Calennig – Celebrating Cymru
Strathclyde Suite Wed 23rd January, 2019
From Celtic Connections Festival 17 Jan to 3 Feb 2019
By BOB LESLIE
Opening act and compere Gwyneth Glyn is a poet and singer, well-known in her native land, but new to your reviewer. Well, I found out what I’d been missing!
Accompanied on fiddle by VRï fiddler Patrick Rimes, Gwyneth displayed a warm stage presence and a relaxed easy manner with the audience. Her voice, however, is what really grabbed me: melodious, well-rounded, and occasionally dipping deep into contralto territory, it’s the perfect vehicle for her songs, both traditional and self-penned.
I particularly liked Bratach Shi – written, after a visit to Scotland, about Dunvegan Castle’s Fairy Flag – and Ffair, a rendering in Welsh of Irish traditional song She Moves Through the Fair set to an unusual syncopated rhythm.
Next up, Patrick was joined by the other members of VRï: Jordan Price Williams, ‘cello & vocals, and Aneirin Jones, also on fiddle. Aneirin is currently studying at Glasgow’s Conservatoire, so I’d recommend other Scottish gigs consider booking VRï .
They describe their sound as “chamber-folk” and the close instrumental harmonies and melodic counterpoints certainly conferred a faintly baroque overtone to their playing. Each member is a virtuoso player, but, unlike many other such bands, they are all there in service of the music – so, no warp-factor-5 solos, just a perfect balance of melody and harmony: beautiful to listen to, and warming to the soul.
Vocally, we went from contralto to counter-tenor. Jordan Price Williams has the kind of voice that’s usually associated with the Peruvian altiplano. It soars effortlessly to places other male voices can only dream of, and makes a strong contribution to VRï ‘s unique sound. Other stand-out features for me were a fine 5/8 jig which, if I heard correctly, was called Aros Mae (Waiting), and a more regular jig set written by Jordan for his dog!
After the interval, we were treated to the very different sound of Kizzy Crawford who played guitar in constantly modulating tunings, and whose self-penned songs, both in Welsh and English, incorporated folk, blues, funk, and bossa nova elements in an eclectic approach that showed a high level of musicianship and a strong writing ability. The lyricism of her vocals curiously evoked musical memories of yesteryear for me in that I was reminded at times of early David Crosby. I was particulary impressed by Golden Brown – not the Stranglers’ title, but a reflection on the importance of identity, and Progression about, well, progressing!
The stage was then ceded to Plu: Elan, Marged and Gwilym Rhys from Snowdonia, North Wales, whose website describes them as “an alternative Welsh language pop-folk” band. Featuring strong, occasionally modal, 3-part harmonies, they also ring the instrumental changes on guitar, autoharp, keyboard, and shruti box, and are already seasoned Glastonbury Festival performers.
We were entertained tonight with a selection of material, both traditional and self-penned, that really showed off their vocal talents. Their sound is oddly reminiscent of the harmony groups of the ‘60s folk revival, but with a modern sheen to the overall production.
Highlights for me were their opener Byd O Wydr (World Of Glass), from their 2015 album Tir a Golau, and the faintly eerie harmonies of Fel llwynog (which Google Translate informs me means “Like a Fox”!), from their eponymous 2013 début CD Plu.
The evening finished with the whole cast (with the exception for some reason of Kizzy Crawford) joining onstage to be led in a well-harmonised rendition of Welsh love song Tra Bo Dau (“While Two Hearts”) that rounded off a perfect musical evening!