On Stage: The Joy Formidable comes to Philly from Wales

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

The Joy Formidable

If you’re a Cambrophile living in this area or a fan of the Welsh National Football Team, you have plenty to be happy about right now.

On October 27, The Joy Formidable, one of the best bands to come out of Wales in the last two decades, will be headlining a show at Underground Arts (1200 Callowhill Street, Philadelphia,http://undergroundarts.org).

On November 21, Wales will be competing in the World Cup for the first time since 1958. The Dragons open play against United States at the quadrennial tournament which is being staged in Qatar.

The Joy Formidable is a Welsh alternative rock band, formed in 2007 in Mold, Flintshire. The band features Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan (lead vocals, guitar), Rhydian Dafydd (bass, vocals) and Matthew James Thomas (drums, percussion). The original drummer was Justin Stahley.

“We didn’t really become the band we are now until 2009 when Matt joined,” said Bryan, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.

Bryan and Dafydd grew up together in North Wales but no seeds for a future band were planted.

“Rhydian and I were in elementary school, middle school and high school together,” said Bryan. “But we had separate ways. We went to a small bilingual Welsh school but never played in bands together.”

A career in music was not something that Bryan expected.

“It took me by surprise,” said Bryan. “I’ve always written. I grew up in a rural area as an only child. I played with words. Then, I got a guitar when I was 12. I thought I would have just enjoyed doing it by myself.

“It stayed that way until I got back together with Rhydian. He coerced me to share more. The more I played with him, the more confidence I felt.

“We had a great writing chemistry. I like what he brought out of me. We both listen to a lot of different music. His is definitely heavier than mine – Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine.

“My music tastes came more from my parents’ record collection. I like songwriters from the 60s and 70s – singers with unique voices like Nick Drake. I also liked bands like the Cure and prog bands like Yes.

“I’ve always wanted to tell stories. Together, we like that power of creating. It is the dynamics we like.

The Joy Formidable released its debut album, “The Big Roar,” in 2011 and followed with “Wolf’s Law” (2013), “Hitch:” (2016), “AARTH” (2018) and “Into the Blue” (2021).

“We started tracking ‘Into the Blue’ in December 2019,” said Bryan. “We hadn’t even recorded it by March 2020. Then, we could sense that things were going to be different.”

“Into the Blue” was eventually released in August 2021.

“The album was recorded mostly in Utah,” said Bryan. “Rhydian and I have a place in southern Utah. Half the year, we’re back in Wales – in Mold.

“The original plan before the pandemic was for us to record in a room together in Wales with Matt. Then, everything closed. Rhydian and I decided to stay in Utah. We live together and have a modest studio where we record. We did the drums remotely.”

The pandemic lockdown had an effect on the album.

“The album chronicled having some time and space to get in touch with myself as a writer,” said Bryan.

“I think all our albums have been personal – but cryptic. This one is a little more open.”

Now, The Joy Formidable is back on the road.

“Our last tour ended in December 2019 in Philly,” said Bryan. “There are some of our first dates in three years. Prior to coming over, we did a couple of spot date in the U.K. to make sure we still had it together. Everything feels extremely fresh.”

On September 14, The Joy Formidable released “Into the Blue Deluxe Edition,” which includes two new songs as well as new artwork to commemorate the release.

According to Bryan, “It’s been a strange feeling, to release an album in 2021 and not get the chance to share it live with an audience, especially an album like ‘Into the Blue’ that has a lot of live energy. We feel like it deserves that moment and we wanted to re-visit the recorded version with some new tracks ahead of the tour.”

Each show on this tour will be different.

“We’re out for more than two months so I’d go crazy if I had to sing the same songs every night,” said Bryan. “It’s been hard to choose a set list. We’re playing songs from our entire catalog – and a few Welsh songs.”

Video link for The Joy Formidable – https://youtu.be/QieV2LyIxGw.

The show at Underground Arts, which has Cuffed Up as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $28.

Now that COVID has slowed down and pandemic restrictions are becoming a thing of the past, it has become an era of return for musicians – return to the studio, return to touring, return to a small semblance of normalcy.

