Friday, 30 April 2010

Week 8 (Day 50-55) - some proper time in Aber

Back home now and it feels really good.

I worked on some more jazz with Harriet.  She picks things up so fast!  Also, I talked Welsh most of one night with Sarah, Gwen and John.

I'm understanding more again and speaking a bit.  John's got a north Welsh accent and I was still only catching a little over half of what he said but enough to get the gist.  Even answered some questions which is good cause my brain usually burns out at that point.

Talked to my girlie, Elissa, she's doing good.  She was excited to chat and I was excited to listen.  She's already grown so much!

Tuesday - Went to Idloes' farm.  He was nice enough to take me for a visit.  I helped a little with the sheep.  There was a dead newly born little lamb, left by its mother.  Idloes was saying that sometimes the young ewes don't know what to do with a baby lamb and sometimes just leave them out in the field.  We also found another other dead lamb, slightly older.  Don't know what happened to this one.  Idloes had to give one sheep some anti-inflammatory and penicillin.  The poor sheep had one of it's eyes pecked out by some crows and magpies, her face was covered in blood.  He was bottle feeding her two lambs until she recovered.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Day 48 and 49 - back to Cardiff and Aberdâr

"Dark night of the soul..."

I couldn't sleep this weekend.  There are many worries on my mind...

I came at a bad time.  I had to leave Aber because I couldn't stop playing the harp and my fingers hadn't calloused over yet.  My fingers were starting to squeak against the strings which is never a good sound.

So, off to Cardiff and my timing wasn't good.  Mel, Paul and the boys were having a tough weekend.  That should teach me.  Can't just keep showing up at people's doorsteps unannounced.

Shame though, cause I like the idea and it reminds of the way the old Melba used to be.

Let me explain the Melba.

Day 46 and 47 - Practicing in Aber, drinks with Idloes

(Part of the beach at Aber, the tide is low here)

I've been practicing like a madman.  These tunes are destroying me.  Completely at the edge of my abilities.  What a challenge!  Worked hard to get the tunes up to speed and learned a few more tunes.  I haven't even got through one side of one tape yet.

Same routine again, the last couple of days.

Get up, practice.
Late breakfast.
Walk to the beach, take in the ocean.
Climb the cliffs.
Find my seat beside the Tylwyth Teg homes.
Back down for more practicing.
Make supper.
Listen to some new music.
Chill out.

I want to be ready for the next time I meet with Martin and Sille, so I've got to keep it up.  I've lost my callouses on my fingers, so they're pretty sore and blisters are starting to form.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Day 45 - Dolgellau and the Sesiwn

Tonight, I went to the session in Dolgellau hosted by Ceri Ffliwt.

Thankfully, Harriet drove there and I caught a lift.  I was going to take the bus but after getting there in the car, seeing how isolated the pub was, I have no idea how I would have done it otherwise.

I met Gwilym there.  He's a great fiddle player, I think about 21 or so but he looks like he's about 12!  And he was ripping through those tunes!  Beautiful player.  He had a nice calm attitude, a great dry sense of humour and was super supportive.  Very cool to meet him and hope to catch up with him sometime to do some playing together.

Jem was there (who also plays flute on Blodeugerdd) and he played flute and pibgorn through the evening.  The pibgorn is a traditional Welsh instrument, I think single reed but I'd have to double check that.  It's basically the chanter of the bagpipe.  The 'bell' of the instrument is made from horn (presumably cow or goat), I think wood for the finger holes and then the reed is covered with a 'mouthpiece' also made of some type of horn.  I expected it to be louder than hell but it wasn't too bad.  Softer than other pipes I've heard.  I really like the sound as well.  Difficult to describe the tone... middle eastern sounding, slightly exotic, maybe snake like...

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Day 43 and 44 - Enjoying the Sun in Aber

The next couple of days were spent in Aber.  This is the house I'm staying in, on the second floor (first for you Brits) and side facing (not the front bay).

My new room is really cosy and I do feel at home here.   I made some curry and shared it with Sarah and Gwen.  For the moment, I've got a bit of a schedule now.

Get up, practice the harp til I get hungry, eat a late breakfast.  Then down to the beach to breath in the ocean.   The sun was out the entire week thankfully.

Climb the cliffs, take my seat...

Day 41 and 42 - Pencader and a Teifi harp

One more word about Sild.  Sild means 'bridge' in Estonian and that's exactly what the group is.  Their two CDs literally bridge Welsh and Estonian music as well as traditional and modern experimental.  It's a great sound, very atmospheric.  I love these CDs ('Priodi' and 'Tro') and think that everyone back in Canada should search them out.
Probably good to go to the Fflach site.

