Huw M

Bilingual blurts on music // Eang yw'r byd i bawb


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Utica has arrived…

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The new album Utica has just come back from the printers… how exciting! After months of composing, arranging, rehearsing, recording, re-recording, mixing, mastering, it all comes down to one album – one piece of plastic covered in cardboard.

I may be old fashioned, but I do like to hold a record in my hand – a tangible, hard copy where the artwork and music comes together.

utica_bocs

For the new album we’ve had the pleasure of working with artist and photographer Kirsten McTernan, who’s based in Cardiff. You may be familiar with Kirsten’s work – she has a wonderful gift of reflecting the mood and essence of music through her photographs.

The Utica album was recorded ‘live’. As a band, we came together in the studio to perform together, live – and there’s a slightly raw and old fashioned feel to the sound. In many ways, the record could have been recorded 50 years ago… no modern sound effects, no 21st century trickery. And we were keen to capture this classical feel in the artwork and photographs.

So, without further ado, here’s the artwork for the album sleeve – the fruits of Kirsten’s work. The photos have been taken in various locations in Cardiff.

Huw M - Utica - cover backoriginal _KMT3765 copy 1 2

By the way, the latest with the album is as follows… Utica will be released on November 13th on the I KA CHING label, with a split single beforehand (I wanted you to cry // Sŵn y galon fach yn torri). We will launch the album in a gig in the Cardiff area on 13 November, with a tour to follow during the winter. More details to be announced soon.

The new album’s first outing

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On 12 July 2015 we performed at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. It was our first performance of the new album, more or less, in its entirety. I was joined on stage by Bethan Mai on accordion/vocals, Iolo Whelan on drums/percussion/vocals and, for the first time, sisters Jacqueline and Deborah Marshall, who also sing on the album. The Marshall Sisters add a gospel influence to our sound, which I love.

Photographer Dan Green was there to capture the sound-check and gig (click on the first image to take you through the gallery)…


By the way, Dan Green also shot some photos in the studio when we recorded the album, which you can see on another blog post – The Invisible Dan.

And I’ll finish with some music. We were supported by a wonderful new band called Anelog from north Wales – take 4 minutes and 1 second to enjoy their song Melynllyn. It’s worth it…

 

This gallery contains 15 photos


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Cob Records

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I was brought up in Bangor, north Wales – a small university city which has a rich cultural tradition, not least in music. Walking down Bangor High Street these days brings back some wonderful memories of a record shop that closed a few years ago – Cob Records.

cob2

Cob Records today

 

When I was a teenager I spent hours on end in Cob Records – an incredibly cool place, curious and mysterious, and somewhere you would not go to with your parents. Two floors were packed to the rafters with new, old, second hand, unusual, and brilliant music, and the staff there really knew their music.

The small yellow labels which decorate so many of my vinyls, cassettes and CDs pay tribute to the time and money I happily spent in the shop.

cob

This is where I bought the influential and formative records of my youth by bands such as Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, The Primitives, Snuff, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Welsh bands such as Y Cyrff, Ffa Coffi Pawb, Yr Anhrefn, Hanner Pei and Topper.

These were the sounds of my teen years – and to me, like many of my friends, the Welsh music we listened to was just as exciting, and probably more relevant, than the music we listened to from America or even other parts of the UK. One of the great strengths of the Welsh language music scene was the unusual and rather eclectic mix of music that co-existed under one umbrella.

Punk bands shared a stage with electronic bands and, somehow, it all made sense. This is how I came across a wonderful electronic, experimental synth-pop band called Eirin Peryglus (translated as ‘Dangerous Plums’) – a genre of music I knew nothing of and listened to none of, except in Welsh!

The music of Eirin Peryglus is magical, and holds its ground to this day. I remember seeing them live at a National Eisteddfod, but what really created an impression was seeing their vinyl decorated with big pink writing in the shop window of Cob Records… it was love at first sight!

One of the bands’ most well known tracks, and one of my personal favourites, is ‘Anial Dir’ (translated as ‘Barren Land’) – a nostalgic, heart breaking and personal song that became quite a hit at the time. We’ve recorded a version of Anial Dir for the new album and, as you’d expect, it’s quite different to the original. Hopefully, we’ve managed to capture the essence and sentiment of the original and do it justice of some sort.

