Gwerincymru — o Gymru o’r byd
Pibgorn Festival makes a mighty sound in the Brecon Beacons
by Mick Tems
The largest gathering of pibgorn players and makers for 200 years takes place in the beautiful village of Pontsticill in the Brecon Beacons National Park on Gŵyl Ifan, the weekend of June 22-24, 2012 – and outstanding musicians from the Basque Country will be playing the alboka, a close cousin of the pibgorn.
The pibgorn, or hornpipe amplified by a cow’s horn, is an ancient Welsh instrument which sadly disappeared 200 years ago. Now the pibgorn is enjoying a new lease of life, championed by maker and musician Jonathan Shorland, fernhill founder member Ceri Rhys Matthews, Taran musician Gavin Morgan, Carreg Lafar player Antwn Owen Hicks and a host of movers and shakers.
Gwyl Pibgyrn Pontsticill: A Festival Of Hornpipes, organised by Bagad Pibau Morgannwg, will be packed with concerts, a twmpath, workshops, dance displays, makers’ stalls, free lectures and demonstrations. The line-up includes performers from Wales, the Basque Nation and England, with special new collaborations just for the occasion.
Performers include Patrick Rimes and Angharad Jenkins of the mighty five-piece band Calan; Stephen Rees and Andy Mclauchlin of Crasdant; Ceri Rhys Matthews; a rare appearance by Jonathan Shorland, the founder of the modern pibgorn-making revival, performing with hurdy-gurdy player Steve Tyler; Antwn Owen Hicks from Carreg Lafar; Gafin Morgan and Gerard Kilbride (Bagad Pibau Morgannwg and Taran) and special guest Chris Allen, hurdy-gurdy maker from Merthyr Vale. John Glenydd, Keith Lewis and Tegwyn Edwards complete the list of pibgorn makers.
Gerard is a fiddle restorer and pibgorn maker, who has successfully experimented with an electronic midi-pibgorn. He said: “The Bethlehem Village Band will be leading the Twmpath on Saturday night, and José Antonio Martinez Oses, Xabier Losada Garate and Andrea Losada will be travelling from the Basque region, especially for the Festival. They will be playing incredible traditional music on the alboka, a close cousin of the pibgorn. Jose Oses is the greatest alboka maker alive today, and he will be giving demonstrations on reed making over the weekend.”
The alboka is a double hornpipe or clarinet native to the Basque Country. Although it is a woodwind instrument, its name is derived from the Arabic "al-bûq" - literally "the trumpet" or "the horn". Though long identified with the Basque people, according to some scholars the instrument was originally native to Asia and may have been brought into Iberia by the Arab conquest. It was evidently already established in Spain by the time of the 13th-century Poema De Alexandre, in which it is mentioned by name, and there are apparent representations of the instrument in surviving medieval sculptural church decorations.
Gerard outlined the history of pibgorn festivals: “It's mentioned that they were last held annually in Anglesey, but died out along with the playing. According to Daines Barrington in 1770, a landowner called Mr Wynn of Penhesgedd, Anglesey, offered an annual prize to the best pibgorn performer. It’s said that one competition in the 18th century attracted 200 players.
The weekend is based around the Memorial Hall in Pontsticill and two local real ale pubs, The Butchers Arms and The Red Cow, where there will be great sessions going on over the weekend. Gerard said: “For an instrument that completely died out in Wales, we now have enough momentum in players to hold such an historic event. I personally look forward to the plenary session at the end of Saturday day where the topic is open-ended, for all to discuss where we have come from, where we are and where we are going.
“The Festival is very much a joint effort, which I’m pleased to be involved with. The idea and Festival was a result of years of discussions with Antwn Owen Hicks, Gafin Morgan – players with Bagad Pibau Morgannwg, Taran and Carreg Lafar - and myself, wanting to promote the dark arts of piping and pibgorn playing in Wales. We felt that now was a really good time to put the effort into it.
“Throughout Saturday, there will be dance displays by Dawnswyr Nantgarw, music workshops, free lectures by Robert Evans and Emyr Davies of the St Fagans National History Museum, reed making and horn carving demonstrations, and sessions in the local pubs. It’s strongly advised to book early for this incredibly rare, special event.
“We hope to hold the largest mass pibgorn session since the 18th century on the Saturday afternoon, with as many players as possible performing outside. Please spread the word, dust off those pibgyrn and come to the Festival!”
More information and ticket details can be seen at www.pibfest.com. The price is £10 evening tickets and £7.50 for the workshops, with a discount for buying multiple tickets. Concessions are also available, and tickets are available from the Theatr Soar box office: email@example.com (01685 722176) and online at www.theatrsoar.com.
Gerard said: “This is fantastic value to see and hear the best players in Wales and for such a great, historic event. We’re very grateful for the funding support to make it all possible from the Arts Council of Wales, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council and Menter Merthyr Tudful.”