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.

9 Bach

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.

9 Bach 2

(Photographs by Denise Baker)

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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!

Living The Dream #2 Mind Your Language

I was sitting sipping overpriced coffee from a tiny cup, in a nondescript hotel bar in the centre of the city. The wafer thin biscuit they’d put on the teeny saucer was no compensation for the miserly brew.

There were more mirrors than walls in the place. I guess the owners either wanted to make the bar look bigger, or were catering for a clientele that was very much in love with itself. I suspect it was the latter.

 

Anyway, I was there with a small cast of fellow actors. See what I mean about the clientele? (That was a joke by the way. A lot of the actors I’ve met are racked with self-doubt). We were rehearsing for two murder mysteries coming up later that month. I say “rehearsing”, but there are no scripts for these 3 hours + performances. They are totally improvised. What we were doing was cementing our characters’ backgrounds and connections.

 

If on the night of a performance for example, someone asked my character what colour my fiance’s front door is, my answer would match my fiance’s; or indeed that of any other actor whose character might have visited my fiancé on a regular basis. Yes, we go into that much detail, even though the chances of being asked to confirm the colour of a door are slim to say the least, but it has happened.

 

When we’d finished figuring out where we’d all been on what dates, and with whom, and what colours our respective doors were, we settled down for a natter, and I somehow had to find a way to subtly steer the conversation around to the subject of my imminent move to North Wales of course.

 

“Did I tell you I’m moving to North Wales next month?!” I declared, out of the blue; already swiping through my tablet, looking for photos of where I was moving to, which my girlfriend had teasingly sent to me via Messenger. And as for my grin, well I doubt I’ve worn a smile that wide since I was a child on Christmas Eve, telling my parents that Santa was coming.

 

“Yes”, said my poor beleaguered colleagues with a collective sigh. Undeterred, I continued. “It’s the language I’m worried about” I confessed. At which point, a young Polish actor piped up.

“Do not worry. Everybody speaks English there” she said, with a better grasp of English than many native speakers I’ve met over the years. Nevertheless, she was wrong.

 

“Not where I’m moving to. About 80% of the population are Welsh speakers where I’ll be living” I explained. Another actor (and fellow writer) confirmed this. “They’re massive on the language in North Wales, very passionate about it”.

 

To illustrate my dilemma, I mentioned about the time just recently, during a visit there, when I’d almost lost my cash card to the local ATM. I’d been on auto pilot at the time, and had forgotten to choose the “English” option on the touch screen. I was suddenly staring at a string of letters that made no sense to me at all.

I opted for the Big Red Button with a massive X on it, then snatched my card out of the slot, and started again.

 

Even after my move, it took me five months to figure out that we weren’t driving past Gwasanaethau Services every time we drove into the village, but that “Gwasanaethau” was the Welsh word for services. In my defence, I was usually distracted by the spectacular scenery during those journeys.

 

I have also had to tackle the toilet problem since moving here, not knowing the Welsh for either “Ladies” or “Gents”. Often there are pictures on doors to help you out; the basic trouser/skirt combination usually does the trick.

But a few months back, I did my first bit of acting work around these parts; as an extra in a Welsh Soap*. We were on location in a church, and during a break I needed to pee. Off I went to the loo, only to return a minute or two later. I approached another actor.

 

“Excuse me, I need the toilet and…”

“They’re just out the door, turn left, then left again” the actor directed.

“Erm…I don’t know which is the Gents” I confessed sheepishly.

The actor told me which door to go through, and I went off again, praying I wasn’t about to be set up for some traditional prank that the Welsh like to play on us English**.

 

I know two Welsh words so far; “know” as being able to speak them, spell them, and know what they mean. The first word is “Llys”*** and the other is “Diolch”. It’s a start.

 

Speaking of “starts” and the Welsh language, my first Welsh Beginner’s lesson is tomorrow morning; which also happens to be my 54th birthday. My girlfriend has suggested I ask her fourteen year old son (aka “The Youth”) to help me out, bless her naïve cotton socks. I’m sure we all know how that would work out.

 

ME: What’s the Welsh for “I like your hair”

 

THE YOUTH: Erm…it’s “Rwyf wrth fy modd â’ch gwaelod”**** (wanders off sniggering to himself)

 

It never crossed my mind not to learn Welsh once I knew I’d be moving here. Why would it? After all, during that rehearsal just over a year ago, my Polish friend never once expected us to understand Polish, in order for us to communicate.

 

“Ah, but Wales is a part of the United Kingdom, and the official language of the UK is English”, some have argued; to which my reply is “cau i fyny!”

