The Latest Normal

They say that the sky has grown bluer

while we’re yearning through these

year-filled days

we follow the curve

watch it bend

spend the sunrise mourning

what we once had

lamenting, loss, looking for

“The New Normal”

cuckoo call

swallow fly

seagull cry

grass grow

hedgerow

watch the sky link arms

deal with it

they’re still selling bombs and dropping bombshells

telling us to stay safe

to stay home

to lock our hopes away

too late to fix the roof

to protect us from the invisible rain

they’re still peddling their “Alternative Truths”

ask not for whom the bell tolls

but rather, who is ringing it

a late April shower silences the dawn choir

pitter patter replacing the songbirds

sunrise hides behind new, slate grey clouds

an empty coffee cup beside me

and another day in lock down ahead

It’s All Lies (Except For The Bits That Are True)

Have you ever considered
the slight possibility
that satire is causing
the virus?
Or that BBC 2
and a dark shade of blue
are encouraging us
to applaud while we’re drowning?
 
These are the thoughts
that are prowling the streets
while we sit
in our own precious bubbles
that the cause of our troubles
is just an idea
cooked up
in society’s rubble
 
The carers are helping
the looters are stealing
the folk trapped at home
are climbing the ceiling
the shop shelves are empty
the beaches are bare
and the spies behind curtains
stay vigilant and stare
 
“He’s gone for a second walk”
and “she is not essential”
“they don’t understand that washing hands
has the potential
to ensure that we’re kept in our place
while they spread their lies on our daily bread
and the things that we can’t comprehend
are better left unsaid”
 
Wars remain
and masks contain
the lies between the smiles
as we sit inside our conference calls
and leave our futures behind
I doubt that this
is what goes on
behind the guarded doors
but the fact is
I have no idea
what’s happening anymore

Morning Musings – Another Lockdown Poem

I get up when I wake up
and it’s usually still dark
my alarm clock is the bird song
and a dog’s annoying bark
 
I don’t get dressed just yet
because there’s nowhere I can go
it’s another day in isolation
stuck in the status quo
 
I listen to the radio
and drink my morning coffee
make a visit to the bathroom
for a long, relieving pee
 
there’s mass graves in New York
and the PM’s on the mend
I shake, I flush, I close the lid
then wash my hands…again
 
I walk the empty street
to go play dodgems in the shop
wondering if this craziness
is ever going to stop
 
I have some work to do
while I’m locked down in my home
but I’m not up to the task
and so I sit and write this poem

Free Within My Cage

Free Within My Cage

I’m in lockdown
but it’s not hard
because I’ve got
a huge backyard

I’ve got my garden
so it’s not tough
when a walk around the lawn
is good enough

I watch the bees
as they do their thing
and listen to
the free birds sing

I lounge in the warmth
and collect my tan
soaking up the sunshine
while I can

But that’s just me
I am fortunate
to have a world
within these gates

There’s them that’s stuck
behind four hard walls
their outside world
is a telephone call

So I count my blessings
one by one
and sit, sigh, relax
beneath the springtime sun

© Nigel Stone – 2020

 

The Garifuna Collective/Gasper Nali/Racubah – Neuadd Ogwen

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In the same week Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour sells his 1969 Black Fender Stratocaster for £3.1m, Gasper Nali sits alone on the Neuadd Ogwen stage in Bethesda, ready to support World Music legends The Garifuna Collective with the home-made bass guitar he plays. The instrument is actually called a babatoni. It is about 3 metres long, with one string, and a cow skin drum as a resonating box. Nali plays the instrument by hitting the string with a stick and changes the notes by placing an empty bottle along the string’s length. It makes a unique sound. Gilmour and Nali couldn’t be further apart on the musical spectrum but for one vital similarity. They both create magic from their art.

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Nali opens his far too short set with the relatively sedate “Olemera” from his 2015 album, ‘Abale Ndikuwuzeni’. The album’s title translates as ‘People, Let Me Tell You’. Near the end of the song the single string on the babatoni breaks. There’s a groan of disappointment from the crowd, and while Nali restrings the instrument his tour manager comes on stage and explains how the strings are in fact made from the wire found in car tyres. The rubber of the tyres is melted and the wire is removed. There is a 50/50 chance a string will work. We shouldn’t worry though, as they have around 75m of wire on tour with them. This raises a laugh from the audience and then Nali is ready to carry on.

