Gareth Bonello (The Gentle Good) talks about his upcoming album in which he reworks some old Welsh ballads.
The record begins at the beginning, with the break of dawn. In the opening notes of the guitar we sense the dew in small pearls on the surface of the leaves, the sound of spring rising up from the soil. A lone walker sets out into the world, enchanted. ‘Pan own i ar foreddydd’ : As I was one morning.
We find ourselves asking: where does grief fit in this world that is so green, so full of hope and light? Galargan: old songs, set down and interpreted when the world was locked up, when things like loss, despair and fear felt more real than ever. When loved ones disappeared. When anger mixed with the water, and everyone felt like they were screaming into the darkness. In periods like this, when there are no words, the old songs suggest themselves: always relevant, always with something new to reveal.
Many of the songs come from the invaluable collections and writings of Meredydd Evans and Phyllis Kinney in the National Library of Wales. ‘Nid wyf yn llon’, for example – collected from the singing of a prisoner in Dolgellau jail. We hear his voice in a room where the awakening of spring is only a distant memory through the damp walls of an old cell. The despair reaches across the centuries; for a moment there’s a connection with this nameless man, almost as if we share the cell with him.
On we go through the green of another bright morning on ‘Pan own y gwanwyn’, with that unearthly melody, which refuses all efforts to be defined. To ‘Beth yw’r haf i mi?’ A summer lament sounding almost like a fado song. And finally, a cry of despair as the cello weeps in the fading light for ‘Dafydd y Garreg Wen’.
Perhaps it is the naturalness of the music that creates the enchantment. Crafted in a kitchen in Cardiff, and in a small cottage in the wild expanses of Cwm Elan where the musician was accompanied by no one but himself, the arrangements are simple. Sometimes, we hear the cello – like the sun coming from behind a cloud, filling the world with brightness again – but it is the guitar and the voice that are constant and striking. But what comes after grief? Can there be light and comfort? We know that spring shall return. There’s purpose and truth in that old May carol; ‘Mae’r Ddaear yn glasu’: The Earth is in bloom. It is quiet and gracious, from the singing and playing of a musician who is gentle even when dealing with the darkness.
Artist’s website: www.thegentlegood.com
The Gentle Good – live:
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