I had to get up early in the morning in order to get to Llandysul.  Martin gave me a lift to Neath (THANK YOU Martin!) ... it would have been tough going otherwise.  Caught the train all the way to Carmarthen and then a bus to Pencader.  I was on my way to meet Allan in Llandysul and decided to make a pit-stop at Julie and Ceri's.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Day 38 thru 40 - Ystalyfera with Martin and Sille

(A quick note, Martin and Sille have a band called Sild, and you should all buy their CDs.  Trust me, they're incredible!)

The bus trip from Aberystwyth to Swansea (Abertawe) was a long three hours.  When I got there I did a quick search for cassette tapes.  Nearly impossible to find.  In all the stores I asked for them, almost all of them laughed at me like I was crazy.  "Tapes?!  What are those?!"  Duw, duw... tapes are way better than CDs (and vinyl way better than tapes).  They think they're cool but they don't know...  did a recording with Howe Gelb and Giant Sand down in Tucson which was mainly done on an old 8 track tape cassette recorder.  What a sound!  It doesn't get better than that!

Anyway, Martin was kind enough to meet me at the Tesco in Swansea and gave me a lift back to his house in Ystalyfera.  As we talked, found out that he knows my friend Barney and my other friend Chris Reynolds, both from the Swansea area.  How crazy is that?

Ystalyfera is a little village down the Swansea valley.  Martin and Sille's house is built on a tall bank that looks down on a large part of the village.  The view from their backyard is stunning.  Across the massive valley below is a large round mountain that reminds me of the Okanagan.  Similar to the Okanagan but somehow different.  The village itself has a lot of Welsh speakers and heard it almost everywhere I went there.  This day was the first of four days of sunshine.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Day 36 and 37 - A home in Aber!

I arrived back in Aberystwyth on Monday and met with Sarah and her five year old daughter Gwen.  She had a quaint studio en-suite room available for a really good price so I took it immediately.  She's friends with my cousin Fran so I knew they'd be nice people.  Both Sarah and Gwen are Welsh speakers.  Gwen speaks very beautiful Welsh.  It's so cute to hear little kids speak in Welsh!

It was nice to finally unpack.  Put all my books out and hung up my cloths.  Definitely a big relief in a way.  The name of the house is Min-y-Fron, which I think means "Edge of the Bank".  The house is on Fordd y Gogledd (North Road) with a row of lovely houses.

From the house, it's about a two minute walk to the ocean front.  Absolute perfection!

I'm on the second floor and the view from my room is of some tennis courts and a row of trees.  I find it oddly comforting.

Day 34 and 35 - The Bay with John, Iestyn, Helen and Caradog

(This picture is a couple of years old - left to right, Ceri Mutual, Ceri Harp, John "JC" Rhydderch and Iestyn)

I met John in town on Saturday.  Bought him the Artist's Way, a book I'd recommend for anyone.  Thought it might be helpful for his writing.  Parts of it are a bit too religious for me but on the whole it's been very useful.

Stopped by his flat briefly.  It looks very similar to the last one he was living in.  Very nice place with a beautiful view of the river.  He lives down in the Bay area which has been built up quite a bit.  Lots of new condos and lots of new shops and restaurants.  The area used to be referred to as Tiger Bay which included the Cardiff docks and Buttetown.  It was here, during the coal rush, that all the migrants settled and mixed which continues to give Cardiff it's metropolitan feel (apparently some 45 different nationalities).

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Day 33 - and yet another digression - Diarmuid Johnson

Diarmuid Johnson is one to remember...

I met Diarmuid in Aber about two years ago on the Welsh language course.  He was one of the teachers.  Diarmuid is Welsh on his mother's side and Irish on his dad's.  He speaks Welsh, Gaelic, Breton, possibly French and I think Polish.  He's written poetry in Welsh, Irish and Breton (has a full book published of Irish poems, Suil Saoir) and is an amazing flute player.  His knowledge of Irish and Welsh music is legendary.  He's got an encyclopedic brain and last I heard, he'd learned over a 1000 tunes by ear.

I heard him play a couple full nights of Irish music, one with the Uilleann piper named Bruce and the other in a session in the Ship and Castle.  He also did a concert of Welsh music with Ceri Rhys Matthews.  He's got a big massive emotive tone and has a piercing intensity in his eyes and an aggressive full on approach to music.  He's ridiculously and unbelievably good!

One night, I was heading to the pub with my classmates and there was Diarmuid, just hanging out on the street corner.  I stopped to talk for a bit and tried my best to speak in Welsh, which made the moment even more poignant.