 

Anyway, we’ll see soon enough whether it’s possible to teach this old dog some new tricks, but until then, diolch for reading.

*The soap is called “Rownd A Rownd”

**For the record, I consider myself a Yorkshire-man first and foremost

***See Living The Dream #1

**** This joke will only work if the translation is correct.

Living The Dream #1 Translation Experiment

“Ydych chi erioed wedi difaru symud yma?” Gofynnodd ffrind, wrth i ni sefyll yn y drws ystafell wydr a gwylio cynnydd yn lleuad llawn dros y goedwig silwedig, i’r chwith o’r byngalo symudais i mewn i flwyddyn yn ôl i’r dydd.

Gwelwyd y wiwer goch yn y goedwig honno yn ddiweddar. Nid wyf wedi gweld un fy hun eto, ond rhowch amser iddo. Mae hwn yn le lle mae’n rhaid i chi aros am bethau, hyd yn oed pan fyddwch ar frys.

 

Yr unig synau y gallem eu clywed ar y pryd oedd y twit a dau o ddau dylluanod yn gorwedd rhywle yn y coed cyfagos, a fy anhwylderau anhygoel fy hun wrth ofyn y cwestiwn dwp hwn eto; a chan gyfaill sy’n ddeallus iawn.

 

I fod yn deg i’m ffrind a’r chwilwyr blaenorol hynny, mae’n bosib y byddaf yn colli rhai agweddau ar fy mywyd *. Roedd y cyfle i fod yng nghanol amgylchedd prysur a masnachol helaeth i ddechrau. Neu y cyfle i ddod i mewn i fy hoff siop gomic llyfr annibynnol ** a thori drwy’r nofelau graffeg pryd bynnag yr oeddwn eisiau. Yna roedd y tocynnau rhad ac am ddim a gefais yn rheolaidd; i fynd i’r theatr, yr opera, y bale, dangosiadau ffilm, a gigs cerddoriaeth, yn gyfnewid am adolygiad. Peidiwch ag anghofio y ffaith fy mod yn agos at fy nghynhonnell incwm sylfaenol ar y pryd, roedd Cwmni Mystery Murder I wedi ei ail-ddatgan; y gwaith a gymerodd i mi o gwmpas y wlad.

 

Roedd y rhain i gyd yn bethau yr wyf yn hapus i roi’r gorau iddi am gariad pan oeddwn yn codi ffynion ac yn symud y rhan fwyaf o’m nwyddau bydol i Ogledd Cymru, felly gallai fy nghariad a minnau setlo i lawr gyda’i gilydd. Symudom i mewn i gartref ysblennydd a ddarganfuwyd i’r ddau ohonom, yn agos at y man lle bu’n byw ers bron i 30 mlynedd.

Roedd gan ein cartref newydd ddigon o le ar gyfer ein casgliadau llyfrau cyfunol, ynghyd â rhywle arall y gallem barcio ein car a’n fan, ac mae lle i westai allu ffitio â’u cerbyd hefyd. Ddim yn gyffrous gan hynny? Byddech chi petaech chi’n byw o gwmpas yma.

 

Lle nad yw fy nghariad a minnau’n byw yn dawel, ond rydych chi’n fwy tebygol o weld gwiwer goch cyn i chi weld tŷ arall o fewn pellter cerdded i’n cartref sydd â pharcio oddi ar y ffordd a modurdy. Yn wir, rydych chi’n fwy tebygol o weld pentwr o gac ceffyl creigiog yn y ffordd.

Mae’r rhanbarth hon o’r wlad yn ddrysfa o lonydd cul, ac mae gan y rhan fwyaf o bobl yma y rhagwelediad i wthio eu drychau adain pan fyddant yn parcio eu cerbyd. Na, efallai na fyddai fy nghariad a minnau’n byw mewn palas, ond pan ddaw i barcio o gwmpas y rhannau hyn, rydym yn byw fel breindal.

 

Felly, mae fy hen ffrind a minnau yn sefyll yn y drws haul. Mae’r ystlumod eisoes wedi ein diddanu gyda’u sioe nos. Mae’r nosweithiau yn dod i mewn, ac felly mae’r sioeau hyn yn mynd yn gynharach gyda phob nosw.

Dilynodd un ystlum mor agos fel ein bod ni’n camu’n ôl, oherwydd ofn y gallai ein taro ni. Rydym wedi gweld dwy sêr saethu hyd yn hyn, a beth mae fy ffrind yn honni ei fod yn Venws. Gallai fod yn iawn. Mae cael gafael ar thelesgop da yn uchel ar y rhestr o bethau yr hoffwn eu gwneud, unwaith y byddaf yn gwneud digon o fyw boddhaol o’m ysgrifennu; er mwyn manteisio mwy ar y diffyg llygredd golau yma.

