Well lads I've just returned from a run of gigs in Wales and I really found it to be a rich and rewarding adventure; the WELSH adventure. I've been having a great musical year all through 2015, with lots of good musical experiences. I am working as a song detective for TG4 and indeed this is the year of the Opera; I am spending the whole year composing my traditional Opera THE LEGEND OF THE LOUGH - FINSCÉAL AN LOCHA.
I am living and breathing this Opera and composing like a lunatic and researching lots of mythology and folklore, and already this I have travelled all around Ireland, to Scotland, to the Aran Islands and now I have finally made it to our Celtic cousins and neighbours in the beautiful and wondrous kingdom of CYMRU.
It was while playing a gig on Inis Mór in Aran at a Celtic Festival in March that I first heard the singing of Lleuwen Steffan, a brilliant singing voice, in Welsh, full of mystery and music, a contemporary folk musician like myself, writing new and interesting songs in that fascinating Brythonic language. How often we Gaelic speakers have perused the Welsh to find the common thread. We know we are the Celtic speaking nations, the insular Celts, that they are the P Celts and that we are the Q Celts. You have to mind your P's and Q's like, as the fellah said, they say Pen for head and we say Ceann.
I was delighted to be invited by Lleuwen to perform a number of gigs with her around Wales, and was fascinated to hear everybody speaking Welsh. I was in a small slate quarry village of Bethesda in North Wales, and there was Welsh on the street, in the B and B, in the pub, everywhere. The Chipper was called Mabinogion, after that classical collection of Welsh mythology. I had a copy in my bag. I did not go to Wales without my Mabinogi, a fantastical mythic journey.
Being a musician on the road is endlessly interesting, and the people you meet are amazing; like the young man from County Cork who gave me a lift from Liverpool to Chester, who serves in the Royal Irish Regiment in the British Army and who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are many young Irishmen in that regiment and I was glad when a few of them turned up at our first gig in a venue called Saith Seren (Seven Stars) in Wrecsam. I was happy to horse out for them 'The Rocks of Bawn' and the verse about fighting for Ireland's glory under the Queen of England; Lleuwen dived from the 'Rocks of Bawn' into a crazy Welsh hymn called …….
We spent two musical days rehearsing in a lovely new state of the art theatre called Pontio in Bangor. The builders spoke Welsh, as did the roadies, the security men, every waitress in every café, everyone. I loved it. Ah sure we wish the Irish around here would break into the Irish language. Everyone has stacks of it but everyone is afraid to open their gobs in Irish except for a few weirdo Gaeilgeoirs like myself like.
It only took a few songs for myself and Lleuwen to understand that we understood each other and we could play away together, sailing away through melodies, chords and languages effortlessly enough. Gwion from the Pontio Theatre made this video of us rehearsing a song called 'Donal Óg', a big Gaelic song that Lleuwen has interpreted in Welsh as 'Mab Y Mor', and we performed a trilingual version, check this out lads; https://vimeo.com/142189624
The second gig was in Bethesda, to Lleuwen's home crowd, and I have to say lads, we hit them hard. We got a great number going which was a blending of my farm song 'Gortatagort' with a traditional Welsh song on the same theme; the old homeplace, the farm and the names of the fields and the mountains.
We also played and sang in Merthyr Tydfil and in Holyhead. It was a cultural exchange of Welsh and Irish songwriting. I learned my first few words of Welsh and look forward to learning more. On the lovely Isle of Ynys Mon - Anglesea I saw a good example of a very long Welsh placename; Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch - Saint Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of Saint Tysilio of the red cave.
I found that one of the heroes of my Opera, Lugh of the Long-Arm is also big in Wales as Lleu Llaw Gyffes and I am happily busy now composing a song about him which will marry the two versions of his god-like character. Thanks Lleuwen for the gigs and the Welsh adventure and we look forward to the return visit, like, thanks a million, diolch o galon, John Spillane, Passage West, County Cork.
Published on 22nd March 2016