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CYLCHCANU 2 / SONGCHAIN 2 - St David’s Hall, Cardiff - 14 October 2015

Last year I reviewed the first Cylch Canu in glowing terms. It was so successful that it may become an annual event. I do hope so, as we were once again treated to a delightful evening of tunes, song and dance.

The format was the same; gather a bunch of musicians in a workshop at Theatr Mwldan in Aberteifi (Cardigan) and give them a week to put a touring show together by sharing their knowledge and experience. To continue the chain, three members of last year’s workshop remained; Beth Williams-Jones on accordion and clogs, Patrick Rimes on Welsh pipes and fiddle, and Jamie Smith on accordion. Five new participants, all well-known on the Welsh folk scene, were recruited; Kate Ronconi on fiddle and vocals, Stacey Blythe on accordion and harp, Christine Cooper on fiddle and vocals, Ceri Owen-Jones on harp and trombone and Gareth Bonello on viola, guitar and vocals.

For the performance, the musicians formed a seated semi-circle, with a central performance space, while the audience completed the circle: appropriate as the Welsh name for the project translates to ‘Song Circle’. First to move to the centre were the three fiddlers, who set the ball rolling with a pair of Welsh bourrées. This was followed by a traditional song, Aderyn Du, set to a new tune by Stacy Blythe, who played accordion and was accompanied by Ceri Owen-Jones on trombone. Gareth Bonello then sung one of his own songs.

I was enthralled already and feeling privileged to be part of a very Welsh evening. Introductions were primarily in Welsh, with English translations, and all the songs had been in Welsh. Next came a piece of Cerdd Dant. A verse from Iolo Morganwg was set against the traditional melody Deuair Fyrrion and sung in Welsh by Ceri and Christine, who also played harp and fiddle. In a break with tradition, Christine recited part of the verse in English.

English was the language for the next song, Dark Eyed Sailor. This had originally been recorded by Phil Tanner (known as the Gower Nightingale) in the 1940s. Kate Ronconi’s stunning voice, her fiddle and Gareth’s guitar continued the unfailingly interesting programme. Ceri Owen-Jones then took us back 300 years with two traditional harp tunes. The feeling of contentment that lingered was then shattered by a modern clog dance from Beth Williams-Jones.

Patrick Rimes then took the stage to sing Llongau Caernarfon, accompanying himself on the fiddle, at first solo but later joined by Jamie Smith on accordion. They then broke into two traditional tunes, Horse’s Bransle and Gwel Yr Adeilad. To say that they explored the melodic and rhythmic potential of the tunes might be an understatement. I felt exhausted and uplifted as they took a break.

I’d love to describe the second half in as great a detail but suffice it to say that it continued in as varied and exhilarating a fashion. There was another Phil Tanner song, a short story, tune sets (comprising traditional and original compositions), an a cappella song, some rhythmic foot tapping and clapping, all climaxing in a rip-roaring ensemble tune set. The group, with two harps, two accordions, three fiddles, a guitar and some clogging, tore through William Edwards, The Roaring Hornpipe and Three Sheepskins. There was also much clapping, mainly by the audience who had been engaged with the performance all the way through.

The evening closed, as had the first Cylch Canu, with the whole ensemble singing the Plygain carol, Carol y Swper (‘The Carol of the Supper’). Overall a superb exposition of the richness of Welsh traditional music and the commitment of Welsh musicians to preserve, cherish and develop it into the future. Let’s hope that this two year old ‘tradition’ continues to celebrate, as Stephen Rees put it after the first Cylch Canu, “...something today that existed before us and will exist after us”.

Iain Campbell