Times have changed of course, and despite the proliferation of websites and online music streaming services, I still get a huge amount of enjoyment and education from visiting good record stores. Thankfully, we still have some wonderful shops around such as the ever young Spillers Records in Cardiff (the oldest record shop in the world) which continues to give Welsh bands a vitally important platform right in the centre of Wales’ capital city.

One piece of news before I finish… we’ve just announced that the third album will be released on the wonderful I Ka Ching Records in the summer. More details to follow shortly. For now, enjoy the original version of Anial Dir, by the brilliant Eirin Peryglus:


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Si hwi hwi, in memory of ‘Merêd’

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There’s a gospel influence on this new album, partly because of the contribution of two wonderful singers I’ve been working with recently – the Marshall sisters from Cardiff. But, in this blog, I’d like to concentrate on one particular song from the album (which is a firm favourite with myself and the band), which is the folk song Si hwi hwi – an example of a Welsh spiritual lullaby.

150 years ago this year, the American Civl War ended and, with it, the formal abolition of slavery in the United States. And there are many cultural connections between Wales and the abolitionist movement in America at the time – including a number of anti-slavery Welsh hymns, poems and songs. Si hwi hwi belongs to this honourable tradition.

The author of the lyrics is Rowland Walter, bardic name ‘Ionoron Glan Dwyryd’ – a quarryman and poet from the Blaenau Ffestiniog area in north Wales who emigrated to Vermont in America around 1853, and became active in the movement to abolish slavery.

The song is composed from the perspective of a mother singing her baby to sleep on the eve of being torn apart and ‘sold’ as slaves. There’s a clear tension between the beautiful, soothing melody  and the dark, disturbing lyrics.

The recent history of the song is also important. As far as I can tell, the song has survived to this day thanks to the late Dr Meredydd Evans, or ‘Merêd’ as he was fondly known. Merêd was a singer, scholar, campaigner, and historian of Welsh folk music. Along with his wife, Phyllis Kinney, they published several important collections of folk songs over many years which has helped to preserve our musical heritage.

Merêd came from Tanygrisiau, Blaenau Ffestiniog – the same area as the composer of Si hwi hwi – and he remembers his mother singing the song to him as a child, as a lullaby to help him sleep.

A few decades later, in the 1950s, Merêd moved to America to study at Princeton, and he was invited to record a collection of Welsh folk songs for the Folkways label – a seminal record that was chosen as one of the New York Times’ records of the year in 1954.

Until that point, there was no written or audio record of the melody and lyrics together, so we can assume that the song would have disappeared had Merêd not recorded it. And that recording, in many ways, completes the circle – a century after Rowland Walter moved from Blaenau Ffestiniog to the United States and composed the song, Merêd made the same journey to record the song and to ensure it’s preservation. Merêd is as much a part of the song’s history as the composer himself.

In January this year I had a phone conversation with Merêd about Si hwi hwi. It was a fascinating discussion which lasted about an hour and a half – more or less talking about one song! Despite being 95 years old, his mind was razor sharp and his memory impeccable. It was with sadness that we heard of his passing over the weekend – we owe him a great deal, as a nation and as music lovers. But he has left us with a legacy of songs to treasure, to interpret, to re-define and, most importantly, to enjoy.

Merêd (photo Iestyn Hughes)

Merêd (photo Iestyn Hughes)

Here’s the magical Meredydd Evans singing Si hwi hwi.

spotify:track:3ZpHYvSla9f4R2GK5WrsrI

Er cof annwyl iawn am Merêd.

 


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The sound of silence

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One of the joys of spending time in the studio, especially with producer Frank Naughton, is the space and freedom to experiment with sound. Apologies if that sounds a little self indulgent and pretentious, but I guess self indulging in one’s sound is an integral part of the recording process!

I’ve mentioned in a previous blog that the new album will have a more live, raw feel compared to my other two albums, so we’ve been experimenting with ways of capturing that sound on record.

