Arenig – Gwilym Bowen Rhys
A native of Bethel in North West Wales, Gwilym Bowen Rhys has been singing in his native language since he was a boy, and has a deep understanding and knowledge of the rich heritage contained within the music and language of his home country.
His first album ‘O Groth y Ddaear’ was released in 2016 and was shortlisted for best Welsh language album of the year. ‘Arenig’, his third release, continues the journey he undertook in 2016 by unearthing and exploring the abundant and vibrant history of traditional Welsh music and language using updated arrangements and instrumentation.
Musically the styles on the record vary. The opening ‘Yr Hosan Las’ could be described as a fusion of traditional Celtic music and swing which, perfectly suits this merry tongue and cheek boastful tale of lust. ‘Er Fy Ngwaethaf’ opens with mournful harmonica and develops into a folk-tinged ballad of regret for lost loves, times and friends. The title track ‘Arenig’ is an ethereal and vibrant tribute to the Welsh mountain Arenig Fawr, that began life as a poem composed by Bowen Rhys’s Great Uncle, Euros Bowen. Cleverly using an original voice recording soundtracked to a captivating arrangement it allows Euros Bowen’s voice to grasp and enthrall the listener from beyond the grave.
The standout song in the collection is the 14th-century ‘Byta Dy Bres’, credited here to the medieval Welsh poet Siôn Cent. Bown Rhys presents it as a percussive brooding blues tune combining harp harmonica and fiddle that builds to an exciting climax around Bowen Rhys’s gravel edged vocal. The song is a scathing attack on the scouring of the earth for commercial gains by the industrialists of the time and, over five hundred years later, with the world reeling from the effects of climate change the message of the song presented here has lost none of its potency or urgency.
When every river is black and every oak is withered and every orchard is shrivelled and dry in the heat, then try and eat your money.
Inspired by an old Welsh legend, ‘Jeri Bach Gogerddan’ is a fiddle led instrumental based on the story of the king of the Welsh gypsies introducing the first fiddle to Wales.
Recording the music in an atmosphere that encouraged improvisation in the studio has delivered a record that feels both live and spontaneous, and with ‘Arenig’, Bowen Rhys has created a collection of music and songs that transcends time itself.
‘Arenig’ is out now on Erwydd Records and available at Gwilym Bowen Rhys’s website.