Roots Unearthed, Lefel 3 Lounge, St David’s Hall, Cardiff: October 14, 2015
Last year, we watched in total fascination as a new musical creation called Cylchcanu/Songchain toured theatres and concert halls around Wales; a meeting of musicians gathered together to explore the rich and magical Welsh folk culture, but a tradition that lay masked and hidden. This year, Chychcanu/Songchain 2 was raring to go, ready and waiting to shake up delighted audiences and tell them: “THIS is Welsh music!”
Only three musicians – piper and fiddler Patrick Rimes and spectacular clog dancer and accordionist Beth Williams Jones, both of Calan, and accordion master Jamie Smith – remained from last year. Five new members joined the cast: Rag Foundation fiddler Kate Ronconi, Stacey Blythe, accordionist and harper with Ffynnon and Elfen, Fernhill fiddler and storyteller Christine Cooper, Canadian harper and trombonist Ceri Owen-Jones (Cerddcegin, Deuair) and wonderful guitarist/songwriter Gareth Bonello, aka The Gentle Good. Violin maker and pibgorn player Bernard Kilbride co-produced the scintillating show with Theatr Mwldan, and Lucy Rivers, actress and fiddler with Olion Byw, expertly directed the programme, which kept the Lefel 3 crowd entertained and enthralled.
Collaboration, experimentation and exciting anticipation was the order of the evening, with the eight showing their musical mettle and bouncing off one another like fury. ‘Bourèes Cymreig’ – Welsh bourèes, taking inspiration from the Auvergne fiddle tradition – kicked the show off with a vengeance, with while it was a pleasure to hear Stacey sing ‘Aderyn Du’ to a fascinating tune she wrote. Gareth followed it up with the lovely ‘Pen Draw’r Byd’ (The far side of the world), his fingerstyle guitar painting shimmering, rippling accompaniment. Ceri’s harp executed perfectly ‘Can y Cusanau’ – the Iolo Morganwg creation ‘Deuair Fyrrion’ and the traditional melody ‘Deildy Aberteifi’. Kate’s ‘Dark Eyed Sailor’ was absolutely wistful and beautiful, her gentle and alluring fiddle leading the audience on to the final denouement. The only niggle was that she has been influenced by other versions of the song, not Phil Tanner’s unique rendition – the Gower Nightingale called the ballad ‘Fair Phoebe And The Dark Eyed Sailor’.
Cylchcanu/Songchain 2 was a joyous, giddy whirl encompassing sixteenth and seventeenth-century Welsh airs (‘Trahaearn’, ‘Merthyron’ and ‘Kaniad San Silin’); Beth’s modern, percussive clog dance based on the traditional steps and style; Phil Tanner’s ‘The Banks Of The Sweet Primroses’; Christine’s ‘A Short Folk Tale’, accompanied by a tune written by the other Cerddcegin member, Elsa Davies; ‘Gwen Lliw’r Lili’ and ‘Erddigan Y Pibydd Coch’, from Ancient National Airs Of Gwent And Morganwg; J. Glyn Davies’s ‘Llongau Caernarfon’, based on a traditional Norwegian tune, and the age-old French tune ‘Horse’s Bransle’ with ‘Gwel Y Adeilad’ fitting nicely; Angharad Jenkins’ descriptive and expressive composition ‘Brandy Cove’ segueing into the complicated ‘Dawns Forrus Gymraeg’ (Welsh Morris Dance); and the final instrumental tableau, ‘William Edwards/The Roaring Hornpipe/Three Sheepskins’, with Beth topping the lot with some eye-popping clogging to die for. Have a look for yourself!
What a brilliant, stunning night; as the eight musicians took their final bow, the Lefel 3 audience showed their appreciation with shouts, roars and loud applause – which was topped with the well-loved four-part harmony Plygain carol, ‘Carol y Swper’ – the carol of the supper. Cylchcanu/Songchain 2 certainly produced plenty of nourishing mental food for enquiring minds. Let’s sincerely hope that this fabulous production will go on and on, placing strong and proud Welsh tradition and culture on the highest pedestal.