Gwerincymru — o Gymru o’r byd
by Mick Tems
In this issue:
The Muni Arts Centre, Pontypridd - Thursday February 9, 2012
The young movers and shakers of Nu-folk paid their loving respect to the musical visionaries of the sixties and seventies, but this concert saw them breaking out and forging ahead with some promising writing. The Kent-based Webb Sisters have toured all over the world as Leonard Cohen’s voices, and Cardiff duo Zervas and Pepper have recorded a few fine CDs with their exquisite harmony. Even Jefferson Airplane got a mention!
The Muni was satisfyingly full for Hattie and Charley Webb and Paul Zervas and Kathryn Pepper; Servas and Pepper, accompanied by Dave on acoustic guitar (was it Dave Sivell?) went straight on with the warm-up set and powered into Everybody Knows, their startling trio of voices reminiscent of Crosby, Stills and Nash but their intelligent writing taking a very different course.
Kathryn and Paul excelled at their set, which included Get Gone, King Of The Skies and Underling. The crowd adored their spot-on melodious vocals and no-nonsense arrangements, driven on by the two acoustic guitars. And then it was The Webb Sisters’ turn…
Hattie and Charley’s set is a fascinating melange of self-written songs, peppered with old sixties, seventies and eighties classics which seem to take on a new lease of life through the sisters’ unusual interpretation. Hattie plays the celtic harp and Charley backs her up on acoustic guitar, and the first surprise was the sisters’ version of the Simon and Garfunkel song April Come She Will. More self-penned songs followed from the new CD Savages, including the just-released single If It Be Your Will.
One absolute stunner was the great country singer and guitarist Willie Nelson’s huge hit Always On My Mind. Forget Elvis and The Pet Shop Boys; Hattie and Charley’s gentle, emotional reading felt like a new song had been created. The great master Cohen left his mark on the sisters as well, who sang Show Me The Place as a tribute.
For the encore, The Webb Sisters left the stage and descended into the audience, without the help of microphones or instruments, for the last two pieces. The ultimate was the beautiful, tragic Heart Like A Wheel, and the sisters acknowledged Anna McGarrigle’s greatest contribution to the written song. The whole performance was concentrated into an intimate, warm space. Hey, Geoff – have you ever thought of starting an acoustic club at the Muni?
Llantrisant Folk Club, The Windsor Hotel, Pontyclun – February 15, 2012
Damien and Mike are two powerful men, two powerful voices hacking and hewing at a shedful of powerful songs. One was born in rural Norfolk and the other was forged in the industrial steel mills and chemical plants of Teesside; but two minds are united as one when it comes to the beauty and strength of folk music, saluting the famous songwriters and the ever-flowing tradition of folksong.
Damien was a solo singer, concertina player and guitarist for 11 years. Now he’s directing The Demon Barbers Roadshow, the spectacular all-playing, all-clog-dancing happening which takes most of his time. Mike is younger brother to The Wilsons, the five singing siblings who have raised the rafters at many a folk club and festival. The Arts Council of Wales took the opportunity to fund Llantrisant Folk Club under the Night Out Scheme as well – these two singers are very special.
Damien is influenced by two Norfolkians, the late, great Peter Bellamy and the traditional singer Walter Pardon, and he and Mike started their set with a steamrollering version of the traditional song On Board A 98, set to music by Bellamy. The duo paid respect to Ewan McColl, a giant of a traditional singer and a prolific songwriter with their take on My Old Man and the beautiful, moving The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, written for Peggy Seeger. Commercial recordings are all very well, but you just can’t beat the tingling electricity and excitement you get from a small, intimate space like a folk club and artists who appreciate the man and the legend. Damien and Mike climaxed the first set with the writer Al Stewart’s Nostradamus, which Bellamy recorded on an album.
The second set was a sublime pot-pourri of a Bellamy version of Rag Fair, Richard Thompson’s Down Where The Drunkards Roll, the American shanty Shiney-Oh, the Wild West ballad The Santa Fe Trail, and the duo finished up with the Sussex singer Bob Copper’s poem The Old Songs. Bob wrote this heartfelt wish that the old songs should not die – and more than 60 years after, the old songs are still blazing a trail for real music. We’ve got to thank Damien and Mike, and the whole folk tradition, for that.
The Angel Hotel, Llandeilo – February 23, 2012
Guitar wizard John James is back – and how! The Lampeter-born finger-picking virtuoso toured the world, releasing a welter of albums in the 1970s (which became affectionately known as “the Transatlantic years”, after the record company of the same name), appearing at major folk festivals like Edinburgh and Cambridge and auspicious venues such as London’s Royal Albert Hall and the Paris Olympia. To fulfil the contract with Transatlantic, John went into the recording studios with fellow guitarist and Cornishman Peter Berryman, and brought out the seminal album called Sky In My Pie, which to this day is as fresh as a March breeze and resonates with the sheer joy of two musos of one mind just playing together.