The babatoni hums and buzzes like the hazy days of Summer that Bethesda is currently basking in, while the beat from Nali’s single kick drum proves to be irresistible, the audience soon dancing and clapping in time to the second song, ‘Aliyense Adzaonetsa’.

It isn’t long though before Nali is announcing the last song of his set. It is the title track from ‘Abale Ndikuwuzeni’. The moan from the crowd is even louder than when the string broke at the start of the evening, and so Nali milks what little time he has left on stage for all it is worth, getting the audience to sing along to the song. By the time he’s finished you’re left wondering why this guy is a support act.

The Garifuna Collective are in a class of their own though, of course. Their 2007 album ‘Wátina’, recorded with the late Andy Palicio, is one of the most praised world music albums ever released, and was selected by amazon.com as the Greatest World Music Album of All Time; beating Buena Vista Social Club, Bob Marley, Fela Kuti and other worthy contenders to the title. And here are nine of the collective on stage in Bethesda.

The band appears wary at first, hesitant, testing the crowd. To be fair, Gasper Nali is a tough act to follow, no matter how short his set was. But these are seasoned artistes and they are in their element, in front of a receptive and appreciative crowd, and by the time they break into ‘Ubou’ (The World), from the album ‘Ayo’, the floor is packed with dancing bodies. Rhythms and melodies swirl through the crowd, complex structures of sound that take the feet hostage.

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The Garifuna Collective is a multigenerational collection of musicians tapping into the rich history of the Garifuna people, telling stories, keeping their culture alive by infusing the traditional with their own musicianship. The result is sublime.

The audience just about raises the roof when it starts singing along to ‘Merua’ from the 2008 album, ‘Umalali’, and when two women in the audience are invited up on stage to dance along with the band you know that this isn’t just a gig, this is a full on party!

At one point the Collective plays a “Christmas” song and a dancer comes on stage dressed in an outfit that wouldn’t look out of place in a ‘Pet Shop Boys’ video. The audience might not be entirely sure what’s going on but they’re loving every second of it.

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Local DJs Racubah kept everyone occupied between sets.

Neuadd Ogwen is making a name for itself with the rich tapestry of music it is promoting, and The Garifuna Collective joins an illustrious list of world renowned talent that has performed in the independent music venue over the past few years.

With such artists as Lorkin O’Reilly performing soon, with his fusion of 60’s American folk music and traditional celtic vibes, plus home grown hero Gruff Rhys set to play at the venue in September, as part of the 3 day Ara Deg festival, and the return of Cate Le Bon, Neuadd Ogwen looks set to continue with it’s mission to bring the best music there is out there to Bethesda.

The night was like many nights at the venue, brave, enlightening, and entertaining.

 

Jeremy Dutcher – 9Bach(Noeth) – Live at Neuadd Ogwen

The Polaris Music Prize and Juno Award winning tenor, and activist, Jeremy Dutcher, brought the “indigenous” songs of the Maliseet culture all the way from Saint John River valley in Canada to the small town of Bethesda in North Wales on Friday evening.

The town’s independent music venue, Neuadd Ogwen, treated a packed house to an unforgettable evening of world class “world music” which I suspect many aficionados would have paid a small fortune to experience, which is ironic when you consider that Dutcher himself is determined to make the “indigenous music” box he has been placed into obsolete.

A stripped down 9Bach (noeth) opens, with Lisa Jen Brown (vocals/Harmonium/keyboard) and Martin Hoyland (guitar) playing a short but emotional set, including tracks from their BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards winning album, “Tincian”.

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From the gentle opening of “Llyn Du” (“Black Lake”) onwards, Lisa Jen charms the audience with her delicate vocals and her disarming chats in-between songs.