Chris Berardo

Chris Berardo is definitely in return mode right now. He has returned to touring – including a return to an area venue he has played several times. On October 27, Berado will share the bill with the Outlaws at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

“I’ve played the Sellersville Theatre a number of times over the years,” said Berardo, during a phone interview Monday from his home near Norwalk, Connecticut. “It’s a great place to play. The sound is great, and the audiences are really responsive.”

Berardo has also returned to his musical past. His latest album is also his oldest.

The New York-born/Connecticut-based singer/songwriter recorded “American Dust” in 1997. For its 25th anniversary, Berardo released it digitally for the first time on September 27 with the first single, “Old Man’s Eyes,” made available back in August 26.

“We have an album that’s been done for two years that won’t be released for a while,” said Berardo. “With the re-release of ‘Dust,’ it was a good start to clear the palate.

“We recorded ‘Dust’ on eight-track machines. They were uneven. It’s a hodge-podge but a lot of it holds up. I stand by all these songs. In 25 years, it was never up on digital platforms, so I felt it was time.”

Berardo’s relationship with music goes back a long way.

“Kathy Downs was my babysitter,” said Berardo. “She was 15 and I was five. She gave me all her Monkees records.”

After Berardo graduated from New Rochelle High School, he headed south to the University of Miami.

“I spent three spring breaks in a row in Daytona Beach,” said Berardo. “Palm trees are good so the University of Miami seemed like a good choice.

“When I was in college, I went to Key West on weekends. There was a good music scene there. I sat in with different musicians. That’s when I realized I had to stop college.

“I had a buddy who started a band in D.C., so I left Miami and moved to D.C. Then, I moved to L.A. and did some stuff there. But, it ran its course so I went back to New York. Then, I went back to L.A.”

When Berardo first started performing around New York City in the 1980’s he attracted the attention of superstar manager Bill Aucoin (Kiss, Billy Idol), who offered his help and encouragement. Berardo’s bands were always on the verge, but never broke through.

Aucoin helped Berardo move to Los Angeles and get situated in L.A.’s music scene. Berardo honed his songwriting craft working with hit songwriter/producer/ Songwriter’s Hall of Fame member Bob Crewe (Four Seasons, LaBelle).

“Bill Aucoin was helping me get to the next stage,” said Berardo. “There was a movie called ‘Long Street’ that needed a song, and he got them to use one of mine.

“Around that time, I started working with Bob Crewe. I started writing songs with him at Village Recorders. Then, I decided to leave L.A. because the scene was getting real metal. Back in New York, I got into new things musically. By then, I had my own band – and my own sounds.”

Berardo’s band was The DesBerardos and it featured his brothers Marc Douglas Berardo and Scott Berardo.

“A lot of guys in the band have come and gone but Marc has been a constant,” said Berardo. “He started playing with me when I got back from L.A.

“We performed as a duo playing other people’s songs at any place with neon. We were playing songs by Neil Young, the Eagles, Jackson Browne and Poco.”

Eventually, Berardo started doing his own music and released his first album (“Dust”) in 1997. He followed with the “Pure Faith” album in 2005 and “Ignoring All the Warning Signs” in 2009  (which spent two months in the Top Ten at Sirius Radio’s XM Outlaw channel, and hit #49 on the Billboard American Chart).
Returning stronger than ever with successful 2020 single “Somewhere Blue” swiftly followed by a killer cover of Badfinger’s hit song “Baby Blue” , and the imminent fourth album “Wilder All The Time” (all produced by David Abeyta of Reckless Kelly), Berardo has definitely returned.

Video link for Chris Berardo — https://youtu.be/PKQcMB4WOy4.

The show at the Sellersville Theater with the Outlaws headlining will start at 8 p.m.

Ticket prices start at $59.50.

Other upcoming shows at the Sellersville Theater are Altan on October 28, Peter Yarrow on October 29, and Joe Matarese with Shannon Fiedler on October 30.

The Commonheart

The Commonheart has also returned.

The Pittsburgh-based band will headline a show at the World Cafe Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, www.worldcafelive.com) on October 28 in celebration of its new album, “For Work or Love.”

The group’s new album was produced by Abington native Steve Berlin. Berlin is the horn player of Los Lobos, a legendary band that the Commonheart toured with in 2017 and formed a musical bond with. It was officially released on September 16, 2022.

