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Folkwales Online Magazine June 2012

Gwerincymru — o Gymru o’r byd

CD Reviews by Mick Tems

Here are the reviews for this month.  More may be added later - watch this space!



(Steam Pie SPCD1016S)


‘Pwnco’ is translated as the Welsh-language question-and-answer ritual which makes the Mari Lwyd horse’s skull tradition so unique to Gwent and Glamorgan. Allan Yn Y Fan are based in Gwent, and they have brilliantly interposed this here-and-now musicians’ technology to an age-old celtic ‘dark side’ of vertiginous proportions… I truly love this CD, the band’s fifth with Steam Pie: It’s inspiring, intelligent and beautifully arranged, and those exciting tunes and pristine, sparkling songs really snuggle up on the listener.


The first CD to be recorded at guitarist Dylan Fowler’s lovely wooden studio deep in the wilds of Monmouthshire, the band offer for starters two delightful tunes from Kate, Death In Ennis and The Audient – the story goes that Allan Yn Y Fan started off as a twmpath band, and various Chinese whispers had them advertised as an Oompah band; and the Irish crowd voted with their feet! There are a couple of uncomfortable joins in the first track, but the band don’t make the same mistake twice; the rest of the CD just flows and flows.


Fiddle player and delightful singer Meriel Field swoops and soars absolutely magnificently on the Mari Lwyd song Canu Cwnsela, and guitarist Geoff Cripps, accordionist Chris Jones, mandolinist and bodran player Linda Simmonds and flautist/recorder player Kate Strudwick urge the local mid-winter ritual on with fire and flair. The band power into the traditional Welsh music with joyous abandon, and they create some new exciting music too. That sums this up perfectly – it’s full of power and passion, with that old Celtic magic permeating the pores of tradition, a sense of belonging, a strong loving togetherness that shaped the very mountains and steep valleys of Wales. And the band keep the listener guessing in any of the CD’s 12 tracks – none of it is predictable.


Meriel’s voice is a suberb asset and bonus to Allan Yn Y Fan; hers is one of great flexibility that fits in perfectly with a band equally adept at getting a twmpath on its feet as well as soothing the crowd with beautiful and startling original renditions of Tra Bo Dau, Dacw Nghariad or, surprisingly, a delightful Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Notably, Geoff Cripps contributes a stirring, moving poem by the late John Stuart Williams, written for his band, The Chartists, called Dic Penderyn; Richard Lewis, also known as Dic, was the first Welsh working-class martyr, and Geoff composed the melody. This is a little gem of a CD, and I’m proud to own a copy.



(Sain SCD2645)


I do truly love this! Yr Hwntws took the name from the derogatory North Walian slang, Welsh for the “down-theres”, and the original debut CD was a rip-roaring celebration of totally raw folk, tearing the red meat off the delicious Welsh history and culture. Only two original members are left, singer Jethro Newton and singer-guitarist Gregg Lynn; but they have recruited the Brothers Kilbride (guitarist and bass player Danny, the new trac chairman; fiddler, whistler and gaita player Gerard; and fiddler and keyboards player Bernard. The Kilbrides do their magic job as only The Kilbrides can. Vocalist Nia Lynn is a most welcome addition to the band; her confident voice really enhances Ffoles Llantrisant and Y Cap O Lâs Fawr (unaccompanied, with Gregg’s voice in support.) The title of the CD refers to Y Wenhwyseg, the slowly-disappearing Gwentian language of South-East Wales, and Jethro and Gregg have studied it and are doing their best to preserve it. Gregg’s version of the unaccompanied Can yr Ychen (The Ox-Driving song, from South Glamorgan) is really special, as is the fantastic Gower Reel, learned from the Gower Nightingale, Phil Tanner.


Jethro and Gregg revisit Bachgen Bach O Dincer, taken from the original LP, with versions learned from Meredydd Evans, Ifan O. Williams and Sir Thomas Parry, all tracing back to an elderly Welsh-speaking man from Penmaenmawr on the North Wales coast. This was the unique sound of Yr Hwntws, harsh voices as discordant as hell but suddenly breaking out in a marvellous harmony, and kick-ass fiddle and guitar urging the singers on. It’s a fascinating song with a well-known melody and an amazing chorus, with widespread versions from Ireland, The Appalachian Mountains of America (called The Knickerbocker Line) and Australia. Sam Larner and Harry Cox, two traditional Norfolk singers, knew versions of this song called The Dogger Bank: “She can do a double shuffle on the Knickerbocker Line.” The Welsh chorus has the phonetic first line: “Potsiar, Pipar, Twigar owns agen”, whereas The Knickerbocker Line/Dogger Bank chorus starts off: “So watch her, pipe her, twig her, she’s a proper jubaju.” Fascinating…


It’s great to hear the reformed Yr Hwntws singing and playing again, especially with The Kilbrides’ shock treatment. Definitely one to be treasured.


