Monday, 13 June 2016

Year One, Week 32, 33, 34, 35 - dancing round menhir

Okay, another look way back, nearly four years ago...
November 2011...

Elsa and I tried to walk the old train track from Llanbedr to Aberaeron... or at least what was left of it.  The old track had been dug up sometime in the 60s by some Lord numpty.  Shame because the old tracks would have been useful (especially as the buses in Wales have become next to useless and soon to be extinct apparently, but that's for later...)

Anyway, we had a lovely day wandering through fields and over old wooden bridges, enjoying the company of the trees and sheep.  We never did make it to Aberaeron though - we just couldn't find the path through.

Sometime after that, we both went to see Lau play at Rosygilwen.  Lau is one of the best folk bands I've ever seen.  A very full sound, massive landscapes of texture, thick and lush - each of the musicians are masterful - and the singer has an astonishing voice.  They play from their hearts moving from the gentle and sublime to mind-blowing ripping tunes.  They were and are still one of my favourite folk bands (by now, I listen more to The Gloaming, but more on that later...).

Bethan started her lecture series at Plas Hendre.  I think it came in response to cuts made by the University of Aberystwyth (the University was / is creating problem after problem and went into a fast downward spiral of bad decisions and bad publicity.)  Anyway, I think that Mered Evans was the first speaker.  Mered has been one of several major contributors to Welsh folk song publication.  And Bethan is the coolest host, generous beyond and full of humour... and the Plas is an incredible delight of interesting and old books, instruments, paintings and all sorts - the culture centre of this Wales.  A quick aside: Bethan is the author of the seminal and most important book about the Welsh crwth.  All scholarship after that rests upon her work which exists in two massive volumes.

Crwth of Richard Evans 1742
I know what you're thinking.  What the hell is a crwth?  Well, it's probably the instrument with the oldest lineage in Wales (sorry harp fanatics) and is like a strange cross between a viol and a lyre.  The crwth has retained the outer pillars of it's lyre lineage, but at some point a finger-board was added.  It was most likely originally plucked or strummed - no one knows exactly when the bow was introduced, possibly around 1000 - 1100s, maybe well before though.  In it's oldest representations, it had a curved body (crwth literally means 'round-shape' or 'rounded' while the related word croth means 'womb' or 'belly'), three strings and a flat bridge.  Later it became a 6 stringed instrument (still flat bridge) and took on a more box-like shape.

Venantius Fortunatus (530-ca.600) said:

Romanusque lyra plaudat tibi, Graecus achilliaca,
Barbarus harpa, chrotta Britanna canat.

The Roman praises on the lyre, The Greek on the (Achilles') cithara,
The Barbarian on the harp, with the crwth the Britons sing.

The original three string crwth
I know this appears to say that the harp comes from Germany, which might be true (though I would think the middle east is the place of origin anyway) - but the word 'harpa' in Germanic languages simply refers to any stringed instrument.  It seems to me that Venantius is showing the commonality of the nations, in that they all play and sing with versions of a lyre and only differ in name.

Well, maybe... who knows...

The crwth eventually died out in Wales possibly around the 1850s.  This happened for a few reasons.  By that time, the music had simply changed style so much that the crwth was no longer a suitable vehicle.  The fiddle was much more versatile and more readily adapted to the new music.  Which meant that the last of the old crwth players died without being able to find anyone interested in learning the instrument.  And, most damaging, were the religious revivals that continued to sprout up sporadically from the 1700s onwards.  The religious revivals really despised the music (except for hymns) - particularly music made on the crwth as well as the fiddle, harp and pipes and they especially hated dancing.  Deemed as too sinful, I suppose.  Although, they say the harp in Wales managed to remain an unbroken tradition, I don't really believe this to be true, which I'll get into another time.

As far as I know, the crwth was reintroduced mainly by Bethan and Bob Evans.  Bob plays with Mary-Anne Roberts in the group Bragod (another one of my favourite groups!) You can hear them here:
or go to their main website:
Cass Meurig also has a cool crwth album that was released on the label Fflach a few years ago,
and here is an example of a three stringed crwth by some dude named Sedayne:

Anyway, I have digressed...

busking in Cardiff with Elsa & Gwil
Elsa and I also went to the Pentrefest dance weekend in Rudrey with Gwil and Ana.  We all had a great time and learned (or I learned) quite a lot - a mix of swedish, breton and general social dance.  The Swedish duo really stick out in my mind even two years on now.  Martin, Sille, Jason, Vicky, Peni and Stef all came for a portion of it.  It was beautiful to be together with my soul-friends over the three days.

Sometime after that I went to another Pentre Ifan.  It was a beautiful, open experience led by the ever gracious, ever full of energy and enthusiasm, full of wisdom and knowledge and my good friend Ceri Rhys Matthews.  If I remember rightly, it was with Julie, Kate, Alan and Chris - all beautiful people.  I think Kate called it the 'birth of man'.

I think that month I also went with Elsa and Gwil to the Abercych twmpath, organised by Simon with the always great Ceri 'Ffliwt', Julie Murphy, Sille Ilves and Martin Leamon.

A fairly busy but fun month.  All a bit foggy by now... and unfortunately, all my old photos (and writings) are locked away on a broken hard drive which is making it especially difficult.

Next, meeting Llio Rhydderch...


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