Saturday, 11 December 2010

Week 33 - Yscolan

The Gateway...
Another quick visit with Veronica and Mary.  It was extremely short unfortunately.  Veronica thought that she might be able to get me out to this artist's retreat in Ireland.  It didn't happen but other good stuff did, which I'll write about later.  Anyway, it was good to see them before they made their way to Ireland.

On the weekend, I went to Ceri "Ffliwt"'s music retreat, Yscolan in Sir Benfro.

He also has an album by the same name.  "Yscolan" is an unadorned record featuring the ffliwt along with Beverley Evans reading poetry and one track with Christine Cooper on ffidl.

Tree of Wisdom
I must admit, it took me a while to understand the album until I set an hour aside and listened to it straight through without interruption.  Then it struck me, the whole album is a story, a narrative.  A small journey and exploration.  Naturally, the flute playing is wonderful, soaring and sharp, moving from the mournful to the joyful.  Then Beverley reads a poem and briefly transforms us all into birds.  A journey through time space, I see Wales as it was and as it could be.

The ancestors speak to us and we sing back...  

Maybe I shouldn't write these so late at night.  I get all weird...


It's a great album, definitely one worth having.  How to get it is beyond me.  You might have to contact Ceri "Ffliwt" directly.  Here's the Yscolan website but I couldn't see how to order it.

To be honest, any Welsh folkies out there who are actually interested in moving along, and especially interested in learning South and West Welsh folk songs, should just lift all of these tunes. * NUDGE, NUDGE, WINK, WINK *

Magic Trees
The name Yscolan comes from an ancient poem in Y Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin (the Black Book of Carmarthen) copied down around 1250.  There are two poems in Y Llyfr Du about Yscolan Yscolheic (Yscolan the Scholar).  The first poem is "Du dy Farch, Du dy Capan" (Black your horse, Black your hood) which is the one recorded on the album.  Of course, Myrddin (Merlin) and Taliesin (Tamelin) are featured in the book, though perhaps Myrddin more so.

That's what's cool about Ceri "Ffliwt".  He's not afraid to dig into the ancient books.  For the most part, they sit and mold in the world of academia and consequently, the old literature and music has passed from consciousness.  He brings them back to light so artfully that it becomes relevant again and still a real gateway into our inheritance.

In fact, the other day, sitting in a cafe with Gwil, he started reciting "Du dy Farch".  Maybe for the first time in hundreds of years, the poem is re-awakening within common consciousness.

The modern Yscolan retreat was held at an old converted gatehouse, built sometime in the 1500s, very near Pentre Ifan, the famous portal dolmen.

The Journey Together...
Actually, the whole weekend swirled around portals and gateways both literal and metaphorical.

I met some wonderful musicians there - Sarah, Heida, Jonathon, Chris, Efa, Lisa and Susanne.  I wasn't sure what to expect but absolutely everyone was warm and open... and each had something unique to say and contribute.

I learned lots of great tunes from all over the place - Wales, England, Scotland, France, Germany... and in such a relaxed manner.  And all that great music was accompanied by some great food.

Also got a huge dose of the history of Welsh music and poetry.  Ceri "Ffliwt" is a fountain of information.  He's able to discuss most topics fluently and intelligently.

At one point, I played a couple of tunes from the ap Huw manuscript.  Ceri started talking about how they used to recite poetry to the music.  Then we decided to try some out on the fly, a little improv, me on the harp and Ceri "Ffliwt" on the poetry.  It was great!  We both sort of looked at each other like "holy crap", let's see what happens, and did it ever happen.

The Portal to the Otherworld
We went on a couple of walks during the weekend.  One walk, we went through an ancient industrial site that had been completely reclaimed by nature.  Huge square stones were strewn across the landscape, now covered thick with green moss and surrounded by a massive forest.

On this walk, we got very lost but somehow little Robin found our way and breaking before us was the Pentre Ifan dolmen.  The name of Pentre Ifan (or probably Pentre Evan more likely) is actually the name of the manor house and land which the dolmen rests within.  The dolmen was built way back sometime around 3500 BCE.  It was originally completely covered over except for the entrance and would have been a large tomb.  The capstone weighs around 16 tons and it's incredible how is seems to balance so delicately on the standing stones.  It's still possible to imagine the entrance as it once was, the gateway that housed the ancestors...
Celtic Cross

At some point, we went to Nevern church.  There's a great old high cross there as well as two ogham stones.  The Celtic cross stands about 13 feet high and is intricately carved with Celtic knot work and the like.  Apparently, it was made sometime between 900 - 1000 AD and has an inscription "Dominus Alleluia".

The two ogham stones are much older.  One still stands outside the church and the inscription on it commemorates the soldier, "Vitaliani Emereto" (or possibly Vitalianus Emeritus).

The other stone is strangely set roughly into the concrete inside the church.  The inscription on it reads, "Maglocuni Fili Clutor / Maglicunas Maqi Clutar" (Maelgwn mab Clether).  Both stones were probably carved between 400 - 500 AD and both have a Latin and Ogham inscription.  In the church, there's also a curious carving of a knot work sword or cross, depending on your point of view.
Dark and Light

The church itself was set up by St. Brynach and his wife Cymorth sometime after 500 AD.  The land here was said to have been given to Brynach by Maelgwn.  The graveyard is covered with ancient yew which gives an other-worldly feel.

We did another incredible walk down to a beach of sorts... well, a beach made of massive black stones and it was there we saw the most incredible sunset.

Carn Ingli
On the way back we had a beautiful view of Carn Ingli, the mountain that dominates the landscape in this area.  The supposed translation of Carn Ingli is Rock of Angels (based on a legend about St. Brynach who used it for meditation) but this may not be correct.  There's another legend that it was named after the giant, Ingli (sometimes spelt Yengli).  Which might make more sense as there's an old Celtic hill fort at the top.  This is also the mountain where the blue stones of Stonehenge were quarried.

On the last evening, Lisa (Kate) got a mischievous glint in her eye and asked to hear some ghost stories.  I didn't have one that was any good so I told this Inuit story I'd heard as a kid.  The story about Owl and Raven.  Everyone else had very "real" ghost stories, ones they had experienced.  Ceri "Ffliwt" went last and his actually gave me goosebumps.

It was this crazy story he'd heard from an Irishman...
Tale at Midnight...
...about going to a church at night.  He had been given fair warning not to go but he went anyway, at midnight.  As he entered the churchyard, all the lights were on and he could hear singing.  "How odd they're having mass so late."  He decided to go into the church but as he entered none of the lights were on but he could still hear the singing.  He was freaked so he walked out of the church - the lights now on again.  He made to leave but blocking the church yard gate was a tall black robed figure, black hood under which there was no face... ...and the legs were what he'd remembered the most.  They were made of wood and grew narrow down to a fine point as they touched the ground.  He tried to slowly sneak past but the figure started to turn.  And then he said, he'd never forget the sound of the legs turning in the gravel, grinding and tearing into the earth.  And with that, he ran and ran as fast as he could home...

Then his wife rolled her eyes and said"oh, you and your stories!"
And with a twinkle in his eye, he replied, "yes, but it's well told!"

Apparently, that night Ceri and Julie slept in some dark room of the house with a hoodie hanging from the door.  Completely wigged, they didn't sleep a wink!

Great story... I think hearing half a dozen ghost stories before that made for the perfect lead up.

And that was that.

Next, a walk to Ramsey Island and later, another twmpath in Abercych...


Mother Moon

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