Strangely enough, one of the most important instruments in any studio is one that makes no sound whatsoever – the microphone. I’ve been intrigued by Frank’s use of some older microphones to record our live sessions. One of these is a Reslo Ribbon Mic, popular in the 1960s, pictured here:

The Reslo Ribbon Mic

The Reslo Ribbon Mic

The same mic is seen in this video of the Beatles playing ‘Some Other Guy’ live at the Cavern in 1962:

 

Another mic that I’ve fallen in love with is this beauty from the 1950s:

Grampian dynamic mic

Grampian dynamic mic

The Grampian dynamic mic looks wonderful, and it sounds hoarse and unrefined – like a transistor radio – capturing that raw edge I was referring to. Here’s a clip of how one of our songs, A house by the sea, performed at the studio sounds using the Grampian mic:

 

And here’s how it sounds using more modern microphones:

 

What do you reckon? I quite like the rawness of the Grampian, but we may end up using a mix of old and new microphones when we come to the final mix. Time will tell.

In the meantime, I will leave you with a brilliant recording by a musicologist who mastered the art of capturing the essence of performances using only one or two microphones. Alan Lomax (1915-2002) was “one of the great American field collectors of folk music of the 20th century“, and he journeyed across the globe to record hundreds of musicians – famous and unknown.

This recording of Viola James singing I’m Going Home to Live with Jesus comes from Alan Lomax’s Southern Journey of 1959-1960, using an Ampex 602-2 “Suitcase Model” tape machine:

You can check out more of Alan Lomax’s work via the Association for Cultural Equity website. I’m particularly fond of the recordings of Welsh miners from Treorchy in south Wales singing folk songs such as Yr Eneth Gadd ei Gwrthod (The Rejected Maiden).


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The Invisible Dan

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This is Dan.

Dan Green

Dan Green

Dan is a photographer, rather than a guitarist (although he tells me he dabbles with the guitar from time to time).

I first met him when he co-organised a festival in Cardiff back in 2011 called Big Little City, in which I was lucky enough to play. At the moment, during the 2014 Football World Cup, Dan has a photo/art exhibition at Cardiff MADE in Roath. It’s called Roath Rec World XI and it documents the weekly gathering of local footballers at Roath Recreation Ground  – “a celebration of multiculturalism and the beautiful game”. I went down to have a look and it’s a real treat. A highly original and fascinating piece of work which highlights the universality of football – a force which can bring people together.

Anyway, back to the music… and Dan dropped by the studio recently to take some photos.

The studio in question is run by the highly talented producer and musician Frank Naughton. This is where we’re recording the new album (and where my first two albums were mostly recorded) and it really is an inspirational place.

Dan Green has the knack of capturing on camera the idiosyncrasies all around and he managed to sink in effortlessly to the day’s proceedings. If you listen very carefully to the record (once it’s out), you may be able to hear his camera shutter open and close… always to the beat of course! Out of the 352 photos he sent me, for now, I’ve chosen a handful to include here.

So, I hope you enjoy this small selection of his stills (click on the first image to take you through the slideshow):

 


And to finish, do take a minute to enjoy this short clip of the brilliant Odetta singing Waterboy:


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Roundhouse rocking

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During recent months, as we’ve been working on the new album, we’ve been jamming and rehearsing in some wonderful places.

Because we’re recording the album live, the rehearsals before going into the studio are just as important as the time we spend recording. And finding the right place to practice together is hugely important.

Other than in each other’s houses, we’ve been fortunate enough to practice quite a lot in the local chapel – a place close to my heart. There’s something really special about the acoustics of a chapel – the high ceiling, the wooden pews, the open space – all contribute towards a wonderful live sound.

Image

But we’ve also been jamming in another special place – Tŷ Crwn (Roundhouse) in the Vale of Glamorgan. The house was built by our drummer Iolo and his friends, and its design is based on the roundhouses of the Iron Age. It’s a truly magical place – thick walls, a thatched roof, small square windows, an amazing mosaic in the middle of the room – and a number of musicians have been inspired by it. This is where folk singer Gwyneth Glyn and Tauseef Akhtar recorded their wonderful Ghazalaw album for example.

Recently, on a glorious spring evening we all met up at the roundhouse (me, Iolo Whelan, Bethan Mai and Lucy Simmonds) to rehearse for the evening. So, I’ve put together some photos, with the wonderful birdsong that filled the air that evening as its accompaniment. Hope you enjoy…

 

I also promised that I’d share with you some of the songs and artists that I’ve been listening to during the time we’ve been composing this new album, so here’s John Jacob Niles with Go ‘Way From My Window: