Bob Delyn a'r Ebillion : Dal i 'Redig Dipyn Bach24.11.2017 : SAIN / Proper Music
Folksinger Dean Gitter holds the record for the longest gap between albums - his debut, Ghost Ballads, was released in 1957. The follow up, Old Folkies Never Die, saw the light in 2014 after he was momentarily distracted by a career in property development. Set against that the fourteen year gap since Bob Delyn a'r Ebillion released their last album, Dore, seems indecent haste.
Noted as a driving force and catalyst of the 1990's Welsh folk revival, Bob Delyn a'r Ebillion have been feted for their musical inventiveness and effortless ability to redefine the boundaries of a genre; this latest release is perhaps more stately and grounded in tradition, but achieves something as equally far-reaching as their previous four albums.
The band are led and fronted by Twm Morys, who is a fascinating figure. The son of writer Jan Morris, he has forged his own literary career and won a chair at the National Eisteddfod for poetry in the strict metres of Cynghanedd. He has written or arranged most of the compositions on the album - although two were contributed by fellow poet and songwriter, the late Iwan Llwyd - Sŵn ar Gardyn Post and Comin Abergwesyn.
There is an awful lot of exceptional music presented on this record - fifteen songs, not one a filler. All but two are sung in Welsh - Breton being used for Meur a Wech and Nemet Dour, with a fluency gained when Morys lived in Brittany for ten years.
Much of the recording took place at band member Edwin Humphreys' studio in Pentre Uchaf, which sits at the heart of the Llŷn peninsula. Gorwel Owen (famed for his work with the Super Furry Animals and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci) produced two of the tracks - revisiting an important formative link from the band's early days.
Four of the songs can be sampled to represent the album, and its themes.
First, the album opener. Morys is a champion of the Welsh language - before the music starts there is short recording, made in 1939, of John Williams from Cwm Grwyne Fechan in the Black Mountains, a time when he was one of only five people in his valley who still spoke Welsh. The song it leads into, Cân John Williams, is dedicated in the sleeve notes to the valley's current thriving Welsh medium school, its teachers and children.
Cân John Williams sets the scene for what follows - spare, plangent instrumentation, the vocal part central and shifting along a continuum from almost spoken to sung; the effect mesmeric.
Second, Waliau Caernarfon (Caernarfon Walls) uses a full band arrangement, and has a traditional poem as its lyric, as famously translated by R.S. Thomas:
One night of tempest I arose and went
Along the Menai shore on dreaming bent;
It is a sublime and uplifting song - with Einir Humphreys' mournful backing vocal underpinning Morys' expressive tone.
Third - Rhydd (Free) is spoken then plaintively sung over a simple guitar melody, the words' meaning matched with an English version on the CD cover:
...of the mother, the father, the wife, the child,
And the old old country that drives you wild,
And name and number, gender, direction,
Opinion, badge, flag, complexion;
Of the figure, the fact, the hour, the date,
The itineraries that keep you straight,
And the winberry eyes and the raspberry mouth
Of a girl in a café in a town in the South,
And the eternal wind, and the outlaw prince
We have hidden in the outhouse ever since;
Of all the things in a Welshman’s mind
Which mean nothing at all to the rest of mankind.
If that is freedom, we shall surely be free
The very minute we cease to be.
But until all these things have come to an end,
Here with us you must stay, my friend…
Finally, a second-listen hum and singalong despite the Breton lyric, the beautiful closing song Nemet Dour is a brief abstract elegy, with doleful harmonica wrapped around a lamenting vocal.
In honesty you could pick an alternative set from any of the remaining eleven compositions, and the result would be just as magnificent as these four.
The expansive mood of this subtly instrumented album is redolent of the spirit of Van Morrison. Suitably framed, at times Morys' rich singing voice has the hard won depth and beatific world weariness of Leonard Cohen. They are not perfectly mapped comparisons, but invoking such icons should be taken to suggest that Twm Morys is as distinct a force in this music as they are in theirs.
Equally remarkably you can sense a poetic strength throughout, even if you have not a word of Welsh (or Breton). This comes from the lyrical flow and the way each word feels crafted into place, then savoured when sung. It might not make the Sports Direct in-store playlist, but you'd be hard pressed to find another album that makes the language employed shine as radiant as this.
Folk but not folk - composed, performed and sung from the heart, there is huge grace in this music. A hypnotic listen, Dal i 'Redig Dipyn Bach is a genuine classic on any scale.