The Dreamed And The Drowned



This is a compendium of Reg’s 13 “lost” tracks, going back five years from 2006 to 2011. The songs were recorded while he was working on the CDs Still in 2006, Dragonfly in 2008 and All This Longing in 2010, but were never released. It definitely says something about this prolific and beautifully incisive songwriter with a fine high-tenor voice and an equally fine guitar; if these are rejects, then I’m very happy to feast on Reg’s rubbish all the time. A thousand were produced, and Reg signed each and every copy; they’re selling out fast, and once they’re sold, that’s it – take this as a warning!


The Dreamed And The Drowned was compiled by Steve Jordan at the Bodlean Music Library, who says: “I believe they make up the most varied and multi-faceted release yet from Reg’s vast repertoire… This is Reg Meuross at his most eclectic and inspiring best.” Reg covers a wide and multi-faceted range of subjects, including the title track covering the story of the The Maiden Of Hoy and her errant sailor, the Cumbrian floods (Mr Rain The Tailor), the true story of a Falklands Islands couple and their nightmare experience in the Argentinian invasion (Jenny’s War) and a soldier’s life broken in a futile and unwinnable conflict (He Lived For His Country). I just love Reg’s penetrating songs and his absolutely champion hook-lines, and I shall treasure these 13 marvellous songs always.


Sorrowful Strains Of Music

(ESB 002)


Now, here’s a revelation: tripping, sparkling proto-Irish music, played with verve and abandon, with a woman singer who whose work is really attractive and competent. This positive recommendation wouldn’t be bad for musicians based in these islands; but Coltraige reside in the South-East of France, about a thousand miles away from Ireland – and the band offer material from Scotland (Caledonia by Dougie McLean and The Lass Of Glenshee), Israel (Freilach), America and Cape Breton, Canada (Jerry Holland), a Kate Bush composition and Victorian Geordie Joe Wilson’s composition of Sally Wheatley (A Geordie is someone born in the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne; Joe was born in Stowell Street in 1841, contracted TB and died in Railway Street in the same city, aged just 34.)


Evelyne Pourrat sings lightly and prettily as she plays guitar and a deft diatonic accordion, while Jérémie Mignotte is adept on the wooden flute and Jean Banwarth shores up the show on guitar and bouzouki; Pierre Banwarth adds bodhran to the accompaniment. Several jigs and reels really stand out; Jerry Holland’s Dr Stan Chapman’s Jig and The White Petticoat, The Cat In The Corner trilogy of tunes and The “Funky” Man About The House reel. It’s all good celtic and not-so-celtic fodder with a romantic French twist, and Coltraige deserve praise for an enjoyable album.


Tethered For The Storm

(Gwymon CD013)


The Gentle Good is Cardiff-based Gareth Bonello, rippling, fluent acoustic guitarist and maker of penetrating songs of real insight, and Tethered For The Storm constitutes ten tracks of such fantastic beauty. Gareth, a Welsh-language speaker, works at St Fagans National History Museum and spends his time doing gigs in Wales and England, including The Green Man Festival in the Brecon Beacons National Park, Glastonbury, Lorient Interceltique and Washington DC in America. Among his guests on this CD are the scintillating West Wales harper Harriet Earis; Lisa Jên of the band 9bach and Cate le Bon on harmony; and the wonderful Mavron Quartet, comprising Christina Mavron (first violin), Katy Rowe (second violin), Niamh Ferris on viola and Lucy Simmonds on ‘cello - this is a mouth-watering taster, and we haven’t even begun to listen to the first track!


The Gentle Good’s set is sprinkled with soothing, summery English-language songs with a wistful sense, and a good proportion of shimmering Welsh-language ones, too – of these ten tracks, a good four are Welsh, including Cysgod Y Dur, memories of when Cardiff was a steel city. Lisa Jên duets lusciously with Gareth on Deuawd, and don’t forget Colled and Llosgi Pontydd either; they’re all outstanding songs, Apart from his guitar, Gareth plays banjo, a ‘cello solo, mandolin, piano and keyboard; the mysterious, wonderful Aubade, about two lovers wishing the inevitable dawn away, makes for a classic starter.