I told him how much I enjoyed his music and all that sort of thing.  We had a brief conversation.

Then I told him how hard I found it to understand native Welsh speakers because they talk differently, shorten words and speak in a very lilting melodic rhythm that isn't taught in the classroom.

He stopped and looked at me with those intense eyes and said, 'When you speak Welsh, you have to learn to speak from your heart.  When you speak English, it's from your head.  But Welsh has to be from your heart.  It's like a song.  Speak as if you were singing a song.  Speak from your heart. "

Then, as we parted ways, he turned back to me and called out "Remember... Remember the song!"

Yeah, brother... I'll never forget...

Day 32 - another digression - Taliesin and Myrddin

Both Julie and Ceri are well versed in poetry (an interest amongst many other interests).
Actually, it was Julie's reading of a couple of Thomas Hardy poems that really turned me onto his work.

At some point, we started talking about Dylan Thomas, easily my favourite poet.  Ceri suggested I check out Vernon Watkins, best friend to Dylan.  Apparently, the two helped each other with their poems, often exchanging ideas.  They belonged to a group of artists in Swansea called the "Kardomah Boys".  One of the painters was Ceri Richards who painted a poem of Vernon Watkins called "Music of Colours".

Which brought us to a discussion of Taliesin and Myrddin (Merlin), poets from the Celtic golden age.
Here are the legends for both of them.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Day 29 thru 33 - Cardiff once again

(The picture here is of a druidic stone circle in Cardiff, in Bute park with Cardiff Castle on one side and the River Taff on the other.)

Okay, back in Cardiff (Caerdydd) and finally got my new boots!  Dawgs in Canadianese or Doc Martens in the Queen's english.  And now, I must say farewell to my Black Spots, poor old shoes so full of holes.  Cheaper than brand name shoes and guaranteed no child labour.  Pick up a pair if you can.  And so, an ode to my Black Spot canvas shoes...

Englyn - Black Spots

Over cliffs we nearly fell - through grass blue
yellow gorse, tales we'll tell,
now there rings the dying bell,
But, oh my, how you did smell!

Good bye my friends, may angels take thee to thy rest!  I was thinking of using Black Spots as a pun on the old name for the area around Cardigan.  At one time, it was called The Black Spot because it was mainly full of Unitarians.
"Some would say we're going to hell..."
A bit over dramatic for a pair of shoes!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Day 27 and 28 - learning tunes with Harriet

On the Saturday, I learned tunes with Harriet.  Harriet is unbelievably generous, just like most Welshies.  We played for about four hours without even noticing.  She taught me three Irish tunes and worked on some finger exercises with me.  She kept catching my hand positions which are always a bit funny.  She studied the Salzedo style I think.  Elbows high, fingers pull straight into the palms, thumbs up high, fingers pointing down.  Classical style.

And then there's me - the ox...

There are definite advantages to the classical style that I can see.  At least in theory, it's supposed to keep tension out of the hands.  It also gets a very specific round tone.  To me, it sounds like the difference between the orchestral trombone and my little peashooter horn for jazz and ska.

Day 26 - Aber, jamming with Martin, Sille and Harriet

Sille and I were both in rough shape.  I think I was worse off.  Really, my brain never reached a normal functioning level at any point in the day.  Kept waiting for the gears to kick in but they never did.  My stomach was not feeling so hot either.  Harriet invited me to join them for breakfast which was a nice thing to do but I didn't really feel like eating too much.

Once we got going, we had a jam session that lasted most of the afternoon.  Sille played this great Estonian violin called a Hiuu Kannel.  (hope I've remembered that right...)  Violin isn't really what it is, it's more like a crwth or the bowed lyre.  The strings are made of horse hair and is bowed sitting upright in the lap. There are four strings and I think the bottom two are for droning. She uses both sides of her fingers to pull out notes from the strings.  By that I mean, her fingers fit through the strings, one string she uses the front of her fingers and the other string she uses the back of her fingers.  What a gentle sound, the sound of wind and horses.

The front of her Hiuu Kannel has snakes carved in front for a sound board.  She said it was the Snake King which is based on an Estonian legend but she couldn't remember the story.

Day 25 - Aberystwyth

Today, I went back to Aberystwyth to see Harriet.  Harriet is a fantastic harpist, very virtuosic.  She mainly plays Irish tunes, but really can play almost anything.  Turned out she was having a visit from Martin and Sille.  Third week in a row to run into them.  They're all great people so I was really looking forward to seeing them again.

Tough to get to Aber today.  Eventually made it.  The bank holidays are the worst for getting around on public transport.

