TWM MORYS & GWYNETH GLYN – Tocyn Unfford I Lawenydd (Recordiau Sain – SAINSCD2851)

Tocyn Unfford I Lawenydd For non-Welsh speakers, Tocyn Unfford I Lawenydd translates as ‘One Way Ticket to Happiness.’ As its name suggests, the title track is about a train journey, and journeys, are very much at the centre of this album. Through new and traditional songs, Twm Morys and Gwyneth Glyn explore such topics as travel, migration, distance, and loss. The journeys don’t all lead to happiness, but after all, this is folk album.

Tocyn Unfford I Lawenydd is a poetic album, which isn’t surprising as both Twm and Gwyneth are distinguished poets, who’ve both been Children’s Laureat Wales. The Welsh bardic tradition also features on this album. They share the vocals throughout – sometimes singing together, sometimes individually – and are both multi-instrumentalists. They’re very well supported by another multi-instrumentalist, Aled Wyn Jones, and by horn player Edwin Humphreys.

We start with two traditional songs, which demonstrate some of the interesting elements of folk music. Twm and Gwyneth both sing on slow and melancholy ‘Ffarwel Blwy I LLangywer’ (‘Farewell to the Parish of Llangywer’), accompanied by guitar and Twm’s harmonica. The narrative concerns the hopes and fears of a young man preparing to leave his Welsh home for Liverpool, but it’s also an interesting example of wandering lines in a song. Lines that have been picked up from other songs over time and can seem like random statements. This song of immigration and leaving home ends with a line about not taking water in whiskey!

Another fascinating aspect of folk music is the way tunes and lyrics can travel far and wide. The tune of ‘Mi Fum i’n Gweini Tymor’ (‘I Served for a Season’) will be recognisable to many as ‘The Lakes of Ponchetrain.’ The Welsh setting is different, but there are definite similarities in the narrative. For example:

I asked her will you marry me? ‘Never,’ she said.
She had a handsome lover, and he was at sea.”

A fascinating example of how folk cultures in these islands and North America have blended with each other.

After two reflective songs, the title track is a joyful affair. That it’s about a railway journey is obvious from the start, with Twm’s harmonica mimicking a train whistle. Like many train songs, it has an Americana feel, helped by the harmonica and Edwin’s horn playing, that has a Latin edge at times. Twm wrote this song after deciding that the album was becoming too gloomy, and it succeeds in lightening the mood.

The beguiling sound of Twm’s harp is heard for the first time on the next track. ‘Cymru’n Un’ (‘Wales is One’), has a pleasant, gentle tune, and lyrics that celebrate unity in Wales; ‘And make a place in Eifionydd and Llŷn for every kind of kindred spirit, because in us Wales is one.’ This optimism maintains the upbeat feeling established on the previous track, but the mood changes on the two linked, and very impressive tracks that follow.

A Welsh soldier, lost at Passchendaele in 1917, is the subject of these tracks. Hedd Wyn (Blessed Peace) was the bardic name of Welsh language poet Ellis Humphrey Evans who died on his first day at the front. Seven weeks later he was posthumously awarded the Bards’ Chair at the National Eisteddfod. Like so many, he left his sweetheart behind, and on ‘Rhyfel Hedd Wynn’ (‘Hedd Wynn’s War’), Gwyneth takes her part, singing his poem ‘War’ to Twm’s musical setting. The horn, that previously added a joyful note, provides a powerful, slightly discordant opening, before a suitably haunting melody develops.

Twm takes lead vocals on ‘Jini,’ as Hedd Wyn is imagined appearing in a dream, talking of his love Jini Evans. Twm’s powerful words are set to Ivor Novello’s tune for ‘Keep The Homefires Burning,’ a song Hedd Wynn would certainly have sung with his fellow soldiers. This is sung unaccompanied, adding a simplicity that makes it even more moving than it would otherwise have been.

Two great tracks, but powerfully moving, and there is some relief in moving onto ‘Coed’ (‘Trees’), a sweet song about the comfort of returning to the trees of home. The tempo then changes for a tune from Northeast England, with new words set to it. ‘Angharad Ar Y Degfed O Fai’ (‘Angharad On The Tenth Day of May’), is a birthday song for a daughter. Listening, I was sure I heard Lauren Bacall mentioned, but I don’t speak Welsh and decided I must have heard similar sounding words. Then I checked the lyrics and found that I’d been right the first time. The narrator has been away too long and “can’t claim that it was Lauren Bacall or a cold north wind that held me back”. Strange, but the reason might become clearer later.

Twm and Gwyneth have an ability to write songs that sound hundreds of years old, which is true of ‘Arfor’ (‘Sea’). The lyrics are a conversation between a Rio bound sailor and the girl he’s left on shore. Twm and Gwyneth sing alternate verses, accompanied by a drone provided by Twm’s shruti box. This is a beautiful track, helped by the simplicity of its arrangement.

‘Mae dy Gariad di’n y Ffair’ (‘Your Love is at the Fair’) has a gentle tune, with a touch of Americana. In Twm and Gwynith’s lyrics, a woman is told that her love is at a fair and among rival suitors. She’s urged to be bold and to ‘Go after him, walk through the fair like Lauren Bacall.’ There she is again, but this time there is an explanation. The sleeve notes explain that many years ago in New York, Twm saw Lauren Bacall coming towards him through a crown, and they brushed shoulders as she passed. I think she made might have made quite an impression on him.

The words of another bard, Daniel Sgubor (1777 to 1859) feature on the final track, ‘Y Gog Lwydlas’ (‘The Blue Grey Cuckoo’). It’s another beautiful track with a simple arrangement, featuring the shruti box and pibgyrn (Welsh hornpipes). It’s a melancholy ending, with words that use the cuckoo’s migration to talk of absence, loss, and the passing of time:

Well, there will be many a young girl with lowered head before you come here again to sing on the tree.
Oh, goodbye to you this year, goodbye to you all. Before I come here again there will be thousands lost.”

I don’t think it’s controversial to say that Welsh folk music is less prominent that that of other Celtic lands, such as Scotland and Ireland. Perhaps the emphasis on choral singing and hymns (which, of course, often have traditional tunes) has pushed it into the background. A rich tradition is there though, and it’s pleasing that recent years have seen growing interest. The names Twm Morys and Gwyneth Glyn are perhaps less familiar than some of their compatriots – such as Calan and Gwilym Bowen Rhys – but Tocyn Unfford I Lawenydd shows that they are both hugely talented performers, musicians, and songwriters. They deserve to be much more widely known outside their home country.

That they perform entirely in Welsh might limit their appeal to some, but I wouldn’t let that put you off. The music – with all its power and emotion – can definitely stand on its own.

Graham Brown

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‘Ffarwel Blwy I LLangywer’ – live: