Onstage recently in the back room of Schuba’s Tavern in his adoptive hometown of Chicago, the singer Jon Langford introduced a song he called the Welsh National Anthem. His band, one of many fronted by the multifaceted guitarist and songwriter, was called Skull Orchard, and played an often rollicking repertoire of songs about Wales. That’s where Mr. Langford grew up, and it’s where he returns — in spirit, at least — when he convenes the group.
In Mr. Langford’s imagination, Wales has been waiting for its true and destined king to return and take his rightful place in history. That man is Tom Jones. After Mr. Langford finished his exclamatory spiel, the band punched into a loud, woozy waltz. Yes, it was “Delilah,” which Mr. Jones made a hit in 1968. As the crowd joined in on every lurching “why, why, why” refrain, a devilish grin swept across the singer’s face. Sometimes you can go home again.
This week, Mr. Langford won’t be the only wandering Welshman with a gig in New York. Tomorrow he headlines at the Knitting Factory with Skull Orchard and the 52 voices of the Toronto-based Burlington Welsh Male Chorus. The group is led by Julian Murray, an old college friend and one of the dozens of musicians who were briefly part of the Mekons, the quasi-legendary punk-era band Mr. Langford co-founded in 1976 while attending university in Leeds. The pair became reacquainted a few years ago when Mr. Langford was in Toronto producing a record, and a one-off summit at a Chicago Celtic music festival led to occasional collaborations.
“I’m cheating,” Mr. Langford said. “It looks like I’m flying people around the country. They’re actually in New York performing with [the Welsh opera singer] Bryn Terfel and they had a day off.” Ah, another Welshman. “I do have an auntie who stalks him. She leaves notes for him at all the great opera houses.”
Mr. Langford’s collection of songs, some of which are inspired by traditional ballads and hymns, began coming together about 10 years ago when he recorded his first solo album, “Skull Orchard.” One day it occurred to him that everything he wrote at the time seemed to be about life in South Wales.
“It was a bit like when you see a frog in a frying pan,” he said. “You don’t really recognize it until it starts heating up.”
Some of the material is dryly comic in tone. In one song, Mr. Langford describes a seaside village where nothing interesting has happened since 1954, when John Huston came to film “Moby Dick.”
“Huston heard there was good fox hunting there,” he said.
The movie, which cast the local populace as extras, now serves as an unintentional documentary. “When you look at the film, the faces of those people are just fantastic. We went through there once with the Mekons and nothing seemed to have happened.”
Newport, where Mr. Langford was born and raised in the mid-1950s, was cosmopolitan by comparison. The shipping industry dictated a local culture that was strongly alcohol-themed, with the kind of thriving nightlife that appeals to men of the sea. But it also made Newport into an international crossroads.
“There were people from Asia, India, people from Mauritius, Seychelles. Big Soviet tankers coming in. Reggae culture,” Mr. Langford said. “There wasn’t racism. The black kids were like the cool kids.”
The idyllic recollection contrasts sharply with other stories Mr. Langford has explored. He also sings about the 1966 Aberfan mining disaster, which killed 144 people when a giant pile of rock extracted from the mine slid down a mountain and obliterated a school, leaving only a few survivors.
“I went to school 20 miles away,” Mr. Langford said. As a child, he went with a friend to visit the memorial site. “It was amazing. The earth was black with coal. We looked at all those graves, hoping that there wouldn’t be one with our actual birthdates. But the dates were pretty close. I was 8 or 9, and it was just unthinkable. It wasn’t like it was somewhere remote and far away — all those little crosses on the hill.”
The gravity of such a tale becomes even more powerful with a chorus, which also gives Mr. Langford occasion to expand his musical range beyond the honky-tonk variations of his rowdy working band, the Waco Brothers.
“We’ll get to do a lot of hymns and patriotic songs,” he said. “There’s one called ‘We Are Still Here.’ You can’t understand a word of it, but it’s very powerful. It’s about how pissed off the Welsh are about the Romans. Still. It’s like they’re saying, ‘We are still here, but where are you?’ The Welsh really know how to harbor a grudge.”