I visited the Aber castle briefly.  It's in complete ruins, blown up during the time of Cromwell.  In the distance, you can see Pen Dinas, the old iron age fort.  Probably created to watch for Irish pirates and to do trade, like most of the forts on the coast.  It's extremely large and the name actually means 'chief city'.  Probably not it's original name.

There's also the old college down on the promenade (the original Hogwarts!) and within the castle is a modern stone circle, constructed in 1916.  The stone circles are put up in every place that is host to a National Eisteddfod.  Then the druids hold a special ceremony in the circle to open the event.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Day 24 - Aberteifi

Today, I went with Sam to Aberteifi (Cardigan in English).  A friend of hers was doing a poetry reading in a cool little bar called The Cellar.  The pub has a great vibe and has live music on the weekends.

Aberteifi (Mouth of the River Teifi) has an old castle that is only now just being renovated.  An old woman lived there until recently so unfortunately the place is in disrepair.  Aberteifi is having a big 900th birthday celebration this summer so the whole town is being fixed up for the party.

Day 23 - Capel y Wig, Pen Foel, Cwm Tydi

In the history of all the stupid things that I've ever done, today may have been close to the stupidest.  
I thought it would be a good idea to go on a coastal path walk on a day threatening snow.  What could possibly go wrong?
It was a cold damp day and I still only had my Black Spot shoes, full of holes, so I put on two pairs of socks, wore my pj's under my jeans, two shirts, my hoodie, scarf, toque and my heavy plaid jacket.  Even just waiting for the bus, my feet were cold.  That's when it started to snow big flakes.  Caught the bus up to Synod Inn (not much there but a pub, and the craziest intersection ever created) and after a twenty minute wait, caught the next bus to Pentregat (gate-town).  From there, I started my walk down the side road towards Capel-y-Wig.  I was still feeing cold so I tried to hitch a ride.  One fellow actually turned around to pick me up.  A real nice English fellow named Frank, I think.  He had lived in Wales for the last 25 years and his little border collie sat at my feet.  He dropped me off at the Romani covered wagon just around the corner from the graveyard behind Capel-y-Wig.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Day 21 and 22 - Cei Newydd and Caerfyrddin

Woke up in Pencader.  I was definitely still drunk in the morning but never did get that hang over.

Finally made my way to Cei Newydd and chilled out with Sam and Geraint.  Here I am on the Cei Newydd pier wall.  I like this photo because I look quite a bit like my grandfather.  I'll post his photo later when I get a chance.

Sam had another poetry reading, this time in Caerfyrddin.  I had thought about living in Caerfyrddin (Carmarthen) and decided to join her.

Caerfyrddin is supposedly the second oldest town in Britain.  It's the site of the old Roman city (civitas) that was set up for trade with the Welsh tribe, the Demetae.  The area called Demetia is the Romanization of the name Dyfed.  Dyfed is the old name for West Wales, which includes the counties of Caerfyrddin, Penfro and Ceredigion.

Day 20 - Pencader again

I went back to Pencader with Julie and Ceri after the Twmpath. Had another great day with them.  Julie cooked more great food as she always does.  I was supposed to go back to Cei Newydd but we got into a bottle of gin...

Actually a great big massive bottle of gin.  And we finished it entirely!  Ych a fi!  I may have woken up the next morning still drunk...

Ceri told this great story about a trip to Yorkshire that involved three country pubs, a stripper and a bare-knuckle fighter who fortunately liked Welshies.  Too long to tell now, but great story.

They also told me this story about a Japanese flute player who mastered all the flute styles from all the Celtic countries.  He's become famous in Japan and puts on shows with Japanese girls dancing Irish style better than the Irish.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Day 18 and 19 - Aberystwyth, Llanbedr and Llanwrda

Did some more gardening before it got too wet.  Then made my way downtown and caught a train to Aberystwyth.  I stayed in the local hostel called Maes-y-Mor.  It's real nice hostel with individual rooms for only £25 and just a block off the promenade.

The next morning, I visited my cousin Fran.  Fran is married to Damian Davies and have two kids, Brychan, five and Cristyn, three.  Very nice Welsh names.  The kids only speak Welsh so I did have to speak a little Welsh.  I'm pretty rusty but I'm hoping to get some more practice in soon.  Damian was busy with work (he works up in Aber University and also has a book of poetry published) and Fran was getting ready to go to Euro-Disney.  The kids were really excited for the trip.  Fran is a great writer and editor and is currently free-lancing.  They live in a house named "Ceri" which gives me a laugh.  She actually thinks she can find me a room to stay in Aber so that's cool.

