Blas y Pridd/Golau tan Gwmwl
(1979; Sain, 1990)
I recently found a copy of a 22-year old cassette of Plethyn's 1979 recording Blas y Pridd gathering dust in my father-in-law's collection. Plethyn, I found out later, was a legendary folk trio from Powys, Wales, formed in the 1970s by Linda Healy, John Gittins and Roy Griffiths. This was the Welsh-language band's first recording.
The tunes often sound familiar, but not -- in most cases -- the lyrics. Plethyn blends traditional songs with their own compositions in a framework of three voices, guitar and mandolin, often with lyrics by poet/dramatist Myrddin ap Dafydd.
Blas y Pridd is an inspired collection, and is free of the kind of nods to contemporary music styles that often make a record seem dated five years after it's released. (Well, except for the hairstyles on the cover photo!)
"Y Gwylliaid (The Bandits)" is a strong opening effort, a song about legendary Welsh outlaws and the attempts of the local landlord to "see them hanging at the fair," adapting the same traditional tune later used by Billy Bragg in "Thatcherites." Highlights include "Pentre Llanfihangel," a song about the efforts of the people of Wales in the '60s to stop the drowning of Welsh-speaking valleys to provide water for English cities.
Another standout is "Marwnad yr Ehedydd (Dirge for the Lark)," an allegorical song with both traditional and modern lyrics, possibly about the 15th-century Welsh freedom fighter Owain Glyndwr. "Lluen" is about a louse coveted as food by the people of London. I know all this because the CD contains both Welsh lyrics and an English translation.
In 1990, the Welsh-language recording company Sain re-released this album on one 22-song CD along with Golau tan Gwmwl, the band's second album. (Four songs are missing from the original two records.) Both have a traditional (but not dated) sound, although Plethyn tends to stray into more predictable musical territory on the latter. Still, it finishes with a fine version of the traditional song "Deio Bach," followed by the inspired "Tan yn Llyn (Fire in Llyn)," calling for "a nation aflame from the border to the sea."
Throughout the set, these songs in the Welsh "plygain" tradition of folksinging in close harmony sparkle, and the tunes stay with you all day. For fans of traditional folk production values, acoustic instruments, three-part harmonies and authenticity, Plethyn provides real listening enjoyment and a taste of the folk roots of Wales.
[ by David Cox ]