Gareth Bonello, in his professional identity as The Gentle Good, has achieved something I’d thought impossible. He has garnered a 5* album review from The Guardian, an admirable publication but one which I hadn’t heretofore considered as an afficionado of Welsh folk music. The album in question, Galargan, draws its material principally from collections in The National Library of Wales with the title roughly translating as Songs Of Grief.
The songs are old and are treated with great respect but given a sufficiently modern treatment to sound fresh to modern ears. Gareth is in possession of a rich brown voice and his guitar playing reflects that sound at times. At other times it is gentle and harp-like and Gareth leans increasingly on cello and piano to dress the songs.
The opening track, ‘Pan Own I A Foreddydd’, keeps things mostly simple. There is an English feel to the melody, very pastoral as the singer listens to a blackbird singing in the trees. It gets complicated when Gareth shifts the guitar to a higher register and matches that with wordless vocals. ‘Nid Wyf Yn Llon’ is a contrast. The song was collected from a drunk in Dolgellau prison, a bleak tract reinforced by Gareth’s gloomy cello. ‘Mae’r Ddaear Yn Glasu’ is a May carol which begins in a jolly fashion with the guitar imitating a harp but darkens as the final verse approaches and cello and piano are added to the mix. The final line is something that might have come from the philosophy of Gerrard Winstanley but the tune is distinctly Welsh.
After this we have three old Welsh tunes collectively known as ‘Set Bob’ in honour of Robert Evans who played them and presumably had the original idea of putting them together as a set. The guitar rings like a bass harp, if such a thing existed.
Galargan returns to pastoral concerns with ‘Pan Own Y Gwanwyn’ in which a shepherd talks of his job but is distracted by the voice of his lover. Again, cello winds around the melody. ‘Y Bachgen Main’ (‘The Slender Lad’) tells of a young girl arguing with her mother over her choice of lover, the slender lad of the title. Gareth refers to a tragic end but I have been unable to find any lyrics to support this. The words do refer to India and Persia and Gareth has added some very un-Welsh notes in his arrangement to reflect this.
‘Beth Yw’r Haf I Mi?’ is a real song of grief as a man weeps after his lover leaves him and so is ‘Dafydd Y Garreg Wen’ (‘David Of The White Rock’) which closes the set. The cello becomes the lead instrument and it’s a real downer to end on. Despite that, Galargan is a lovely album and one to drift away on. In fact I did just that; having written the introductory paragraph I set my keyboard aside and just listened. The only niggle is that the notes are only presented in Welsh but I suppose you can’t have everything.
Artist’s website: https://thegentlegood.com/
A translation of all the album notes is now on line at https://thegentlegood.com/galargan/
‘Nid Wyf Yn Llon’ – live: