Calan : Kistvaen

'A storming juggernaut of cool-Cymru-with-attitude power-folk with a jaw-dropping repertoire ... you can't help but marvel at their astounding musicianship.' - Folk Wales

When Calan released their sixth album on April 3rd, the date should have marked another career high-point.

The band had momentum, having won 'Best Band' at the inaugural Wales Folk Awards in 2019, and had an extensive promotional tour planned.

Instead, in March they lost a slew of US dates to coronavirus cancellations, and Kistvaen's launch was undermined as the world slipped into a slow rolling catastrophe.

In the clamour and chaos of an international crisis, it’d be a shame if this music was missed - Kistvaen is an uplifting, high-energy, folk-fuelled rollercoaster.

A heady day spent rooting through the traditional music archives at The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth inspired the new songs.

Creative foundations in place, the band - Bethan Rhiannon (accordion, vocals, clog dancing), Patrick Rimes (fiddle, Welsh bagpipes), Angharad Jenkins (fiddle), Sam Humphreys (guitar) and Shelley Musker-Turner (harp) - then worked rapidly.

Reflecting that process, the album's title is apt. A 'Kistvaen' is a pre-Christian stone tomb, a place where ancient relics might be found to then be restored.

You need the right people for such work, and the reach and skill of the musicians in Calan is remarkable. They are a phenomenon - the band itself the centre of a huge range of cultural activity in Wales - including specific projects such as Pendevig, VRï, NoGood Boyo & DnA, and lower key collaborations with other artists, such as Patrick Rimes essential contribution to Gwilym Bowen Rhys' solo work.

The first listen, like Will Pound's recent A Day Will Come, jars with the immediate pandemic context - as the music is imbued with sunshine and optimism in a grim chapter of history. Yet, whatever is happening elsewhere, repeated plays make the album's life-force irresistible.

To instantly reveal intent, opener Jêl Caerdydd arrives at full pelt with a free-wheeling, percussive drive. There are fourteen more tracks - instrumental fragments, flawlessly adapted nursery rhymes (Rew-di-Ranno is brilliant), self-penned and traditional pieces.

There are moments of calm in the maelstrom - the initial harp section of 'Dolig Abertawe (written by Angharad Jenkins during a Christmas break at home from University) is an evocative joy. Mari Morgan is a simple and beautiful song, especially for its lightly framed opening vocal. Patrick Rimes' instrumental Aur yw'r Afon is a perfectly formed minute of relative stillness.

But it is with a higher tempo that the highlight arrives mid-set, Pat the Lucky Dog, a set of three tunes, two by Bethan Rhiannon, one by Stephen P. Rees, is five minutes of sonic bliss - fiddles shimmer, an accordion gyrates, bagpipes whirl, as the music dances and grooves, the instruments like the cavorting broomsticks that beset the fabled sorcerer's apprentice - animated by a life of their own.

The album closes with Bailey's, a tumultuous set of tunes providing a final rush.

When the music from this album is finally played on a stage we will know the world is on its way back to normal; and when that moment comes, Kistvaen's songs will provide an immaculate soundtrack for celebration and release.

Calan take traditional music and beat it into exciting, unfamiliar shapes - sparked by a trip to a folk archive, Kistvaen is a kinetic ride dense with delight, thrills, twists and turns.

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