 

Roeddwn i’n gwybod y byddai’r un lleuad arian y byddai fy ffrind a minnau’n gwylio yn cwympo allan o’r tu ôl i’r treetops yn fuan yn disgleirio ar y ddau gopa mynydd y gallaf eu gweld o gefn y byngalo yn ystod y dydd.

Rydw i wedi byw yma am flwyddyn yn awr, ac yn gweld llwch eira y brigiau hynny yn ystod fy ail tymor yma. Ar hyn o bryd dyma’r adeg o’r flwyddyn pan fydd coed yn colli eu gwyrdd a throi aur a brown.

 

Pe baem yn sefyll ar ddrws y gegin, i flaen y byngalo, byddech chi bron yn gallu gwneud trydydd mynydd mynydd yn y pellter, wedi’i chwistrellu â goleuadau cartref oddi wrth un o’r pentrefi cyfagos; yn ogystal â’r goleuadau teithio prin hwyr y nos yn y car, beicwyr, neu gerddwr yn troi eu ffordd ar hyd un o’r lonydd. Yr unig sŵn i’w glywed o’r ochr hon i’n cartref fyddai pryfed rhaeadr, llai na phum munud o gerdded i ffwrdd.

 

Gallaf gofio munud o siom ar ein noson gyntaf yn y lle newydd pan glywais y swn honno, gan ei gamgymryd ar gyfer y tyfiant cyfarwydd o draffig y gallaf ei glywed yn gyson yn y cefndir pan oeddwn i’n byw yn Leeds. Roeddwn i’n arfer byw dim ond ugain munud o gerdded ar hyd y llwybr doll o ganol y ddinas; yn ddelfrydol i ddyn sy’n ceisio gwneud ei farc ar fap diwylliannol dinas fawr, ond nid yn union o gymorth i “fynd i ffwrdd o’r cyfan”.

Cymerodd foment neu bump i mi weithio allan mai’r swn yr oeddwn i’n gallu ei glywed, yn wir, yn ddŵr o un o’r ddwy afon gerllaw, yn cwympo dros y creigiau a’r cwymp, a pheidio â chwythu’r peiriannau, gyda’u gwyllt yn ysgogi gwenwynau i’r atmosffer.

 

Mae gan fy nghartref enw, nid rhif. Fe’i gelwir yn “Llys Menai”. Mae’n Gymraeg. Ystyr “Llys” yw neuadd, llys, neu palas o ryw fath; er fel y soniais eisoes, nid ydym yn byw mewn palas, rydym yn byw mewn byngalo.

Mae’r “Menai” yn yr enw yn le, fel yn yr Afon Menai cyfagos. Fodd bynnag, os ydych chi’n cyfieithu’r gair “Menai” o Lithwaneg i’r Saesneg, mae’n golygu “celf”.

 

Rwy’n hoffi hynny, mae’n briodol. Lle rydw i’n byw bellach yn hafan ar gyfer artistiaid, awduron, cerddorion, crewyr. Rwyf o fewn pellter cerdded i fynyddoedd, rhaeadrau, caeau, llynnoedd, afonydd, coedwigoedd, a gyrru pymtheg munud o arfordir Cymru. Ewch i arddangosfa gelf o gwmpas y rhannau hyn, ac rwy’n gwarantu y byddwch yn gweld mynyddoedd a’r môr yn cael eu harddangos. Rwy’n byw mewn Parc Cenedlaethol. Daw pobl am eu gwyliau yma. Yn wir, mae bwthyn gwyliau ar frig ein gyrfa.

 

Gan fod Northerner, dosbarth gweithgar lliw-wlân, yn byw mewn baradwys gwledig fel hyn, mae pethau breuddwydion; y math o freuddwydion sy’n gorfodi pobl i dreulio wythnos yn wythnosol allan mewn swydd y maent yn ei gasáu, fel y gallant fynd i ffwrdd a chuddio am bythefnos unwaith y flwyddyn, am wyliau.

Felly, wrth ateb y cwestiwn yr wyf wedi ei ofyn dro ar ôl tro dros y deuddeng mis diwethaf dywedais “Ydych chi wedi gweld lle rwy’n byw?”

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Living The Dream #1

“Do you ever regret moving here?” asked a friend, as we stood at the conservatory door and watched a full moon rise over the silhouetted forest, to the left of the bungalow I moved into a year ago to the day.