“This was our third album,” said band founder Clinton Clegg, during a phone interview Monday afternoon from his home on the north side of Pittsburgh.

“Our first record was ‘Grown,’ in 2016. We released our second album, ‘Pressure,’ in 2018 and then the new album came out last month.”

The Commonheart’s 2022 line-up features Abby Gross – Saxophone; Mariko Reid – Vocals; Anton DeFade – Bass; Cole Insko- Drums; Mike Minda- Guitar; Lucas Bowman- Keyboards; Nate Insko- Trumpet; and Clegg- Vocals.

“The current line-up has been together since ‘Pressure’ in 2018,” said Clegg. “We went through the pandemic together. There are 10 in the band, but we usually tour with seven.”

The Commonheart’s musical menu features a blend of American styles — blues, vintage soul, and rock.

The Commonheart began back in 2014,” said Clegg. “A few musician friends and I were bouncing around in different projects. I wanted to build something a little more serious. I started getting more professional.

“I was trying to put as Blood, Sweat and Tears type band. It took a few years to get going. Then, we had a big breakout show here in Pittsburgh.

“Gary Clark, Jr. needed an opening act and his tour manager reached out to us. We were in front of 2,000 fans of our own demographic – blues and soul.

“That launched us. It was a pretty special night. Our next show was as headliner at Mr. Smalls theater in Millvale, a Pittsburgh suburb. We sold out immediately. That made us feel like we had accomplished something.”

Clegg’s introduction to music came from his mother Barbara.

“My mom was an organ player in church,” said Clegg. “I learned to sing and be a part of that. At that age, I thought it was punishment – but it was the start.

“She bought me a B.B. King record which got me really started. I played cello, bass and acoustic guitar. Around 18, I started writinh things. I got in a band and began playing electric guitar. With the Commonheart, I just sing.”

The Commonheart followed in the tradition of Pittsburgh’s legendary Rusted Root – a big band that rocks with a variety of instruments and a deciation to American roots music.

“When I put this band together, I met a majority of the members just by playing open mics around the city and playing smaller club shows,” said Clegg. “A lot of the people in the band have jazz backgrounds.

“We recorded the new album at Church Recording Studio in Pittsburgh. We started tarcking in October 2021. We spent six months making the record and did it all in ProTools.”

Video link for The Commonheart — https://youtu.be/VXBQv5YJjqM.

The show at the World Café Live on October 28 will start at 8:30 p.m.

Tickets are $15.

Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, www.uptownwestchester.org) is presenting Bad Animals on October 28, 7 Bridges on November 3, Kung Yang Lin Dancers on November 5, Better Than Bacon on November 11, Miche Braden & The Aaron Graves Jazz Ensemble on November 12, Sherry Wilson Butler & the Hot Saints of Jazz with dancer Lauren Putty on November 13, The Cartoon Christmas on December 6, and The Last Big Band Holiday Show on December 20.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) is hosting Katie Barbato on October 29, Jazz Jam on October 30, Sonia on November 5, Angry Young Band on November 11, UZO on November 12, Antje Duvekot on November 18, The D Corridori Project on November 19, Jazz Jam on November 27, Dead Flowers on December 3, and Bryan Tuk Project on December 10.

Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985,www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) presents headline shows on the weekend nights always draw appreciative crowds. The show this Friday features Bobby Messano. This Saturday evening’s concert showcases the Dukes of Destiny.

The Sound Bank (119 South Main Street, Phoenixville, www.soundbankphx.com) will have Ouroboros on October 28, Michael Sarian on November 3, Haywood Trout on November 4, Kuf Knotz & Christine Elise on November 10, Lower Case Blues on November 12, and E Street Shuffle on November 18.

Phantom Power (121 West Frederick Street, Millersville, www.phantompower.net) will haveGreen Jelly on October 27, Big Fat Meanies on October 29, She Wants Revenge on November 2, Tigers Jaw on November 3, Animal Magnetism on November 5, Dancing Bears on November 12, Couch on November 18, Brass Monkeys on November 26, Local H on December 3, Maya de Vitry on December 9, and Aunt Mary Pat on December 29.

Colonial Theater (227 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, thecolonialtheatre.com/events) is hosting Bruce Hornsby on November 16 and Jessica Lynn on December 9.

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