You’re more likely to find Somerset singer-songwriter Reg Meuross performing on a festival stage or in a folk club or arts centre than in a busy pub, but Browns Hotel, the drinking hole of poet Dylan Thomas, was an exception.
The Sunday Sessions at Browns in Laugharne are run by Jon Tregenna, not only a great singer-songwriter in his own right, but also a top authority on Dylan Thomas’s life. Being a massive fan of Dylan Thomas is prerequisite to being invited to play here, and Jon made a good choice in this case. When he called Reg to invite him to play, there was absolutely no hesitation in the response. The poet, and the musicality of his words and phrases, had been a big influence on Reg from his earliest years as a songwriter, and so he snapped up the opportunity to perform in his local, as well as to explore the town where he spent the last half of his life.
I have been to many Meuross gigs, and I suddenly felt a little nervous for him. In place of the usual hush was a lively hubbub, and much of the gathered crowd seemed well watered. I wondered if they were going to quieten, but it turned out Reg picked a great song to test the PA with. He sound checked with a chorus from ‘Worry No More’… and, as the Sunday sunshine streamed in through the bay window where Dylan Thomas had sat on so many evenings, someone shouted ‘play the rest of the song!’, when Reg had stopped to look at what was first on his set list. So Reg opened with this touching song which resonates so well with anyone who remembers being a teenager, or who has survived raising teenagers. Then, with barely a pause, he segued into ‘One Way Ticket To Louise’, another universally relevant song, rich in imagery and wonderful anticipation of the love, open arms and heart waiting at the end of a journey.
He then settled into his between song patter and offered a teaser by saying he’d play his ‘song about Dylan’ later in the afternoon. ‘Which Dylan?’, someone asked from their bar stool… it was a fair question, as both Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan feature high up on Reg’s list of inspirational artists. The song, ‘Leaving Alabama’ is actually a fictional story in song of a meeting between Hank Williams and Dylan Thomas, and the crowd had to wait a little while to hear it but they were happy doing so, because meanwhile they were treated to Reg’s unique mix of humility and humour, and his insight in to humanity, as the rest of the first set unfolded stories of characters as diverse as Dick Turpin to Harry Farr (one of the WW1 soldiers shot at dawn as a ‘traitor’, while actually suffering from shell shock). ‘It’s Me Or Elvis’, the brilliant song written from the point of view of a husband whose wife is obsessed with Elvis Presley, rocked along Nashville style, peppered with puns and cheeky musical references. He finished the set with ‘The Band Played Sweet Marie’, and enchanted everyone’s ears and souls with this romantic and tragic song about the band leader of the Titanic’s violin.
In the break I spent a bit of time talking to people who’d come to listen to Reg. Some were locals who love and support these Sunday Sessions, and some had come on recommendation from trusted Welsh music aficionados, including journalist and broadcaster Malcolm Cawley (aka Radio Pembrokeshire DJ BB Skone). One couple had driven over 100 miles on the strength of just one play and a shining review of a track (When You Needed Me) from latest album ‘December’ by Frank Hennessy on his brilliant BBC Radio Wales show ‘Celtic Heartbeat’. They had bought the album straight away, and were really delighted to see Reg was coming to Laugharne and booked tickets and a night in the stunning hotel too. It was also great to finally meet music blogger Nick Baker (Meetwood Flac) in person after so many ‘virtual’ conversations.
Reg returned after the break to a now spellbound bar crowd made up from the real music lovers, and opened with a song from ‘December’. ‘The Night’ contains every journey you’ve ever made in darkness. It’s one of those that is so atmospheric that I prefer to close my eyes and sink into, and I stayed right in that place of reflection for ‘Hands Of A Woman’ from the same album. A deceptively soothing song which lures you into a space of safety before turning on a ha’penny into something much darker.
It was time now for the more political section of the afternoon. Sometimes Reg’s titles are snappy and enticing… and sometimes they are there so that the song can do exactly what it says on the can: ‘Tony Benn’s Tribute To Emily Davison” does just that, and while the guitar built and maintained a sense of suspense, Reg painted a picture, with beautifully touching musical and lyrical details, of how Tony Benn acknowledged an important piece of history which helped towards the change in law which finally led to the women’s vote in this country, ‘he knows the equality Emily gave her life for’.
The next song ‘Jealous’ summed up so well the dreaded, stalkerish, obsessive feelings that can overcome us when we lose a lover and no longer have access to the intimacy we once shared with them. By this stage I was so steeped in the atmosphere of the room’s history and the music that ‘Man On The Moon’ felt more spiritual and uplifting than ever. Reg’s songs are clever commentaries on life which allow us our own way inside them, and inside ourselves. Life on the streets, life on journeys, life in love and loss, life in politics and injustice… above all, life outside mediocrity and complacency.
He can take one random overheard line in a queue, ‘I’m looking for Johnnie Ray’, and turn that into a song about a woman looking for a man who’s not afraid of showing his emotions: ‘All I want is a guy who’s not too tough to cry’. He is also a master of the art of making lyrics and music, which seem simple on the surface, dance and sparkle as they reveal hidden, more mysterious, depths. ‘Shoreline And The Sea’ is the most beautiful love song that does just that. Reg describes ‘Dragonfly’ as a ‘song about terrorism, and it’s insult to life’, and as we neared the end of the gig, the message and the words rang out as poignantly and (sadly) as relevant now as they were when written after 9/11.
I thought it was brave of Reg to sing England Green & England Grey in a Welsh pub. I don’t think as many people as usual joined in the chorus… but everyone appreciated this as a political commentary, demanded an encore and joined in, in true and beautiful Welsh style (with full harmonies), with the chorus of ‘Goodbye Hat’. This was a rousing end to a brilliant gig, which we hope will become a regular feature of Reg Meuross live dates.
More about Reg and live dates
More about Dylan Thomas and Laugharne from Jon