John has been very prominent recently, playing to packed audiences at the Valley Folk Club in Pontardawe and then Llantrisant Folk Club in Pontyclun. However, David Jones, organiser of Llandeilo Acoustic, came up with an absolute scoop when John and Peter took the stage at the Angel Hotel to celebrate the album’s 40 years in a one-off reunion. Every seat was full, and still more punters sat on the tables. The temperature and atmosphere were intense.
Sky In My Pie never made the CD version. True to form, John displayed an old Sky In My Pie record: “For the younger ones amongst you, this was called an “LP” – you’re probably used to bands promoting their CDs and telling you the merchandise will be on sale – well, this one AIN’T.”
Just for tasters, Peter and John opened up with a blues/jazz exploratory number, their slinky guitars answering one another, John’s voice imitating another guitar. Straight after, they went for broke with a gleeful, oh-so-complicated hornpipe piece called The Sailor’s Farewell or A Wave At The Door, and John kept the kettle boiling with his adaption of the Dylan Thomas poem, One Long Happy Night.
Peter played guitar in the Famous Jug Band, led by Clive Palmer, who later joined Mike Heron and Robin Williamson in The Incredible String Band. His grandfather was a Cornish miner, and Peter set the scene for his beautiful and imposing Hills Of Clay. He’s written impressive songs in Kernewek, the Cornish language, and in English too.
John displayed his West Wales upbringing with a fabulous tune-portrait describing the train which to go from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth, and Peter joined him for a Django Rheinardt-influenced Hot Club-style delight. The two guitarists took on the growing list of musicial varieties with devil-may-care ease, and the crowd roared for an encore. John and Peter obliged with an exotic guitars-in-harmony barnstormer called Café Vienna.
Artist Charlotte Leadbeater, who lives just around the corner in Quay Street, was busy sketching images of John and Peter. If you want a really great night, hosted by a friendly and ever-smiling David, then go to The Angel’s Acoustic Club on Thursdays – and the hotel serves real ale, too!
Tredegar House Folk Festival benefit, The Morgan Room – February 25, 2012
The Western Mail (and Wales Online) had a garbled version of the Allan Yn Y Fan/Delyth concert, which they mistakenly thought Tredegar House Folk Festival was happening on the last weekend on February. Here’s some sound advice: read Folkwales Online Magazine for more accurate, specialised and informed information! The Folk Festival is running next May, on the weekend of Friday May 18 to Sunday May 20, and Allan Yn Y Fan and Delyth played a welcome benefit which, with several artists and the community contributing, will hopefully enable the Festival to carry on delighting audiences for another 23 years.
All artists were at The Morgan Room to promote brand-new Steam Pie CDs, Llais and Pwnco, to which they have just put the finishing touches. Delyth took the stage, and she quickly grasped the audience’s attention with her quiet command of the Celtic harp and her exploratory writing, which has taken her on an voyage of collaboration with the Swansea-based Fluellen Theatre Company.
Delyth and her solitary harp worked wonders, and she hypnotised the audience with her artful playing. A highlight was a piece she composed for Fluellen’s interpretation of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, Captain Cat Sails The Sea. She finished an all-too-short set with Berwyn, a tribute for her father, and Bryniau Iwerddon (Hills Of Ireland).
Allan Yn Y Fan exploded onto the stage with a charged-up version of Morgan Rhatlar and the well-known song Hen Ferchetan, segueing into Pat Shaw’s Coleg Y Prifysgol Abertawe. Fiddler and vocalist Meriel Field took charge over the band’s Mari Lwyd song, Canu Cwnsela, which melted into the album’s title track, Pwnco. Meriel’s a very able and fine singer, her clear voice riding high over the urgency of the instruments, and she contributes much Welsh-language material to the band’s repertoire.
Allan Yn Y Fan’s trick is a highly original take on some well-known chestnuts, carefully arranging them to give a whole new lease of life (I particularly like Fernhill’s catchphrase of “deconstructing” the Welsh tradition!) Dacw ‘Nghariad, the song collected in Whitchurch, Cardiff, Meriel’s lovely setting of Tra Bo Dau and even the Victorian poem-turned-nursery rhyme Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star must have got musicians thinking: “Why couldn’t I have composed that?” That’s one’s easy – because Allan Yn Y Fan thought of it first!
Geoff Cripps anchored the set with solid guitar and bass, while the ever-grinning Chris Jones lit the blue touchpaper on accordion and Meriel played the dancing fiddle. Kate Strudwick supplied some beautiful, spine-shivering harmonies on recorder, flute and voice, and Linda Simmonds filled out the band’s sound on mandolin, octave mandola and bodhran.
The whole atmosphere in the Morgan Room was charged with feel-good anticipation, and the heartening thing is that the monoglot Newport audience really took to Welsh music and tradition. Sue Oates deserves a plaudit for chairing the Festival and steering it down the right road.