Tethered For The Storm is an album of sheer delight, for which Seb Goldfinch’s outstanding string arrangements and Llion Robertson’s production, engineering and mixing have played their part; but it’s Gareth who is the main man and who is right there at the start.

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Bright Flame

(Hallamshire Traditions HATRCD07)


Every now and then, someone offers you a CD which truly catches your eyes and ears and heart. I’ve got to thank Gerhard Kress for this one; Ciarán Boyle, an Irishman living in South Yorkshire with a fabulous ornamental voice and an all-Ireland bodhran champion, played with Denny Bartley and Chris Sherburn in Last Night’s Fun; it’s the marvellous Kress bodhran sound that Ciarán plays on this CD. Paul Davenport of Hallamshire Traditions writes these notes as an introduction to Ciarán: “He works in my garden and sings songs that have their roots in his past and present… After many years as a performer on music in the tradition, he is neither chasing in folk-music nor is he aspiring to win any of the awards which nowadays mark the average folk musician’s entry into the world of clubs and folk festivals. Then I heard these tracks and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck.”


Ciarán learned many songs from his late father, Tommy. He and Tommy used to travel to Leeds for Sunday afternoon sessions in pubs such as The Regent (now sadly closed) where he first heard Bernard Davey sing the popular folk-song Step It Out Mary, which he delivers with love, respect and just enough electricity to keep it sizzling. Like As I Roved Out, The Granemore Hare, The Boys Of Barr na Sráide, Next Market Day and The Green Fields Of Canada, these songs can count themselves lucky that such a rich-voiced singer as Ciarán should perform them.


Chris’s beautifully-tripping concertina accompanies the Boyle bodhran on The Bank Of Ireland and Within A Mile Of Dublin, two reels which, says Ciarán, formed the opening set for Last Night’s Fun when they were on the road together. I seem to remember, years back, how Chris and Denny turned up at Llantrisant Folk Club to do a magnificent gig, but without the bodhran player. If we had known then what I know now… This is an absolutely lovely CD which I know I shall play again and again.


Ups And Downs

(Zoox Records Zoox2)


What a fabulous, quirky little platter… Zoox are Linda Game on fiddle, mandola and chincello, Becky Menday on soprano sax and contrabassoon and Jo May on all sorts of percussion, and the 13 tracks lay down firmly what they are about and where they are going. There’s only three musicians in Zoox, but the three have an impeccable CV where bands are concerned. The first track, La Belle Catherine, opens sparsely with contrabassoon and spoons paving the way for the ever-dancing fiddle; sparseness, and the musicians’ clever originality, is the Zoox sound, with so much room for the instruments to breathe easily.


Jane Fenton adds cello to Jo’s composed tune, Fallen, and again on the Irish slip-jig Kid On The Mountain and Whelan’s Jig, but Zoox have no need of other instuments’ help in all of the 13 tracks. Richard Thompson’s Little Beggar Girl is on a delightful and favourable par with Bright Lights, and Rainy View captures the desolation of water droplets cascading down Becky’s window. The 18th Century Newcastle song Dollia refers to soldiers involvement to the ladies of the night, nicknamed Dillon Dolls, and I Wish/Rochester Street is a traditional song taught to Zoox by Kerry Fletcher, followed by Becky’s tune which remembers her nan staying put in the same house for 72 years, while the world changed around her.


A solitary voice, telling the sorrowful tale of Old Smokey, brings the album to an end. I can do no worse than to quote the sleeve notes: “A beautiful traditional song, desolate, unforgiving, despairing, mournful and miserable. A true finale!” A true pleasure, indeed.


Crossing The Ocean

(The Living Tradition LTCD 9019)


This CD must hold the record as the most-played platter of all Folkwales OM’s review albums. The House Devils (“You’re an angel in the street, but a devil in the house!”) are a Manchester-based band, with strong Irish connections. Matt Fahey is a superb singer, and he plays dynamic guitar and bouzouki; Mat Walklate won the blues harmonica championship when he was only 21, and is a fine singer and uilleann piper; Anthony Haller is on double bass; and Andrew Dinan is a senior All-Ireland fiddle champion, playing with Ade Edmondson’s Bad Shepherds and with Mike McGoldrick’s Future Trad Collective. Together, they are just magic; it’s all mouth-watering stuff, and it’s enhanced immeasurably by informative notes. Frank Harte, the late, great Dublin singer, had a folksong called Wearing The Britches, and Matt Fahey listened to him; the opening track bursts into life and demands the casual to pin his lugholes back or else! It’s followed up by Mick Rodden’s Reels, given to the band by Mick, a fine fiddle player from Buncrana, County Donegal.


