Live : Al Lewis / Siôn Richards19.03.16: Neuadd Ogwen, Bethesda
I had not been to Neuadd Ogwen before, but it is one of the warmest, most genuine places I have been to see live music. This evening it was set up with a spartan, stark stage, but a very clear sound for two contrasting singer songwriters
Opening Siôn Richards seemed frustrated at times due to arriving slightly late and guitar problems, but covered this with a good line in self-deprecatory humour. His songs, as if they had lives of their own, patiently lined up to shine regardless.
His first song Cân am gariad (Song about love) was a striking love song, the second an as yet untitled work in progress, but nevertheless a convincing stab at a percussive guitar and harmonica driven early Springsteen feel, followed by the stirring, doleful yet impassioned Aur (Gold), about rural poverty in Wales.
The next three songs came with faster and at times jagged delivery, before half a knock knock joke and then the closing song Bradwr (Traitor) - an emotive, poignant folk song about the 1900 Penrhyn Quarry Strike, with all the craft and heft of an artisan made woodworking tool.
All in all enough to demonstrate that Siôn Richards has a rare talent.
Then Al Lewis.
My first, admittedly now vague, memory of Al Lewis is watching him perform somewhere around 2009 on a festival open air stage during a monsoon-like deluge, with the audience rapidly washed away, and those left not outnumbering those on stage by any statistically significant number.
His career has clearly flourished since, and I had always wanted to see him live again, without the biblical weather.
This show was just him alone singing and alternating between two contrasting guitars, with one of these, a Gibson that was a recent Christmas present, sounding as if its wood was soaked in country and blues for years before it was even made.
As he worked through his extensive bilingual back catalogue he fitted in a funny story about Meic Stevens, and a few good anecdotes about where the songs played had come from, with one song from his new duo, Lewis & Leigh, the country infused Please Darlin', having an effective airing despite Alva Leigh's absence.
Throughout his set you could look round at the audience at any point and everyone was simply rapt in attention. It seemed it would be difficult to tease a highlight out; beautifully written songs, consummate guitar playing and a pitch perfect enthralling voice, but then he got to Heulwen o Hiraeth, a song he wrote with Sarah Howells (Paper Aeroplanes). For this he stepped further back from the microphone to let his voice show its power, and it was difficult not to be moved by the passion in the singing.
An encore without a pause, and it was over, and no rain.
From Siôn Richards' first chord to Al Lewis' last, for two hours we were all just present in the room. Leaving the engaging performances and stepping out into a cold Bethesda night was as sudden and dislocating a contrast as leaving the gloom of a cinema after a film into mid-afternoon sunlight.