Record Review:  “The Gentle Good” by Gareth Bonello

Gareth Bonello’s latest album sees him excavating his homeland’s folk classics, interpreting each with drowsy, melancholic voice, guitar, cello and piano

The Gentle Good

The Gentle Good is Cardiff-based folk musician Gareth Bonello, whose musical interests often take him far from home. He has explored the bardic connections between Taoist and druidic storytelling (on 2013’s Y Bardd Anfarwol), and the songs of Welsh Christian missionaries with the Indian musicians affected by them. But Galargan (“lament” in Welsh) sees him burrow into his national identity and history to excavate songs full of longing.

Recording in his kitchen and a cottage in the wild expanses of Mid Wales’s Elan Valley, Bonello has ploughed through the rich song collections of the late Meredydd Evans and Phyllis Kinney at the National Library of Wales, among others, then arranged the chosen tunes for voice, guitar, cello and piano, all played by him. Galargan begins with the softly yielding beauty of Pan Own I Ar Foreddydd (As I Was One Morning), where a blackbird “tuning on the branch” fascinates the protagonist, providing hope in dim light. Nid Wyf Yn Llon (I Am Not Happy) follows, which, with its Morrisseyesque title feels fittingly bleak. A song collected from a drunk prisoner by a jail warden in Dolgellau, its rhythms and melodies drip and pool like a particularly mournful example of Portuguese fado.

Bonello’s voice is as comforting as warm water and honey throughout, wrapping around lilting syllables and so many mesmerising, slow-moving moments. Great, too, is his intricate, woozy guitar playing, descending in golden thickets on Y Bachgen Main (The Slender Lad). Phosphorescent piano lines decorate Beth Yw’r Haf I Mi? (What Is Summer to Me?) as a boy mourns the loss of his love in the blazing sun. This drowsy, melancholic album is perfect for late summer, full of that specific kind of sadness some of us sense as the seasons pass by.

Source: The Gentle Good: Galargan review | Jude Rogers’ folk album of the month

Cerys Hafana à l’Opéra de Rennes

This fall, let yourself be enchanted by the vibrations of Welshwoman Cerys Hafana. For three evenings and opening for the Spanish artist and producer Raül Refree, this magician of the triple harp takes over the Rennes Opera during the Trans Musicales,

The triple harp is like the end-of-the-world landscapes of Wales of which it is the national instrument: majestic and intimidating. The musician and composer Cerys Hafana, originally from the small town of Machynlleth, revisits the traditional repertoire by making the three rows of strings of the venerable instrument (which has 92 of them!) sparkle. 

The artist also uses his impressive companion as a percussion tool to create a buzzing pulse. Crystal lace or tumultuous waterfalls, Cerys Hafana’s tunes are enhanced by an airy soprano singing in Welsh which evokes a magical and marvelous incantation.

Source: #Trans2023 : Cerys Hafana à l’Opéra de Rennes – Les Trans

Cerys Hafana: “The sea is going up in flames, the angels are raining down from the heavens”

Cerys Hafana talks to Russ Slater about the uniqueness of her triple harp and its bridging of the historical, the profound and the personal

By  Russ Slater

Cerys Hafana remembers her mum asking her if she’d like harp lessons. “I said ‘more than anything in the world!’ I don’t know why I said that,” she laughs. She started on a lever harp but upgraded to triple harp a few years later, learning from “one of the only people in Wales who still teaches it.” 

The triple harp dates back to 16th-century Italy, but became hugely popular in the baroque period, when it first appeared in Britain. “For some reason,” says Hafana, “the people who really took to it in London were the Welsh, who played it in courts for posh Londoners and then took it back to Wales. It then died out everywhere, apart from in Wales.” It gets its name from having three rows of parallel strings instead of one. “The triple harp has the two outside rows, which are the white [natural] notes, and you have two of every note, and then the middle row is the black [flat and sharp] notes,” she tells me. The black notes mark it out from other harps, which use pedals and levers to achieve flats and sharps. But it’s the two outside sets of strings that allow for the triple harp’s unique effect of doubling that Hafana loves. “It creates a whole world of effects that you can’t get on any other type of harp or many other instruments.”

Hafana, who also sings, uses this technique to full effect on her recently released second album, Edyf. This record marks a staggering evolution from her 2020 debut, which was made up of what she says are “fairly well-known Welsh folk tunes.” She wanted to give the new album her own identity, deviating from the typical triple harp repertoire, while also finding something personal. “I started looking in the National Library of Wales’ archives for tunes and words that no one has sung for 200 years. I was looking for things that were a bit weird, and I wanted to see if there were some themes that were still relevant.” She found a catalogue called The Ballads Database and a collection of songs from “some guy who went around Wales writing songs down, but didn’t really know how to write down music.” This research led her to finds such as ‘Comed 1858’ (“about a guy going up a hill to watch a comet go past in 1858”), ‘Tragwyddoldeb’ (“a hymn about eternity” that reminded her of discovering that “the universe is infinite”) and ‘Y Môr O Wydr’ (“a hymn about doomsday… the sea is going up in flames, the angels are raining down from the heavens. It’s bonkers, so intense”). It was the last of these that drew me into the album. The chief instrument on the track is bowed double bass, with Hafana playing a treated harp. “I’ve got paper weaved around the strings so it sounds distorted. It completely deadens the sound; it’s not obviously a harp.” The technique was learned from Nansi Richards, Wales’ own ‘Queen of the Harp.’ 

It’s this need to experiment, to “kill all of the prettiness of the sound,” and her choice of material – the album also includes three original tracks – that mark Hafana out. She may be playing a baroque choral instrument and singing words from 18th-century hymns, but her music is not an artefact; it’s full of emotion and purpose and, when it hits you right, a raw power, which is quite an achievement from a harp

Source: Cerys Hafana: “The sea is going up in flames, the angels are raining down from the heavens” | Songlines