From Dolgellau, a small town in Meirionydd, the heartland of Welsh-speaking Wales, comes Gwerinos, an irreverent and fun folk sextet with a strong sense of place.
Their 1994 debut album, titled simply Di-didl-lan, is in some ways one of the best Welsh folk albums I've heard, in the way it captures musically what it means to be a Cymro (a Welsh speaker) in our age. Self-deprecating, but at the same time they are resolved to go on being who they are. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, often at the pub and proud of their little corner of the world, a little unsure of its future, but in the end, as Welsh bard Dafydd Iwan would say, "still here."
What I like about this album is the many ways this band expresses its musical personality. There are original tunes, traditional airs, tender ballads, songs about drinking all night, songs of hiraeth (longing) and songs of ffarwel for the beautiful region around Cadair Idris, the imposing mountain landmark above the town of Dolgellau, including the fine local ballad "Llyn Gwernan." The Welsh language lyrics are sung in the strong regional accents of that community.
In its variety, this CD comes close to doing for the region of Meirionydd what Stan Rogers' classic "Fogarty's Cove" did for the eastern shore of Nova Scotia, a loving musical portrait from many complementary perspectives. But the sense I get from this album is that these folksingers wouldn't admit to any such aspirations, they're just having some fun.
The fun starts with "Fy Allwedd I Afallon (My Key to Avalon)," an uptempo acoustic number with a "you don't know what you have 'til its gone" theme, followed by the traditional "C‰n Joni'r Blodwen (Joni's Song of the Blodwen)," a rollicking voice and percussion number about a sea journey, then a set of three exuberant jigs. "Mil harddach wyt" is a beautiful lullaby, then comes a rousing, hasty "Moliannwn" with tongue firmly in cheek.
"Morfa'r Frenhines (The Queen's Marsh)" and "Yn Ynys Dywyll" are lovely traditional airs that take the tempo down a bit -- sandwiched between fun pieces like ""Di-didl-lan" (the title speaks for itself) and "Hogia Ni," a song about the street festivel in Dolgellau, the Sesiwn Fawr.
The set closes with a rousing "Ffarwel i dre Porthmadog" and "Amser Cau (Closing Time)," with its memorable images about the fellow who hangs around for just one more ... and just one more ... at the pub. Part of the culture, too!
All in all, a tour de force for band members Elfed ap Gomer, Emlyn Gomer, Huw Dylan, Tony Hodgson, Dan Morris and Ywain Myfyr, none of whom stand out as instrumentalists or vocalists, but all of whom appear to contribute.
Not bad for a band that styles itself as Gwerinos, or simply "the rabble."