Thursday, 1 April 2010

Day 11 - I digress yet again - Blodeugerdd

Blodeugerdd is a CD you should all have.  Buy it on the link over to your left. (come on... it's award winning!)

Okay, let me explain.

On my last trip to Wales, I was lucky enough (right time, right place) to record for Ceri Rhys Matthews.  He had been asked to produce a Welsh folk music album for Smithsonian Folkways.  He did say I wasn't guaranteed to get on the record but would I record anyway.  Of course, I couldn't turn down such a great opportunity and even extended my stay to do so.

I should add here that both Ceri Rhys Matthews and Julie Murphy are the two musicians who restored my faith in the Welsh folk music scene and for a long time in Canada, I really felt they (and only a handful of others) were the only ones in Wales making music worth listening to.

Both Julie and Ceri create music that is steeped in tradition, yet relevant, somehow modern and old and also completely honest.  Honesty has become rare in the music industry.  Shouldn't be that way, but there you are.

I admire and even idolize the pair of them... but I'm digressing from my digression.

The day of the recording was beautiful and Ceri Rhys was fantastic.  That morning he took me to see the high cross at Nevern and the ancient dolmen called Pentre Ifan.  We ate lunch under the tall standing stones of Pentre Ifan during a light rain shower.  A wonderful atmospheric Celtic morning.

And then through the Gwaun valley for a half-pint with Beti, the owner of a small pub.  I told her I was going back to Canada soon.  She said, "Whatever for?"  "For work"   "You?  Work?" as she rolls her eyes, "You should stay here."  "Well, my girlfriend's back home also."  "Leave her and we'll find you a nice Welsh girl!"  Really made me laugh.  What a great character...

And finally, we reached an old stone farmhouse near the coast.  Here, we began to record with Jens Schroeder as engineer.  Ceri Rhys tells me to just play for as long as I'd like, fool around and enjoy.  I did just that and banged out three takes.  "Okay, I think we've got it."

Ceri R. paid me a massive complement and compared my voice to Rufus Wainwright.  I'm a huge fan of Rufus so there I am, blushing.  Jens thought I sounded like Sigur Ros.   I'm not really that good but it was nice to hear that anyway.

I'm very proud to say that I made it onto the CD.  I don't generally speak pridefully but for this I will.  Here's a quick review of the CD...

The other performers were all fantastic.
The recording begins with a really nostalgic sounding tune by Mary Hopkin.  Her voice has a real timeless quality.  Mary is very famous in Wales and I really love some of her old recordings.  She was one of the first musicians signed with the Beatles label and had a hit in 1968 called "Those were the Days".

The next wonderful track by Anne Marie Summer, bagpipe, and Helen Wilding, fiddle transports you back into a medieval Welsh court.  The tune is based on an old dance form called Estampie and has a some great improv on it.

Then there's me, blah, blah, blah...

Then, John Morgan, concertina, Diarmuid Johnson, flute, and Chris Grooms, guitar.  Another really beautiful performance full of melancholy.  It has that feeling of 'hiraeth', longing.  I have a great story about Diarmuid when I met him in Aberystwyth but I have to save it for another post, it's too long.

Next is Linda Griffiths, who you all might recognize from the folk group Plethyn.  She's got a wonderful clear and powerful voice.  This is a cool track, so exposed, so courageous.  Her performance is amazing and beautiful.

The next bit is by Ceri Ashton, flute, and Catrin Ashton, fiddle.  They play this great old proper Welsh dance tune called Abergenni and flow into Pont Caerodor.  I can see the old farmhouse now, surrounded by gorse and the farmers dancing around in their boots.  The tune leaves me misty eyed.

The next tune is an interesting old relic.  Daniel Huws is a great resource of old tunes and he's the real thing.  Apparently, on this recording Ceri Rhys and Daniel sat down and told stories and sang old tunes for over three hours!  This is a small snap shot of that session.  Oh, to be a fly on the wall...

Then we have, Christine Cooper on fiddle and spoken word.  The tune is really quaint and really supports the starkness of the words, the vastness of the poetry.  Her energy is truly infectious and there's something that draws you to her, the same way the green Welsh hills draw you in and ask if you'd like a cup of tea.

