Eleri Llwyd : Am Heddiw Mae 'Nghân03.08.18 : SAIN
This CD arrived for review on a Saturday morning, sparking a sudden memory. A year before I had sat on sun warmed tarmac to watch Gai Toms launch his album, Gwalia, at a festival. Gwalia is a great set of songs, but the definite centrepiece is the title track (see below), a dubbed up rock re-imagining of one of the songs Eleri Llwyd made famous in the 1970s, O Gymru, that keeps the original vocal in its rightful, extensively sampled, place.
I watched mid-set as Toms brought Eleri out onto the stage for a live performance of Gwalia, and then felt a grasp of emotion as she started to sing - unexpectedly feeling a communion and connection I recognised as identical to that usually experienced stood on the Kop just before kickoff, when scarves are held high and the first words of You'll Never Walk Alone are sung. Eleri Llwyd still has a distinct, beatific voice that immediately etches itself into your heart and memory.
Eleri released her first solo EP in 1971 on SAIN, and was a prominent member of the 1970?s Welsh language pop group Y Chwyldro and the psych influenced group Y Nhw. As Gruff Rhys has noted, "she blazed a versatile path through popular song" and in 1977 she released Am Heddiw Mae 'Ngh?n, a first solo album, her breathtaking voice framed for the sessions by the élite of SAIN's musicians.
The re-release of Am Heddiw Mae 'Nghân has the album's original twelve songs, with two bonus tracks added, including O Gymru.
It opens with the jaunty piano pop of Ble 'Rwyt Ti Heno? - and if the middle keyboard solo archeologically defines the recording's age, it is with charm. The second track Dawns has a 70's disco groove, and by its end you can see why Gruff Rhys has commented that the record was responsible for "creating a short lived yet unique progressive folk-opera-disco movement".
From there the album wends its way artfully forward, tacking between folk and rock, with Eleri's beautiful voice the constant, mesmerising heart of it - showcased in full radiance on Blentyn Mair, Ffarwel Fehefin, Esgus Yw Dy Gariad and the plaintive guitar/vocal song, Cariad Cyntaf. Overall Am Heddiw Mae 'Nghân has travelled through time well - the arrangements are mostly simple, and where they are very much of the period, resonate rather than jar. The singing is eternal.
The re-issue ends with the unforgettable, ever hymnal O Gymru, and another triggered rush of emotion. Lord, this is brilliant stuff whatever your native tongue, and O Gymru should be compulsorily played in The Houses of Parliament before they ever make a decision affecting Wales.
The impressive current group of Welsh female folk-influenced singers have an awe-inspiring role model captured here at the height of her powers.
Walk on, Eleri, walk on.