To celebrate St David’s Day, the Arctic Circle (presenters of the Daylight Music sessions) had the inspired idea of bringing a Welsh flavour to their regular event at the Union Chapel in Islington. This was achieved by inviting three of the best emissaries for the ‘land of song’ that you could wish for: The Gentle Good , Katell Keinig and Richard James who, between them, brought more than enough hwyl to gladden the heart and lift the spirits of those present.
The Gentle Good (aka Gareth Bonello) opened the proceedings with a set drawn largely from his current album Y Bardd Anfarwol which, regular readers will remember, featured in FRUK’s Best of 2013 list as well as being our Album of the Month for December. But Gareth is equally at home on a stage as he is in a studio and his performance at Daylight Music was testimony to that. Particular highlights for me were Hiraeth Am Feirion (a traditional song from his debut album While You Slept I Went Out Walking), Aubade (from Tethered for the Storm) and a rendition of Brwydr An Lushan (from Y Bardd Anfarwol) which was no less mesmerising for being performed without the lush arrangement of the album version. And as if this musical feast wasn’t enough, he was joined onstage by Richard James (of whom, more later) for Yfed Gyda’r Lleuad, perhaps one of the most lyrical drinking songs ever written.
Katell Keinig‘s restless muse brought her to London for a rare live appearance; no longer resident in New York, these days she seems to be endlessly criss-crossing the Celtic diaspora, so her set at Daylight Music was very welcome, as the audience’s warm reception showed. For a musician with as peerless a repertoire as Katell’s, the biggest problem in compiling a setlist must surely be deciding which songs to leave out, rather than which to include; thankfully we were treated to a selection that ranged from St Martin to Gulf Of Araby (complete with an a capella introduction of Balm In Gilead), with a new song (Graviton) and a cover version (Animal, by Miike Snow) thrown in for good measure. But it’s Katell’s stage presence which made this performance so very special; deceptively unassuming, the poetry of her lyric-writing burns with a luminous intensity and the gorgeous acoustic environment of the Union Chapel was the ideal setting for her phenomenal vocal range. She’s currently finishing songs for her fifth album and I, for one, am certainly looking forward to it.
The closing session was left to Richard James who, in many ways, epitomises the term ‘working musician’: although he initially found a degree of public recognition as a founder of ex Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, he has more recently been involved with Pen Pastwn, which evolved from the house band of In Chapters (a Cardiff-based music and literary event) – but with his fourth solo album recently completed, he’s clearly not one to let the grass grow under his feet. Additionally, he and musical sparring partner The Gentle Good (Gareth) are working on a collaborative project which it’s hoped will be finished before 2014 is out; it’s a partnership which is already bearing fruit if this live performance was any measure. Taking the stage along with Gareth (who provided acoustic guitar and harmony vocals), the degree of empathy between the two was a sight to behold: a flowing and seamless performance where the songs were given room to breathe and stand for themselves. Once again the venue’s acoustic space offered an ideal setting for the intricacies of the musicians’ playing, the sound spiralling up into the rafters and filling the auditorium.
I could have happily sat and listened to a lot more of this, unfortunately the twin constraints of the venue’s music license and Gareth’s commitments elsewhere meant that this brief taster of future possibilities was all that was on offer. Still, it was a fine session all round and a real treat to hear three such talented and highly individual musicians performing in the same place and for that I’m grateful.
Review by: Helen Gregory