There is a sadness to the set, felt by both 9Bach and anyone in the audience who was aware of the recent death of Alan James, an early founder of the WOMAD music festival. James was a close friend, manager, and a champion of 9Bach, and both their last song and an early song from Jeremy Dutcher’s set are dedicated to a man who did so much to bring the music of the world to a wider audience.

Which brings us to Jeremy Dutcher. This is his first ever tour of Europe and having thanked his hosts for their hospitality he announces “Paris, Madrid, and now Bethesda!” which elicits a roar of approval from the audience, but then the fact that the venue has secured such a prestigious artist should be celebrated.

Dutcher is garnering a lot of publicity for his album, “Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa”, which blends archival recordings of traditional Maliseet songs with his own classically trained tenor voice, and piano. The performance is simple on the surface. Dutcher sits at the piano for most of the songs, standing up briefly to perform a couple with nothing but a shaker and his voice.

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Then there are the archival recordings themselves. Whether you subscribe to the argument that analogue beats digital or not, something happens inside you when you hear these voices from the past in all their scratchy glory. In Dutcher’s own words he creates “sound worlds”, setting free these lost years and the silenced voices of the Maliseet, shining a 21st century light on them. That it was illegal to sing these songs in Canada up until the 1950’s speaks volumes. That there are very few speakers of the Maliseet language left in the world today should be considered a crime. “When we lose a language we lose everything”, says Dutcher while acknowledging a connection he sees between the Maliseet and the Welsh fight to retain and celebrate both language and cultural identity.

At one point in the evening Dutcher splits the audience into two groups and asks them to create a drone, with one half humming a G root note, and the other half humming a 5th. Dutcher then creates vocal loops, which are laid over each other. It is a magical moment.

Dutcher hopes that the label of “indigenous music” will become obsolete within a year. Judging from the quality of the music the audience at Neuadd Ogwen were treated to, I fail to see why this shouldn’t be the case. This music is hard to pigeon hole in the most positive way possible. To quote Dutcher again, “When we hear music it leaves the brain and it takes over the heart”.

The concert was both intimate and huge, a bit like a small town independent music venue hosting world class award winning music.

Photographs by Denise Baker Denise Baker

9Bach live at Neuadd Ogwen

As the North Wales village of Bethesda braced itself for a blizzard, a near capacity crowd battled the bitter cold night, in order to watch 9Bach perform live at the village’s independent live music venue, Neuadd Ogwen. It was a homecoming show for the band, following their co-headlining appearance with Moulettes at the majestic Cadogan Hall in Belgravia, London the previous night.

Fellow Bethesda band Yucatan came on stage first, with a sadly brief set. Just five songs were played in total. Included though was a cover of Across The Universe (Ar Draws y Gofod Pell). Yucatan recorded the track this year, to coincide with The Beatles celebrations at Festival No.6, 2017. The fact that this classic fitted in seamlessly with the band’s own compositions speaks volumes. If you ever dream you are bird soaring over the mountains of Snowdonia, then Yucatan songs like the beautiful Cwm Llym, played tonight, would be the perfect soundtrack to listen to while you fly.

Yucatan

Bethesda based poet Martin Daws was up next. Daws was commissioned to write his poem “Love Letter to Bethesda” by 9Bach for their Llechi show, and tonight he bridged the gap between Yucatan and the headliners effortlessly. His smooth and amiable delivery brightened the room, and his use of the kalimba during the poem “Bring Down the Walls” carried a hint of the international feel of things to come.

Martin Daws

9Bach’s “Tincian” was voted best album at the 2015 BBC Folk awards, and the band includes traditional Welsh folk songs in its repertoire. However, they blend the traditional with other styles in such a way that the label “folk” no longer seems large enough to do their music justice. 9Bach are far from parochial. Their music certainly captures the beauty of the area where the band is based, but it is enriched by rhythms, melodies and stories from around the globe. The Australian aboriginal performance group, the Black Arm Band Company was name checked at one point for instance, and Greek rembetika gets a look in during the set too. There is also a definite funk and groove present at times, to move things along.

So while it is hard not to use the “F” word when writing about 9Bach, these World Music ambassadors are far more than folk music alone.

