A UK tour, this time to promote what was to be Velvet Underground’s latest album, the much-maligned ‘Squeeze’ – has been arranged for the end of the year.
The group’s final lineup – Doug Yule, Rob Norris, George Kay and Mark Nauseff were to perform 10 concerts, including two in Wales. The Top Rank, Cardiff on November 26 and St David’s University, Lempeter on December 6.
For a dying group, it was an unseemly end, nothing more than an incident in the Welsh capital. The band was billed but never played due to a money dispute that got ugly.
In an interview with Mojo magazine in February 2000, the band’s guitarist, Rob Norris, explained how they fought to leave the hall fearing for their lives.
âWe have had a very difficult time in Cardiff,â he said. âThe club was supposed to pay us cash up front and they didn’t, and our road manager said, ‘Well, then they’re not going to play.’
âWe were in the locker room and this really shady, low-key guy from the club came on stage and kicked those skinheads up, like, ‘Well they’re there but our money isn’t good enough for them. “
âThey chased us and tried to break down the door. It was (bassist) George Kay who said, ‘The shit punks aren’t going to bother us – we’re going to go out that door, we’re going to get in the car and get out of here, and they’re not even going. touch us.
âWe made a ‘V’ with the guitar cases, blew up the door and walked through the crowd, and they didn’t bother us. But I feared for my life.
You could be forgiven for thinking the band wouldn’t think it was important to return to Wales after this murderous experience, but they dared to venture further west to Lampeter 10 days later for a concert at the University of St David on December 6th.
Located 30 miles from Garnant, John Cale’s hometown, the show has since achieved curiosity value among Velvet Underground finalists, as the full concert was recorded and released on a rare bootleg tape.
The concert features a number of Velvets classics, including I’m Waiting For The Man (with which they open and close their set) as well as titles like “White Light, White Heat”, “Sweet Jane”, “Run Run Run ‘,’ What Goes On ‘and’ Sister Ray ‘, as well as several songs that would appear on the Velvets’ final album ‘Squeeze’.
You can see why Song 13, One Hour and Four Minutes Bootleg is so popular. The group is incredibly tight and while the show isn’t quite a faithful reproduction of those early pioneering songs, it’s an impressive show in front of what looks like a small but grateful audience.
The Wales concert was the penultimate show of the UK tour. In Doug Yule’s eyes, this was to be the end of The Velvet Underground, with Yule leaving the band after the tour.
It was during the brief period in the UK that Yule recorded Velvet’s last underground album.
Released in Europe only on Polydor Records in February 1973, with minimal promotion, ‘Squeeze’ was criticized by critics. The NME described it as “a Velvet Underground album in name only.”
Despite negative reviews for the album on its initial release, ‘Squeeze’ has been revisited in recent years by critics and musicians with a more sympathetic and supportive ear.
It harbors a modest but proud heritage, given that the group Squeeze takes its name from its title according to singer Chris Difford.
Although The Velvet Underground officially came to an end after the UK tour, a group with Doug Yule, his brother Billy Yule, George Kay and guitarist Don Silverman were falsely featured as The Velvet Underground for two concerts in Boston and Long Island.
Members of the group objected to the billing. According to Yule, the promoter was not supposed to present the group as The Velvet Underground.
After the concerts in May 1973, the band and tour manager went their separate ways, bringing the Velvet Underground to an end until the classic line-up of Reed, Tucker, Morrison and Cale reunited in the 1990s.
In a decade, the group that inspired an entire generation has come full circle. His legacy to never be forgotten.
The documentary Velvet Underground is currently airing in selected theaters. It is also available on Apple TV +