I first heard the music of Cass Meurig and Nial Cain a few years ago (2009) on Blodeugerdd – (song of the flowers): An Anthology of Welsh Music and Song. A wonderful compilation which was released on Smithsonian Folkways and was produced and annotated by Ceri Rhys Matthews who recently wrote a great feature for us (Rambles Through Tunes).
Cass is, as well as one of Wales’s foremost crwth players (ancient bowed lyre) and a fine fiddler, a musical academic who edited, annotated and published an 18th century fiddlers tune book “Alawon John Thomas”. She has been a member of fernhill, playing on several albums, also Pigyn Clust, and released the first cd of crwth music in 2004, called Crwth.
As well as being a time served violin maker, Nial comes from a background of playing music predominantly for dancing and has played bass guitar, double bass, acoustic guitar, mandolin and fiddle in ceilidh bands since the seventies, and was lucky enough to be taught fiddle by Tyneside legend J Forster Charlton. He grew up in North Wales, and moved back from Newcastle in 2000, shortly after this meeting Cass and starting to collaborate musically.
Their latest album Oes i Oes uses a range of sources from obscure unpublished collections, nursery rhymes as well as new material. One of the initial attractions to this album was the warmth and familiarity at its heart. Nial provided me with some background for the album which included this extract:
“…they hope to bring to their interpretations of Welsh Traditional Music a feeling of intimacy and emotional communication, the human dimension to playing that seems quite often to have been lost in modern recordings compared with the great acoustic folk albums of the seventies and eighties.”
On the Blodeugerdd antholology Cass said this of their music:
“We aim for the conversational, the intimate, a dialogue between old friends. Coming from the stark beauty of he mountains surrounding us and the warmth of shared music around a fireside, our songs, tunes, and compositions respect the tradition and are played from the heart.”
Both statements are honest and also very humble, whilst maintaining a respect for Welsh Traditional Music they are playing a crucial part in breathing new life into it. The opening Saith Rhyfeddod (Seven Wonders) is a lovely song which reads like a riddle where nothing is normal.
This sets the scene so well, listening to this album was a pleasurable escape…Cass’s soft dreamy vocals are mesmerising, the Welsh language was definitely made for singing as Cass ably demonstrates throughout and especially on Clychau Aberdyfi (The Bells of Aberdyfi).
The combination of guitar, crwth and fiddle and sublime vocals draw you ever deeper on each listen. This album has a magic all of its own, and it’s the likes of this that raises the profile of Welsh Tradtional music which is why I think the statements from Cass and Nial above are so humble.
There is poem by Diarmuid Johnson that sprang to mind after hearing this album. It’s called ‘Another Language‘ which I first heard on the album ‘yscolan‘ by ceri rhys matthews & beverley evans. Just read it below I think my motives will become very clear…
We speak another language
Time has made it smooth
As the river makes the stone smooth.
It is a language teeming with light
But the light pales
The words become wooden
When spoken in translation
Because the river will flow
In one bed only
The light will teem
Only in droplets
From a single source.
We speak another language
And when we do
Skylarks fly off the tongue
The sounds are purple berries
‘Abhainn’ ‘solas’ – ‘River’ ‘light’
The words tell us things
As words will
But in their meaning
There is a journey
To a continent rich in harbourage
And when we sing
The boats race homeward
On a quick tide.
I won’t say anymore about this album you can listen to it in full below and I’ve included a wealth of track information below (thanks Nial) …other than to say it is a thing of great beauty and I could happily listen to it all day and not tire of it!
Oes i Oes is released on 3rd December and can be ordered via bandcamp as digital download or physical CD.
1 Saith Rhyfeddod – Seven Wonders
A children’s version of the seven wonders of the world. The tune at the end is Mynydd yr Heliwr (the huntsman’s mountain), by Stephen Rees.
2 Clychau Aberdyfi – The Bells of Aberdyfi
A love song connected to the tale of Cantre’r Gwaelod, the submerged land beneath Cardigan Bay. It is said that the bells of the drowned churches can be heard on stormy nights in Aberdyfi.
3 Cathod – Cats
A children’s song followed by an old tune called Cainc Gruffydd Rowland y Crythor (Gruffydd Rowland the Crowther’s tune).
4 Mari a Fi – Mari and Me
A love song with an unusually happy ending. The tune in the middle is called Gari Owen.
5 Alawon John Thomas – John Thomas’s Tunes
Three tunes from Alawon John Thomas, Cass’ edition of the tunes collected by a fiddler who lived in north east Wales during the first half of the eighteenth century.
6 Margiad ych Ifan – Margiad Daughter of Ifan
A set of tunes and verses connected to the Llanberis area; the first tune is Bwlch Llanberis (Llanberis pass) and the one at the end is Moel yr Wyddfa (Snowdon’s bald summit). Nial wrote the middle tune. Margiad ych Ifan lived in Brynrefail during the eighteenth century and tales of her feats are still remembered locally. Remarkable for her strength, she was a blacksmith, kept hounds and rowed copper ore down lakes Peris and Padarn from a mine on Snowdon. She could also make and play the harp and compose.
7 Robin Goch – Red Robin
The tunes were collected by Iolo Morganwg in the late eighteenth century and bear the name of an ancient bardic metre, cywydd deuair fyrion. The verses are taken from nursery rhyme collections.
8 O Mari – Oh Mari
A song from South Wales which used to be sung whilst driving oxen. Cass learned it from Esyllt Harker. The tunes following it are called Ffarwel Ned Puw and Plygiad y Bedol Fach (little horse shoe bend).
9 Da Gen I – What I Like
Nial named the first tune Llwybr y Llwynog (the fox’s path) after a precipitous path in the vast Dinorwig quarry. The tunes in the middle are called Mantell y Ffoles (the foolish girl’s mantle) and Ffoles Llantrisant (the foolish girl from Llantrisant).
10 Yr Hen Wr – The Old Man
Old verses set to the harp tune Syr Harri Ddu (black Sir Harry). The tune in the middle is a 3/2 hornpipe called Shropshire Lasses.