St. Davids Cathedral May 29th 2019
Calan are a five-piece band that feature superb musicianship on fiddles, guitar, harp and bagpipes, they deliver Welsh traditional music and song to new, ever-growing audiences worldwide. Since 2008 Calan have been singing and playing songs and tunes covering folk story, ballads, jigs and danceable, foot-stomping instrumentals.
St Davids Cathedral was a great venue for their music and the beautiful and subtly lit walls and vaulted ceilings were a perfect backdrop for a concert as part of the St Davids Cathedral festival. To kick off the evening the new Dean of the cathedral, Very Revd Dr Sarah Rowland Jones, gave an informative, appropriate address and then introduced the band to a packed audience.
Calan’s first duo of tunes featured bagpipes played by Patrick Rimes and called Dennis and Polcal. The sound seemed to fill the huge space and envelope the audience, instantly the quality of the music became apparent. The band then launched into Gwdihwshoes with twin fiddles played by Patrick and Angharad Sian Jenkins. This track incorporated another unique feature of Calan’s live performances – clog dancing by accordion player Bethan Williams-Jones. A joy to behold and listen to, it gave the track an instant percussive element. There followed a track introduced as a tribute to one of the band’s heroes and hilariously renamed Ryan Jigs and featured some accomplished harp by Shelley Musker-Turner.
One of the great things about traditional British folk music is story songs. These are nearly always tragic and usually include someone dying. Sounds depressing? No, it’s all part of the tradition and you end up going along with the sad tales. So next up was a perfect example of this and its worth just telling the story behind the song. Jane from the 1800’s lived in a small village where everyone knew each other well. She was viciously assaulted and ended up pregnant out of wedlock. The times being totally different to modern life meant she had to leave the village in disgrace. She ended up sitting next to a river and watching the trout swim past and decided to join them in their freedom at the bottom of the river. She left a note on the river bank asking to be forever forgotten. The track was called Yr Eneth Ga’dd ei Gwrthod but was also introduced in English as The Forgotten Maiden. Sam Humphreys created some beautiful guitar sections for this which seemed to lift the sad tale.
Three more songs filled the first half of the evening. These all featured contributions on a variety of instruments and were titled Deio i Dywyn, Madame Fromage and Synnwyr Solomon.
It was worth wandering this beautiful cathedral in the interval. The history filled nooks and crannies and the elaborate decoration at every turn seemed to lend even more atmosphere to the music. It was easy to imagine the generations of local people who had revered this great place of worship approving and enjoying Calan’s performance.
The second set started with Hayes & Quinn’s, an instrumental piece written for friends who were getting married. Pat The Lucky Dog followed, this was a song about lucky things and how we make our own luck in life. This featured the twin fiddles of Patrick and Angharad again. Throughout the performance there was some ongoing banter about Patrick needing a lift after the gig to as far north as people were going. ‘At least to Cardigan,’ he asked hopefully. By this point in the show he had a firm offer but tried, amidst laughter from the band and audience, to increase the distance he could get to by offering a free Calan CD. Apparently, according to Angharad this situation should soon be resolved when he takes his fourth driving test. Cue more laughter and comments – he was making his own luck.
Three songs titled Jêl Caerdydd, Rew di Ranno, Pe Cawn i Hon followed. We were coming to the end of a memorable performance and the next offering was one this reporter thought he would vote for as the best song of the evening. This was Kân, a combination of Welsh-language, originality and contemporary twists sung in a chant (almost a rap) that paid tribute to a Welsh tradition of Psalm chanting. The track included drones and beats in a musical conversation on the future of Welsh language and culture. The last track was, Big D, bringing to an end a storming set. It was slightly longer than most that evening, but benefitted from being so. Another opportunity arose to incorporate clog dancing this time with Patrick as well as Bethan seated and creating a unique rhythm to the musical backdrop. This concert featured a band totally at home in the cathedral and playing almost in overdrive with the track’s reels and hornpipes showcasing Calan’s mastery of their brand of Welsh folk with huge accomplishment. Minutes later, the encore arrived amidst loud cheering and clapping. This was The Dancing Stag and was more of the above sizzling folk with another stint of solo tap dancing from Bethan adding to the high tempo folk arrangement.
A memorable evening, hopefully the cathedral will host more similar events in the future.