Hen Ganeuon Newydd, subtitled The Folk-Songs Of Llŷn And Eifionydd for the non-Welsh speakers, is a collection of songs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries collected in north-west Wales. The subjects were frequently local and range from big stories to little jokey ditties, many gleaned from The National Library Of Wales in Aberystwyth by Gwenan Gibbard. Gwenan is a singer and harpist/multi-instrumentalist following in a long tradition of performance in this style, supported discretely by Gwilym Bowen Rhys, Patrick Rimes and Aled Wyn Hughes.
I’ve said before that Welsh is a beautiful language for singing and I make no apology for reiterating that opinion. Don’t understand the language? It doesn’t matter. Relax and enjoy the sounds and when you’ve had your fill, maybe take a look at the notes to find out what it’s all about.
There are some lovely songs here. ‘Meíbion A Merched’ begins as a story of betrayal in love and ends as a horror story as the ghost of the betrayed girl drags her unfaithful lover under the sea to his death. It was a very popular song in Llŷn. ‘Ffarwel I Bencaenewydd’ is the song of a sailor leaving home and wondering what he will return to – one of the big songs on the album. The light-hearted ‘Y Drydedd Waith Yw’r Goel’ translates as ‘Third Time Lucky’ but apparently you have to be Welsh for the luck to work properly. Gwenan describes ‘Y Gwcw Fach Lwydlas’ as a version of the popular ‘Y Deryn Pur’ “but with totally different words”. This particular version was collected from the Welsh community in Patagonia.
‘Dacw Long’ is a love song telling of a young woman scanning the horizon for signs of her sweetheart’s return, contrasting with the comedy of ‘Sgert Gwta Naín’. ‘Cariad Y Garddwr’ is a version of the popular story of a young woman who falls in love with a man her father disapproves of, in this case a gardener. He is despatched overseas but her fate is not recorded. A subject that doesn’t occur very often is found in ‘Trafnídíaeth Yn Llŷn’ – a history of transport in the region. And why not?
‘Y Morwr Mwyn’ and ‘Y Gwcw Ryfel’ are both laments: one for a sailor who lies forgotten without a headstone and the other for a young soldier untimely death in the Great War. I’m fascinated that the cuckoo takes the place of the dove or other bird of good omen in Welsh tradition. ‘Rhígymau’ is a cousin of the Scots puirt a beul and, finally, ‘Anni Bach Rwy’n Mynd İ Ffwrdd’ is a popular song with words by Carneddog (Richard Griffith) that crops up all over Wales.
Hen Ganeuon Newydd is a lovely album, both musically and lyrically and I’m so glad that I have a copy to enjoy.
‘Sgert Gwta Naín’ – live
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