From the Margins : 2020 Albums of the Year
Over the last twelve months we have listened to hundreds of albums - to mark the end of a testing year, a carefully honed selection of those chosen for review can be found above.
2020 confirmed contemporary music is an essential source of human communion and succour, not an economic 'nice to have' that can be disregarded in times of crisis. If you have a moment, please listen to the recordings, and consider supporting the artists with a direct purchase.
You might well start with three perfectly-formed Welsh releases - Colorama's gleeful, genre-skipping Chaos Wonderland, the low-key majesty of Matthew Frederick's Fragments or the LP that would very probably have been, in normal times, our automatic pick as an 'album of the year', Mared Williams' glorious debut, Y Drefn.
Just now though, singling out one album from a shortlist of nearly twenty, each of which has its own rare and undeniable magic, seems absurd.
COLORAMA I Chaos Wonderland
MATTHEW FREDERICK I Fragments
MARED I Y Reddf
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Fifteen Essential Welsh Voices
Fifteen videos selected to illustrate the depth of creativity Wales has in its folk & acoustic music scene. Just click on a thumbnail to start. Almost all the artists included appear in the From the Margins Vault. [Added : 06.04.2020]
To illustrate the importance of culture in shaping individual's lives we asked writers & musicians to share three key formative moments that have impacted on their own work or politics. The thought-provoking answers they gave can be found below.
- Welsh folk musician Angharad Jenkins, who plays fiddle in Calan and DnA, describes how two youthful cultural experiences shaped her future, and talks about the magic she found in an extraordinary one-man play about the life of one of Wales' towering political figures. [More]
- Ben Webb’s distinctive voice and songwriting are key elements of Brighton folk collective Bird in the Belly's brooding creative energy. He performs solo and writes as Jinnwoo - under that guise he is also one quarter of the sublime unaccompanied traditional song project, Green Ribbons. He details why Penda's Fen, Bird in the Bush and Sara Kane's Collected Plays are important landmarks in his cultural hinterland. [More]
- Co-founder of The Dark Mountain Project, novelist, poet and recovering environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth explains why three writers - Annie Dillard, Jack Gilbert and John Moriarty - have inspired his own work over the last decade. [More]
- Edgelarks are one of the British Isles most accomplished folk duos, bringing together exquisite instrumentation and voice, musical inventiveness and a poetic lyrical depth. Hannah Martin outlines why a book that maps the connection between the environment and our own folkloric identity, an experimental folk project and an inspirational Canadian festival are etched in her memory. [More]
- Bob Kettle sings, plays the mandolin and wears a top hat in England's most vital folk band, Merry Hell. He also writes superb songs. In a fascinating guest post Bob enthuses about Wigan Diggers Festival, author Laura Bates and the Shakespeare North Project. [More]
- Christina Alden is a third of Norwich based trio Alden,Patterson and Dashwood. A band noted for the humanity and warmth of their fusion of English and American folk, Christina chose a book that inspired a song and two albums that have illuminated her own musical path as key cultural moments. [More]
- The hallmark of Welsh folksinger Owen Shiers' music is a connection to place, culture and history - in this interview he details the impact of the mid-winter pagan tradition Mari Lwyd in Dinas Mawddwy, a memorable harvest party and a formative musical trip to West Africa on his work. [More]
Featured Label : Cae Gwyn
Cae Gwyn (English : 'White Field') is a micro-label with a clear sensibility and a big impact. Based in the heart of Eryri (Snowdonia) it acts as a gateway to an otherwise little-known but intensely creative community.
Revelling in its location, Cae Gwyn has released three compilations albums - Casgliad Cae Gwyn (2018), Swooshed (2016) and Cynefin Cae Gwyn (2014) - which showcased musicians who work and record in the label's homeland. The LPs featured the urgent garage psychedelia of Mr Huw, charismatic singer-songwriters such as Nia Morgan and Sion Richards (see : Crawia), the sophisticated, poetic folk of Fiona and Gorwel Owen and influential underground bands such as Sen Segur.
Although the label's eclectic output often has acoustic/ambient roots, it includes music with more celestial ambitions - most notably Omalama, whose recent album, Swish, is a tangerine dream of exquisite space pop, and Derreo, whose Time Lapse, a glorious, effervescent collection of melodic art-noise, is the band's first recording in twenty years.
With well-directed restless energy and finely honed humour, Cae Gwyn has also launched a podcast - Ffynnon FM. You will have heard of few/none of the acts included, but, as with much of the the label’s output, it’d take a hard heart and tightly bound cloth ears not to be won over by the mellow psychedelic magic presented.