Red squirrels have been seen in that forest recently. I’ve not spotted one myself yet, but give it time. This is a place where you often have to wait for things, even when you’re in a hurry.

 

The only sounds we could hear at the time were the twit and twoo of two owls perched somewhere in the nearby trees, and my own incredulous silence at being asked this stupid question again; and by a supposedly intelligent friend.

 

To be fair to my friend and those previous inquisitors, it is possible I might miss certain aspects of my city life*. There was the opportunity to be at the centre of a busy and commercially abundant environment for a start. Or the chance to be able to pop into my favourite independent comic book shop** and browse through the graphic novels whenever I wanted. Then there were the many free tickets I received on a regular basis; to go the theatre, the opera, the ballet, film screenings, and music gigs, in return for a review. Not forgetting the fact I was close to my primary source of income at the time, a Murder Mystery Company *** I freelanced for; work that took me all around the country.

 

These were all things I happily gave up for love when I upped sticks and moved most of my worldly goods to North Wales, so my girlfriend and I could settle down together. We moved into a roomy home she’d found for the two of us, close to where she’d been living for nearly thirty years.

Our new home had plenty of space for our combined book collections, plus it also had somewhere we could park both our car and our van, and still have room for a guest to be able to fit their vehicle in as well. Not excited by that? You would be if you lived around here.

 

Where my girlfriend and I reside isn’t palatial, but you’re more likely to see a red squirrel before you spot another house within walking distance of our home that has both off road parking and a garage. In fact you’re more likely to see a pile of rocking horse shit in the road.

This region of the country is a maze of narrow winding lanes, and most people here have the foresight to push their wing mirrors in when they park their vehicle. No, my girlfriend and I might not live in a palace, but when it comes to parking around these parts, we live like royalty.

 

So, my old friend and I are stood at the conservatory door. The bats have already entertained us with their nightly show. The evenings are drawing in, and so these shows are getting earlier with every dusk.

One bat swooped so close as to make us step back, for fear it might hit us. We have seen two shooting stars so far, and what my friend claims to be Venus. He could be right. Getting hold of a good telescope is high on the list of things I want to do, once I make a decent enough living from my writing; in order to take more advantage of the lack of light pollution here.

 

I knew that the same silver moon my friend and I were watching creep out from behind the treetops would soon shine down on the two mountain peaks I can see from the back of the bungalow during the day.

I saw snow dust those peaks during my second season in this region. Right now it is that time of year when trees are losing their green and turning gold and brown.

 

If we were stood at the kitchen door, to the front of the bungalow, you would just about be able to make out a third mountain peak in the distance, sprinkled with home glows from one of the neighboring villages; as well as the rare late night travelling lights of a car, cyclist, or walker winding their way along one of the lanes. The only sound to be heard from this side of our home would be the rush of a waterfall, less than five minutes’ walk away.

 

I can remember a moment of disappointment on our first night in the new place when I heard that noise, mistaking it for the familiar growl of traffic I could constantly hear in the background when I lived in the city; a mere twenty minutes’ walk along the toll path from the city centre. This was ideal for a man trying to make his mark on the cultural map of a major city, but not exactly conducive to “getting away from it all”.

It took me a moment or five to work out that the noise I could hear was in fact water from one of the two nearby rivers, crashing over rocks and falling, and not the roar of engines, with their exhausts spewing poisons into the atmosphere.

 

My new home has a name, not a number. It is called “Llys Menai”. It is Welsh. “Llys” means hall, court, or palace of some sort; although as I’ve already mentioned, we don’t live in a palace, we live in a bungalow.

The “Menai” in the name is a place, as in the nearby Menai Straits. However, if you translate the word “Menai” from Lithuanian into English, it means “art”.

 

I like that, it is appropriate. Where I now live is a haven for artists, writers, musicians, creators. I am within walking distance of mountains, waterfalls, fields, lakes, rivers, woods, and a fifteen minute drive from the Welsh coast. Go to an art exhibition around these parts, and I guarantee you will see mountains and the sea on display. I live in a National Park. People come for their holidays here. In fact there is a holiday cottage at the top of our drive.

 

As a dyed-in-the-wool working class Northerner, residing in a rural paradise like this is the stuff of dreams; the kind of dreams that compel people to spend week in, week out in a job they hate, just so they can run away and hide for a fortnight once a year, for a holiday.

So, in answer to the question I’ve repeatedly been asked over the past twelve months I say “Have you seen where I live?”

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* That city being Leeds, Yorkshire

** OK Comics

*** Murder One