The first Bang Bangor gig, Hendre Hall
You may already know this. I blogged about it here.
Last night was the inaugural Bang Bangor gig at Hendre Hall, North Wales' most convivial and mediaeval (feeling) venue. In the space of a week, it would be difficult to find a greater contrast to the mostly slick, urban venues of Cardiff without visiting Outer Mongolia or the Amazonian Barfly.
Due to half-term induced parental responsibilities I arrive at the venue after the first two artists have performed. I have already seen John Lawrence at the very same venue and written about it here. But I was disappointed to have missed him, nonetheless. The atmosphere tonight was far more conducive to enjoying John's music than it had been at the Melys gig a few weeks back. There would have been no surf of chatter to obliterate his thoughtful lyrics or eloquent musicianship.
I'm slightly surprised to see tables and flickering candles on the dancefloor. There is a fire in the grate. It's as if we've been warped back to simpler times. I get my iPhone out to Tweet a picture of the venue and feel embarrassed at my nouveau gaucheness.
This old world ambience is, however, particularly appropriate for a night of contemporary folk music. And contemporary the music most definitely is.
Having your roots in a tradition doesn't disqualify you from relevance or the 'now'. We create our own 'now', anyway, and if artists wish to do that using their voices and instruments to reinterpret songs from bygone eras then that is as contemporary as making music in a hail of filtered ones and zeroes, by my reckoning.
Actually, there is an important - I feel - philosophical point to be made here. Judging any form of music on its old-ness or new-ness is a surrender to the triumph of form over substance. Folk musicians understood long before many other musicians that the power of a song comes from whoever performs it whenever they perform it. The artist is the unique factor in the equation. There has only been one of them, the artist, that is. You don't get any more unique than that.
But I'm being overtly obtuse to make my point, I think.
Visiting Hendre Hall to hear folk music harks back to a simpler time but still, absolutely, has a contemporary resonance. These people aren't Luddites and fantasists.
Mary Hampton, one of the headliner, James Yorkston's, Big Eye Family Players, is on stage as I stumble inside. She has a voice that sails around the wooden ceilinged venue in a most beguiling fashion. Every now and then it leaps up through the roof or down through the slate floor, caterwauling and scarring the song's words into your conscience. I didn't hear anyone sing like that at Swn! If these are old tricks and techniques to imbue drama into songs and command the attention of the audience then they're much less conservative than the current vogue for hod-carrying a tune.
Actually, I did hear someone do something similar at Swn: Marina from Marina and the Diamonds... but I can't elaborate because any further mentions of Marina on these blogs and the Monopolies Commission will be knocking on the BBC's well-knocked door.
9bach are the band I have travelled 80 miles to see on a night when an early bed would have been the sensible course of action.
Their eponymous debut album on Gwymon filters traditional Welsh folk songs through the widescreen, yet intimate, influence of Portishead and Massive Attack. The electronic influence isn't explicit on stage... 9bach perform mostly on acoustic instruments. But the old instrumentation eddies and shifts in a way that has most definitely been influenced by the works of Barrow et al.
Lisa's voice is a wonder worth the travel to witness in its own right. It reaches out from her and curls its fingers around our hearts, squeezing or caressing according to the emotions of each individual song.
They perform note perfect renditions of the songs on the album, sullied only by a very squeaky back door and the interference from a mobile phone that revels in its own ironic appearance over the PA.
I thoroughly enjoyed it but it felt too perfect, too rehearsed, perhaps. I wanted to get battered about by the real emotional under currents of the album. I wanted the band to cut loose, bring the devil out of themselves some more. I think they were hampered by a booming on-stage sound. The moment the drummer hit the bass drum with any conviction the sound reverberated around the stage making it impossible for the other musicians to hear anything.
But these are minor criticisms. 9bach are a very fine band, indeed, and there is scope for them to become even better.
I wasn't going to hang around to see James Yorkston and the Big Eye Family Players. By this stage, it was almost midnight and I was starting to hallucinate after my indulgences at Swn Festival.
"I'll listen to one song and clear off," was my intention.
I was still there at the end. Marvelling at the easy grace and fireside manner of his interpretations of a number of modern folk standards. Between song banter was good. We heard some wonderful arrangements and were elevated by he and his band's modest mastery of their source material.
Old fashioned this might be, to some, but the warmth that enveloped me all the way home is as magic today as the first time it was conjured.