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Live: Beyond The Marches/Dros y Ffin, Cecil Sharp House, London, 04 May 2015 (FRUK)

May 6, 2015


The Beyond The Marches/Dros y Ffin project originated as a joint commission between EFDSS and trac Cymru to bring together six contemporary folk musicians from Wales and England to create new work from the national archives of the two nations. Having spent an intensive few days researching, composing and rehearsing, the musicians (Elan Rhys, Patrick Rimes, Georgia Ruth Williams, Archie Churchill-Moss, David Gibb and Lucy Ward) then took to the road to play a trio of gigs in Aberystwyth and Cardiff, culminating in a final performance at Cecil Sharp House in London.

The audience was treated to a highly professional set shot through with the musicians’ enthusiasm and evident love for their source material, meticulously collected and compiled to produce an absorbing and enjoyable evening. Traditional songs, tunes and lyrics were woven together in a fascinating tapestry with its roots in cultural and musical heritages from both sides of Offa’s Dyke which was far more than just the sum of its parts.


The various constraints of the project limited the work that could be done; nevertheless it’s to the group’s credit that they were able to come up with such a tantalising insight into what’s possible. A range of themes had been identified and included, from traditional folk formats, stories of various characters both real and fictional, songs arising from agricultural and industrial backgrounds, instrumental pieces, protest songs and, last but definitely not least, woman-centred folk music (more of this, please!)

To pull all these strands together required a range of musical techniques which would be a test for even the most experienced musician yet, despite their comparatively young ages, the group were more than a match for the task. Using a combination of compilations of similar musical sources, a considerable amount of swapping between instruments and what Lucy called ‘macaronic’ arrangements – a mixture of languages used in the same context – the set ebbed and flowed quite seamlessly and the evening passed by in a flash.


Thus we were treated to, for example, a melding of songs like ‘Lord Randell’ and ‘Cweiriwch fy Ngwely’ / ‘Mab annwyl dy fam’, both equally well-known in their respective countries, sharing a common story, where the lyrics from both languages were sung in a question and answer form.

The various group members’ introductions to the songs were both instructive and amusing; a case in point being David’s relating of finding an inspiring lyric with no apparent tune (‘Cosher Bailey’), sitting down and working something out, only to put it to the rest of the group to be told that not only did it have a tune but it also existed in a parallel form in the Welsh folk music tradition. Similarly, appreciative laughter followed Archie’s tale of how, having been determined to teach Patrick some “proper” English reels, was left crestfallen when Patrick told him that, yes, ‘The Dawn’ and ‘The Duke Of Cornwall’ were tunes that he was familiar with from the Cardiff folk scene.


‘All Jolly Fellows That Follow The Plough’ and its Welsh language equivalent were given a macaronic and foot-stomping arrangement, allowing Georgia and Elan’s immaculate harmony singing to shine; while ‘Fairest And Dearest’, ‘The King’s Own Farewell’ and ‘Dafydd Rhys’ Dream’ owed its inspiration to a chance remark by Robin Huw Bowen (the leading exponent of the Welsh Triple Harp), who the group met at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. Georgia displayed her own talent as a harpist in a very sweet cover of ‘Spencer The Rover’; it’s another tune which is to be found in many forms across both England and Wales and the group’s arrangement, which included Elan on autoharp, Patrick on flageolet and Lucy on shruti, demonstrated how creatively successful these cross-cultural fusions can be.

With the huge wealth of source material in the combined archives, the flexibility of the project’s brief and the limited time available, the musicians rose to the challenge to shine a spotlight on what can be done with the resources. The result exceeded expectations and, if anything, cries out for the project to be continued and expanded into the longer term. Whether this will happen remains to be seen but, at the very least, it would be wonderful if the results so far could be made available to a wider audience through a CD release of the material created by this talented and enthusiastic group.

Originally posted at Folk Radio UK (06 May 2015)


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