Day 16 and 17 - Y Mochyn Du and The Goat

I went to Y Mochyn Du to met Rebecca and Sarah Campbell.  Y Mochyn Du is a Welsh pub just across the Taff river, very near the Stadium and Cardiff Castle.  It sounded as if most of the pub was speaking Welsh.  We ordered drinks in Welsh from the girl at the bar.  I asked her where she was from and she said Cardiff.  A Welsh speaker from Cardiff??  That's new!  Apparently, Cardiff is now 10% Welsh speaking.

Rebecca, originally from Canada, has just moved to Wales.  She met a French fellow who lives up the valleys in Abergoed.  They're planning to get married this summer.  Sarah is from the States and she's here on a Fulbright scholarship.  She's working on an old Welsh medieval play.  The play will be shown in St. Fagans in June; the first time the play has been shown in 400 years!

We met to discuss Cwrs Cymraeg held by Cymdeithas Madog this summer in Cardiff.  We'll be helping on the ground as it were.

Anway, we ended up having to rush to get Rebecca to her train on time but somehow managed it.

Day 14 and 15 - back to Cardiff, NIN interview

Made a quick trip back to Cei Newydd to pick up my knapsack and then straight off to Cardiff.  The bus driver was astounding today and probably deserved a medal.  He maneurvered the bus through the craziest and tightest roads ever and scraped past semis (lorries) that were going too fast.  Despite his great driving, I have to say the buses in Wales are generally terrible.  They cost too much and tend to double travel time.  They are also hopeless on Sundays and holidays.  In fact, many stores still close in Wales on Sundays.  It's a little bit frustrating.

Melody had set up a level in the fridge just for curries.  Awesome.  Some wine and laughs.  I told her about my weekend.

I walked through the Cardiff market.  It still smells the same as the first time I visited here when I was ten.  There's a fish market at the entrance (that accounts for the smell) that almost always displays a small shark for sale.  It's great!  They also sell laver, a tasty seaweed from South Wales.  A nice Welsh dish is laver bread.  Mix the laver with oats in equal parts, form into patties and fry up.  Traditionally, it would have been fried in bacon fat but since I'm veggie, I just use olive oil.  It's pretty good on toast with mustard.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Day 13 - Pencader, the session continues!

What can I say?  More great music with good friends.

A slightly more subdued day but to my surprise and pleasure the jam continued for most of the afternoon.  Almond cake for breakfast.  In the picture, the white house to the far left and closest to the lane belongs to Julie and Ceri.

I jammed a tune out with Julie which was cool.  Her voice blows my mind so it was a real treat and honour.

We talked a little about how great Llio Rhydderch is (triple harp). She's easily the best harp player in Wales if not the world.  I'm hoping to get lessons with her at some point.

Anyway, Ceri R. said that Llio was on top of the mountain.  Martin said, it must get pretty lonely up at the top of that mountain.  Meanwhile, there's the rest of us, having a good old time running around the hills of mediocrity.  LOL!  What a perfect image.  Martin's crazy funny!  What a character (tipyn o deryn yw e!).

Day 12 - Pencader, the jam session starts!

The best day in the history of best days!

It all started with a nice breakfast of left over lemon cake.  Ceri and Julie only recently got a new oven so Julie's been baking lots of cake (or pwdin (pudding) as they say over here). It's a fantastic old looking oven, heated with wood.  It's also used to heat the entire house if need be.  Their house is a proper Welsh house as well.  The oven on one side, on the other the plates and cups are displayed on an open dresser which is very traditional Welsh.  Nothing's hidden.  In the front room is a wood burning stove to keep warm in winter.  They have a piano, flutes, mandolins, guitars and books in the front room.  It's a cozy warm house.  Not temperature warm... just warm and comfortable...

Day 11 - Pencader

Alright, this is the CD that I first heard Julie Murphy and Ceri Rhys Matthews.  I also heard them on an album backing Siwsann George.

This is a must buy, absolutely.  I must have heard this back in 1995 or so.  (Recent edit - just talked to Martin about this, he figures it was in 2000 or so... oops!)  I had been very discouraged by what I had heard coming out of Wales.  Most of it was either too cheesy or too operatic for my taste.  Mainly too cheesy.

You know, each to their own.  If you're into opera, hey, why not.  To be honest, I'm into any type of music be it ska, funk, folk, pop, jazz, bluegrass, whatever...  I don't even need Welsh music to be particularly Welsh, if you know what I mean.

For me personally (and I can only speak for myself) there are really only a couple of things that I listen for when deciding if music is good or not.

The first is honesty.

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.