The House Devils’ theme is emigration to America, and Mat Walklate does a lovely job of Awake, Awake, which Cecil Sharp included in his book, English Folk Songs Of The Southern Appalachians. Mat says that this song comes from a 1963 recording of Dillard Chandler of Big Laurel, North Carolina. Castelroe Hill, a song found in Sam Henry’s Songs Of The People, tells of the heartache of emigrating; and Mat uses a chromatic harmonica on The Ace And Deuce Of Pipering – a neat trick!


The band acknowledge a host of traditional singers: Gordon McArdle from County Fermanagh, Joe Heaney, Len Graham of County Derry. But they don’t use the CD as a dry lecture; in fact, they show their respect and love by expertly displaying their musicianship and some damn fine singing. Full marks!


The Oxenhope EP

(Slpid Records, CD009)


Now, that’s more like it! Steve, always an amazing and prolific writer who just keeps on churning out absolutely jawdropping songs, has teamed up with The Durbervilles, a Yorkshire band who take delight in any amount of rock-folk material, plus some Cajun hotstuff too. This has been a successful year for Steve, who appeared solo on Later… With Jools on BBC-2 singing Oil And Water, a maddeningly simple slick melody which doesn’t leave your brain alone once it’s been implanted there. “Oil And Water don’t mix well like whisky and wine”… the song is on the EP, and Steve and the band flow on quickly with Same Boy. They deliver a knockout punch with There She Blows, a quasi-cajun number which sits very comfortably with lyrics of derring-do in the freezing ocean. Drinking Man hides serious observations in waltz-time, and the Cajun-influenced Jackaranda brings the set to a satisfying end. Top marks!


The Best Of Tim Edey

(Gnatbite Records, no catalogue number)


Tim has risen to the heady heights this year of winning two folk awards (Best Duo with Brendan Power and Musician Of The Year, and guesting with The Chieftains on their celebratory 50th anniversary tour. Now comes a really wonderful compilation CD, showing Tim in all his glory with an impressive roster of musicians, such as Sharron Shannon, Ross Anslie, Michael McGoldrick, Brendan Power, Lucy Randall and Jon Sanders, with the beautiful, stirring voice of Seamus Begley. From Out In The Ocean Guitar Jigs and Little Bird (which Tim composed for Miss Shannon) to the bonus track, Old Lang Syne, and the Dawning Of The Day Samba, this album is a sheer delight. For God’s sake, buy it!



(Corbiere Records, no catalogue number)


Sam was born in Jersey, and major artists such as Neil Sedaka, Steve Cropper and Ray Davies have praised Sam’s songwriting, but I just can’t get my head around it; perhaps it’s her unintelligible diction and her slightly unnerving histrionics. For example, I can’t make out whether the title track is a hymn of praise or a damning statement. That samey piano and the predictable songwriting tend to get a bit wearing, too.


Pied Flycatcher

(Copper Records CRCD003)


Songwriter Kate comes from Birmingham and has made her home in the beautiful Dyfi Valley in Mid Wales. She works as a freelance organic community gardener and is also Garden Volunteer Coordinator for Gerddi Bro Ddyfi Gardens in Machynlleth, and the three tracks of this EP evoke the sheer wide-eyed splendour of the scenery of the Cardigan Bay coast. The title track and The Dunes (written for Ynyslas Dunes on a summer’s day) are just mysterious and quite delightful, and Freefalling brings the trio of songs to a perfect end. Daniel Wilkins (guitars, kora) and cellist Marie Smith add to the magic


These Dreams Like Trees Are Dark And Twisting

(Rose Tree Records RTR01)


Christine comes from Pembrokeshire; She’s an artist, a storyteller, a singer, a multi-instrumentalist and she plays fiddle with fernhill, the respected Welsh band with whom she has toured internationally. This is a beautiful, ethereal EP, and the five traditional songs conjure up the stark contrast between her old home in West Wales, the bustling seafront city where she’s living now, Brighton, and her travelling experiences which instilled in her a love for all musical cultures, but also a desire to get to know her own. Pip Ash plays ‘cello and fernhill leader Ceri Rhys Matthews is on guitar, but Christine plays everything else: banjo, fiddle, harmonium, piano and celeste. This EP brims over with stories waiting to be told; The Ploughboy and The Cruel Mother are both fine tales, and she waves the Welsh flag by singing Y Fwynlan O Serch. A rare treasure.



Contact: Mick Tems, Editor - Folkwales Magazine, 88 Manor Chase, Y Beddau, Pontypridd, CYMRU / WALES CF38 2JE Phone: 01443 206689

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