A song about the last known male northern white rhino left in the world, Yr Olaf blends in comfortably with another about the interconnectedness between people, between us and place, between us and nature; that song, “Anian”, is also the title of the band’s latest album.

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The three “London boys” at the back (Ali Byworth, Dan Swain, Martin Hoyland) provided a faultless canvas of drums, bass, and guitar respectively, upon which vocalist Lisa Jen Brown, keyboard player/singer Mirain Haf Roberts, and harpist Esylit Glyn Jones painted enchanting and evocative portraits of the world, of the past, of the slate quarry nearby, and of what it means to be alive in these troubled times.

9Bach exuded warmth and confidence in equal measures on stage, and one can’t help but feel that the audience returned home after the gig all the richer, and with a glow in the heart. It was a night Bethesda could be proud of.

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(Photographs by Denise Baker)

Living The Dream #4 But I Don’t Need A Holiday!

By the time this post is published I’ll be in Germany, accompanying my girlfriend on a working trip she’s taking. She’ll be giving inspirational talks to students there. I’m her “Plus 1”. The internet will post this for me…I hope.

I’ve never had a girlfriend who gives inspirational talks before. I did have an ex who was an expert at telling people how to live their lives, but there’s a not so subtle difference in the two approaches. Personally I prefer being inspired over a badgering any day.

 

It’s the morning of our departure, and I’m already missing North Wales, despite the fact that we don’t leave for the airport until early this evening. I woke up at silly o’clock this morning; not because I was excited about the trip, but because I wanted to cram in as much home life as I could before we left.

I stood at the conservatory door, holding a clandestine cup of coffee (I’m supposed to start the day with a healthy cup of hot water, a slice of lemon, a sliver of ginger, and a spoonful of honey, just don’t tell the girlfriend I cheated) and watched the day start; ticking off anything I would be pining for over the next five days.

 

I’ll miss the persistent precipitation for a start. I’m one of those freaks who loves rain. I was warned about the weather here by a South Waleian film maker I know; “It’s something to do with the mountains” he said. The rain here is often sideways, due to the winds, and it’s been known for people to become hermits during the winter months; hibernating at home until Spring wakes up.

 

When the sun shines though, it’s a different story altogether. On a hot day it’s down to Ogwen Bank for a sit by the river; and a dip in it too, if you’re young enough, or foolish enough to brave the still icy chill of the river.

 

Apparently there’s something called “Wild Swimming”. Wild Swimming involves going somewhere where there is water, with no walls around it, no roof over it, and no chlorine to keep it clean and germ free. It’s an activity that people pay good money to try out. I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay someone to take me to a river, lake, or beach, with a group of strangers, and…well, swim. I’m perfectly capable of doing this without sticking the word “wild” in front of it, and then handing over my hard earned cash to someone else for the privilege of doing so.

 

However, I digress.

 

I’ll miss sitting at my desk, tapping away at the keyboard, making stuff up. I guess I can do this in Germany too, but I’m going to be in another country, so I’m going to want to “do stuff”, “see stuff”. I might as well look upon this as a holiday. Only, I don’t need a holiday (and I definitely can’t afford one).

 

I’m going to miss the birds that have started to use the feeders I’ve put out on the patio at the back of our home; especially now that I own a decent pair of binoculars. I got them yesterday (a couple of days ago now you’re reading this) for my 54th birthday, from my girlfriend. I can practically see the expressions on the faces of the people on the zip line ride now, over at Zip World.

Zip World is “an attraction”. You can hear the whoops of the riders on it from where I live. My new toy adds a whole new dimension to it.

 

I’ll miss the mountains of course,that goes without saying, and even more so now that I can see individual sheep on the slopes through my binoculars.

 

And so I’ll start packing shortly, then have breakfast, then do some admin, then write for a while, then go on holiday.

It’s funny, it’s like I’ve stepped through the looking glass, into a topsy turvy world where my day to day life is a daydream, a break. How lucky am I that I can’t wait for a holiday abroad to finish, so that I can fly home and get back to work.

Well, I’d better get packing. My girlfriend has inspired me to get it done umpteen times already this morning. Bloody holidays, getting in the way of my fun!