This has to be the coolest track ever recorded.  Llio Rhydderch on harp and Tomos Williams on trumpet.  Llio is on top of the mountain or rather she is the mountain!  Llio plays a Welsh triple harp and is connected deeply in the old bardic tradition.  What's especially great about her is her modern esthetic mixed with her deep deep ancient Welsh roots.  The tone she pulls out the harp is absolutely heart breaking.  And I think Tomos does a wonderful job of meeting that heart break which leaves one shattered.  Wonderful!  This track is so evocative of the Welsh mountains with the hurt and the sorrow of thousands of years of history carved into them.  I love it!

Next is Cass Meurig, fiddle and voice and Nial Cain, guitar.  This is a real intimate tune, almost as if we're eavesdropping on a private conversation.  I had heard of Cass before as she is quite well known for her work with the "crwth",(old Welsh fiddle) which has a crazy, out of this world sound.  Beautiful track.

Then, hailing from the Carmarthen-ish region, are Jo Cooper, fiddle and Elin Lloyd, harp.  I really like the groove of this tune and the spirit.  There's a wonderful energy to their playing.  Of course, I gravitate to the  harp and Elin's playing is really sensitive and energetic all at once.

Jem Hammond and his student Tom Scott, play flute on the next track.  Jem is from Wrexham, a border town and this set feels very much like that part of the world.

Now, another real treat.  This tune features Christine, violin, Llio, harp and Max Boyce on vocals.  Max Boyce is most well known for his comedy, storytelling and singing.  He's made a ton of records in the past and he's extremely famous here in Wales.  He grew up working in the mines around Glynneath.  His voice sounds like a wonderful mix of the close-knit warm mining communities that grew up in the South and the savagery of the dark mining pits themselves.  Llio and Christine play marvelously behind Max.  A meeting of North, West and South Wales.  There is hope after all.

Speaking of hope, the last song on this track is tinged with sorrow but ultimately leaves me feeling full of hope.  My heart warms.  This is a beautiful tune sung by Julie Murphy with Martin Leamon, guitar and Sille Ilves, fiddle.  As I've said before, Julie is my favourite singer.  When she sings, the whole world stops.  Her voice is like the earth.  Better said, her voice is the silence that comes just before dark.  How beautiful!
And with Martin and Sille with her, it's so sensitive and intimate and perfect.  Martin has a real interesting and supportive manner of playing guitar that is much more like the harp than guitar.  Sille is from Estonia, and she sees Welsh music with fresh eyes and creates something both Celtic and worldly.  This tune takes me to a place of faeries and pixies and giants.  It might be my favourite track on the album.  It's absolutely perfect!!

I've recently met Martin and Sille.  I can say quite plainly that they are very warm-hearted, generous people full of great humour and fun.  But more on this later...

The recording as a whole tells a narrative, as Ceri Rhys might say.  It's a wonderful long tale and like all Welsh tales, moves from sorrow, to nostalgia, to the energetic and happy, back to sorrow and finally ending with hope.

That's Wales and Welsh culture all bundled up for you in a nice CD, so buy it!


One more reason to be proud... Blodeugerdd was nominated and won the best Independent World Traditional album of 2009!  I was so excited when I heard the news.  Some of the judges included Tom Waits (yes, THE Tom Waits!!), Zoey Deschanel, M. Ward, Pete Wentz, Ricky Skaggs, Susanne Vega, The Black Keys, Ken Jordan (The Crystal Method) and Aimee Mann.

Say what?!  lol!

I'm really happy for Ceri Rhys and congratulate him full heartedly!  Well done bychan!

Much to my surprise, the album hasn't received a warm welcome from the Welsh music scene, government, media and the like.  I was equally surprised that not very many Welshies have even heard about the CD.

Well, bloody shame on all of you!  A Welsh CD won an international bloody award... smarten up already!

Perhaps not over-produced enough?  Perhaps, not sparkly enough, not classical enough, not shiny enough?  I'm interested in finding out.  All I can say is, I'm here for some real music with some real people.

And with that, I'm onto Pencader...
And, as I already said, some real music at last...

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