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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PESDA ROC 2017

This recent Bank Holiday saw the return of Bethesda’s annual celebration of live music, “Pesda Roc” at Neuadd Ogwen.

The weekend kicked off on Saturday night, with intimate sets from Lastigband, Argrph, Phalcons, and Dj Delweddau Hen Dduwiau in the bar; but there was a definite buzz surrounding Sunday’s upcoming climax of the two day festival; local legends Maffia Mr Huws were back.

Brython Shag opened the Sunday night; not an easy band to pigeonhole. Opening number “Bywyd Ei Hon” (“Life Itself”) could be an eighties alt-rock anthem, but before you know it, you’re deep in Ian Dury/Blockhead territory; Deian Jones’ funky bass pumping up the crowd on the dance floor.

Vocalist Ceri Cunnington meanwhile, wanders the stage like a man with no control over his limbs. It’s a captivating, if chaotic performance; at one point, during a delightfully new wave/punk pop, Summer infused “Sana Gwyn A Sandals” (“White Socks And Sandals”), Cunnington almost cuts off the start of a sparkling solo from guitarist Gai Toms.

Sadly, their set had to be cut short; there were three bands waiting to play. They closed with “Dwnsia Ne Granda” (“Dance Or Listen”), and this reviewer was left wishing there had been more time available to do both. They are most definitely on the “Listen Again” list.

Next up were Radio Rhydd. In these days of X-Factor/No Talent nightmares, let’s be grateful there are still angry young men like Radio Rhydd making real music; and urging us to smash up and burn our TVs.

Vocalist Cai O’Marah embodied the bands’ passionate outrage; rasping and ranting and rapping his way topless on stage, singing like a man on a mission to spread the word.

The fact that they grew up listening to and being inspired by Maffia Mr Huws is beyond any doubt really; although they do add their own white, urban hip-hop touch to the punk and reggae mix of their local heroes.

A furious “Bernard Bancs” kicked off the set; Radio Rhydd meant business.

Four songs in, and Brython Shag’s Ceri Cunnington is invited back on stage for “Cariad a Chymuned”, and the audience goes wild.

Drums ticked like a Doomsday Clock approaching midnight, during closing number “Croeso Ir Apocalypse” (“Welcome The Apocalypse”). Radio Rhydd were having a blast, and so were the audience. But there was still one more band to go before the much anticipated return of Maffia Mr Huws.

That penultimate band being Ffug.

The band opened with the spindly instrumental “Be My Friend”, before things turned heavy glam with “Anorexic Alcoholic”. By the time “Love Is Stupid” kicked in, three young skateboarders were leaning against a wall to one side of the venue, nodding their heads in time to the frantic beat, while a group of middle aged men jumped up and down across the room like it was 1977, and a woman shook and swirled around in the middle of the dance floor. Ffug, it appears, have something for everyone who likes their music heavy and loud. It’s hard to imagine such a large noise is coming from the four slight and skinny lads on stage.

Vocalist Iolo Seyfl snarls like Cobain one minute, before switching to a sneer that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Japan album.

Billy Morley’s guitar sleazed and seduced during a slinking, mid set “Speedboat Dreaming”, whilst Henry Jones (bass) and Joey Robbins (drums) smashed their way through “Are You With Us?”; the kind of song you can imagine hearing while the credits roll, at the end of a particularly fast and furiously explosive action movie.

But now it was the moment everyone had been waiting for; Maffia Mr Huws were ready to rock, and the crowd were ready to enjoy. No one was disappointed.

The band hit the stage running with “Newyddion Heddiw” and the crowd went wild; not least the singers of Brython Shag and Radio Rhydd, who stormed onto the dance floor, along with the rest of the fans.

This was old skool punk rock, with a heady dose of reggae thrown in.

When the band started playing “Yr Addewid”, Radio Rhydd’s Cai O’Marah could no longer contain his enthusiasm and climbed on stage; the mic being handed to him by Maffia Mr Huws’ lead vocalist, Hefin Huws. The mic could have been a baton of musical heritage, being passed on from one generation to the next.

Maybe it’s something in the Bethesda water, because towards the end of the set, both O’Marah and Brython Shag’s Ceri Cunnington were back on stage with the headliners; hijacking the mics, while Huws proved that original punks still know how to rebel with style. He lit a cigarette and stood back; allowing the young ones another chance to shine. The crowd lapped up every moment.

The night ended with Maffia Mr Huws, the crowd, and the supporting acts all leaping around, having a whale of a time, and singing along to the motoring fury of “Gitar yn y To”.

Here’s to “Pesda Roc 2018”. This reviewer can’t wait.