The band’s wacky, somewhat regrettable name is what first got my attention, I’m pretty positive about that. I’m pretty sure I first heard of them in 1999, soon after I arrived in Rochester, NY, where I lived for not quite a year. I bought the Introducing... CD which was apparently designed by their label to introduce these ‘90s-’00s Welsh psych/pop/folk folks to an American audience. I don’t know if it worked in general, but it worked on me, at least. I totally fell in love with their music; it was exactly what I needed at that moment in time.
At age 23, I was coming back to an appreciation of good pop songwriting from an extended sojourn in experimental, prog, art rock, Krautrock, and generally listening to disagreeable stuff like Henry Cow, Eugene Chadbourne, Frank Zappa, John Zorn, and plenty of noisy other stuff. Gorky’s were heavily influenced by Kevin Ayers, Gong, Robert Wyatt and the Canterbury scene in general, combining an intuitive pop sensibility with a fair amount of experimentation and screwing around, and that was perfect. They were super young when they started, so they still had this exuberant, undisciplined quality which was charming and contagious. They came across as unpretentious and music-loving, and their songwriting and presence had an embracing, smiling quality that was quite memorable and affecting, as well as playful, inventive, and unexpected. Euros Childs had a great voice for the music, the arrangements were alternately delicate and unruly, and they frequently sang in Welsh, which was curious at the time (the much more well-known Super Furry Animals had yet to really do so at that point). John Peel was one of their big supporters, and John Cale was supposedly a fan, but they never hit it really big.
Over a very short period of time, I furiously collected all their albums and singles, which was pretty tough, since almost none of it was released stateside. There seems to still be a certain appreciation for singles – in the ‘60s pop sense – in the UK. Gorky’s released a lot of singles, often containing really great B-sides and other non-album stuff. I got to see them live a few times, which was fun, and I even got to interview them for KALX (the UC Berkeley station I DJed at from 2001-2003), which was great fun. Very nice folks. I even got them to record a station ID in Welsh, but there was too much ambient noise on the recording to make any of it usable.
Their artwork, particularly on their first few singles and albums (including Bwyd Time), is all by a guy named Alan Holmes, who besides doing artwork for Gorky’s, also plays in the band Ectogram (and the little known and interesting Fflaps before that). His Gorky’s covers and labels are all in the same general style, which is a sort of pointillist neo-psychedelia which for me somehow totally fails to be as crappy as that description would normally suggest. I dig it. For the blog, I almost picked the labels for their Amber Gambler EP (one of their best releases), but instead went with their excellent LP Bwyd Time.
If you’re not familiar with these guys, and my vague descriptions sound even remotely interesting, I’d recommend Bwyd Time and the 2003 singles comp called 20 (which actually contains the entirety of Amber Gambler) as good starting points for the earlier, more unhinged stuff. The singles comp also contains their fantastic cover of Kevin Ayers’/Soft Machine’s “Why are we Sleeping?” For their gentler, folkier side, their mini-album The Blue Trees has some gorgeous stuff on it. Barafundle is also an excellent full-length, and Spanish Dance Troupe and Gorky 5 have lots of high points. I’m not as familiar with the very early or very late albums. There’s plenty of worthwhile stuff to check out. (And by the way, the ‘Mynci’ part of their name is pronounced as ‘monkey’.)